How To Make Your Own Bug Repellent

How To Make Your Own Bug Repellent

make your own bug spray
As told by Toronto’s own Holistic Expert, Meghan Telpner:

Spending time in nature has a multitude of benefits but sometimes the outdoors can have its drawbacks - especially if you're in a spot that has bugs which love to feast on warm-blooded people like us. Itchy, painful and inflamed bites can certainly put a damper on your forest bathing experience, but making your own natural bug repellent can help arm you against those critters without endangering your overall health.

Most traditional bug sprays use DEET as the primary ingredient. And sure, DEET works, but it also comes with its own health risks.

Health Concerns of DEET

Here in Canada where I live, DEET is permitted in bug sprays but the government recommends children under the age of 12 "do not use a DEET product on a daily basis for more than a month" and babies under 6 months should not use them at all.

When Should You Use DEET?

Suddenly bugs have become a lot riskier than the annoying itchy bite. With concerns over West Nile Virus, Zika Virus and Lyme Disease, you can use your own discretion and safety measures which would include covering your face with a mask when spraying, not touching your eyes, ears or mouth if using, and bathing thoroughly as soon as possible after use.

The Environment Working Group states:
"Among the three repellent chemicals that are EWG’s top picks is DEET, which is widely used but much maligned. DEET's safety profile is better than many people assume. Its effectiveness at preventing bites is approached by only a few other repellent ingredients. DEET isn't a perfect choice nor the only choice. But weighed against the consequences of Zika disease and West Nile virus, we believe it is a reasonable one."

Of course, there is debate about what actually causes Zika, so I will just leave this from NPR here, and this from GreenMedInfo here.

You will need to weigh the risks, pros and cons based on where you live, your exposure and other factors that could increase your risk.

Of course if you're in a high risk area and it's for a short duration, there's always bug net. Nerdy but effective!

What Else Is In Conventional Bug Repellent?

DEET isn't the only ingredient in bug repellent that gives me pause. I took a look at a bug repellent made by Johnson and Johnson, one of our good 'ol healthwashing friends. In addition to DEET, they use:

  • Fragrance: This is an umbrella term for thousands of chemicals that are untested and potentially unsafe. Fragrance is also used in beauty care and cleaning products, and can trigger allergic reactions, respiratory issues like asthma, headaches and hormonal disruptions.
  • Butane, propane, isobutane: These propellants help spray the liquid from the can. Inhaling these petroleum products can impact both the brain and the heart, plus inhalant abuse - you may have heard of huffing - can impact children and teens. And these chemicals are highly flammable! They're not the kind of thing I want around my campfire.

Natural Bug Repellent Options

The good news is that there are many natural bug repellent options and you can easily DIY your own bug spray. Many traditional bug sprays incorporate essential oils like citronella, eucalyptus, camphor and others into their formulations and with good reason: they work. Research shows that plant-based oils can protect against common bugs like mosquitoes.

Some of the natural bug repellent options are:

Meghan’s Natural Bug Repellent:

Prep time:  5 Minutes
Total time:  5 Minutes
Yield: 2 cups


  • 1 cup witch hazel
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp vodka (optional)
  • 10 drops citronella or lemongrass essential oil
  • 10 drops clove essential oil
  • 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 10 drops peppermint essential oil

 Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle, and shake well before use.

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