Store-bought insect repellants have long been known to cause environmental toxicity, leading to health issues. Essential oils (EOs) serve as all-natural, chemical-free alternatives, effectively repelling insects to keep them away from your home and garden. Their efficacy lies in their strong scents, which deter pests like mosquitoes, ants, and flies. These oils reduce your exposure to harmful toxins while still fighting infestations, and they provide a number of other health benefits.
Insects can cause issues like property damage, food contamination, and even spread diseases, impacting both your home and family’s well-being. And even though you should stop at nothing to protect your health, there’s a better way to do so than traditional repellents. There are over 100 EOs, but not all of them are as effective as others. We’ve put together a list of the 8 best essential oils to use as a natural insect repellent, along with actionable tips on how to use them.
The 6 Best Essential Oils for Natural Insect Repellent
The most effective repellents contain compounds like eugenol, citronellal, and geraniol. And as far as scents go, oils like citronella, eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, and peppermint, are the best at keeping mosquitoes, ants, and flies at bay.
Citronella oil is a popular natural insect repellent because of its fresh, lemony scent. This pleasant aroma not only repels insects but also masks human scents that attract bugs like mosquitoes.
Derived from the leaves and stems of citronella grass, citronella oil contains compounds like citronellal and geraniol, which disrupt insect behaviour. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes it as safe for topical use, including on children, citing its effectiveness at repelling arthropods.
The most effective way to use citronella oil for repelling insects like mosquitoes is to diffuse it in outdoor areas where you spend time. You can use an oil diffuser, a spray bottle, or citronella candles to release the scent into the air. Alternatively, you can dilute citronella oil with a carrier oil(like coconut or jojoba oil) and apply it directly to your skin, avoiding sensitive areas. This creates a protective barrier, masking human scents that attract insects. Reapply every 1-2 hours or as needed, as its effectiveness diminishes over time.
Peppermint oil’s minty scent effectively repels insects like ants, spiders, and mosquitoes. Its strong aroma overwhelms insects' olfactory (smell) systems, making it difficult for them to locate food sources and breeding sites.
The primary active ingredient is menthol, which is the primary reason that it’s so effective at repelling bugs. A study published in the Malaria Journal found that peppermint oil provided a significant repellent effect against mosquitoes, with a protection time of up to 150 minutes.
For best use, prepare a topical mixture with a carrier oil and apply directly to your skin. To create your own bug spray, fill up a spray bottle with water and add a few drops, then spritz around your home or outdoor areas, anywhere that mosquitoes may be a concern. For a more passive approach, place cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil around your home or garden to create an insect barrier. And if a bug does happen to bite you, rub that same topical mixture on the bite to soothe & cool the skin.
Patchouli oil’s distinct, earth aroma actively repels various pests, including mosquitoes, ants, and flies. A 2013 study found that the “repellent activity of patchouli alcohol compound was found to be most effective for repellent activity [...and] provided 100% protection for up to 280 minutes.”
To use patchouli oil as an insect repellent, dilute it with a carrier oil and apply the mixture directly to your skin. Avoid sensitive areas like your eyes, nose, and mouth, and reapply every few hours for the best results. You can also create a water & patchouli oil mixture to a spray bottle, spritzing it as you hike & explore the wilderness. At home, add a few drops to a diffuser for a consistent, passive barrier against pests.
Lavender oil has a soothing, floral aroma, which may not seem like an effective natural insect repellent. But active components like linalool and camphor keep away pests like mosquitoes, ants, and mites. Several in vitro studies have concluded that it’s one of the most effective oils at repelling various species of mites.
To use lavender oil as a chemical-free repellent, prepare a mixture with a carrier oil and apply it to your skin. Avoid sensitive areas and reapply as needed every few hours. When indoors, add a few drops to your diffuser for constant protection from dust mites & other pests.
Vetiver oil is a natural insect repellent with a deep, earthy aroma. It's effective against various pests, such as mosquitoes, ants, and termites, due to its active components like vetiverol and nootkatone.
A study published in the Journal of Vector Ecology showed that “vetiver oil displayed a strong repellent activity (78%) against house flies and exhibited 100% contact toxicity to larval and adult house flies.” This makes vetiver oil a must-have oil for late spring and early summer in Australia.
To use topically, mix with a carrier oil and apply the mixture to exposed areas of skin. Be sure to avoid sensitive areas and reapply every few hours for the best results. You can also create a spray by mixing a few drops of oil with water in a spray bottle and spritzing it around your home or outdoor spaces where insects are a concern.
If you don’t want your skin to feel oily, or don’t have a spray bottle on hand, a diffuser is just as effective for small outdoor gatherings & indoor spaces. Add a few drops to your diffuser to create a protective barrier against insects to keep you & your guests comfortable.
Clary sage oil is a natural insect repellent with a herbaceous, floral aroma. Two of the active ingredients, linalyl acetate & linalool, are responsible for its insect-resistant properties, specifically for mosquitoes, ants, and ticks.
According to a 2022 study of herbal essential oils & blends, a clary sage blend was revealed to repel spider mites. They were also revealed to have a “good repellent activity” against Asian tiger mosquitos, “one of the fastest spreading insects over the past 20 years.”
To protect yourself from midges & mosquitoes, mix with a carrier oil and apply to exposed areas of skin. But be sure to avoid sensitive areas like your eyes, nose, and mouth. For outdoor hikes, add a few drops of clary sage EO to a spray bottle along with some water, then re-apply every 60-90 minutes for a chemical-free alternative.
Geranium oil’s sweet, floral aroma is inviting to humans but keeps pests away. Two of the active ingredients, geraniol and citronellol, are especially effective against mosquitoes, ants, and ticks. In fact, two studies from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and Nature revealed that geranium is a natural, effective tick repellent.
