Natural Homemade Mosquito Repellent as Effective as DEET

A homemade mosquito repellent recipe is rather simple. The hard part is knowing which plant essential oils are best for repelling mosquitoes, flies, ticks and other biting insects. So after reading numerous scientific research articles and writing our previous post on the best natural insect repellent products, we are now ready to make our own repellent.

Best essential oils scientifically proven to repel mosquitoes just as effectively or even better than DEET:

These essentials oils performed as good or even better than DEET. In fact, one study demonstrated that Catnip essential oil was 10x more effective than DEET.  With the exception of Neem oil, the three essential oils listed below are all registered with the EPA in products as natural mosquito repellents.

  • Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Catnip
  • Citronella
  • Neem

Soybean oil, vanillin and coconut oil have also been proven to extend the protection time of natural bug repellents with essential oils which is discussed in detail further below.

Other Plant Oils with Insect-Repellent Effects

These oils are good to use in your homemade mosquito repellent, but are best used in combination (as opposed to a single ingredient) with any of the other oils listed above:

  • Castor Seed
  • Cedar Leaf
  • Clove Flower
  • Geranium
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Patchouli
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Turmeric

How to Make Your Homemade Mosquito Repellents Last Longer

One of the main drawbacks in the past of natural repellents is that they do not last as long after application as DEET or other chemical-based repellents. This is because most plant essential oils and extracts are volatile and act on mosquitoes in the vapor phase. vanillin natural mosquito repellentMeaning, they evaporate quickly from the skin and once the scent is gone, the mosquitoes return. However, research has shown that the effectiveness and duration of plant-based topical repellents improve when they are mixed with vanillin (a primary organic compound in vanilla extract) and/or soybean oil.

Coconut oil also increased repellency, but not as long as with the addition of vanillin or soybean oil. For example, the addition of a 5% vanillin concentration added to turmeric (Curcuma longa), kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix, citronella grass (Cymbopogon winterianus) and hair basil (Ocimum americanum) increased repellency significantly against three mosquito species (see figure below).

natural insect repellent vs deet with vanillin added
Relative repellency (median protection time) of volatile oils and DEET against 3 mosquito species:
(A) Ae. aegypti, (B) An. dirus, and (C) Cx. quinquefasciatus under laboratory conditions (Tawatsin et. al. 2001). The addition of vanillin increases repellency time in several formulations.

What is Vanillin?

Vanillin is a natural compound extracted from vanilla seed pods, but it also can be synthetically produced. The studies I read did not say whether they used natural vanillin or synthetic, but I would rather use natural vanillin than artificial.  But I have yet to find a place where you can buy pure, natural vanillin. There are several species of Vanilla and the one that has the highest concentration of vanillin is Vanilla planifolia from either Mexico or Madagascar. Mexican Vanilla can be rather expensive, but here is a quality vanilla from Madagascar (often referred to as Bourbon Vanilla) at a reasonable price: Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla.

Homemade Insect Repellent

Using the research results of scientific studies, your best homemade insect repellent would include at least one of the following oils: lemon eucalyptus, catnip, neem, soybean and citronella. Then, you would add pure vanilla extract to boost its effectiveness.  If you were to add a carrier oil to the mix, the best choice would be either coconut and/or soybean oil because they both have been proven to increase the protection time of repellent essential oils.

Make Your Own Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent (Similar to Repel’s Brand)

Repel’s Lemon Eucalyptus Repellent uses a 30% concentration of oil of lemon eucalyptus oil* with ethanol, isoparaffinic solvent and a hydrocarbon propellent.lemon eucalyptus essential oil mosquito repellentWe’re going to keep the lemon eucalyptus oil, replace ethanol with isopropyl alcohol or witch hazel and ditch the solvent and propellent.

But wait, there’s more. We are going to make it even better by adding vanilla extract, for the vanillin repellent-boosting factor. You can even ulta-boost the mix by adding soybean oil or coconut oil. They say that Repel’s product will last 6 hours against mosquitoes, ticks, midges (no-see-ums), gnats, sand flies and stable flies and is comparable to a 25% DEET repellent. With the addition of vanilla and/or soybean oil or coconut oil, this formula should be even better!

