How to Make an Essential Oil Bug Spray That Actually Works

While the good weather inevitably brings a host of fun outdoor activities for families and friends, it also bring along some often unwanted guests - bugs!

Mosquitoes on their own are enough to turn a relaxing camping trip into a high-stress event. At least you get your exercise in by flailing your arms around all evening!

Some people swear by natural bug spray while others think essential oils don't have enough effect on repelling insects.

We've done our research and have come up with an awesome homemade bug spray to keep bugs away for good. All you need is some essential oil, a plastic or glass spray bottle and you're well on your way to having a bottle full of natural, essential oils based spray to keep the bugs at bay.

Why You Should Be Using a Natural, Non-Toxic Bug Spray

The first instinct for many folks is to go straight to a store bought bug spray they know all to well, and the acrid, though effective, aroma of DEET arises throughout the campground.

However, did you know how harmful DEET can actually be? There are some pretty serious potential side effects of traditional store bought mosquito repellent. Most people think homemade bug spray just doesn't cut it, but that's where essential oils come in to play!

Essential oils can make an ultra-effective natural bug spray to keep those bugs away. All you need is the right bug spray recipes! Check them out further down!

Why You Should Be Using Bug Spray

But, bugs aren't just annoying - they can also be quite dangerous! Insects, though small, can do some significant damage due to their ability to carry bacteria, virus and disease. What may start as a few small mosquito bites can cause major problems!

Common Diseases That Insect Bites Transmit

While most folks just think that nagging bite from a no-see-um or mosquito is a nuisance, there's actually a lot more to it than that. Most everyone is familiar with a handful of insect-transmitted diseases, like West Nile Virus from mosquito bites, or Lyme disease from Ticks, but there's quite a few known insect-transmitted disease, and unfortunately the list is growing.


Not often affecting those in North America unless you travel to tropical areas of the world, malaria is caused by a parasite known as Plasmodium that are carried by some mosquitos. It can cause serious health effects and can even be fatal! No one is immune to a disease like this, and a few notable examples of people affected by malaria include John F Kennedy, Mother Teresa, Cheryl Cole and even Sir David Attenborough.


Chikungunya is a virus, transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. It causes fever, join pains an da serious rash. It's one of those disease that once you contract it, you live with it forever as there is no cure. You may have heard that Lindsay Lohan actually contracted Chukungunya a few years ago and has been battling with it ever since.


Dengue is another viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes and other biting insects, though again it isn't a disease us in North America have to think about too much. Effects can range from a mild fever to a fatal shock syndrome.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is virus that is endemic (always around) to tropical areas of Africa, Central and South America. You may have been suggested to get the vaccine for this virus when traveling to one of those areas. It causes some pretty serious side effects you don't want to deal with!

West Nile Disease

Arguably the most common bug transmitted disease, west nile virus (WNV) causes minor symptoms in many people, but major effects in few people, including complications in the central nervous system such as brain inflammation! 1 out of 150 people infected by WNV develop a severe central nervous system illness, of which 1 of 10 of those die. It's hard to think about WNV since mosquitoes are so small and we can't see the virus, but it's a super compelling reason to use bug spray!

Lyme Disease

While many tick bites are not serious, an infected tick can transmit Lyme disease. Lyme disease can cause serious long term effects like heart problems, memory and concentration issues, and painful, swollen joints. You may recall that Justin Bieber was diagnosed with Lyme disease, and has been struggling with it for years now.

Tick-Borne Meningoencephalitis (TBM) and Spotted Fever

TBM is another disease you want to use bug spray to avoid whenever possible. TBM causes a host of serious issues like meningitis (brain swelling) that stick swith you for life! Spotted Fever is another tick-borne disease you want to avoid contracting by using bug repellent.


Zika virus was another insect-transmitted disease that made news in the USA recently. Even though Zika transmission has slowed, due to the lack of vaccine it's still an issue in 2020. The best way to avoid zika in the meantime is by using bug spray!

Why You Need to Be Careful With DEET and Other Traditional Insect Repellents

Now don't get me wrong - there's been more than a handful of times we've run to the store last minute to pick up some traditional bug repellents that contain DEET or a handful of other repellents like Picaridin, IR3535 or PMD. But these compounds can be harmful, and are never recommended to be used under clothing, on open wounds and should always be washed off after use. Not so super kid-friendly or good to be used all the time.

Some other side effects that bug sprays can cause range from minor headaches to major breathing issues. Of course, some essential oils when ingested can also cause some pretty major health problems, so the rule here is to just be careful and use in moderation. Save the DEET for when the mosquitos are apocalyptic, and use our natural mosquito repellent on a day-to-day basis.

