Homemade Mosquito Repellent: 4 Easy Steps (Spray & Balm)

As summertime approaches, so does the buzz of a universally hated (and universally present) insect: the mosquito.

There are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes worldwide, so chances are at least one of these species will show up at your barbeque uninvited. 

What attracts this particular insect? It depends on the species. Some species prefer bacteria and sweat; others carbon dioxide and certain hand odors. You can’t control mosquito attractants like blood type, skin temperature, or body odor. But there are quite a few at-home remedies for minimizing the number of mosquitoes on your barbeque guest list.   

So before you smother yourself in DEET, consider trying the following homemade mosquito repellents using natural ingredients.  

An Essential Guide to Mosquito-Repellent Essential Oils

When combined with a few other ingredients, essential oils offer some natural defense against mosquitoes. (Keep reading to learn how you can create your own mosquito-repellent sprays and balms using these oils.) 

Fortunately, many of the smells that mosquitoes hate the most are very pleasant to humans.

Here is a brief overview of essential oils commonly used to repel mosquitoes:

  • Cinnamon Oil: most effective at killing mosquito eggs
  • Citronella Oil: offers protection for up to 2 hours
  • Greek Catmint Oil: effective for 2-3 hours
  • Lavender Oil: also boasts analgesic, antifungal, and antiseptic properties that help soothe skin
  • Lemon Eucalyptus Oil*: one of the most popular choices for repelling mosquitoes naturally
  • Tea Tree Oil: contains antiseptic, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Thyme Oil: best for repelling malarial mosquitoes

You can also try adding any of the following essential oils: Basil, Clove, Eucalyptus, Patchouli, Geranium, Cedar, Rosemary, and Peppermint. Although less effective at repelling mosquitoes on their own, these essential oils can be used in combination with the stalwarts listed above. 

Heads up: the FDA does not regulate essential oils, making it easier for producers to sell faulty or fraudulent products. To minimize risk, always buy essential oil from a reputable source. (Popular seller dōTERRA may not be such a source. The essential oil company has promoted many unsubstantiated health claims.)

A Quick Note About Lemon Eucalyptus

While researching homemade mosquito repellents, you may have heard of Lemon Eucalyptus Oil and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. Although very similarly named, these are NOT the same chemical. 

Derived from Australia’s lemon-scented gum tree, the oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is EPA-registered. This means it has undergone tests validating its safety and efficacy. PMD (para-menthane-3,8-diol) is the actual repellent chemical in OLE. PMD is found in products such as Repel and Off! Botanicals. 

Lemon eucalyptus oil comes from the leaves and twigs of the lemon eucalyptus tree. It has not been tested by the EPA. Therefore, it is not recommended by the CDC for use as a repellent. However, it has been known to provide mosquito-repelling effects. 

Homemade Mosquito-Repellent Spray

using Homemade Mosquito-Repellent Spray

Essential oils evaporate more quickly than DEET. This means you will need to reapply homemade mosquito repellent more frequently. 

Fortunately, this homemade mosquito-repellent spray is quick, easy, and cheap to make.

As a general guide, you will need:

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup base (also known as a carrier oil) 
  • 30-40 drops of essential oil
  • spray bottle

You can adjust these ratios to change the strength of your repellent. 

4 Steps to Make Your Own Mosquito Repellent Spray

Step 1

Select your essential oil(s) from the above list. Using a combination of oils is likely more effective than using just one oil.

Step 2

Select your base or carrier oil. This substance acts as a skin-friendly vessel for your essential oils. 

Popular bases for spray include witch hazel, apple cider vinegar, isopropyl alcohol, white vinegar, lemon juice*, and plain vodka. 

Step 3

Combine your essential oil(s) and base, then add them to your spray bottle. 
Feeling indecisive?

Try some of these oil and base combos:

Witch Hazel + Citronella Oil + Lemon Eucalyptus Oil 
Witch Hazel + Lemon Juice + Rubbing Alcohol + Eucalyptus Oil + Peppermint Oil
Tea Tree Oil + Lemon Eucalyptus Oil + Citronella Oil + Lavender Oil 

Feel free to experiment!

Step 4

Add the water to this mixture, replace the spray bottle’s lid, and shake to combine. That’s it! You can now spray this homemade remedy on your skin, clothes, and furniture to help repel mosquitoes.  

