How to Make an Insect Repellent Using Essential Oils

Why essential oils can repel insects

One of essential oils’ many powers is the power to repel insects. If you think about it, it makes sense. Plants stay rooted to the ground and can’t walk or run. Unlike us, they can’t even move a limb to swipe a bug off.

Plants have therefore developed ways to defend themselves against insects that can eat them and do them harm. One of the ways they do so is to store bug-repelling scents in specific parts of themselves.

This is why certain  essential oils can keep off the six-legged crawlies that are never welcome but are always trying to get into our homes.

But different essential oils are good at repelling different insects. Which oil should you use then? And what if you have more than one bug you want to repel?

insect repellent spray

I want a multi-bug repellent

When I first used essential oils to make a bug repellent, my main concern was mosquitoes (I was going on a walk in a nature reserve). Soon after that, I wanted to stop ants and spiders from getting into my home too.

But I didn’t want to make a dozen different repellents for a dozen different insects. So I dived into books, pored over research papers and read what other users have tried…

And I came up with a simple recipe that can keep off six of the, to me, peskiest, most common yet most unwanted home guests (pests).

They are: ants, cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes, moths and spiders.

Urgh! Just writing those six words makes me shudder.

The conditions I set for my multi-bug repellent recipe

Here are the conditions I set for myself to create my magic (but wholly natural) multi-bug repellent recipe:

1. The recipe should use common or popular essential oils that are easily available and if possible, have many other home uses. So oils such as cedarwood are out.

2. The essential oils used aren’t too expensive. So oils such as frankincense are straightaway out of the picture. After all, I’ll be spraying a lot, all over the house. Using an expensive oil is going to cramp my spraying style.

3. No using of oils that increase skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. So photo-sensitive oils such as citrus oils are out. The reason why I’m avoiding such oils is I want a repellent that can be sprayed on the body too, say when I go on a hike. But if you’re planning to use the repellent only around the home (and not on your skin), photo-sensitivity won’t be as much an issue.

4. No using of hot oils such as clove bud, because they require more dilution if they’re to be applied on the skin.

5. The recipe will use no more than three oils. This is purely a preference of mine. I try to keep blends simple.

So bearing all these conditions in mind…

The winning essential oils are…

Citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus Globulus) and Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia)

Here’s what each essential oil repels:

  • Citronella: Ants, flies, mosquitoes
  • Eucalyptus: Cockroaches, mosquitoes, spiders
  • Lavender: Flies, mosquitoes, moths.

Note that I’ve stated the specific species for each oil because there can be several species used to make essential oils. Not all species have the same properties. The ones that I’ve tested and used in my own recipe are the ones I’ve listed above.

And the recipe for my multi-bug repellent is

  • 2.5 oz (about 70 ml) of boiled water
  • 1 oz (about 30 ml) of witch hazel
  • 40 drops of citronella
  • 40 drops of eucalyptus
  • 40 drops of lavender
  • And you’ll need a 4oz glass bottle with a spray top too.


1. First put the essential oils into the witch hazel, shake the bottle up a bit and leave it to stand for a while. I usually wait ten minutes. This is to allow the oil to dissolve in the alcohol of the witch hazel.

2. Next, pour in the boiled water, put on the spray bottle top, shake the bottle a bit to mix it up and that’s it!

Now you can spray the repellent in areas where the six bugs like to enter from or most love to gather in. For instance, I use the spray at entry points such as the windows, the gap below the door and drain openings and filters.

P.S: If you don’t have witch hazel, you can also use vodka.

P.P.S: If you have neither witch hazel nor vodka, water only will also do. Just remember that oil doesn’t dissolve in water. So before you use your spray, you’ll need to shake up the bottle to temporarily “force-mix” the oil and water.


1. Remember to use a glass spray bottle, not plastic. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post (see “The difference between carrier oils and essential oils”), essential oils eat plastic.

2. Be careful when using the spray on paintwork. The low amount of alcohol in the spray should not damage paint, but you should first test in a small and inconspicuous area to make sure.

3. Bees are attracted to lavender (they seek lavender to gather pollen). So don’t use this essential oil recipe on yourself if you’re going somewhere that’s known to have bees.

4. Citronella, Eucalyptus and Lavender are relatively light oils, meaning that they dissipate fairly quickly. As a body insect repellent, reapplication will be needed every hour or two.

5. Eucalyptus should not be used on children under 10 years old. So if you’re making a repellent for children, skip the eucalyptus.

6. For children between 2 to 10 years old, reduce the amount of each essential oil used by half (i.e. just 10 drops each of lavender and citronella). Don’t use the spray on children under 2 years old.

I hope this recipe can help you in your fight against the six common bugs!

Shall we chat? What other essential oils have you tried that work well against these bugs too? 

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