Natural Homemade Mosquito Repellent as Effective as DEET

homemade mosquito repellent against variety of insectsA 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, with the addition of 5% vanillin to a solution of turmeric (Curcuma longa), kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix), citronella grass (Cymbopogon winterianus) and hairy basil (Ocimum americanum) oils 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. Vanillin is often added to perfumes and other fragrances to slow down the evaporation rate to make them last longer. Essential oils are highly volatile (evaporate quickly), but vanillin is not. So like in perfumes, the addition of vanillin to an essential oil based repellent helps reduce volatility and make the natural repellent last longer.

The studies I read did used synthetic vanillin, but I would rather use natural vanillin than artificial (an exception is noted in the comments section below this post regarding the use of imitation vanilla flavor – see our reply to Cameron).  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 essential 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 (or use imitation vanilla flavoring if the ingredients are vanillin, alcohol and/or water – read reply to Cameron in comments section for more info).
  • 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 Recipe

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:

  • 4 ounces isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol or witch hazel
  • 4 ounces soybean oil or coconut oil**
  • 10 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil
  • 10 drops catnip essential oil
  • 10 drops neem essential oil
  • 10 drops citronella essential oil
  • 10 drops total in combination of any of the following oils by preference: Lavender, geranium, clove flower, lemongrass, lemon, peppermint, cedar leaf, turmeric, patchouli, castor seed and/or rosemary. These 10 drops are in addition to the 40 drops listed above (of lemon eucalyptus, catnip, etc.) so that you will be using a total of 50 drops of essential oil in this recipe.
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

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.

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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?

  6. Hi, I’m excited to try your recipe. Would vanilla essential oil do the same thing as the vanilla extract? Thank you so much!

    • Heather – The purpose of the vanilla extract (actually the vanillin compound within the extract) is to make the other essential oils in the repellent last longer because they tend to evaporate quickly once applied. The studies I’ve read have used vanilla extract or the vanillin compound by itself. They never mentioned using vanilla essential oil.

      So I did some looking, but when searching for the composition of vanilla essential oil, I found this article which states there is no such thing. A pure essential oil is “steam distilled, expeller pressed or cold pressed” which vanilla is not. The article further states, “Caution should be given to any source that claims to offer Vanilla labeled Pure Essential Oil.” So what is a product then that is labeled as such?

      To create vanillin in liquid form it is extracted though one of 5 methods: CO2, absolute, oleoresin, dilution or tincture. Depending upon which method is used will vary the vanillin content and I’m guessing the bottle of vanilla essential oil you have doesn’t state the method used nor the percentage of vanillin.

      So to make a long story short (sorry if I’ve overloaded you with TMI), try using your vanilla essential oil in the repellent. I don’t know if it will work exactly like vanilla extract, but it is worth a try. Obviously don’t use the same amount as I say for the extract since your product is concentrated. If you make the Lemon-Eucalyptus recipe, try 5-10 drops. If you make the generic Broad-Spectrum recipe, use 5 drops as part of the 10 total “combination” oils or use 10 drops in substitution for the combination oils. Hope that helps.

  7. christina villa says:

    Can you use alcohol free witch hazel in place of alcohol in these recipes, or does it need to be witch hazel containing alcohol?

    • Christina – If you are using pure essential oils (not water-soluble), then they will not blend with an alcohol-free witch hazel and the repellent will separate. The alcohol acts as an emulsifier and may also extend the shelf life of the oil blend. You could try to use the alcohol-free witch hazel, but probably will need to shake it before applying – sort of like an oil and vinegar salad dressing.

      • Thank you so much:) you are such a help!

      • Oh shoot… I didn’t realize that it was supposed to be the witch hazel with alcohol in it but that’s all I have. Can I add rubbing alcohol to the recipe (with witch hazel too) to prevent the separation? How much would I add?

        • Heidi – I have used witch hazel without the alcohol in this recipe and decided it worked just as well as using witch hazel with alcohol. I just made sure I shook the repellent well before using.

          • Okay, thanks! I am using synthetic vanilla with alcohol, so we’ll give it a go and see how it turns out. I appreciate your quick response, thank you!

  8. Hi
    I was wondering if I can Substitute Soybean Oil for either: Baby Oil, Olive Oil or Jojoba Oil?
    Thanks Very Much!

    • Ritinha – The reason why we use soybean oil is because it specifically extends the protection time of the natural repellent. If you do not like soybean oil, coconut oil would be a second good choice because it too works like soybean oil. You can certainly use mineral, olive or jojoba oils, but the repellent would need to be applied more often.