You can always double the recipe later, but for now start with making an approximate 4-ounce mix to see how it works for you.

Ingredients:

  • 25 drops (1/2 tsp) lemon eucalyptus essential oil
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract – Mexican or Madagascar Vanilla (from Vanilla planifolia) is best due to the higher vanillin content which is the repellent factor.
  • 4 ounces total of isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) or witch hazel OR INSTEAD USE…
  • 2 ounces of alcohol or witch hazel and
  • 2 ounces of soybean oil or coconut oil**

Directions:

  1. Mix the ingredients together in a small spray bottle that includes a cap to prevent accidental sprays or leaks if carrying in a backpack or similar. I always carry mine in a sealed ziploc bag.
  2. Shake well just before applying.
  3. Apply to clothes and exposed skin, being careful not to spray in eyes.
  4. Read Precautions***

*Tips When Buying Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil

Make sure not to get a blend, check the oil ingredients – some will say “Lemon Eucalpytus Oil”, but actually are a blend of eucalyptus (such as Eucalyptus globulus) and lemon (Citrus x limon) oils which is different than lemon eucalyptus oil (Eucalyptus citriodora). The one I listed in the ingredient list is 100% pure lemon eucalyptus oil.

Also note that Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil is different than the US designated Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE or Citriodiol) which is a refined version with increased concentration of PMD (explained in list of natural mosquito repellent oils). Therefore, we cannot exactly duplicate Repel’s brand, but we can come close.

Broad-Spectrum Repellent Recipehomemade mosquito repellent against variety of insects

For a repellent against a variety of insects and multiple mosquito species, try this one using a combination of the best-acting, natural insect repellent essential oils with soybean or coconut oil and vanilla extract.

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Mix the ingredients together in a small spray bottle that includes a cap to prevent accidental sprays or leaks if carrying in a backpack or similar. I always carry mine in a sealed ziploc bag.
  2. Shake well just before applying.
  3. Apply to clothes and exposed skin, being careful not to spray in eyes.
  4. Read precautions.***

**Using Soybean or Coconut Oil

Both soybean and coconut oil have been proven to extend the repellent’s duration of effectiveness, but soybean oil was definitely the winner. But if you want to use a different oil, coconut oil would be a good second choice. Note that the melting point of unrefined coconut oil is 76 degree F which mean if you have your spray in an environment where the temperature is below 76 deg F, it may start to solidify and not spray anymore. Not a big deal, you would just have to apply it by hand. However, it would be more difficult to “spray” on your clothes when it is in that colder state. You could also purchase a liquid-state coconut oil that has higher medium chain fatty acids (MCTs) content.

***Important Precautions Before Using Natural Repellents:

  • Never use 100% pure essential oils on your skin; always use a dilution.  As a general rule for skin applications, use no more than a 5% essential oil concentration.
  • Test your repellent on a small area of skin for 24 hours to see if it causes any kind of irritation because of skin allergies or sensitivities to the oils.
  • Use your hands to apply the repellent to your face, keeping away from your eyes, nostrils and mouth. Avoid getting it into any open sores, wounds or cuts. Wash hands with soap and water after applying.
  • Do a test patch on clothing to see if it stains. If you leave out the soybean oil, it will have a reduced chance of staining. You could always make up one mix to put on clothing (no soybean or coconut oil) and a separate bottle for applying to skin (with soybean or coconut oil).
  • Avoid getting the repellent on leather, vinyl or other similar fabrics; the oil may permanently stain them.
  • Do not use on children under 3 years old or any child that may rub their eyes or lick skin that has been treated. This isn’t DEET, but it’s not meant to be ingested either. Use natural mosquito repellent sparingly on young children. Check with your family physician before using.
There are hundreds of mosquito species in the US. Try different repellent ingredients.

There are 176 mosquito species in the U.S. alone. (Photo courtesy of Bioquip)

Mix and Match To See What Works Best

Some of these oil are extremely effective as repellents against certain mosquito species while not so much with others. There are 176 species of mosquitoes in the United States, 3,500 worldwide! So you may need to try different oils and combinations to get the right formula that works best against the mosquito species in your area. What combination works well in Florida may not work in Alaska.

