ashley englishsmall measures

small measures with ashley: natural insect repellents

by Grace Bonney

image sources, clockwise from top left: wikimedia, i heart vanilla, yumsugar, cherry gal

As I type this, I’m itchy. Itchy in the sort of way that, should I just take the plunge and go on and scratch all those mosquito welts spread out in constellations all over my calves, I know I’ll live to regret it. I’m not certain if pregnant ladies smell particularly appealing to the tiny winged bloodsuckers or what, but I can surely attest to having been the delicacy of choice yesterday, when posing for some outdoor author photos while working on the food photography for my “Keeping Bees” book.

Had I know that a stinging army lie in wait for me and my lower half, I would have come prepared. In fact, now that it’s just about summer, I should have come prepared. I don’t know what hungry, buzzing, winged summertime creature makes mince-meat out of your skin where you live, but in the southeastern United States, it’s mosquitoes. In recognition of that (and in preparation for other creatures who bid a fond “Howdy Do!” when summer rolls around), today’s small measure is about whipping up some homemade, all-natural insect repellents.

Today I’ll share with you three easy solutions to managing warmer weather interlopers. We’ll begin with the aforementioned mosquitoes. While many solutions work, my preference is for either homemade or all-natural repellents. That’s always been the case, but it’s of even greater importance to me now that “Nugget” is privy to whatever I imbibe, eat, slather on, or otherwise consume, either orally or topically. I want whatever I use in combating summer’s critters to be as safe and benign as possible. To that end, I turn to essential oils. In fact, the use of herbs and essential oils is usually my first line of defense in all matters related to body care products. My “Mosquito Mist” deters the miniature munchers while keeping you smelling good and feeling fine!

CLICK HERE for ashley’s natural insect repellent recipes after the jump!

Mosquito Mist

The Goods:
-1 cup of grain alcohol (organic if available), vodka (ditto) or witch hazel
-30 drops (in total) essential oil blend (select from: lavender, citronella, rosemary, rose geranium, lemon, or tea tree oil)*
*You can also use just one single essential oil, or a combination of just two or so, if you have a preference for a particular aroma)

The Deal:
-Place all ingredients into a spray mister bottle.
-Shake well.
-Spray liberally over any exposed skin before venturing outdoors.
-Reapply if you get wet or are sweating heavily.

Another quick and easy deterrent to mosquitoes is to simply dab an oil directly onto your skin. I wouldn’t suggest this for young children or babies, but adults can easily place a bit of lavender essential oil or vanilla extract behind their ears, on their wrists, and at the back on the knees. This will keep the bugs away, and might just make you the person on the patio that everyone is inexplicably drawn towards!
Preparation and precautions for outdoor forays are important, but what about creatures who make themselves at home indoors when the mercury rises? I’m talking specifically here about ants and sawtoothed grain beetles or weevils. The arrival of ants and other pantry creatures seems to parallel the move to warmer weather. If you find a busy trail of ants, happily making their way in and out of your pantry (and your sugar jar), or sawtoothed grain beetles (or weevils) when opening up a cereal package or canister of rice or lentils, try these easy tricks for bidding the multi-legged beasties adios without resorting to toxic chemicals.

Happy Trails Ant Remover

The Goods:
-Bottle of peppermint essential oil

The Deal:
-Find where the ants seem to be entering and exiting.
-Drop single beads of essential oil every two-three inches along their parade route.
-Make sure you’ve covered the entire path.
-They don’t care for the odor and will move along quickly.

Bug Off Beetle Deterrent

The Goods:
-Dried Bay leaves

The Deal:
-Nest a bay leaf or two (be sure they’re dry!) inside all of your pantry goods.  -Store all of the items in securely lidded containers in a dry, room temperature location.
-The bay leaf deters beetles and weevils while not affecting the flavor or aroma of your pantry staples.

What about you? Have any go-to remedies of choice for fending off creatures determined to make a meal out of you or your dry goods? I’d love to hear them. The way I look at it, every living thing is just trying to make it’s way in the world. I don’t place “good” or “bad” labels on any beings (or at least I try not to, although mosquitoes certainly test my resolve). If we can find ways to manage and co-exist with each other without resorting to noxious gassings or toxic blitzkreigs, I’m all for it! -ashley

Suggested For You


  • Have you tried Vick’s Vapor Rub on the mosquito bites to make them less itchy? My college roommate told me that one and it works. Don’t know why it does – maybe the camphor(sp?) in it.

  • These are some great ideas! I keep telling myself I should start using all natural repellents but have been too lazy to go out and find something that works.
    But this! THIS is so easy!

  • Does anyone have any ideas for silverfish?

    I live in an older apartment building, and I just can’t seem to make them go away!!

  • you know what grosses me out most — I have potato bugs crawling around my basement. What can I do to get rid of them? And sometimes I see centipedes scurry across the floor. Gross!

  • @Donna I had the same problem with potato bugs and centipedes in our basement! We got a decent sized dehumidifier from amazon.com and it has made a huge difference. We only get a few now, instead of swarms!