      Most would not recommend using baby oil as a carrier oil for essential oils. Baby oil is a perfumed mineral oil which is made from petroleum distillates. It forms a barrier on you skin and does not allow the essential oils to be absorbed. But since we are using it in a repellent forumula and not in a therapeutic application, it doesn’t matter as much.

  9. Kelsey K. says:

    Thank you for this! Our yard is always full of mosquitoes and while all three of my daughters get bit, one is especially allergic. I hate putting DEET on them anytime they want to play outside, especially because they are preschool and toddler age. I have mixed up my own essential oil bug spray now to spray their clothing, and so far it is working just as well, if not better, than the chemical stuff that we were using before.

    • Your welcome, Kelsey. I think using a natural repellent on children is especially a good alternative to DEET and other chemical-based repellents. Glad it’s working for you and the kids. :-)

  10. Christine Rowe says:

    We live in the Panhandle of Florida and deal with mosquitoes as well as no-see-ums and biting flies when fishing or boating. This product works well; however, for your formula, if I needed to add something to make it water-repellant, would cyclo-dimethicone be appropriate?

    • Christine – I had to look up cyclo-dimethicone because I have personally never used it. I see it is a silicone conditioner and emollient that is soluble in alcohol and dispersible in oils and fats which would I guess would work in our formula. I wondering though if the natural insect repellent formula is already pretty water-repellent with all the oils it contains. For example, I noticed there is a product by Bite Blocker that states it is a 8-hour “waterproof formulation” and the only ingredients are what is listed below which seems to be mostly oils. I don’t see anything specific listed to make it water repellent and if it lasts 8 hours, that’s pretty good.

      Bite Blocker water repellent forumula: Soybean (Glycine Soja) Oil (3%), Geranium Maculatum (Geranium) Oil (6%), Castor (Ricinus Communis) Seed Oil (8%). Active Ingredients: Soybean (Glycine Soja) Oil (3%), Geranium Maculatum (Geranium) Oil (6%), Castor (Ricinus Communis) Seed Oil (8%)
      Inactive Ingredients: Water (Purified), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Glycerine, Lecithin, Wintergreen Oil, Citric Acid, Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda), Benzoic Acid

  11. That is some extensive research ..Thank you!
    I was wondering if I could safely use the “Broad-Spectrum Repellent Recipe” to make a 8oz. insect-repellent spray for my dog (75lb/34kg) which has no health issues and a strong immune system. Would the percentage (drops) remain the same as for a human?

    • Niko – I cannot seem to find a consensus of what essential oils are safe for topical application to dogs and which are not. I personally have not used it on dogs, so unfortunately I cannot offer personal experience either.

      One of the problems with using essential oils on dogs and problems with toxicity appears to be the quality of the EO. You must use therapeutic grade oils which are steam distilled and do not contain any other chemicals as opposed to perfume/aromatherapy grade which may have been distilled with solvents.

      You would also need to dilute the repellent according to your dog’s weight which I have not found a ratio for either. Your best bet may be to ask your veterinarian who probably has some knowledge about using natural repellents for pets. Sorry for not being able to offer a more definite answer, but thanks for visiting our site.

  12. I have been using Godrej Buzz off since 2 months. I always wonder what would be other inert ingredients along with DEET as it’s a water based solution.

    • Praful – I assume you are referring to Godrej Protekt Buzz-Off Anti-Mosquito Skin Spray? And are you asking what are the ingredients besides DEET? I went to their website and they list no ingredients, not even the DEET. I contacted them and asked for their ingredient list for the product. I’ll let you know if they respond.

      Godrej replied with this:

      We thank you for the interest shown on our product. Ingredients of Anti Mosquito Spray is available on the pack of the product.

      Strange that they wouldn’t just tell me. How would I order their product online without knowing what the ingredients are? They don’t even list the active ingredient on the product page. I guess you would know more than me by looking on the bottle.

      • Thank you, for your active response can I know what if I use N-N-Diethylbenzamide in repellent, what would be the other ingredients in aqueous base?

        • Praful – I’m having a little trouble understanding what you are asking. Are you asking that you want to make a repellent that is like the Godrej Anti-Mosquito Spray or do you simply want to know what the other ingredients are?

          I assume you read the bottle and it says it contains N,N-Diethylbenzamide (DEB), which is a closely related to N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (DEET). And the only other ingredients listed on the bottle is in an “aqueous base” and you want to know what the other ingredients could be?