What the Research Says About Natural Bug Sprays

While it's often tough to trust traditional scientific research these days, we take a balanced approach to our methods here at AromEssential, blending scientific recommendations with age-old, tried and tested methods. Here's some of the evidence we used to develop our bug spray recipes.

Scientific Evidence for Essential Oils as Repellents

It's well known that many essential oils act as natural repellents for mosquitoes and other bugs - essential oils are produced by plants as "secondary metabolites," often as a way to repel bugs and other predators. In fact, it's already been established for some time now that "citronella, lemon and eucalyptus oil are common insect repellents, registered by the EPA and approved for topical use in humans" (2018).

In fact, the CDC recognizes Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) as a legitimate application for repelling mosquitoes, reducing the risk of West Nile Virus, and is even deemed safe for Pregnant and Breastfeeding women. Lemon Eucalyptus always makes its way into our natural bug spray recipes as a result.

Another essential oil researched for its bug repellent properties is Melaleuca - or Tea Tree Oil. You've probably got a friend or family member that always swears by their tea tree oil as a cure-all for everything! But they really were right about using it as a bug spray. An Australian study in 2010 showed significant effectiveness of Tea Tree Oils as insect repellent!

A study in 2005 compared the effectiveness of 38 different essential oils as a natural bug spray! They found that a handful of oils performed significantly better than others: citronella, patchouli, clove and makaen. And, of those three, clove oil, Syzygium aromaticum, produced the longest lasting effects.

Lastly, a follow up study in 2019 showed good effectiveness from a wider range of essential oils including: lavender, camphor, catnip, geranium, jasmine, broad-leaved eucalyptus, lemongrass, lemon-scented eucalyptus, amyris, narrow-leaved eucalyptus, carotin, cedarwood, chamomile, cinnamon oil, juniper, cajeput, soya bean, rosemary, niaouli, olive, tagetes, violet, sandalwood, litsea, galbanum, and Curcuma longa (turmeric).

However, they also observed that the best repellent effects were observed from the extract of a plant called Ligusticum sinense, followed by citronella oil, pine oil, then Dalbergia sissoo, peppermint and Rhizophora mucronata oils

Where to Buy Our Research-Recommended Oils

Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

Citronella Essential Oil

Clove Essential Oil

Get 10% off at

Use the code below to receive 10% off your order from 

Scientific Evidence for Carrier Oils as Bug Repellent

It's not just the essential oils in a natural insect repellent that you want to consider - the carrier oil you produce your spray with also makes an impact on the repellent properties. And since when you use essential oils, you want to always ensure you dilute them in a carrier oil, you may as well choose one in your bug spray recipe that also works to keep bugs away!

A study in 2002 showed that soybean-oil based spray formulations actually produced better efficacy of insect repellents. This is because fatty-acids have a repellent effect, of which soybean oil has in a high concentration, working to keep bugs away!

Other oils such as coconut oil , palm oil, and andiroba oil have also been shown to act as a natural insect repellent (2011). Neem oil is another oil to consider, used commonly in skin formulations and naturally repellent, though it can be irritating to some. Look for these as you produce your natural bug spray. 

coconut oil

Other Essential Oils Traditionally Used to Repel Insects

Mosquitoes: lavender, geranium, tea tree, lemongrass, eucalyptus, lemon eucalyptus, citronella, clove, thyme, peppermint and basil, and some others.

Flies & Gnats: lavender, patchouli, rosemary, peppermint, spearmint, cedarwood, orange, pine, tea tree oil, and more.

Ticks: lavender, lemongrass, eucalyptus, rosemary, sage, thyme, and others, rose geranium, grapefruit, oregano and more.

A Quick Note on Witch Hazel:

A lot of recipes for homemade bug spray or bug repellent include witch hazel, so what's the deal? It doesn't necessarily have insect repellent properties, but it has a host of other benefits like anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and even anti-viral properties. It's a common additive for skin care, and thus makes its way into many homemade bug spray recipes, including one of ours.

Next question we know we'll inevitably be asked is, which Witch Hazel? Check this one out: 

witch hazel bottle

Our Science-Backed Essential Oil Bug Spray Recipes

So, we've covered a lot so far. Why we need bug spray, why we need to be careful with commercial insect repellent, and a bunch of essential oils that can be used as bug repellent. We looked at the science and data, did our research in the essential oil community to come up with these effective essential oils bug sprays. Please note: the recipes provided are for informational purposes only and do not reflect an EPA recommended product.

