Call for Non-Toxic Mosquito Repellent

insect repellent, mosquito repellent

Summer camp is fast approaching and we are in desperate need of a non toxic mosquito repellent that actually works. We have tried many many brands that advertise natural and/or herbal ingredients — but THEY DON’T WORK! We all know that the conventional brands have extremely dangerous substances in them that can cause many acute events such as seizures, migraines, skin reactions, etc. Beyond that, there are the long term problems of hormone disruption and carcinogenicity. What’s a mother to do?

One of the most common active ingredients found in synthetic insect repellents is DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). DEET is a powerful insecticide used in many products. Although DEET is very effective as an insect repellent, it can be a neurotoxin. When applied directly on the skin, over half of DEET is absorbed into the bloodstream. It can cause side effects such as skin rashes, muscle spasms, nausea, lethargy, and irritability. Severe reactions can be seizures or even death. Studies have shown that DEET may not be safe for use in and around water sources.

First we tried Skin-So-Soft. The fragrance was too strong and it did not keep the mosquitoes away. Then there were the multitude of different herbal remedies from the health food store.  Many have essential oils in them. Apparently mosquitoes do not like certain scents and that is what keeps them away. Many have citronella, lemongrass, and cedar, but those did not work for us. I have yet to find one that does work.

Does anyone have a brand or a home remedy for this application? If so, please leave a comment with your solution. If you blogged about it — please share the link.

I can’t wait to find a good solution for these pests!

Photo Credit: http:Leszek Leszczynski

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Leave a Comment

  • Erin C June 16, 2011, 9:11 pm

    I’ve never tried it personally, but I’ve heard that eating a lot of garlic will keep the bugs away.

    • Jill June 17, 2011, 12:50 pm

      Hi Erin,
      I’ve heard that too — but I think you really have to smell strong! LOL

  • Cara June 16, 2011, 9:57 pm

    I’ve got a recipe going up tomorrow! But I had success with the Miessense (sp?) bug spray last year, so I just used similar ingredients in my homemade one, which worked when we tried it today. I’m not sure it would work where mosquitoes are really thick though (we’re in montana)

    • Jill June 17, 2011, 12:50 pm

      Hi Cara,

  • AJ June 16, 2011, 11:51 pm

    I have success with the herb Pennyroyal. I make a strong tea, let it cool and then apply with a washcloth.

  • Kendra June 17, 2011, 12:05 am

    Haven’t checked the label of the Cutter brand shown but CDC just approved Lemon Eucalyptus Oil as effective as Deet products. Perhaps grow your own for infusions.

    • Jill June 17, 2011, 12:52 pm

      Hi Kendra,
      I don’t have time to grow my own — wonder where I could get lemon eucalyptus oil — it must have a strong smell as eucalyptus trees smell very strong. I’d like to try this one.

  • Gretchen June 17, 2011, 8:27 am

    I will try this new Cutter spray – just to see, but at the moment we use the regular stuff with DEET. However, I do not ever spray it on skin – just on shoes, socks, and clothes. Yes, we do get bitten occasionally, but not as much. And I am aiming to keep ticks away more than mossies. Also, I have heard about taking the vitamin Bs in order to keep bugs away. Not as smelly as garlic breath!

  • J June 17, 2011, 8:36 am

    Haven’t tried, but heard about putting a dryer sheet in your pocket or tie to your clothing. Perhaps?

  • Hannah June 17, 2011, 9:37 am

    My mother-in-law swears by vanilla. She tends to use vanilla-scented body sprays, which do seem to work. For some reason I think vanilla extract might work, too. I have also read, recently, that lemon balm is supposed to help repel insects, but don’t have any experience with that (just transplanted some from a friend!).

  • jean June 17, 2011, 9:40 am

    I have used Neem oil countless times and find it works very well. I mix it with lemongrass and peppermint. Neem has a smell some don’t like, but over time, I got to actually like it. Catnip oil has been found to work 10 times better than Deet in studies.
    Hope you find a good natural solution because mosquitoes are not fun.

    • Sarah June 23, 2011, 7:05 pm

      Neem smells a bit like mild garlic. It is a strong substance used against insects and parasites.

