natural insect repellents- outdoor challenge

Last week my friend Jessica brought up the subject of natural insect repellents. I love this idea and we have tried many commercial natural repellents that didn’t seem to cut it very well with Araina. She’s got the type of body chemistry where insects would eat her alive if they could; she must taste very good! I know the ingredient Deet is the only full proof method to keep those blood suckers away, but I just CAN’T put it on my little ladies. These methods I’m about to share seem to help Fauna much more than Araina………

The best essential oils to use for homemade natural repellents are-
citronella, tea tree, cajuput, rosemary, red thyme, lavender, eucalyptus, cedarwood, geranium, juniper , patchouli, pennyroyal, pine, and lemongrass. You could make a spray with any of these oils in a witch hazel base or dilute them in a carrier oil (jojoba, sweet almond, olive oil). Important note- NEVER apply any of these essential oils directly to the skin (with the exception of tea tree and lavender) they could cause burning or other bad reactions.  

The ratio to mixing your own insect repellent-
2 oz. witch hazel (or you may substitue with a carrier oil)
60 drops essential oils
* Mix in a spray bottle and shake before each use. Apply every 20 minutes *natural repellents wear off easily.


The cloth strip method
My little ladies like the cloth strip way of wearing natural bug repellents. We cut strips of cotton cloth and apply lavender directly to the cloth, mix citronella in a little grapeseed oil, then apply it to the cloth too. They wear these cloth strips as headbands, belts,  and around their wrists and ankles. As you can see, it’s quite the fashion statement.

Herbalist Karen Mallinger’s,  All Goode Gifts , recipe for a natural repellent-
16 oz of carrier oil (jojoba, grapeseed, sweet almond, olive oil)
16 oz witchhazel
1/2 oz citronella
1/4 oz lavender
1/8 oz pennyroyal
1/8 oz tea tree
1/8 oz lemongrass

More suggestions from blogger friends-
- We just use a spray bottle of white vinegar. It dries within 10 seconds (so no after-smell!) and works VERY well. I used to be the “bug buffet” of my family and friends (as in, I would have 20 bug bites after an hour…everyone else would have none!) and it’s the only thing I use now! Sarah M from Our House In the Middle of Our Street
-Apple Cider Vinegar-Basically you drink 1 oz. of acv (or as much as you can stomach) before going out for the day. We dilute ours in water. Renee from FIMBY
-Another fabulous combo is using yarrow tincture as the base and some neem oil. Even the no-see-ums will leave you be! Rachel from The Family Herbal

If you do get bit or stung this season-
Use a few drops of undiluted lavender directly to the bite/sting.

For those nasty ticks-
Never pull a tick off the skin once the tick’s head has penetrated; put a drop of undiluted tea tree oil on the nasty beast until he lets go. Then treat the bite once again with a drop of tea tree oil.

Other ways to avoid the buggies of warmer weather-
1. Avoid soaps and shampoos with fragrance.
2. Avoid wearing dark clothing.

Now for the Outdoor Challenge Participant of the Day-Denise, from a smile a day, photographed her dad and youngest son doing some planting together. She writes,” Grandad and youngest Grandson. Learning from each other. Connecting.” Beautiful!

 Visit the other Great Outdoor Challenge players- 145 so far! It’s never too late to join; people are still entering daily!

lisasanders, angelina, phyllis, sarah, christie, jennifer, debbie, dong dong, denise,luisa, joy, stephanie, cori, alex, dawn, kristen, catherine, tricia,becky, christy, ruth, kari, courtney,branflakes,jessica, renee, haiku,brynn, amy, clemencia, sherry, leslie, lise, renee, anet, jenn, marina, amy, ella, marcia, karen, beth,julie,kyndale,kelly,lizzie, eileen,ag, mari-ann, cindy, robin, nicole, debbie, julia, renee, anita,lisa, jenn, montessori, marita,jeannie, hallie, mandy, kangaroo, andrea, joey, carmen, teena, stephinie, gidget, elizabeth, emma, rosina, saminda, melissa, katie, becca, atouria, barbara, ariella,missy, elizabeth, sarah, eileen, lisa, stacy, jennifer, tulsileaf, lisa C, morticia, angela, rana,jamie,lisa c, luz, charley, heather, valerie, kirsten, rachel, annie, kendra, beth s, lindseymichelle, megan, jen, jenni, gabbyrenee,korina, linda, adventurekerrs, laura, melissa, eva, jenny, amber, deb, wendy, courtney, shanti, msrev, kellyi, tammy, julia  , maureen,indigomum, andrea, mindy, becky, dawn, sarah,michelle, shelley, amber, nicole, cara, ginny, kris, tawnie, nancy, alex, kathi, ana, sarah m, stephanie

If you leave a link on the days you participate, I will know I have permission to share, for Outdoor Challenge Participant of the Day.

The purpose of Children & Nature Awareness Month is to celebrate the benefits of experiences in the natural world to children, and to all of us, and to offer alternatives to nature-deficit disorder,” said Dr. Cheryl Charles, President and CEO of C&NN.