We've got two different recipes for you to try - a rub-on formula, and a spray bottle mix.

Remember: some essential oils can cause irritation and should not be used on babies, children, or certain people for a variety of reasons. Always consult a physician before using essential oils. Our recipes include a couple different dilutions that you can try - start low to make sure you don't have a bad reaction.

Rub On Topical Insect Repellent Recipe

Our bug spray recipe makes a large amount, so you don't have to keep making it, and you can just pour it into smaller areas to carry. To make our topical insect repellent, here's what you'll need and our method. How much essential oil to add to the recipe depends on the dilution you use, so we'll provide instructions on altering it.



The method to produce this bug spray is variable, based on the dilution you want to produce. Again, it's important you properly dilute essential oils to avoid any unwelcome side effects like rash or irritation.

1% Dilution
  1. Put the 200ml of carrier oil in your mixing bowl and add 10 drops of citronella oil, 10 drops of lemon eucalyptus oil, 10 drops of tea tree oil and 10 drops of clove essential oil. Add 8 drops (total) of whatever optional essential oils you are adding for personal flare or aroma, or just spread those 8 drops out over the four oils above.
  2. Mix well
  3. Add the 40ml of witch hazel and mix.
  4. Pour into your small spray bottle
  5. Shake well before using then pray away!
2% Dilution
  1. Put the 200ml oil in your mixing bowl and add 20 drops of citronella oil, 20 drops of lemon eucalyptus oil, 20 drops of tea tree oil and 20 drops of clove essential oil. Add 16 drops (total) of whatever optional essential oils you are adding for personal flare or aroma, or just spread those 8 drops out over the four oils above.
  2. Mix well
  3. Add the 40ml of witch hazel and mix.
  4. Pour into your small spray bottle
  5. Shake well before using, then spray away!

5% Dilution
  1. Put the 200ml oil in your mixing bowl and add 50 drops of citronella oil, 50 drops of lemon eucalyptus oil, 50 drops of tea tree oil and 50 drops of clove essential oil. Add 40 drops (total) of whatever optional essential oils you are adding for personal flare or aroma, or just spread those 8 drops out over the four oils above.
  2. Mix well
  3. Add the 40ml of witch hazel and mix.
  4. Pour into your small spray bottle
  5. Shake well before using, then spray away!

Remember - start with the lowest dilution and work your way up to avoid any irritation. If the lower dilution keeps your bugs at bay, that's perfect! You don't want any bad effects from the essential oils.

Spray-On Spray Bottle Essential Oil Repellent

For a spray-on formula, we're basically just replacing the witch hazel in the topical recipe with distilled water, in our go-to recipe above. The Witch Hazel is designed as an additive to help soothe your skin, and if you're going to be spraying the repellent around and using it on clothes, then you're just wasting the witch hazel. Use clean, distilled water instead to save some bucks!


  • A large mixing bowl
  • An essential oil safe container to hold the finished recipe. Ideally, glass but some plastics are safe to use as well. A larger spray bottle (300ml) is a great way to go since then you can carry it around where you go, spraying as necessary.
  • 200ml carrier oil (Soybean, coconut, palm, neem or andiroba)
  • 40ml+ Distilled Water
  • 5-20ml Citronella essential oil
  • 5-20ml Lemon eucalyptus oil
  • 5-20ml Tea tree oil
  • 5-20ml Clove essential oil
  • 5-20ml Optional essential oils: any other essential oils that can be used for natural repellent that are perfect homemade bug spray from our list above such as lavender, orange, pine, thyme, lemongrass, patchouli, etc.


Follow the same methods as above for the 1%, 2% or 5% dilution, simply replacing witch hazel with water. You can always more easily dilute the formula by adding more water, too! This is an awesome formula that will certainly keep your bugs at bay.

Revive's Bugs Away Spray

revive oils bugs away bottle

Of course, if you don't want to make your own, you can always buy some essential oil spray. This one from Revive doesn't have all the oils we recommend, but it's a great option!

Get 10% off at

Use the code below to receive 10% off your order from 

Time to Use Your Essential Oils Bug Spray

Well, now that you're armed with a bottle full of our natural, homemade bug spray recipe, you're ready for the great outdoors! Remember - there may possibly be a time and place for DEET and other store bought bug repellents. But, a natural bug repellent is almost always a better alternative for your health and wellbeing, and that of your family as well.

We hope you can continue to use essential oils in every aspect of your life. It's amazing what a little essential oil can do, and we're excited to hear about your results with keeping bugs away with our bug spray recipe. Drop us a line below with your experience or suggestions on improvements!