What’s the Deal with Natural Bug Spray (and Can I Make It at Home)?

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Summer means bathing suits and ice pops and, yes, bug bites. Which means we need bug spray. But, take a peek at the label of almost any popular formulas and you’ll likely see that DEET (diethyltoluamide) is listed prominently. The yellowish, oil-based chemical compound might be the most common active ingredient among mass-market insect repellents. While many bug sprays on the market, including ones with DEET, have been deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, many parents want to limit their kids’ exposure to potentially toxic chemicals. So what are some natural bug repellent alternatives?

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all terrain kids bug spray

1. All Terrain Kids Deet-free Herbal Armor Insect Repellent

If your kid has sensitive skin, you know how hard it is to find non-irritating products. But this insect spray is one of them. Plus, it won’t stain or damage that cute matching set she’s wearing.

avon bug spray spf

2. Avon Skin-so-soft Bug Guard Plus Ir3535 Insect Repellent Moisturizing Lotion – Spf 30

Sun protection and bug repellent in one moisturizing lotion—you’ll never have to worry about getting spray in the kids’ eyes or missing a spot.

citronella candle

3. Mintronella Essential Oil Mosquito Repellent Patio Mason Jar Candle

This 16-ounce vegan candle is made from a proprietary blend of powerful essential oils including natural lemongrass, citronella, citrus, mint and lavender to control mosquitoes and bugs in an effective and eco-friendly way. It burns for at least 85 hours.

california baby bug spray

4. California Baby Natural Bug Repellent Spray (pack Of 2)

Made with vegetable- and plant-based ingredients, this bug spray is non-irritating, non-toxic and safe for outdoorsy types of all ages. Bonus: If the kids have pre-existing bites, the natural ingredients in this repellent help to soothe itchy skin.

insect repellent lantern

5. Thermacell Cambridge Mosquito Repellent Patio Shield Lantern

This battery-operated lamp creates a 15-by-15-foot zone of protection against mosquitoes and other biting bugs. It’s also not the ugliest thing you’ve ever put on your patio, which means you can set a few out without disrupting the decor.

badger spray

6. Badger Anti-bug Shake And Spray

Not only does this bug spray drive away insects, but it also smells like a refreshing blend of citronella, rosemary and wintergreen. So much better than the chemical scent of the sprays we grew up with.

insect repellent superbands

7. Evergreen Research Sb39001 Insect Repelling Superband, Box Of 50

This DEET-free, non-toxic wristband is infused with a special blend of natural insect repelling oils and lasts for up to 200 hours. (FYI, seal them in plastic baggie after opening and you’ll extend the life even more.)

greenerways insect repellent

8. Greenerways Organic Bug Repellent, Deet-free

Concerned about more than just mosquitoes? This spray repels everything from ticks to biting flies to—of course—mosquitoes with a gentle blend of essential oils.

lavender plant that repels bugs
Jacky Parker Photography/Getty Images

Indoor and Outdoor Plants That Repel Bugs Naturally

Note that bug sprays aren’t the only effective (and natural) way to keep those pesky insects away. It turns out, lots of plants—of the indoor and outdoor variety—can get the job done while making your house and yard more beautiful. Here are seven plants to consider the next time you want to hone your green thumb.

1. Lavender

Bees love this flower’s pleasant scent, but most other bugs including gnats, fleas, mosquitoes and moths will stay clear of it (hence why many people hang dried lavender in their closets). Plant a row of these purple blooms by a windowsill or doorway to keep the bugs out and enjoy having the earthy fragrance waft through your home.

2. Rosemary

Looking for an indoor plant that repels bugs? Your favorite roast chicken topping is also great at keeping cockroaches and mosquitoes out of your home. Folks who live in a hot, dry climates can also plant this fragrant herb outside to help keep slugs and snails away. (Just make sure it’s within easy access of your kitchen—you’re going to want to reach for it come dinnertime.)

3. Chrysanthemums

When it comes to plants that repel ants, these ornamental blooms are top of the class. In fact, a compound in chrysanthemums called pyrethrin is so effective at keeping bugs away that it’s used in many commercial insect sprays. Plant these guys anywhere you want to add a pop of color and also ward off ticks, beetles, roaches, silverfish and mosquitoes.

4. Lemongrass

You may already be familiar with citronella’s pest-repelling powers. But did you know this magical oil is found in one of your favorite Thai recipe ingredients—lemongrass? You’ll love this plant’s fresh, citrusy scent (try adding some in your next coconut curry) but mosquitoes won’t.

5. Marigolds

French marigolds are especially good at deterring whiteflies and killing nematodes, while Mexican marigolds will help keep rabbits away from your other plants. But both varieties can be sprinkled over salad for a peppery kick.

6. Basil

Pesto-maker, Caprese salad topper and…mosquito repellent? Yep, this fragrant green herb is toxic to mosquito larvae and will also deter the carrot fly, asparagus beetles and whiteflies. While you can definitely grow your basil plant indoors, keep in mind that it needs six to eight hours of full sunlight per day.

7. Garlic

This pungent plant deters mosquitoes, root maggots, beetles and vampires. (Just kidding.) And then when you’re ready, you can harvest the garlic plant and use it in cooking.

how to make bug soray
Jamie Grill/getty images

How to Make Your Own Natural Bug Spray

If you’re interested in making your own insect repellent spray, follow this super simple recipe from Dr. Axe.


  • ½ cup witch hazel
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 40 drops essential oil (eucalyptus, lemongrass, citronella, tea tree or rosemary)
  • One 8-ounce glass spray bottle


1. Mix witch hazel, apple cider vinegar and essential oils in 8-ounce glass spray bottle.

2. Spray over all portions of the body but avoid repellent in eyes and mouth.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...