10 Essential Oils that Naturally Repel Insects
By: Jami Oles, HHP, CNT, CCNS
Ah, summertime! It’s that time of year to relax out on the porch, sip some lavender iced-tea, and watch the sun slowly dip behind the tree line. But if there’s one thing that can snap you straight out of that soothing summer bliss, it’s mosquitoes and other creepy crawlies found around your home!
Instead of slathering DEET a known neurotoxin, here are ten fabulous essential oils that are effective natural insect repellents backed by science:
- Lavender Lavandula angustifolia
When you think of lavender, relaxation and restful sleep are usually the first things that come to mind. But along with its lovely floral aroma and soothing qualities, lavender is also effective at battling the bugs.
Lavender pillows and sachets are wonderful in linen cupboards and chests of drawers and will keep away moths and other insects while leaving a fresh scent. Lavender oil can be sprayed from an atomizer or left in a saucer to help keep away ants and insects, and to disinfect the air.
- Basil Ocimum basilicum (L.)
Not just a zesty addition to your tomato sauce, basil essential oil is ideal for summer pest control, especially if you live in a wet climate with lots of lakes and ponds. One study showed O. basilicum exhibiting both mosquito repellent and larvicidal activity.
Basil is an uplifting oil, so add some to an atomizer and spray outside for a natural mosquito repellent and a well-deserved mood boost!
Additionally, if you suffer from indoor allergies on those rainy, summer days, a 2014 study also concluded that practical dust mite control can be achieved with basil oil. Yet another reason to clean green with versatile essential oils!
- Thyme Thymus vulgaris (L.)
I think all of us can agree that the common housefly is one of the most aggravating creatures on the planet. If you’ve ever lived on a farm, these pests are even more of a headache! Lucky for us, thyme has been found to be a highly effective insecticide against houseflies. A 2005 study also found thyme to be an excellent mosquito repellent as well.Win, win!
- Pine Pinus sylvestris (L.)
If you love camping but despise using Deet or other chemical bug sprays, pine is your perfect companion. A natural repellent against mosquitoes, pine will also keep you smelling fresh as the forest!
- Vetiver Vetiveria zizanioides
In Java, Indonesia, sustainable vetiver essential oil production has produced a viable vetiver craft industry with items such as aromatic mats, baskets, candles, and soaps—all being produced from the spent root. The added benefit is vetiver acts as a natural mosquito deterrent in the house. Diffusing a few drops of this oil will help repel the mosquitoes and also create a spicy, Balinese ambience for summer.
- Bergamot Citrus aurantium (L.)
Is there anything more “summery” than citrus? Bergamot is one of my favorite oils to use for cleaning, and it’s also the perfect addition to your natural insect repellent spray as it adds a mood boosting, fruity lift. It’s important to note that bergamot is very phototoxic, so you should not use it outside as a topical insect repellent, but rather an aromatic insect repellent spray for inside or to spray around you outside.
If the bugs happen to make a meal out of you on those long summer evenings, bergamot is a wonderful oil for topical use on insect bites or stings (just keep out of the sun)!
- Peppermint Mentha ×piperita (L.)
If you would rather a fresh and minty clean aroma in your bug spray than that icky chemical smell, peppermint is the perfect choice. Peppermint is a natural insecticide that kills as well as repels mosquitoes. In one study, M. ×piperita showed repellent action when applied to exposed body parts. It also displayed significant larvicidal and mosquito repellant action: Larvae of Culex quinuefasciatus were completely killed 24 hours after exposure (in water) to 3 ml of M. ×piperita per square meter of water.
Peppermint is also useful on insect stings and bites!
Here's a great recipe for insect stings and bites:
Tea tree Australia Melaleuca: 10 drops
Peppermint: 10 drops
Apply to the area undiluted as often as needed.
- Tea Tree Australia Melaleuca
Will the wonders of Australian tea tree oil ever cease? Tea tree is not only a green cleaning powerhouse, but it is also an antiparasitic, capable of destroying or suppressing the growth of parasites such as fleas, leeches, lice, and ticks. Use diffusion or direct topical application. Like bergamot, if those nasty critters do make a meal out of you, Australian tea tree can help beat the irritation from bites or stings.
- Eucalyptus globulus
A standard in any essential oil kit, your eucalyptus essential oil can also be used as an insecticide.
In a 2010 study, three species of eucalyptus (E. staigeriana, E. citriodora, and E. globulus) were tested for use with the blood-sucking sandfly, lutzomyia Lutzomyia longipalpis. Researchers found the eucalyptus essential oils were more effective against L. longipalpis than other natural products.
- Lemon eucalyptus Eucalyptus citriodora
As mentioned above, lemon eucalyptus E. citriodora can also be used as a natural insecticide—especially for those who love that citrusy smell for summer! It was also discovered that the distillate or hydrosol was very effective against mosquitoes and not as volatile as the essential oil. This could be a great essential oil mosquito repellent option for use around children and pets, since the hydrosol still provides very high protection from a broad range of insects over several hours.
Now that you have your oils ready to arm yourself against the bites and stings of summer, here is my favorite natural insect repellent recipe for keeping those bugs at bay. Happy summer!
Natural Insect Repellant Spray:
Lavender Lavandula angustifolia oil: 15 drops
Lemon eucalyptus Eucalyptus citriodora oil: 10 drops
Tea tree Australia Melaleuca alternifolia oil: 10 drops
Lime Citrus aurantifolia oil: 6 drops
Bergamot Citrus aurantium var. bergamia oil: 6 drops
Distilled water: 2 ounces
Vinegar from your kitchen: 2 ounces
Blend all the ingredients and put into a spray bottle. Shake well before using.
Note: Both bergamot and lime are photosensitive oils. This is an aromatic blend meant to be diffused into the air around you and is not intended for topical or internal use.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. This article has not been reviewed by the FDA. Always consult with your primary care physician or naturopathic doctor before making any significant changes to your health and wellness routine.
Jami is a mother of three and a Holistic Health Practitioner with a 10 year background in Nursing and Emergency Medicine. She is a Certified Nutritional Therapist, Holistic Nurse, EMT, Certified Child Nutrition Specialist, and is currently pursuing her PhD in Naturopathic Medicine. Jami is also a member of the American Holistic Nurses Association and regular guest and host on WNDB radio’s “Sunrise Today Show”. She is available for seminars, education workshops and consultations.
You can reach Jami via email - email@example.com
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