  • Tina June 17, 2011, 9:41 am

    I just bought some natural bug spray at to take on vacation. Haven’t used it yet, but Dr. Mercola usually researches and makes sure something is good before he puts it on the market. Read the bottom half of this site page:

    • jan July 11, 2011, 7:50 am

      This was did not work for me at all. I live in a wooded area. jan

  • Lynn D June 17, 2011, 11:29 am

    Have heard Pennyroyal is too strong if one is pregnant

    Lemon eucalyptus grows in a store parking lot (also called naked lady as very smooth trunk)

  • Becky June 17, 2011, 11:32 am

    Try Badger Balm
    My 16 ds came home from B.S. campout and told me to get it because it was the only thing that worked in our northern MI woods. It has castor oil, essential oils citronella, cedar, lemongrass, rosemary, geranium, olive oil and beeswax, and many of the ingredients are organic.

    • Jill June 17, 2011, 12:54 pm

      HI Becky,
      Thanks so much for the link! I’m going to try these and the sunscreen as well!

  • Katie @ Wellness Mama June 17, 2011, 11:37 am

    I just posted on this recently actually… Here are the most effective ideas I’ve found

    • Jill June 17, 2011, 12:55 pm

      Hi Katie,
      Thanks so much for the links!

  • Cindy Helgason June 17, 2011, 12:33 pm

    I’ve been making and selling this for more than 10 years and people really like it – see the testimonials.

    • Jill June 17, 2011, 12:55 pm

      Hi Cindy,
      Thanks so much for the links!

  • Lori @ Laurel of Leaves June 18, 2011, 2:03 am

    I’ve read that catnip oil has been shown to be ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET.
    Rosemary & basil are also natural mosquito repellents. I’ve not tried it but I hear you can infuse rosemary in vodka to make your own bug spray.

    • Sarah June 23, 2011, 7:11 pm

      I have tried rubbing fresh basil on my arms and legs while weeding in the garden. It did work for a half hour or so, then required re-application.

  • Becky June 18, 2011, 11:04 pm

    An employee at whole foods told me activated charcoal keeps the bugs away. She seemed a little crazy so I said thank you for the advice and tucked it away into the back of my mind. A few months later, a farmer at the local market said he uses charcoal to keep bugs out of his garden. I found that interesting and it reminded me what the lady at whole foods said but I didn’t purposely try it out. One evening I was working in my garden and my son was playing in the yard. I saw a few mosquitoes but they would fly around me but they weren’t really biting me. I called my son over and I instantly noticed mosquitos were swarmed around him and I could already see at least 20 bites on him. I frantically rushed him inside. He was covered in bites but I didn’t have a single one. I had taken activated charcoal that afternoon for another reason. That’s only thing I can think of that would have made a difference.

    • Jill June 19, 2011, 5:52 pm

      Hi Becky,
      That is very interesting!

  • Hannah K. June 20, 2011, 12:26 pm

    We use Buzz Away Extreme, and it works great! It does have a strong smell at first, but it really keeps the bugs away – it also keeps ticks away (which is important where I live).

    So far it’s one of the only things that has worked for my sister and I who seem to attract more bugs than should be allowed.

  • Jill June 20, 2011, 3:17 pm

    Thanks Hannah,
    I will put it on my list!

  • Caroline Cooper June 21, 2011, 10:09 pm

    I have been working on a bug away spray that is safe for my family. You can go to the link here or read the posting below:

    Greek myth had it that Achilles painted himself with a tincture of yarrow to make himself invulnerable to arrows, everywhere on his body except his heel.
    Mountain Rose Herbs

    All the flooding this year has been very hard on many communities but all that standing water has created a fabulous environment for many creatures. Normally, Kamloops is very dry and the season for biting insects is very short. But this year, all the extra rain has exploded the mosquito population.

    Over the last few months, I have been researching simple herbal remedies. One of my favorite online sources of information is This website has a wealth of information and is a great way to stay in contact with the herbal community. I found this recipe for bug spray on their website and have made a few changes.

    Presently, I am reading Health through God’s Pharmacy by Maria Treben. This book is a rich source of practical advice and easy recipes for beginners. She goes over about thirty common plants that can be found growing as weeds in the wild or can be cultivated in our medical herb garden. What I really like about this book is that it encourages the reader to go out into their garden or local wild areas and find these plants during blooming season. This gives the gatherer an appreciation of the plant in its environment. Carefully gathering wild local plants is sustainable and cost effective. Gathering your own herbs from the local environment makes the herb gatherer independent from the phamaceutical industry and commercial herb suppliers.

