Zero Waste Bug Spray (DIY)
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
With summer right around the corner, so with it comes the mosquitoes and biting bugs that terrorize our exposed skin all season long. Some of us are lucky enough to be immune to bug bites (we all know that person!) but for the rest of us, a good bug spray is an essential summer item. This last weekend I grabbed out some ingredients I had stashed in my closet and whipped up a batch of homemade bug spray!
When making bug spray, it's important to think about what ingredients will actually ward off the bugs and also what you want to put on your body that's safe and what smells okay. DEET is a common ingredient in many bug repellents and does have a great reputation for keeping the bugs away. That's why it is recommended to use DEET products when traveling to areas of the world with very dangerous and serious diseases spread by insects. It also though, has some scary side effects if used on a regular, continuous basis.
The FDA says it is safe to use at small doses, but I personally find it disturbing that it can cause neurological changes in rats and you can't apply it to your face or in enclosed spaces. That said, I still use a DEET product bug spray when traveling to an area where I am potentially exposed to diseases like Malaria, which I take very seriously.
I recommend making your own bug spray at home when you feel comfortable with the risk of still getting bitten and don't mind having to play around with what works a bit. Because the truth is, most of these ingredients I recommend for homemade bug spray do not have ample scientific research backing up their use - yet. You'll find a million articles online providing anecdotal stories about their effectiveness, which is definitely preliminary evidence, but we still need some scientific studies to be conducted for each natural ingredient. That doesn't mean however that we shouldn't use natural bug spray until then! I definitely will be!
So, what's in my bug spray?
Apple Cider Vinegar
If you've ever used apple cider vinegar (ACV) before, you know it has quite a stench! And yes, that is the one downside to including it in my natural bug repellent. However, ACV dissipates quickly (or at least its smell does) so it won't stay smelly for long. Adding the essential oils later on will also help mask the smell and keep your family and friends from plugging their noses. ACV also doesn't have to be refrigerated after opening so you don't have to worry about keeping this bug spray cold!
Adding a little bit of witch hazel helps dilute the potency of the ACV. Some people may find that ACV burns their skin when sprayed on at full strength so adding witch hazel helps the skin relax. Witch hazel is an astringent that helps close off the pours and can be ideal for healing skin after sunburns. It also helps relieve itching from bug bites so if you do get bit, putting on more bug spray will help!
I didn't have any vodka on hand when I made this last batch, but vodka is a great preservative. I've used it in my air freshener recipe and hairspray recipe to keep things fresh for longer! Given though that all of these ingredients have a relatively long shelf life even outside of the fridge (up to a year), it isn't necessary unless you want to be extra safe! Vodka will also sting if you have any cuts on your skin so sometimes it's nice to keep it out.
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is actually listed by the EPA as a biopesticide and has been proven to be as effective as DEET in keeping mosquitoes away. This is not the same as lemon eucalyptus essential oil however and I have no idea where you could actually purchase it to use in your own homemade bug repellent. Neem, citronella, and catnip essential oils also have some scientific research to back up their use against insects but are not currently registered with the EPA as biopesticides. In creating my bug spray, I didn't have any of the above products on hand so I went with geranium, sweet orange, lavender, lemon, and eucalyptus essential oils based on anecdotal reports online. What seemed to be the biggest factor when using essential oils was to combine quite a few because each one might only work with a specific kind of bug. By combining them together, it creates a larger likelihood of keeping away all the nasty critters.
To summarize, I recommend using neem, citronella, catnip, cedar, and rose geranium oil based on the studies that exist comparing their effectiveness to bug repellent with DEET. However, my recipe below doesn't use any of those and still works! More than likely, using other essential oils just means that the oils evaporate faster (closer to two hours than seven) so you have to reapply it frequently.
This bug spray has worked great for me so far! I'll be testing it out over the next few weeks in Ecuador, Argentina, and Mexico and will report back on how I fared against the mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs.
Zero Waste Bug Spray (DIY)
3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. witch hazel
1 tsp. vodka (optional)
50 drops essential oil:
10 drops geranium
10 drops sweet orange
10 drops lavender
10 drops lemon
10 drops eucalyptus
spray bottle (4 ounces)
1. Add the apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, and vodka (if using) in the bowl and mix thoroughly.
2. Pour the mixture through the funnel into the spray bottle.
3. Add the essential oils straight into the bottle. This avoids losing some of the essential oils as they want to stick to the bowl instead of coming out with the liquids.
Do you have a bug repellent recipe that you love? Please feel free to share it in the comments! If you're interested in purchasing a pre-made natural bug spray, you can try this bug repellent lotion bar by Don't Bug Me or this bug spray by Lil' Bit Shoo (both affiliate links!).