          I’m not sure when you ask, “…can I know what if I use (DEB) in repellent, what would be the other ingredients…” Are you saying you want to make your own repellent? And if so, are you saying you want to use DEB which I don’t believe anyone can just purchase since it is a toxic chemical. Only Godrej can tell you exactly what the ingredients are, I would only be guessing.

  13. Hi
    have just purchased all the ingredients to make your insect repellent, and thank you for sharing.
    Could you please tell me, how you get the Neem oil to stay liquid in the mixture. I have purchased unrefined Neem oil which is solid.

    • Sharon – In addition to the 10 drops of neem oil in the Broad-Spectrum Repellent Recipe, are you using soybean or coconut oil? As with the coconut oil which will be solid below 76 F (24 C), neem oil also will be solid below 53 F (12 C). I’ve never had a problem with it becoming solid because usually I am using it during the summer when temperatures are warm enough to keep it in a liquid state. You can try warming your repellent container in the sun, in your pants pocket or by placing it in a container of warm water to help liquify the neem oil before use.

      • I am using Soya. But my Neem oil is solid, i am in the UK and it is still cold here. I read that Neem is water soluble, will it dissolve in the Witch Hazel.

        • Unrefined neem oil requires an emulsifier to make it water soluble. Unless you want to add an emulsifier (i.e., soap) you will need to just warm it up to its liquid form before adding it to the other ingredients in the repellent recipe. Bring the neem oil it up to temperature so that it is liquid, then add the 10 drops to the repellent. If the other liquid ingredients are very cold, it may become solid again, but you can always warm it up again as noted previously.

  14. Cameron says:

    Synthetic Vanillin is completely indistinguishable from natural vanillin. Stop buying in to the natural vs synthetic dichotomy; “all-natural” is merely a buzzword used by companies to hype you up about their products. There is nothing that would make a natural chemical inherently safer or better for you than a synthetic one. In fact, some natural extracts are known to actually be MORE harmful than their synthetic counterparts due to the concentration of hazardous impurities from the extraction process.

    • Cameron – I agree, especially for a topical treatment as insect repellent that synthetic vanillin can be used. And if I can find an imitation vanilla flavor product that only contains vanillin in an alcohol base, I would use it. But currently at my grocery store the only initiation vanilla product contains more than just that including:

      Water, Propylene Glycol, Vanillin, Caramel Color, 0.1% Sodium Benzoate (Added As A Preservative), Phosphoric Acid, And Ethyl Vanillin

      I’m fine with synthetic vanillin, even if made from wood pulp lignin, clove oil eugenol or perhaps even from petrochemical precursors, guaiacol and glyoxylic acid. But I do not want propylene glycol irritant, carcinogenic caramel color or preservatives or corrosive acids added to my vanillin.

      So yes, use imitation vanilla for this homemade repellent if you want to save some money because chemically speaking, it is no different in composition than real vanilla. But I would recommend one without all the added ingredients as the above McCormick product has. Look for one that has nothing more than vanillin, alcohol and/or water.

      And beware – there is even fake imitation vanilla extracts that contain no vanillin. Remember it’s the vanillin in vanilla extract that repels mosquitoes, so if you buy fake vanilla extract with no vanillin, then you might as well not buy it at all.

  15. Hello, I happened to be on the search for some mosquito repellent for my trip to Cambodia this summer and I was cruising on amazon and reading tons of comments, and somehow got to this lovely page.
    So I have no idea what DEET is, but it seems to be really bad.
    But onto my main point.
    The vanilla extract you had linked seems to be out of stock, would this be an okay alternative?
    http://amzn.to/1Gsk712

    Thank you so much for your clearly extensive research.

  16. Hi I was wondering if I can use vanillin in its powder form. It looks like I found some. Will it dissolve in the solution of essential oils, etc.?

    • Josh – I have never used any powdered form of vanillin and do not how well it will dissolve in this recipe. If you decide to try it with the powder, let us know how it goes.

      • Thanks for your reply. I will try to use some on my second batch. For my first batch, I went with 2 oz of soybean oil + 2 oz of alcohol + 25 drops of lemon euc. However, I think I have an issue with separation. After sitting on the table, I see a yellow clearer liquid (half) below and a white foamy substance (other half) on top. I’m using ethanol 90 for alcohol. Shaking distributes it pretty well but what do you think?

        • I’m not sure why you are getting that kind of separation. I use 70% isopropyl, but that shouldn’t make that much of a difference. There is some separation when stored, but like you, I just give it a shake before applying. I know some commercial brands use emulsifiers to make the blend not separate and be uniform, but I’ve never felt the need to add them.