    I use a number of books as reference for remedies and identification. A standard practice when learning to identify plants for medicinal use is to use three different sources of information and to cross-reference the material:

    A Modern Herbal Volume I and II by Mrs. M. Grieve
    DK Natural Health Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier
    Prescription for Herbal Healing by Phillis Balch
    Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Peterson Field Guides
    Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada by Lone Pine Publishing
    Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to Know in British Columbia by C. P. Lyons

    Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is the first plant I have gathered from the wild this year. Yarrow is good for stopping bleeding and healing wounds. Yarrow is a bitter and helps with digestion. Yarrow is considered a woman’s tonic, and is good for younger and older women alike. I found an area near my home where the plant grows in large quantities. Maria Treben recommends harvesting yarrow “in bright sunshine, since the volatile oils and, therefore, their curative quality are greater.” I harvested the flowers and leaves by cutting the tops of the plant with a knife. I did not disturb the roots. I also would take individual plants from large groups of the same type of plant. The plant can be used fresh or dried, in a tea, infusion, or sitz bath. Yarrow can also be made into an extract for stronger preparations or made into an ointment. As an experiment, try a tea or infusion of fresh yarrow. Dry some yarrow flowers and leaves for later use.

    Yarrow Extract
    2c fresh yarrow leaves and flowers, packed
    2c organic vodka
    pint sized mason jar
    Pack the fresh yarrow leaves and flowers into the mason jar. Leave some space at the top. Make sure all the plant material is covered with vodka. I really like Prairie Organic Vodka which is available in Kamloops. Close the mason jar with a lid. Stir or shake the mixture each day for a week. At the end of the week strain off the plant materials. Squeeze out as much of the vodka as you can from the plant material and compost the waste. Store the yarrow extract in a glass container in a dark place.

    Easy Bug Away Spray
    1c fresh yarrow leaves and flowers
    2c filtered water
    recycled spray bottle
    Put the yarrow in a mason jar. Boil the water and pour over plant material. Let the mixture sit overnight. Strain and squeeze out the plant material and compost. Put the infusion into the recycled spray bottle. Spray on exposed skin. This spray will not have as long lasting effect as the Super Bug Away Spray.

    Super Bug Away Spray
    1oz Yarrow extract
    1oz Catnip hydrosol
    3-4 drops of Catnip essential oil (optional)
    2oz amber glass bottle with finger mister or recycle a spray bottle
    Take the 2oz amber glass bottle and fill it half way with yarrow extract. Fill the rest of the bottle with Catnip hydrosol. These two ingredients make a very powerful bug spray. If you want a super strong Bug Away Spray, add a few drops of Catnip essential oil which is reported to have the same affect as DEET. Shake before applying to skin. This is an extremely potent bug spray.

    Happy Summer Solstice,

    Caroline Cooper
    WAPF Kamloops Chapter

    • Jill June 22, 2011, 6:10 am

      Hi Caroline,
      Thank you so much for sharing your blog post. You have certainly done a lot of research and it is very detailed and interesting. I am really interested in reading your other blog posts as well!

  • chaya June 22, 2011, 9:50 am

    I’m growing catnip this year! We’ve been drinking it as a tea for the calming and digestive aid properties…but supposedly I can make a tincture out of it to use as a repellant. I’ve been combing books and the internet to get the right tincture recipe (glycerin or alcohol? What measurement?) but have yet to find anything firm. Sigh…I might just take the chance and try it anyway.

    • Jill June 22, 2011, 10:27 am

      Hi Chaya,
      Take a look at some of the comments on this post as there are some good suggestions that may help you!

  • Caroline Cooper June 22, 2011, 9:58 am

    Hi Jill,

    After going low-carbohydrate with the SCD/GAPS program due to yeast infections I found the bugs did not bite me anymore! I have found that eating low-carbohydrate before and during a trip into bug infested woods and marshes works extremely well. I used to be the person in the group completely devoured by bugs. Now everyone else is slapping bugs and I am just watching the show with interest.

