Summer is fast approaching, and with warmer weather comes excellent things like a beautiful yard and garden and lots of fun times with family and friends under the sun and stars. Unfortunately, it also brings out the bugs, including flies, mosquitoes, and other nagging insect pests that wreak havoc on our warm-weather festivities.
When it comes to commercial bug spray, there are lots of options to choose from. However, there are downsides to these popular products. The most concerning is that they are loaded with chemicals. The impacts of chemical sprays may not be realized immediately but build up in the body over time.
A common ingredient in commercial bug spray is a chemical called N, N-diethyl-meta-toulamide – better known as DEET. Although the Environmental Protection Agency approves DEET, a pharmacologist from Duke University spent 30 years studying its impacts and had this to say.
“With heavy exposure to DEET and other insecticides, humans may experience memory loss, headache, weakness, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, tremors, and shortness of breath. These symptoms may not be evident until months or even years after exposure. Children are more susceptible to subtle brain changes caused by chemicals in their environment because their skin more readily absorbs them. Also, their still-developing nervous systems are more potently affected.”
One of the best ways to keep your summer fun and pest-free while not compromising your health is to make your own effective and safe bug spray. Here are some of my favorite all-natural “bug-off” remedies.
The 5 Minute Wonder Bug Spray
You may be inclined to turn your nose up when you first smell this spray. Be patient! As it dries, the beautiful marriage of plant oils reveals a delightful scent and potent bug repelling power. With its authentic taste and smell, lemongrass has a vast history, providing a distinct and vibrant flavor profile, as well as medicinal benefits. Since it smells and tastes so good, you’d think that bugs would be attracted to its aroma, but lemongrass is actually closely related to citronella — a well-known bug repellent that’s often used in candles intended for outdoor use. When combined, these two oils work a treat.
One study, published in Phytomedicine, found that lemongrass oil was comparable to commercial mosquito repellent. The same results were reported in another key study, concluding that lemongrass could most certainly be used as a replacement — especially for those who are sensitive to the chemicals used in commercial bug sprays.
When combined with other natural repellents, including citronella, clove, basil, rosemary, and lavender, the efficiency is even greater. These plant species offer natural insecticides and repellents. Within lemongrass, for instance, effective compounds include citronellal, geraniol, and alpha-pinene.
Apple cider vinegar is not only effective as a bug repellant inside your home (ant’s hate it) but also as an ingredient in natural bug repellent for humans and plants. Its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties are also soothing to the skin.
What you need
- Distilled water
- 1 Tbsp natural witch hazel
- 1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 20 drops of organic lemongrass essential oil
- 15 drops of organic citronella essential oil
- 10 drops of organic rosemary essential oil
- 5 drops of organic lavender essential oil
- Vodka (optional)
- Spray bottle
How to make it
- Pour witch hazel and apple cider vinegar into your spray bottle, then fill to the top with distilled water.
- Add essential oils, and you’ll be ready to go. If you will not use all of this home remedy within a month or so, add 1/2 teaspoon of vodka — this will help to preserve your bug spray further.
Fresh Herb Bug Repellant
If your garden is stocked with fresh herbs, this is a fantastic recipe for you. Not only does it make the most of your garden favorite, but it also works to keep you outside enjoying all that you love to do.
What you need
- 2 Tbsp of fresh mint, finely chopped
- 6 Tbsp of catnip, finely chopped
- 1 cup of distilled water
- 1 cup of witch hazel
- Glass spray bottle
How to make it
- Bring one cup of water to a boil and add the fresh herbs.
- Turn off the heat, cover, and allow the mixture to cool.
- Strain herbs and squeeze excess water from them into the pan.
- Mix the herbal-infused water with the witch hazel.
- Store the mixture in the fridge and pour into a spray bottle and use as needed.
Purple Power, Lavender Oil
When you think of lavender, you may think of relaxation and calm. The beautiful lavender herb does indeed contain properties that can help with both anxiety and sleep. However, it also contains compounds that can keep pests away and calm the itch and sting of bug bites. Lavender oil is analgesic, insecticidal, antiseptic, and calming. I love to add some oil to my favorite organic body lotion and apply it before I head outdoors. You can also mix lavender oil with eucalyptus oil (to double the repellant properties) in a carrier like sunflower oil.
Don’t let summer bugs ruin your summer fun this season. Instead, embrace the power of plants for safe and natural pest protection!
-Susan Patterson, CBHC, Master Gardener