  17. Jerry Dudley says:

    I live in Costa Rica, and have TONS of citronella growing on my property. Lemon grass also. I start my concoction by fine chopping equal amounts of both, filling a glass jar with the chopped leaves, then topping off with alcohol. I let it sit a few days, then strain the liquid into an equal amount of aloe gel. I will now add a dose of vanilla extract to my recipe. My question… How can I produce a more concentrated extract of my citronella/lemon grass??? Or, is my soaking method giving me the best I can hope for???

    • Jerry – If you want to stick with an alcohol method, to make it more concentrated allow the chopped leaves to soak in the alcohol for two weeks with lid sealed. After two weeks, strain the liquid and then either let the container sit out with no lid and wait for the alcohol to evaporate or place your container in the freezer – the oil will separate out on top from the alcohol which you can scoop off and then add to your aloe vera gel and vanilla. Aside from using more complicated methods, like steam distillation or hexane solvent extraction, this at-home method should make a more concentrated oil. How effective has your current repellent recipe worked?

  18. Jerry Dudley says:

    My recipe works well, but must be applied every couple of hours. A concentration should extend this timeframe. The vanilla may improve it as well. I’ll let you know.

  19. Dr Kulkarni Suresh says:

    A very good article, following the home tips.

  20. Hi I had another q: After spraying on skin, if you stop smelling the lemon eucalyptus or other EO’s on your skin after a couple of hours, does that indicate that it is no longer active in repelling mosquitoes? I’m kinda worried about this.. even with the vanilla extract, i can’t really smell it after about 2 hours.

    • Jerry Dudley says:

      In my experience, the smell is the indicator. If you can’t smell it, the bugs are not repelled. You may have a half hour or so more that it works, but not as effective. The more potent your extract, the more duration your repellant. Not to say the stronger the better, only to a point. Too strong and you could have a skin reaction (rash or itchiness).

    • The downside to using natural essential oils as a repellent compared to a synthetic repellent like DEET, is that it must be reapplied more often because of it volatility. So as to your question – if you stop smelling the oils on your skin, is it no longer repelling mosquitoes? Most likely you won’t have to guess – the mosquitoes will let you know. 😉 But yes, the EO repellent efficacy is reduced over time and you’ll have to reapply.

  21. Thank you for the excellent article! My vanilla extract says it has 2000 PPM vanillin, which is 0.2% concentration. When you refer to adding “5% vanillin” what volume/concentration do you use? The label of the vanilla extract in your link didn’t mention the concentration.

    • Merrin – The 5% vanillin referred to a study where they added synthetic vanillin (not vanilla extract) to a solution containing essential oils. The total concentration of the vanillin in the solution was 5% which is different that using a vanilla extract with a 5% concentration of vanillin. Since I did not want to use synthetic vanillin, I chose to use a vanilla extract that contains a higher concentration of vanillin which Madagascar does vs Tahitian, Mexican or Indonesian. When I asked a vanilla extract manufacturer what the concentration of vanillin was in their Madagascar extract they replied with this:

      Vanillin content varies no matter where the vanilla is grown and it varies by crop as well.

      I’m not sure how the Kirkland’s brand of vanilla extract can state exactly how many PPM of vanillin it contains. I have read that a cured vanilla pod, in general, contains anywhere between 1.5%-3% vanillin.

      So the amount of vanilla extract I use in the recipes (i.e., 1 tsp in the Repel Lemon Eucalyptus copycat recipe) is just an approximation. If you want to be more exact, you can purchase synthetic vanillin in powder form to replicate the 5% as used in the study.

  22. Thank you so much for a very informative page. I was wondering if you’d run across any effectiveness rates’ for the use against wood ticks? Thank you again for the info.

    • Angie – This study, “A Prospective Cross-Over Field Trial Shows Protection of Lemon Eucalyptus Extract Against Tick Bites”, demonstrated a significant reduction in bites by the European castor bean tick which is in the same family as our wood tick. 42 attached ticks were reported during the weeks when the Lemon Eucalyptus spray was used, and 112 were reported when it was not.

  23. Thank you so much for your quick response. I am planning on making this repellent for my little ones for extra bug protection on our daily outdoor adventures this summer. Glad to know that it has a measure of tick protection in addition to keeping flying bugs at bay. There has been an increase in local cases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Thanks for researching and writing about this important topic. You may very well have prevented a lot of pain and suffering. I personally know how difficult battling a tick-borne illness is.

    I will keep track of the results of our woods/field studies and share what I find. Thanks again.

  24. Thank you for such an informative article! I have a question about the broad spectrum recipe. Is it a total of 50 drops of combined EOs, or 10 drops of one or the other?

