Bug Off! Natural Bug Repellents

May 21, 2017

Bug Off! Natural Bug Repellents

Take me straight to the recipe!


It’s that time of year again! Ten minutes on the trail and 100 mosquito bites later, I’m reminded I need to refresh our homemade bug repellents….

We had great luck with the blend I made last year–no skeeter or tick bites all season! (PHEW.)

I am nonetheless looking at last year’s blend with fresh eyes thanks to some new information shared by Robert Tisserand of Robert Tisserand Essential Training and The Tisserand Institute. Based on a handy infographic and article he shared, I’m updating my blend to take things up a notch.

That means this year’s blend will include old favorites–including catnip (Nepeta cataria) hydrosol and chocolate peppermint essential water–plus a new ally from Robert Tisserand’s recommendations, namely turmeric. (Yes, turmeric. The Wonder Root. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure!)

Robert Tisserand offers recommendations for both big and little people.

Since there are no kids in our household, this blend is designed for adults.

(No kids, only fur babies–you’ll find a blend for them at the end of this post!)

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Natural Bug Repellent for Adults

May 21, 2017
: ~7 ounces
: easy

A natural bug repellent featuring essential oils, essential water, and hydrosols.


  • 4 oz. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) hydrosol
  • 2 oz. Chocolate Peppermint (Mentha x Piperita “Chocolate”)
 essential water*
  • 80 drops of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) essential oil
  • 40 drops of Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) essential oil
  • up to 16 drops of Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) essential oil
  • up to 12 drops of Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) essential oil
  • up to 12 drops of Geranium (Pelargonium x asperum) essential oil
  • up to 12 drops of Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil
  • up to 12 drops of Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) essential oil
  • up to 12 drops of Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) essential oil
  • Solubol or other dispersant to manufacturer’s specifications
  • Step 1 Combine all ingredients and stir or shake well to combine thoroughly.
  • Step 2 Place in an 8 oz. spray bottle (or two 4 oz. spray bottles).
  • Step 3 Apply to skin avoiding eyes, mucous membranes, and broken, compromised, or sensitive skin. Can also be sprayed at cuffs or hems on clothing, tents, etc.
  • Step 4 Re-apply as needed to refresh efficacy.

For our bug repellent, I make a large stock blend of just the essential oils at the beginning of the season. When we need more repellent, I simply add the proper volume of the stock blend to the six ounces total hydrosol/essential water. I multiply the volume of stock blend added by four and then add that volume (4X) of Solubol. I use an emulsifying blender to combine them all.

Note that the dispersant will likely make your blend cloudy–small price to pay to ensure good dilution/coverage and avoid whole drops of undiluted oil on your skin!

Shake well before each use. Apply to exposed skin (avoiding mucous membranes, eyes, and delicate areas). We spray it on our socks, hiking boots, collars, and cuffs, too. Be prepared to use them more than once throughout the day for consistent coverage.

When you aren’t on the trails, keep them in the fridge! These are water-based and without preservatives.

(Remember: this is for adults. See Robert Tisserand’s infographic for ideas for kid-safe repellents!)

*NOTE: Essential waters are not the same as hydrosols–nor are they hydrosols with essential oils added. They are created with a special process that emulsifies the hydrophilic and lipophilic distillates. You can learn more about them from Stillpoint Aromatics’ Essential Waters page.

For the Beasts

I will NEVER forget my first hike at the lake down the road after I first came to Idaho. My beloved was still in Santa Fe with two of our dogs; I had one big Rhodesian Ridgeback, Phinda, and the cat with me at our new Idahome.

My first morning in the new house, I covered myself in my natural bug repellent and went to explore the lake with Phinda.

After about ten minutes of hiking, I called him back to take a picture of him to send to my beloved–and I was horrified.

While I had not one bite, poor Phinda was riddled with bumps from bug bites.

head of rhodesian ridgeback isolated over white backgroundI don’t use essential oils on my pets unless the recipe has been sourced from an expert in the field (Kelly Holland Azzaro’s FB group is an amazing resource!). Obviously, my own repellent blend wouldn’t do for the dogs.

Ann Harman, artisan distiller and author of Harvest to Hydrosol, has a wonderful dog-safe, hydrosol-only bug repellent recipe.

  • Two parts Catnip hydrosol
  • One part Lemongrass hydrosol
  • One part Rose Geranium hydrosol

We spray ours on a washcloth and rub them down, being careful to avoid their eyes and mouths. They love the rubs and the bug-free hikes!

Happy trails!

Bless and blessed be!



3 thoughts on “Bug Off! Natural Bug Repellents”

    • The penultimate answer would depend on when individual ingredients were distilled and how they were stored initially plus a host of other factors…

      The recipe outlined here makes +6 oz–we always go through that and much more in a single season, so I haven’t tested its limits. (We practically live outdoors in the warmer months!)

      It’s the water-based hydrosol that is the biggest threat to the longevity of the blend in terms of spoilage; the concern with the essential oils is oxidation (which can increase risk of adverse reaction). You can learn more about the shelf life of hydrosols from AromaWeb: https://www.aromaweb.com/hydrosols/hydrosol-storage-tips.asp

      If the blend is kept in a sealed spray bottle, maintained in a dark, cool fridge when not in your backpack, and otherwise not exposed to bacterial threats, you’ll likely use it up before you need to be concerned.
      If you want to be sure your investment in this blend is protected, especially if you don’t think you’ll use 6 oz. up fast enough, I would recommend either reducing the batch to what you think you can use in no more than 7-14 days OR adding a preservative.

      In the Untamed Alchemy repellent blends I *SELL*, I use NataPres (a naturally-derived preservative) and/or Optiphen as preservatives–the risk of having bacteria or mold growing in the blend because someone fails to store it properly or doesn’t use it soon enough is too great! Both are paraben-free.

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