  • February 22, 2011 - 4:29 am | Permalink

    What a stylish way to repel insects! Sometimes it’s really hard to get kids to wear repellent, but if you make it a part of their outfit, how can they say no?!

  • Raquel
    February 4, 2011 - 8:19 pm | Permalink

    a truly inspired site, in my quest to return to nature, and provide a safe and imaginative environment for my children, i love your creative work, and have myself used some of the herbal and natural remedies you list here – and during a particularly endemic bug infestation which set in during renovations when the house was empty, i can attest that these remedies do work! fleas, ants and even mozzies during the hight of a humid australian summer have not touched our children (9months, 7,11, and 14) and are safe for all the kids.

  • June 19, 2010 - 7:38 pm | Permalink

    i would definitly try this! thanks for the tips :)

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  • April 21, 2010 - 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Oh my gosh! Thanks for this Lisa. Can’t wait to try this when I go to my cabin next month!

  • April 21, 2010 - 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I use vinegar for everything else in my life, it seems, so the natural next step is to try out that natural bugspray business. How fun!

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  • Ashley
    April 19, 2010 - 9:08 am | Permalink

    I feel the same way about using DEET on my little ones. I’m always looking for safer products to use on my children so I was pleased when I discovered Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. The Environmental Protection Agency and Center for Disease Control and Prevention Agency both recommend OLE as the only plant based active ingredient for insect repellent. It is proven to work as well as DEET but without all the harmful effects. Cutter and Repel both make an Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus product that is sold at Target and most local sporting goods stores. Give it a try and see how it works for you.
    P.S I love your idea about the cloth strips, I will have to try that.

  • Tamra
    April 17, 2010 - 10:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been away on vacay and am getting back to catching up on my blog posts… love this one about bug repellents! Thanks!

  • April 17, 2010 - 7:47 am | Permalink

    How interesting about the vinegar. Here in Scotland, one pharmaceutical company is experimenting with bog myrtle – a native plant in Scotland. It is whiffy – I often just crush the leaves and rub if I’m walking past some.

    In Scandinavia and Scotland, the process of creating charcoal can also be used to extract pine resin that can be diluted down to make an insect repellent.

    Here in Scotland a traditional torture method for enemies was to strip a person naked and leave them tied to a stake in a bog. The midges – our no-see-um equivalent – would get them. I’ve lived in part of Scotland that are so midgey that the only think that works is midge nets – these are finer than mosquito nets.

  • April 17, 2010 - 1:00 am | Permalink

    Love to participate in the outdoor challenge!

  • April 16, 2010 - 11:50 pm | Permalink

    I need to bookmark tis post. Lots of good information here!

  • April 16, 2010 - 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for sharing… I’m always looking for ways to keep mosquitoes, no see-ums, sand fleas, ticks, etc at bay… We have a LOT of bugs in Florida. Having contracted Lyme from a tick working in the field and having had viral meningitis TWICE, likely from mosquitoes, I don’t get out as much as I would like to anymore, because I hate using DEET. The white vinegar method sounds interesting too…. It’s also great at cooling sunburn. I’m going to tell my daughter about the cloth strip method to use on my grandbabies!

  • April 16, 2010 - 5:47 pm | Permalink

    This sounds interesting. We will have to try this out.

    Sidenote: I don’t think I could stomach the apple cider vinager. I’ll stick to the cloth bands. :-)

  • April 16, 2010 - 4:57 pm | Permalink

    i can’t remember where i found this out, but another really great essential oil to use is catnip!

  • April 16, 2010 - 3:02 pm | Permalink

    What a great idea! My girls would love to wear the bands in their hand, and around their wrist and neck like your girls.
    Thanks for posting this.

    Here is out post for the outdoor challenge

  • April 16, 2010 - 2:32 pm | Permalink

    yeah, we have not had much luck with the store bought natural repellants. Thanks for these tips and recipes. And I love the fabric strip idea!

  • April 16, 2010 - 1:55 pm | Permalink

    We usually brave the bugs of summer repellent free! Maybe we’ll try some homemade natural repellent this year!

    Here are our outdoor challenge bubble-blowing photos:

  • April 16, 2010 - 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Cool post.
    We had an amazing outdoor adventure yesterday . . . releasing just-hatched mantises into our vegetable garden.

  • April 16, 2010 - 11:23 am | Permalink

    We have done the cloth strip method, and it works so well for hiking, camping ,etc. Thank you for all this great info!

  • April 16, 2010 - 10:47 am | Permalink

    What a great thing to make! Thanks for the idea.

  • April 16, 2010 - 10:34 am | Permalink

    We used to make our bug spray in a bottle of lavender water. I love the idea of making the cloth strips! Definitely will have to try …
    Happy weekend!

  • April 16, 2010 - 10:03 am | Permalink

    The natural insect repellent is great – black fly season is just around the corner, so we will try your recipe out – thanks for sharing.

    We did some biking for our challenge yesterday:

  • April 16, 2010 - 9:50 am | Permalink

    That is the most beautiful insect repellent idea I’ve ever seen. Thanks so much for sharing. Here’s our link to the Great Outdoor Challenge. Happy Weekend.

