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Natural DIY Bug Sprays (safer & more effective than DEET!)

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This summer, our family spent several weeks in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina.  I was excited for the adventure!  I knew it would be hot, and I knew the humidity would be an adjustment (especially compared to Colorado and the west coast where we live).  I mentally prepared myself and was pleasantly surprised to find I adapted much better than I expected.  But... what I was NOT prepared for were the bugs that almost sent me running from the state screaming in panic!

After being bitten repeatedly on the legs by "who knows what" and witnessing flying creatures that looked like they migrated from another planet, I knew I had to do something.  I quickly went to work creating 3 natural bug sprays for my family and our pup.  Easy to make, these products are more effective than DEET and other toxic sprays that contain cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals.

What You'll Need

"Prolonged DEET exposure led to diffuse brain cell death, behavioral changes, and serious adverse effects to the central nervous system."

Health Study
Duke University

Home-made bug repellent sprays are very easy to make.  All you'll need is a spray bottle, distilled water, and specific essential oils that have been proven to repel pests.  These essential oils are so powerful, in clinical studies they have proven more effective than popular commercial bug sprays that contain an assortment of allergens, cancer-causing agents, and hormone-disrupting chemicals, none of which don't belong on your skin.  

DEET is a common bug repellent sold commercially in stores.  It's a registered pesticide that is absorbed through the skin and passes into the blood.  Duke University pharmacologist Mohamed Abou-Donia conducted a study on rats and found that frequent and prolonged DEET exposure led to diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes, as well as serious adverse effects to the central nervous system including motor deficits and learning and memory dysfunction.  There is no reason to use chemicals such as DEET and other sprays containing pyrethrin-based toxic agents on your skin when there are natural solutions which are as effective, if not more effective in repelling pests on both humans and pets.  

Both the New England Journal of Medicine and the USDA have found repellent sprays containing essential oil to exceed DEET and other synthetic repellent sprays in effectiveness.  The CDC has also reported that lemon eucalyptus can be as effective as DEET.(1)

Below I'm going to share with you 3 of my favorite sprays, each with a different combination of essential oils.  Try them out and see which one you like best.  They all have a very strong scent, and what one person may love the smell of, another may find hard to be around.  The blends below do a great job of balancing out some scents that can be overwhelming when used alone.  For example, cedar alone can be too earthy and strong for some people, yet when mixed with lemongrass and lavender, the combo can be very pleasing and refreshing!

The most popular oils that have been backed by clinical studies in terms of their pest-repelling efficacy include:

Citronella | Clove | Lemongrass | Cedar | Rose Geranium | Lavender | Eucalyptus | Cinnamon

Different oils repel different bugs which is why the following combinations deter fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes (although many other insects will also steer clear of the scents).

How to Apply

For the first 3 spray recipes, simply add all the ingredients to the spray bottle, shake well and spray on your skin.  Also lightly spray shoes when going out on hikes or in grassy areas as ticks are notorious for latching on and climbing up shoes to ankles.  For pets, lightly spray their body before walks and hikes.

Why We Use Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is extracted by steaming witch hazel twigs.  We add it to our sprays because oils do not dilute well in water, and witch hazel helps to emulsify the oils.  As a side note, witch hazel also possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties which it why it's often used to treat bug bites.

LavenderThe Merry Mix

  • 1 spray bottle 
  • 2 oz. water
  • 2 oz. witch hazel
  • 60 drops cedar oil
  • 30 drops lavender
  • 30 drops lemongrass

Plenty of Scenty

  • 1 spray bottle
  • 2 oz. water
  • 2 oz. witch hazel
  • 60 drops lavender
  • 60 drops citronella
  • 30 drops lemongrass
  • 20 drops cinnamon

The Musky Rose

  • 1 spray bottle
  • 2 oz. water
  • 2 oz. witch hazel
  • 60 drops cedar oil
  • 60 drops rose geranium (specifically the species "Pelargonium Capitatum X Radens")
  • 30 drops lemongrass


This formula is highly effective at repelling mosquitos.  Two separate studies found that lemon eucalyptus was more effective at repelling mosquitoes than common over-the-counter synthetic bug repellents (including Deet).(1) (2) (3)

  • 1 spray bottle
  • 2 oz. water
  • 2 oz. witch hazel
  • 60 drops lemon eucalyptus*

Rose Geranium Essential Oil (undiluted)

Rose geranium oil (therapeutic grade) is especially powerful in repelling ticks.  In addition to the sprays above, if ticks are a problem in your area, add 1 drop to each wrist, 1 drop to each ankle, and one to either side of your neck.  It has a beautiful, yet very strong scent that should only be applied once each day (or after swimming).  Do NOT add more than 1 drop to each location.  As you will discover, the scent can be overpowering and more is not better. 

Rose geranium oil

Rose Geranium is one of the few oils that does not need to be diluted when applied to skin (as is lavender), and I have yet to meet anyone who has suffered any skin irritation when applying it.  If you see any redness, then dilute 10 drops with 5 drops of water and 5 drops of witch hazel before applying.

Tick Control For Dogs, Too ^..^

Rose geranium is also a very strong tick deterrent for dogs, and has none of the toxic chemicals contained in Frontline, K9 Advantix, and other chemical spot-on treatments that should be avoided.  We applied it to our dog every day, along with a light spray of the Merry Mix and had no problems with fleas, ticks, or mosquitoes, even though ticks were a big problem in the area we stayed.  For dogs, hold apart fur and apply 1 drop of oil directly to skin on back of neck and 1 drop to the base of tail (see image).  Place 1 more drop in the palm of your hand and rub along belly.  Do NOT apply more than once each day as this oil has a very strong scent that lingers for many hours.  We did the same thing for ourselves as we did for our pup.  Every time we went for a walk or hike, we applied rose geranium and sprayed our legs and arms with Merry Mix.  Not only did we all smell great, but the car also smelled fabulous too!

Need more info on how to safely protect your pets and why you should avoid many commercial pest control solutions?  Check out:

Safe & natural pest repellents for pets...

Use Therapeutic-Grade Oils Only

Diluting essential oilsThere are many different essential oil manufacturers out there, some of which offer much higher quality oils than others.  Some are nothing but synthetic chemicals created to smell like their original counterpart but which contain none of the botanical compounds present in the originals.  Why is this important?  Because it means the essential oils will be much less effective, and sometimes not effective at all if the original botanical compounds are not present.

Therapeutic-grade essential oils are oils that have all their original botanical compounds intact.  The plants are collected at specific blooming/growth times and the manufacturing process is strictly controlled to make sure all of the important plant constituents remain undamaged.  No synthetic chemicals are used and no pesticides are sprayed onto the plants before harvesting.

It is very important you buy your oils from a reputable manufacturer that produces very high quality or therapeutic-grade essential oils.  These are the oils that are tested for their efficacy when it comes to treating disease and repelling pests and are what you should aim for when purchasing your DIY bug repellent oils.  My favorite manufacturers include:

Check Out The Body Healer Protocol!

To learn more about ditching chemicals in your body, on your body, and around your home, check out the Body Healer Protocol!  When it comes to restoring your mind and body to vibrant health, this powerful cutting-edge program is a no-nonsense approach that brings quick results and powerful change.


The Body Healer Protocol
The Body Healer Protocol