If you plan to hike in tall grass or a known tick hotspot, prepare a mixture of geranium essential oil with your favourite carrier oil and apply the topical mixture to your skin. As with the other oils, you can also mix with water and add to a spray bottle for easy application.
DIY Extermination for Annoying Pests
What essential oils get rid of cockroaches?
The best essential oils to get rid of cockroaches are rosemary, peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus oil. These pests are common in homes & gardens and can wreak havoc, contaminating food, triggering allergies, and even spreading diseases.
These particular oils are toxic to roaches, disrupting their senses and making it difficult for them to navigate and locate food. If you have an infestation, spray a few drops of an oil & water mixture where you’ve spotted cockroaches, typically near cracks & crevices. Spray regularly until the infestation is gone. If you’d prefer not to spray oil around your home, add a few drops of oil to cotton balls and set those near the same locations.
What essential oils get rid of mosquitoes?
The best essential oils to get rid of mosquitoes are citronella, lemongrass, lavender, and eucalyptus oil. These pests can ruin those late summer nights, causing irritating bites and non-stop itching. In some cases, they may even transmit diseases. But these oils disorient the bugs, making it difficult for them to locate and bite humans.
If you have a mosquito issue around your home or campsite, mix a few drops of one of these oils with water and spray it in areas where you've noticed these pests, usually around standing water or shaded spots. Or create a topical mixture with a carrier oil for on-the-go protection.
What essential oils get rid of fleas?
The best essential oils to get rid of fleas are rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus, and citronella.
Fleas are small, pesky insects that feed on the blood of their hosts, often causing itching, redness, and irritation. They pose a threat to both pets & humans, causing allergic reactions and transmitting diseases as they infest your living spaces.
These natural repellents are most effective when combined with a carrier oil and applied to your skin. If your pet has fleas, you can spray them down with an EO & water mixture to kill the fleas. If it’s a serious case, add a few drops of these oils to a pet shampoo and give them a bath. And to keep them from coming back, spray that same solution to pet bedding, carpets, and furniture, or anywhere that your pets frequent. You can even make a DIY flea collar by soaking a soft cloth or bandana in the diluted oil solution to protect your pet.
What essential oils get rid of flies?
Essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, and lemongrass are the most effective essential oils to get rid of flies. The strong aroma of these fly-repellent oils will keep them away from your family, pets, and living spaces. Add a few drops of EO to a spray bottle, along with a few drops of water, then spray the solution near windows, doors, and other entry points to keep flies at bay.
For a more passive approach, fill your diffuser with one of these EOs to distribute the natural repellent throughout your home. If you don’t have a diffuser, you can make fly-repellent sachets by placing a few drops of EO on cotton balls or fabric scraps. Place them in areas where flies tend to gather, like around fruit bowls or garbage bins.
What essential oils get rid of ants?
The best essential oils to get rid of flies are peppermint, clove, and citrus oils like lemon or orange. Though they play a major role in garden ecosystems, ants aren’t welcome in your home. They can damage structures, contaminate food, and harm indoor house plants.
Instead of placing sticky, unsightly ant traps in every corner of your home & kitchen, mix one of these EOs with water and spray directly towards the infestation. And the best part is, you won’t have to worry about spewing any toxic chemicals around your home.
To use EOs against ants, mix a few drops of your chosen oil or blend with water in a spray bottle. Apply the solution to areas where you've noticed ant activity, such as entry points, countertops, and garden paths. Reapply regularly until the infestation is gone. For a more proactive approach, soak cotton balls in a diluted EO solution and place them in strategic locations around your home. These scent barriers will help deter ants from entering your space.
What essential oils repel ticks?
Geranium, eucalyptus, and cedarwood are the most effective essential oils at repelling ticks. These blood-sucking parasites attach to skin, clothing, and your pets, often transmitting diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, leading to serious health complications.
The most effective way to use these EOs is by mixing with a carrier oil, then applying directly to exposed skin. To prevent ticks from latching onto your clothes or pets, add a few drops to a water spray bottle and spritz as needed. Make sure to avoid spraying directly into your pet’s face.
If you find a tick on your pet, add a few drops of EO to their shampoo, then give them a thorough bath.
Why use essential oils to repel insects?
List the benefits of using natural essential oil insect repellent over chemical alternatives. Mention the safety effectiveness and environmental benefits.
They’re safer for humans, pets, and the environment
Most store-bought bug sprays contain a chemical named N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (commonly known as DEET). Though it does not pose medical risks when used properly, it has been known to cause:
- Irritated, painful, and watery eyes if sprayed incorrectly
- Skin redness, swelling, or rash on those with sensitive skin, like children
- Vomiting & nausea if accidentally consumed
- Seizures, in very rare cases, usually only if consumed
Essential oils, on the other hand, are natural insect repellents that are safe for humans (even kids). Derived from plants, they protect you & your loved ones from all types of insects.
They protect from many insect species
Each EO has its own unique set of insect repellent properties, making them effective against a variety of species. When blended together, you can create an all-in-one repellent for your home that protect against mosquitoes, ants, fleas, ticks, and even cockroaches. By targeting the insects' senses, EOs disrupt their ability to navigate, making it impossible for them to find you.
Essential oils provide a natural, eco-friendly alternative to chemical insect repellents & bug sprays. They effectively deter various pests, such as mosquitoes, ants, and ticks, protecting you, your family, and your pets from bites & diseases. By choosing EOs, you can minimise potential side effects and reduce your environmental impact. Give these natural repellents a try for a gentler, safer way to keep insects at bay and safeguard your loved ones.