  • April 16, 2010 - 8:54 am | Permalink

    Thank you, We love to do things natural~

  • April 16, 2010 - 8:39 am | Permalink

    lisa, this challange is a fantastic idea, and, although I’m too lazy to take photos and put them on my blog daily, I must say that me and my son participate in this challange wholeheartedly.
    Thanks for sharing all those lovely ideas!

  • April 16, 2010 - 8:32 am | Permalink

    This looks great. I will be making some up for our buggy season! Thanks!

    It was a bit hard to get out the door on our rainy day yesterday… thanks for the inspiration!

  • April 16, 2010 - 8:20 am | Permalink

    I love this wearing the cloth idea! So practical … Thanks for the tips :)

  • April 16, 2010 - 8:04 am | Permalink

    Excellent and adorable way to keep the bugs off! We just use a spray bottle of white vinegar.
    It dries within 10 seconds (so no after-smell!) and works VERY well. I used to be the “bug buffet” of my family and friends (as in, I would have 20 bug bites after an hour…everyone else would have none!) and it’s the only thing I use now!

    I love your outdoor challenge–I just found your blog yesterday, we are outdoors everyday these past few weeks, for hours at a time. My kids have never slept so hard :)
    Today, we’re meeting a friend and her daughter here:

    Sarah M

    • April 16, 2010 - 8:30 am | Permalink

      So envious Sarah that you live close enough to meet a friend at the arbor day farm! Would love to visit is sometime.

      Gonna try the white vinegar! thanks for the suggestion!

  • April 16, 2010 - 6:07 am | Permalink

    Great idea, thanks for sharing. Here’s our day outside
    love to all xxx

  • April 16, 2010 - 5:19 am | Permalink

    Adorable way to present repellents !!!

  • April 16, 2010 - 4:19 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for including us in todays post, we are thrilled.
    Great ideas for keeping bugs at bay.
    Have a lovely weekend outside

  • April 16, 2010 - 2:41 am | Permalink

    We didn’t do much adventuring outside today…just a simple burrito and rice picnic party.

    We use, “All terrain herbal armor”, for insect repellent. I love the smell of the lemongrass and citronella mixed together. Hey I love the idea of putting the oils on a cloth. I usually just rub them on!


  • April 16, 2010 - 2:39 am | Permalink

    We’ve been outside all day for the past two days putting together a vegetable garden. My toddler has been helping to pull the weeds!

    Thanks for the insect repellent tips, we’re going to be needing these as it starts to get warmer here in Germany!

  • April 16, 2010 - 12:18 am | Permalink

    I love the cloth strip idea, as I have become more and more cautious ab/applying essential oils to the skin, even diluted. Another fabulous combo is using yarrow tincture as the base and some neem oil. Even the no-see-ums will leave you be!

  • April 15, 2010 - 11:25 pm | Permalink

    That’s brilliant! I wish we had known about that recipe and the cloth strips last week. The mosquitoes were mostly after my son and we decided that it was the ginger cookie scented shampoo he’d used.

  • April 15, 2010 - 11:21 pm | Permalink

    No commercial/chemical sprays for us either. We have used the apple cider vinegar like Renee suggested and I find it works. We have SO many mosquitoes in our back yard because it’s so damp. They don’t even wait until night-time they are out all day. Thanks for all this info. We’ve tried some of these; will have to try more. -Debbie

  • April 15, 2010 - 10:56 pm | Permalink

    We will definitely try this! Thank you! We have to actually go to wearing those lovely mosquito netting hats in the summer so that we can garden. The deer/black flies are so bad here!
    I am participating in the outdoor challenge today, here is my link:

  • April 15, 2010 - 10:48 pm | Permalink

    wonderful post lisa!
    thank goodness the bugs are underground slubering here for now!

  • April 15, 2010 - 10:44 pm | Permalink

    What a clever idea! This will work very well for the warm days when long pants and sleeves are not an option. Thank you so much for sharing. :)

  • April 15, 2010 - 10:43 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t like using commercial bug spray on my kids, thanks for this tip. We’ve used vanilla extract to keep gnats and mosquitoes away and that has worked fairly well. I know some people have used ambisol (spelling?) too although I don’t know why.

  • April 15, 2010 - 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes I think we live in tick and mosquito central, so can’t wait to try this!

    Our submission is up for the day, too…

    • April 15, 2010 - 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Ugh, ticks all over the place here too. I really don’t like those buggers and can’t find a single reason to like them!

  • April 15, 2010 - 10:19 pm | Permalink

    LIsa, have you tried Apple Cider Vinegar (drinking it). This is something we are field testing, or I should say hike testing. There’s a lot of bugs in the maine woods and we’re out there every weekend. We were head nets and long, breathable clothing but we need more! We started this the end of last hiking season and will test it more this year. Basically you drink 1 oz. of acv (or as much as you can stomach) before going out for the day. We dilute ours in water.

    • April 15, 2010 - 10:23 pm | Permalink

      Very interesting Renee and I can see why it would work! I used to drink ACV with honey daily, but got a little worried about my teeth. Silly really.
      We will try this! Thanks so much for sharing!

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