*You can use lemon juice as both base and repellent, but the process is a little different. Juice 3 lemons into 2 cups of water. Bring this mixture to a boil for a few minutes. Remove from heat, then allow it to steep for 1 hour. Once the mixture has cooled, pour it into a spray bottle.

If you are using a homemade spray, remember to shake the mixture before using, as oils separate quickly from the water. You will need to reapply every 2-4 hours, particularly after sweating or going in the water. Be sure to apply your mosquito repellent after (and not before) applying sunscreen, as lotion can interfere with your repellent’s effectiveness.

Basic Balm Recipe

Making a mosquito-repellent balm, cream, or gel follows a similar procedure.

For a balm, you will need:

  • 1 tbsp beeswax 
  • 1 tbsp shea butter
  • 2 tbsp carrier oil
  • 15 drops of essential oil
  • a heat-proof container

Step 1

Select your essential oil(s) from the above list. Again, using a combination of oils is likely more effective than using just one oil.

Step 2

Select your carrier oil. Use a thicker substance than the bases used in the spray recipe. Some options commonly found in households include grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, neem oil, coconut oil, soybean oil, and baby oil.

If you use neem oil, make sure it is extra-virgin and cold-pressed. Also, be aware that neem oil can cause skin irritation. 

Step 3

Melt the beeswax in a double boiler (about five minutes). Add the essential oils, mix, then add your carrier oil. 

Here are some suggested carrier oil and essential oil combinations:

  • Soybean Oil + Lemongrass Oil 
  • Coconut Oil + Tea Tree Oil 
  • Coconut Oil + Neem Oil 

Again, try a few options to see which mixture works best for your skin.

Step 4

Pour this liquid mixture into your desired container and allow it to cool and harden (about 20 minutes). 

It is possible to make mosquito-repellent soap. However, this homemade remedy will also require frequent application, making it impractical unless you plan on showering every 2 hours. (If you’re looking for a plant soap, some gardeners claim Dawn dish soap mixed with equal parts water is an effective pesticide for plants.)

Spray Safe (Are Essential Oils Safe?)

Neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the Food and Drug Administration regulates essential oils. This doesn’t necessarily mean essential oils are unsafe; it just means they have not been tested for safety or efficacy. 

If you are prone to allergies or skin sensitivity, spot test essential oils before mixing them into a repellent. Do not use any ingredients that cause your skin to burn or break out in hives.

You should also complete spot tests for any carrier oils you use. (Vodka is the most astringent of the base options mentioned in this article; thus, it is the most likely to cause skin irritation.)

In the absence of substantial safety research, essential oils may not be the best option for the young, pregnant, or vulnerable.

A few specific notes of caution regarding essential oils:

  • Peppermint oil can increase seizure risk when used on children under 30 months (NIH link).
  • The CDC does not endorse using Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus on children three and younger (CDC webpage).
  • Do not use neem oil if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Neem oil is considered an abortifacient (NIH link).
  • Store-bought essential oils are concentrated. Do not apply them directly onto the skin of young children. 

Additionally, there is not substantial research regarding the use of essential oils on animals such as dogs, cats, horses, or goats. Consider speaking to your local veterinarian about animal-friendly mosquito repellents. 

If you’re concerned about applying homemade topical remedies, consider trying some of the DIY mosquito-proofing projects in the following sections.

Mosquito-Proof Your Lawn & Deck

swarms of mosquitoes over a lawn

In addition to making sprays or balms, consider repelling mosquitoes by making a few changes to your outdoor spaces whether that’s your deck, garden, porch, or backyard.

Remove Standing Water 

Standing water attracts mosquitoes and provides an area for them to lay eggs. If you find standing water, dispose of the water and then wash the container with soap to kill any mosquito eggs. 

While the phrase “standing water” might conjure images of swamps and poor sanitation, you can find standing water in many backyard items: open buckets, unplanted flower pots, kitty pools, birdbaths, rain barrels, water gardens, ponds, animal watering troughs or bowls, trashcan lids, and even plastic covers.

