Anyone who is an avid camper or outdoor enthusiast knows the trauma of bug season. Whether you come across black flies, horse flies, fire ants or mosquitoes, these tiny creatures create giant-sized annoyances. They fly up your nose, buzz in your ear and potentially leave welts, bumps and intensely itchy red patches on your skin. On the more serious side, mosquitoes carry deadly diseases such as malaria in many parts of the world. So, aside from staying indoors what can you do to cope with these pests? Here are some natural ways to repel bugs that bite and buzz.
First of all, you can help the situation by wearing a hat. Some have mesh covering the face if you’re in a serious “war zone” or Australian cork hats have little cork pieces hanging from string that swing back and forth to act as a windshield wiper of sorts against incoming bugs.
Avoid traipsing around in the woods at dusk and dawn which are the prime times for our little friends. You can wear long sleeves and pants, although this may not be an appealing option on a sweltering hot day. In that case, there are sprays and oils to use on exposed skin.
Look for products with the following ingredients alone or in combination for an effective, natural repellent. Avoid the chemical-based treatments and opt for formulas using essential oils as the active ingredients.
Citronella: An essential oil traditionally used against mosquitoes, ticks and black flies, this well-known ingredient is in many products including candles, rubs and sprays. You can even get a citronella dog collar!
Clove: A study completed in 2005 on the efficacy of essential oils to repel mosquitoes, cited this oil as lasting the longest (two-four hours) and with 100 percent repellency. Citronella was one of the top performers as well.
Lemon Eucalyptus (also known as PMD): This is an essential oil used as a mosquito repellent and to prevent ticks from attaching to your skin; derived from the lemon eucalyptus plant this oil is shown to be as effective as products containing DEET without the adverse effects. Keep away from your mouth and eyes.
Camphor oil/Limonene: These two essential oils were shown to be the most effective components in a combination of oils to repel mosquitoes and flies.
For a more hands-on approach, you can make your own bug repellent! Here are some recipes from the David Suzuki foundation, an environmental and advocacy group:
Herbal Insect Repellent
- 2 ½ teaspoons essential oil (any combination of basil, cedar, citronella, juniper, lemon, myrrh, palmarosa, pine, rose geranium, rosemary)
- a few drops peppermint essential oil (optional, for fragrance)
- 1 cup grain alcohol (eg. vodka)
Mix ingredients in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. If you like, you can transfer small amounts into smaller bottles that can easily fit in a backpack or purse. Experiment! Various oils best complement different body chemistries.
Essential Oil Bug Spray
- 9 drops citronella essential oil
- 9 drops peppermint essential oil
- 9 drops lemongrass essential oil
- 1 tablespoon grain alcohol (vodka)
- ¼ cup spring water
Add all ingredients to a spray bottle. Let mellow for a few days, allowing the essential oils to blend. Spray on skin as needed or use as room spray (around windows and doors) to keep mosquitoes away.
Camping/Hiking Bug Spray
- 3 ounces distilled water
- 1 ounce grain alcohol (vodka)
- 6 drops lavender essential oil
- 3 drops tea tree essential oil
- 3 drops citronella essential oil
Combine ingredients in spray bottle. Make this a few days before heading camping or hiking! The longer you can let it mellow, the more effective it will be.
Editor's Note: Naturally Savvy's sponsor, North American Herb & Spice, makes two effective essential oil-based insect repellants that are safe for adults, children, and pets too!