Well I’m glad you made it to the end of these 2 articles on natural insect repellents. It took me over a week or research to put it all together in some sort of logical order. I didn’t think it was going to be so complicated, but I’m glad I now know the truth of what works and what doesn’t. If you have any questions, please ask in the comment section below.

What essential oils and ingredient blends have worked best for you? Ever use any mosquito repellent plants around your house? We’d love to know, so please comment below. :-)

Works Cited: Tawatsin A, Wratten ST, Scott RR, Thavara U, Techadamrongsin T. 2001. Repellency of volatile oils from plants against three mosquito vectors. J. Vector Ecol; 6: 76-82: Abstract.

Comments

  1. Hi, so I saw a recipe that called for this EO you are talking about also at 30% to make a bug spray and for it to be in soybean oil. My concern is that on the safety sheet it says to only use at 5% for skin applications…so how is it that it can be used at 30%? Is the recipe you gave here at 30%? The recipe i saw was for 32oz of soybean oil and 48ml lemon eucalyptus oil that you have listed as the real one. Is there a way to mxi in some other oils? I’m concerned about putting in too much EO’s…I have lavender and peppermint but how would i break that down ml wise for the recipe for 32 oz (to be put in qty 4 – 4oz containers). Also to double they said double the amount of EO again with the oil, it just seems like way too much EO….? thanks for any help and clarification on this.

    • Jcgl- As mentioned in the article above, Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil is different than the US designated Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE or Citriodiol used in Repel’s repellent) which is a refined version (explained further here) and is not the same as Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil. Therefore, we cannot exactly duplicate Repel’s brand that uses a 30% concentration of OLE, but we can come close.
      And yes, with the exception of a few essential oils, most should be diluted for adult skin application to a concentration of no more than 5%. If you can leave a link to the other recipe you are referring to from another site, I could comment on that, but without seeing its complete list of ingredients I do not know what the concentration is they are trying to achieve.

  2. Charles says:

    What kind of cost savings is one to expect by producing a homemade repellent, versus purchasing a commercial product with the same products?

    • Charles – As an example, we’ll compare the Repel product to our homemade version. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent currently costs $5 for a 4 oz bottle at Amazon.
      If we purchase lemon eucalyptus essential oil, it currently costs $9 (including shipping) for a 30 ml bottle. We also need isopropyl alcohol which costs, on average, $2 for a 16 oz bottle.
      To make our repellent, we use 2.5 ml (75¢ worth) of the oil and 4 oz (50¢ worth) of the alcohol. So far the grand total is $1.25. So we are $3.75 ahead of the Repel product. We also have a more natural product since Repel uses a isoparaffinic solvent and a hydrocarbon propellent as other ingredients which is not necessary for our homemade version. Our total initial investment (from purchasing the oil and alchohol) has been $11, but we can use the remaining essential oil and alcohol to make additional bottles of repellent or use them for other purposes.
      My homemade version also uses a bonus repellent ingredient, vanilla extract. That would increase the price per bottle of course, but it also increases the repellent effect – even better than Repel’s product which does not contain vanilla.
      This is just one comparison example. Most often, if you purchase any of the essential oils that are listed in this article and mix them with a carrier oil like soybean or coconut combined with alcohol or witch hazel, you more often than not would be under the commercial product cost.

  3. Thank you for putting this together. I am about to make some repellent for a gathering and am using your Repel-like recipe. I did notice that other sites with recipes for repellents use twice or three time the amount of essential oil, and in my research, customers complained when Repel reduced the amount of lemon eucalyptus oil it used. Have you found the 25 drops in a 4 ounce mix to be sufficient?

    • Nancy – The 25 drops has worked fine for us. You could try the recipe amount and see if it works for you and then if not, increase the concentration. Just be careful about using a concentration over 5% of essential oils if you are going to use it directly on skin, especially children, because it can cause irritation. You may want to test it first on a small area to see how your skin reacts to it.

  4. Where did you get the soybean oil?

  5. I was hoping to make up some repellent this weekend. I don’t have Lemon-Eucalyptus, but I do have Lemon (Citrus limon) and Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata). Would these have any effect on mosquitoes or is it pointless to use them since they aren’t Eucalyptus citriodora?

Comments, Opinions, Questions?

*