Plant Mosquito-Repellent Plants

Many plants naturally repel mosquitoes while also beautifying your backyard. Consider planting the following mosquito deterrents: lemongrass, lavender, thyme, catnip (catmint), rosemary, peppermint, citronella/scented geranium, bee balm (horsemint), mint, floss flower (ageratum), sage, allium, marigold, or basil.

Click here to view our full list of perennial plants that repel mosquitoes.

Spray Repellent on Your Yard

You can easily create a yard-worthy repellent using mouthwash, Epsom salt, and stale beer. Mix these ingredients (16oz, 3 cups, and 36 oz respectively) in a large bowl until the salt has dissolved completely. Pour this liquid into a spray bottle, and spray the mixture around your yard.

Attract mosquitoes Away From You

Consider placing mosquito attractants (dark clothing, carbon dioxide, lactic acid, floral or fruity scents) in an area away from your porch. You can also bait mosquitoes into a plastic bottle trap using a yeast, water, and brown sugar mixture as a lure. 

This tactic assumes that you have a large yard area and no nearby neighbors. 

Add Mosquito-Defense Infrastructure

If you consistently struggle with large mosquito populations, consider converting your deck into a screened-in porch. Similarly, make sure every window in your house has a screen and that those screens don’t have holes.

You can also try using a fan when outside. Moving air makes it more difficult for mosquitoes to land on your skin.

Other At-Home Remedies for Repelling Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes still bugging you? Here are a few more remedies you can try at home. 

Mosquito-Free Fashion

Wear clothing that reduces the amount of skin available to mosquitoes such as long sleeves, pants, and socks. Tuck your shirt into your pants, and tuck your pants into your socks. (The last thing you want is an intrepid mosquito climbing under your shirt.) 

Make sure this clothing is loose-fitting as mosquitoes can bite through yoga pants and other tight-fitting clothing. Also, remember that dark and bold colors attract mosquitoes; wear dull fabrics if possible. 

Finally, forgo wearing scented soaps and perfume as the fragrances of these items commonly attract mosquitoes. 

Smoke ‘Em Out

If you’re already sitting by a bonfire or burner, try adding thyme leaves to the mix. Smoke filled with the scent of burning thyme can deter mosquitoes for 60-90 minutes. 

Looking for more aromatic defenses? If you own a diffuser or liquid vaporizer, try adding mosquito-repellent essential oils. You can also add essential oils to wax when pouring homemade candles to make a DIY citronella candle. 

Note: there is no evidence to suggest that burning incense (Agarbatti) repels mosquitoes. In some cases, the smoke from incense might attract mosquitoes. 

Household Chemicals

If you’ve exhausted this list of natural remedies, it is possible to repurpose household chemicals to the cause of mosquito eradication. Follow the above recipe for spray, substituting the essential oils for Dettol or store-brand equivalent. 

Bite-Sized Advice

Warding off mosquitoes is a constant summer battle. If you want your next barbeque to have more badminton and less mosquito-battling, consider these final bites of advice:

  • If possible, avoid peak mosquito times dawn and dusk. 
  • Homemade mosquito repellents require more frequent application.
  • If you’re not into DIY, you can find many herbal mosquito repellent manufacturers. But be sure to do your research as they are unregulated. 
  • There is no research to suggest that eating garlic will protect against mosquitoes.
  • You should only use homemade mosquito repellent in areas without disease-carrying mosquitoes. If you’re traveling to an area with a high risk of mosquito-borne disease, the CDC recommends using DEET as well as other regulated protections. (When applied correctly, mosquito repellents containing DEET are safe for humans over the age of 2 months.)

Good luck and happy grilling!  

Frequently Asked Questions

What smells do mosquitoes hate?

View our section on oils above. But, mosquitoes generally hate the smell of:
Cinnamon Oil
Citronella Oil
Greek Catmint Oil
Lavender Oil
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
Tea Tree Oil

Is vinegar a good mosquito repellent?

Yes, if you view our step-by-step instructions for creating your mosquito spray, you’ll notice vinegar is used as a base. It is typically mixed with water or other items in our guide.

Does lemon smell keep mosquitoes away?

Yes, lemon eucalyptus (OLE) oil is EPA-registered. And the CDC does recommend it for those over three years old and older.

Sources

Over 3600 Species of Mosquito: www.cvbd.elanco.com/vectors/mosquitoes/general