Homemade Alternative to Toxic Bug Repellent DEET

Posted by Bradley Lewis on

In addition to sharing information about the many uses and benefits of calcium bentonite clay, we are also committed to sharing information on nature’s MANY other sources of health and wellness. Earth’s Natural is grateful to Master Herbalist Kacie Serpico for this blog post on a safe, effective natural bug repellent you can make at home.

With summer time upon us, the joy of the outdoors is something that cannot be ignored. But, whether you are camping, hiking or enjoying an afternoon by the pool, the beauty of the outdoors comes with the downfall of mosquitoes. Not only do mosquitoes cause itchy raised bumps with lots of irritation but in many parts of the world they spread diseases like malaria. So it’s extremely important to protect ourselves from these blood sucking, and sometimes disease-carrying, bugs.

The Truth About DEET

N-N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide or more commonly known as DEET, is the main ingredient in most commercial insect repellents. About 2 million people use products containing DEET every year, and, since it became legal for public use in 1957, about 8 billion doses of DEET have been applied. Many government agencies deem DEET safe. However, because compounds that are applied to the skin are readily absorbed into the blood stream, DEET may not be as safe as we think: it deters insects by affecting the nervous system, and it can affects humans in the same manner. One study showed that, in rats, long term use of DEET actually killed brain cells. To make matters worse, bug sprays are often a chemical cocktail of toxicity, containing many different insecticides that are all potentially dangerous. These chemicals are especially toxic to the sensitive, developing bodies of children. So the question is why take the risk with toxic chemicals when there are other alternatives out there?

A Homemade Alternative to DEET Products

The best alternative I’ve found to typical bug repellent is a homemade blend of essential oils.

  • 4 oz of witch hazel extract
  • 4 oz of catnip tincture (90-100% alcohol)
  • 90 drops of citronella essential oil
  • 80 drops of eucalyptus essential oil
  • 40 drops of lavender essential oil
  • 30 drops of rosemary essential oil
  • 20 drops of clove bud essential oil
  • 10 drops of lemon essential oil
  • 10 drops of lemongrass essential oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a spray bottle. (Glass is preferred because the essential oils can eat away at plastic.) Make sure to label the bottle and write ‘For External Use Only!’ Shake well before using. This bug spray ends up a rich green color, so, be careful when wearing light colored clothes.

What Makes It Work?

  • Catnip essential oil (Nepeta cataria) has been shown to be a very effective mosquito repellant against several different species and it is up to 10 times more effective than DEET. The only problem is that it is also very expensive.  For this reason, I make a strong tincture from fresh catnip. 90-100% alcohol is enough to pull out the essential oils from the fresh plant material.

  • Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) has been used for over 50 years as a natural bug repellant. Its main constituent, citronellal, can provide up to 2 hours of complete bug-free relief.

  • Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citrates) has been shown to give almost complete protection from the type of mosquito that carries malaria for up to 11 hours.  Most of the other essential oils in the recipe have long been used to repel mosquitoes, along with other types of insects, but there is limited research to prove this.

  • Not only is lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) an insect repellant, but it also helps to treat insect bites by preventing itching and scratching. Witch hazel extract also helps tame itch and inflammation associated with bug bits. So even if bugs manage to make its past the spray, you also have some built in help with treating the bites.

About the Author

Kacie Serpico is a master herbalist from the Denvermetro area. She studied at Just for Health School of Reflexology and Healing Arts and she has received a BA in psychology and holistic health from Metropolitan State College of Denver. Kacie is passionate about providing assistance and advice regarding natural health and healing. Her blog, http://theverbalherbal.blogspot.com/ focuses on green living, herbal healing, wellness and alternative medicine, taking a Do-it-Yourself approach to health. Find Kacie on Twitter @KacieSerpico or follow The Verbal Herbal on Facebook.


Battaglia, S. (2003). The complete guide to aromatherapy (2nd ed.).Brisbane: International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.

Wildwood, C. (1996). The encyclopedia of aromatherapy.Rochester,Vt.: Healing Arts Press.





Efficacy and safety of catnip (Nepeta cataria) as a novel filth fly repellent*





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