4 DIY Insect Repellents for You and Your Animals

Mix up a non-toxic insect spray so you and your farm animals can avoid bites and stings this summer without worry of chemical overload.

by Leslie J. Wyatt
PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock

Going nontoxic with your insect repellent seems to be a no-brainer, but here’s the deal right up front: You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a bug repellent or insecticide using nontoxic ingredients that will kill and repel insects like the store-bought versions. Chemicals like prallethrin and piperonyl butoxide, often used in livestock sprays, are effective and can last a day or longer before reapplication is needed. Products with natural ingredients don’t protect as long between applications, nor are they quite as effective. If DEET gives 100-percent protection, natural ingredients may give only 85- to 90-percent protection.

Once you understand that, we can address the real problem with pyrethroids (chemically produced pyrethrins), PBO and other synthetic insecticides: They’re toxic to more than just insects. The National Pesticide Information Center classifies them as possible carcinogens for animals and humans because they accumulate in the liver. In addition, they spell death to bees and aquatic life, and although they break down over time, such pesticides put us and our animals at risk.

“By their very nature, most pesticides create some risk of harm,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “Pesticides can cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment because they are designed to kill or otherwise adversely affect living organisms.”

It’s this concern that has people searching for healthier ways to keep the bugs away from themselves and their animals. Below are four recipes using nontoxic ingredients to help keep those ever-present pests at bay around you and your barnyard animals.

Select Your Bottle 

A plastic spray bottle works great for each recipe, especially if you’ll be spraying larger animals; however, purists recommend glass containers when using essential oils because plastics absorb the oil and could disintegrate over time. When not using, store the spray bottle in a cool, dark place to increase shelf life. Even though the sprays are nontoxic, avoid contact with your eyes, as the ingredients could irritate the tissues.

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1. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Bug Spray

Oil of lemon eucalyptus, aka OLE, is an essential oil extracted from the tree of the same name (Eucalyptus citriodora or Corymbia citriodora). Citronellol is the oil’s active constituent and is recognized by the EPA as a biopesticide repellent against mosquitoes, stable flies, sandflies, midges and deer ticks that’s nearly as effective as DEET.

Use witch hazel, diluted up to 50 percent with distilled water, as a carrier for OLE. Fill 90 percent of your spray bottle with the witch hazel-water mixture. For every 4 ounces of liquid, add 1/2 teaspoon OLE. For example, mix 8 ounces witch hazel, 8 ounces water and 4 tablespoons OLE. Shake the bottle thoroughly before use. Re-apply as needed, approximately every six hours or once the scent has dissipated.

2. ACV+123

White vinegar and apple-cider vinegar deter various kinds of flies, and when mixed with mosquito- and tick-repelling essential oils—like geranium, lemongrass, citronella, rosemary or lavender—can make a good general-use bug spray.

Mix 1 cup distilled water and 1 cup apple cider vinegar. Add 10 to 25 drops each of the following essential oils: rosemary, lavender, lemongrass, citronella and geranium. Shake well and spray. Your horse might smell a bit like floral salad dressing, but bugs seem to stay away. Add some pure, alcohol-based vanilla extract to boost effectiveness and help temper the vinegar smell.

Tips: To treat the face, spray on your hand or a rag and rub it on. Re-apply as needed, especially after swimming or sweating.

3. Combat Combo

This mixture combines several bug-repelling ingredients into a refreshing and effective pest spray. The active ingredient, neem oil, is a derivative of the Neem tree in India and contains sallanin, which has been found effective against mosquitos.

In your spray bottle, combine 2 cups apple-cider or white vinegar, 1 cup water, and 1/2 cup witch hazel and up to 1/2 cup pure vanilla extra. The vanilla contains vanillin, which increases the length of time essential oils are effective. Add 25 to 50 drops each of essential oils of eucalyptus, citronella, neem and peppermint. Shake before use.

4. DIY Mixture

Armed with the above recipes, you’re equipped to mix and match to your heart’s content. The basic elements can be combined any way that suits you. If your concoction is effective, you might just invent the next best bug spray. If not, go back to the drawing board.

Step 1: Choose your carrier. Common choices are vinegar, glycerin, water, vodka or witch hazel. Castor oil is another carrier, which has anti-fungal and anti-mosquito properties. It’s stickier than many oils, which can be a good thing for a bug spray.

Step 2: Choose your active ingredients. Oils known for repelling insects include:

  • Castor – mosquitoes
  • Cedar – ticks, fleas, mites, bed bugs, scorpions, mosquitos and other biting insects
  • Cinnamon – mosquitoes
  • Citronella – mosquitoes and biting flies
  • Clove – mosquitoes
  • Garlic – mosquitoes
  • Rose Geranium – ticks and lice
  • Lavender – ticks
  • Lemon Eucalyptus – mosquitoes, stable flies, sandflies, midges, deer ticks
  • Lemongrass – fleas and ticks
  • Neem – mosquitoes and sucking insects
  • Peppermint – mosquitoes and spiders
  • Rosemary – mosquitoes
  • Catnip – mosquitoes

This is not an exhaustive list of ingredients that bugs hate. Your research may turn up others, and if so, add them to the list. You might expect to find tea tree oil (Meleleuca) on the list above, but studies show that it can be toxic to pets and humans if ingested.

3. Step 3: Mix. Start with a quart of your carrier(s) of choice. Add essential oils, using no more than 10 to 12 drops per ounce of carrier. Shake it up, spray it on, and observe the results.

Keep in mind that young children are more sensitive to essential oils, so consider a more diluted mixture if making a bug spray for kids. Avoid use on children younger than 3 years.

Find more projects using essential oils on HobbyFarms.com:

  • How To Make Beeswax Salve
  • DIY Itchy Stix For Bug-Bite Relief
  • How To Make Winter Rose Soap
  • DIY Laundry Detergent

About the Author: Leslie J. Wyatt is a freelance writer with more than 200 stories and articles in publications like Children’s Writer and Cat Fancy. She lives on a micro hobby farm in northern California and can be found online at www.journeywithhonor.blogspot.com and www.lesliejwyatt.com.

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