    • Mandy – Yes, 50 drops total. Use 10 drops each of lemon eucalyptus, catnip, neem and citronella (40 total). Then add another 10 drops (to equal 50 total for the recipe) of one or a combination of these oils (lavender, geranium, clove flower, lemongrass, lemon, peppermint, cedar leaf, turmeric, patchouli, castor seed and/or rosemary.) So you could add 10 drops of peppermint oil, or 5 drops of peppermint and 5 drops of cedar leaf, etc.. Whatever combination you prefer to equal 10 drops.

  25. Thank you for such a well compiled article. I’m getting tired of reading DIY articles lacking references to the actual studies. It is inappropriate to withhold credit and much less interesting! I’ll certainly use this recipe this summer! It was fun reading the reasoning behind each ingredient.

  26. Hello

    My kids are under 3 but I don’t have a problem with them rubbing eyes or eating it, would it be safe for me to apply this homemade repellent?

    • Sandra – This is what the CDC says regarding the use of Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) on children:

      Most repellents can be used on children aged >2 months… (However) Products containing OLE specify that they should not be used on children aged <3 years.

      I have to do some more digging as to the reason why since they offer no detailed explanation, but I would err on the side of caution and not use it on children under 3 years old.

  27. I read someone post somewhere that Neem oil should NOT be mixed with water, alcohol, vodka or witch hazel as it denatures the Neem. I have made an ounce of a 2 percent Neem and fractionated coconut oil repellent. I now wish it smelled better. Can I add another EO or two to my mix without messing it up, or do I have to start over? What if I want to add vanillin? This is my first attempt at this, so I am sorry if this is a dumb question.

    • MC – Neem oil is often mixed with water, solvents, emulsifiers, etc. for insecticide applications. One successful study tested it’s effectiveness as a mosquito repellent by using a mixture of neem oil and kerosene. Neem oil does have an off-putting odor, so yes, you can add another essential oil and/or vanillin to your mix without compromising the effectiveness of the neem oil.
      …and as Carl Sagan said:

      “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.” :-)

  28. APRIL ALFRED says:

    In your 1 recipe you say to use 10 drops of lemon eucalyptus, catnip, neem, citronella, but the you say use 10 drops of some other oils. Should I be using all the oils you recommend?
    Thank You
    April Alfred

    • April – In addition to using the 10 drops each of lemon eucalyptus, catnip, neem and citronella, you will add 10 more drops in any combination of the essential oils that I listed, but you don’t have to use them all. For example you could use 10 drops of lavender or 5 drops of lavender and 5 drops of rosemary to equal the 10 drops. Whatever combination you want – 2 drops of geranium, 2 drops of clove, 2 drops of tumeric, 2 drops of cedar leaf and 2 drops of patchouli – which equals 10 drops total as well.

  29. Helen Cumerlato says:

    If I am not comfortable using anything with alcohol, can I substitute water?

    • Helen – Yes, you can substitute water or alcohol-free witch hazel for the alcohol. However, the alcohol acts as an emulsifier so without it, you will have to shake well before applying.

  30. Good day,
    I was wondering if I could make the recipe to repel all bugs without any soybean or coconut oil and just substitute those with an extra 4oz of rubbing alcohol for a total of 8oz of rubbing alcohol.
    Thank you in advance!

    • Mona – The soybean and coconut oils act as carrier oils for the essential oil so that they can be properly applied topically to the skin without irritation. The oils, especially soybean, also increase the repellent factor. I’m afraid substituting alcohol would not be a good choice. Do you not want to use any kind of oil or just not soybean or coconut? There are other carrier oils you can use as a substitution for either of them.

  31. Can I use catnip extract instead of the essential oil?

    • Sarah – There is a significant difference between catnip essential oil and catnip extract. The catnip EO is much more concentrated and contains only the volatile compounds of catnip. A catnip extract will be mostly composed of either alcohol, glycerin, water, or some other carrier liquid combined with a very small percentage of catnip oil.

  32. That link for the Madagascar vanilla has glucose syrup in it, isn’t that counterproductive?

    • Lori – The glucose syrup is not a significant factor, especially since it is a minor percentage of the entire repellent formula. Both male and female mosquitoes fulfill their sugar requirements from flowers and plants. Female mosquitoes bite us for the proteins in our blood. Carbon dioxide, type O blood, cholesterol metabolism, beer-drinkers and other factors have more effect on attracting mosquitoes. Other factors are listed on our other page here under the heading, “What Attracts Mosquitoes to Some People More Than Others?”.

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