DIY Bug Repellent Recipes: Water-based or Oil-based

It's that time of year again to break out the camping gear, get the barbecue out of storage, and point the car towards the great outdoors. Unfortunately, that also means bugs, and plenty of 'em: mosquitoes, flies, gnats, chiggers, what have you.

Not much has changed since I was a kid; get out of the car, get slathered with foul, greasy, chemical-laden bug spray, and then repeat the process every few hours, or after you got out of the water. Again. And again. It would get in your eyes, on your hands, which would get on your food, and then nobody was a winner.

N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, better known as DEET

There haven't been many advances in insect repellent since the discovery of N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, which we know better as DEET. That stuff works, no doubt about it. It's also toxic to the human body, animal and plant life, stains (or even melts!) clothes, and it just all around unpleasant to use. Arguably, the only real innovation in commercial insect repellent is the invention of the squeeze bottle.

Use Essential Oils

If you're thinking there has to be a product that is better for you and better for the environment, there is: essential oils. It turns out bugs don't like the aromas of many essential oils, they're 100% natural, and you can even make them yourself! All you need are a few oils and other household items you can find – with a little hunting – at your local supermarket or pharmacy.

Essential oils (also referred to as volatile oils or ethereal oils) are generally steam-distilled or cold-presssed liquids containing many of the aromatic oils taken from plants, particularly the oil-rich rinds of citrus fruits. These oils contain many different phenolic compounds that deter many different species of biting insects naturally.

Citronella you may already be familiar with, as it's used in outdoor candles designed specifically to repel mosquitoes. Other popular oils used in natural bug repellents include cedarwood, catnip, rosemary, lemongrass, clove, mint, eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree, and rose geranium, to name a few.

You can make natural bug repellents using water (for spraying) or oils (for spreading).

DIY Water-Based Bug Repellent

To make a sprayable bug repellent, you'll need to add to eight ounces of water about two to four ounces of an emulsifying agent, since oil and water are notorious non-mixers; either witch hazel or rubbing alcohol (or cheap vodka in a pinch). To this, add about 40-50 drops of the essential oils you want to use.

Which ones? Well, that may require a bit of experimentation, as different oils repel different bugs, but citronella, cedar, lemongrass, and eucalyptus are among the most effective.

Pour this concoction into an amber glass spray bottle, give it a good shake, and you're good to go.

Shop the Whole Formulas Essential Oil brand here. I like a Bug Shield essential oil blend like this one too!

If you're new to using essential oils, this beautiful essential oil infographic explains the lovely effects gained by using specific essential oil scents. 

DIY Oil-Based Bug Repellent

It's easier to make an oil-based repellent, just add the same essential oils to a carrier oil, like coconut oil, mix, and store in a glass jar or tub. It's easily applied to difficult to get to areas, like ankles or behind the ears, and has the advantage of being (somewhat) waterproof.

Please note that essential-oil-based insect repellents are not recommended for children under three years of age.

So why not try making your own natural insect repellent. It's fun, effective, and at the very least, you'll smell great, and your hamburgers won't taste like DEET.

- Dave Meddish for Healthy Goods

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