    An old hunter once told me that bugs ate me because my “blood was sweet”. I thought he was talking metaphorically. I didn’t realize he was giving me practical advice. Maybe high blood sugar also gives off a smell that the bugs can sense. Maybe this high sugar blood is also better for the mosquito’s larva.

    Generally, bugs are worst in the spring and in some areas the summer. In the past, our ancestors would have only had access to sweet fruits and berries during the fall after the worst of the bug season. Nevertheless, wild fruits and berries are not as sweet as our modern equivalent. Don’t eat sugary or starchy foods in the woods during bug season! Even healthy fruit will cause the bugs to bite. While in the woods, eat lots of animal fats, animals proteins and a few vegetables if you must.

    I will give one example. Last year we were canoeing in Clearwater Lake, BC. The area is infested with mosquitoes, deer flies and no-see-ums. I only ate homemade bacon cooked over an open fire. I was not touched by the bugs. My girls were eating some watermelon and fighting with the bugs the whole trip. Near the end of the trip I ate one small piece of watermelon. Within 15-30 minutes I had my first painful deer fly bite.

    If you would like to read more about traveling on the SCD/GAPS program please see:


    Caroline Cooper
    WAPF Kamloops Chapter

    • Jill June 22, 2011, 10:30 am

      Hi Caroline,
      Thanks so much for sharing that — funny you should talk about the low carb diet -(I just did a post about it) — but I do eat a lot of very ripe bananas which are very sweet and I am the one in the group to attract the bugs! I know this — but in the summer I find it so hard to stay away from ripe fruit! :(

  • linda June 22, 2011, 1:49 pm

    I have always been a mosquito-magnet and have tried a good many products over the years. Two “clean” products that I have been using are: Don’t Bug Me gel made by Herbal Energetics of Northfield NH,, and Bug Bane by WellSprig of Milford NH, I know both company owners and have talked to them about their ingredients.

    Also, I’ve learned that making a spray from lemon eucalyptus and water (40 drops in 4 oz. water) works well to ward off mosquitoes and ticks. The spray can be used on clothing and the skin of adults and children and on pets, but always be sure to go slow at first to ensure that there is no unusual reaction or sensitivity.

    Good luck!

  • Melissa @ Dyno-mom June 23, 2011, 12:53 pm

    A friend who is an avid gardener put me onto Neem Oil, so I second the motion! We live near a wetland and with the moisture this year we are flooded with bugs and the bats aren’t doing their job. Hubby is planning to build some more bat boxes. But since hubby and five boys are going camping and fishing this weekend we will have a hardcore test of it. I’ll stop by next week and let you know how their long weekend goes!

    • Jill June 23, 2011, 3:38 pm

      Hi Melissa,
      Yes, please do stop by and let me know! That will be a good test!

  • Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking July 6, 2011, 11:03 am

    My niece reads your blog and has just told me about it and I am so glad she did. I have really had a good time reading over your posts. I would like for you to check out our website and look at our Don’t Bug Me line. We have an awesome all natural chemical and deet free insect balm that is awesome! It really truly works. I am off to read some more of your posts!!

    • Jill July 6, 2011, 11:40 am

      Hi Alicia,
      Thanks so much! I’m off to read your site!

  • Trish July 6, 2011, 6:43 pm

    I live in a very buggy place and can verify that oil of lemon eucalyptus works very well. We buy it at the local store, I think Repel is the brand. I did just hear however that it should not be used on children less than 3 years old. AND, just because its natural doesn’t mean it can’t be bad for you. So I wouldn’t use it too much. BUT it does work as well as DEET. I spend most of my summers in the mosquito infested arctic so I have well tested it.

    • Jill July 8, 2011, 3:31 pm

      Hi Trish,
      Thanks for your comments!

  • Linda July 16, 2011, 9:39 pm

    I mixed 3 TBLS olive oil with 10 drops of lemon essential oil and it kept helicopter-sized mosquitoes away for hours. :)

    • Jill July 17, 2011, 1:08 pm

      Hi Linda,
      Thanks for the tip[! I just tried the Eucalyptus oil and it worked pretty good!

  • Paula August 3, 2011, 2:20 pm

    Catnip oil is effective as well, but it has some rather interesting drawbacks.

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