  • Last Saturday my Mom and I found wild black raspberries! Wooooo we were excited. Unfortunately, following that exciting berry picking afternoon I discovered hundreds of red dots all over my legs. Covering my thighs and sprinkled everywhere else were chigger bites. I had just recently heard someone say they took charcoal if they were to ever get stung by a bee because he was deathly allergic and charcoal removes toxins from your body. Although my chigger bites weren’t going to kill me, I managed to stay mostly itch free thanks to charcoal : )

  • Thank you for sharing this! I, too, am a mosquito/biting fly magnet, and the bites last for weeks, not hours or days. I’ve been looking for some natural alternatives to Deep Woods Off, which makes me feel like I need to be decontaminated before I go inside!

  • I loath mosquitoes. I have been searching for a more natural deterrent myself lately. I seem to always have bug bites in the summer. I like the mist idea…way better smelling than the natural sprays on the market…which usually smell of citronella, menthol or eucalyptus.

    Did you know that bug sprays just mask the smell of you so that the insects cannot find you as quickly. That’s why if you use a natural alternative you need to apply more often than the store brand…your skin absorbs it quicker.

    Thanks for the recipe…I’m going to make some this weekend!! <3

  • Ashley, you might want to research using lavendar while pregnant / on boy babies. I remember reading that it wasn’t good for little boys. Just FWIW.

    • rebecca

      i was surprised to hear that so i did a little googling- it looks like a few years ago there were a few studies suggesting that lavender and tea tree oils were connected to gynecomastia in young/baby boys, but it seems like the test group sizes were small (some were only groups of 3 people who showed signs) and nothing has been released conclusively in the past few years.


      good to read up on, but perhaps not necessarily 100% proven yet. perhaps these studies can be used as just another reminder to use everything in moderation ;)


  • grace and rebecca-yes, thanks for the mention, and the research. i’d heard of this, but knew that it would apply mostly to continued, repeated usage.

    the mist described above is only for occasional use, when combatting mosquitoes outdoors and would be applied in tiny doses anyways, as it would be in an alcohol solution, or dabbed on in tiny amounts directly onto the skin.

    always good to read about safe application of essential oils, though. they’re medicine, too!

  • I’m one for putting a bit of lavender oil right on my skin. Also, my boyfriend and I usually take tangerines as snacks on long hikes. When we stop to eat them, we rub the rinds all over our skin/hair to get a bit of the oil out. It words well to deter buggy pests too.

  • I’ve read that catnip is a good natural mosquito repellent. Perhaps that could be used in place of some of the other essential oils. Might make you more attractive to kitties, but I’d rather have a cat rubbing up against my leg than be covered in bites.

  • This is fantastic! I get devoured by mosquitoes every spring and fall and HATE the commercial bug sprays. Thank you thank you thank you!

    Also, for anyone who has a huge ant problem … sprinkle cinnamon along their path. It kills them, but for a severe problem it really works to get rid of them. I had a fire-ant hill in my backyard and my dogs were getting into it. I used the cinnamon and by the next day there was no trace of them.

  • Do these really work for you? I seem to be really tasty to biting bugs and tried a citronella/rosemary blend while in Savannah recently. Well, let’s just say the chigger bites have finally healed…I’m about ready to go back to old-fashioned DEET. It did smell good, tho!

  • J.R. Watkins makes a really nice insect-repellent cream. I do not think itès 100% green, but Ièm pretty sure it is DEET free.

  • @ Manue – For garden slugs try using beer traps, they work pretty well. Just dig a small hole near your flowers or veggies and place a small yogurt container (or any other recycled plastic container) filled with beer. They’ll slither in for the fermented goodies and never re-emerge (this also helps catch pincher bugs if those are a problem). You can also clean and dry leftover egg shells and then crumble them near the base of the plant to help deter slugs. Added bonus – I believe the egg shells also help fertilize the soil.

    For ants indoors: to stop the flow, sprinkle a bit of baby powder on the holes/areas where they’re coming in. Non-toxic traps can also be made with a mixture of simple syrup and borax (non-toxic soap in powder form). Simply boil your sugar and water, add borax, and then fill lidded yogurt container and punch a few holes. Note that this will initially attract more ants as they flock to the sweetness, so it might be good to place these outdoors near where they’re entering the house.

  • For those annoying critters in the food pantry called weevils- gross little things. I just put my flour in the freezer for a few days. It kills them.
    Weevil eggs are in most types of flour. It is a gross reality, but freezing the flour works.

  • mozzies love my blood. at home in melbourne, interstate AND overseas. plus we have a huge amount of mozzies around our yard in summer (lots of trees and moisture), i think that they must advertise that there is good blood on offer to bring so many mozzies!
    it’s winter now, but man oh man am i going to try the mist in summer, would be terrific to find a natural deterant to help keep me in a less itchy state :)

  • We live in the North East of Brazil, when we had just moved in I felt my body burning from mosquito bites and my 6 month-old baby was completely covered with little bumps, I couldn’t buy just any repellent for her and someone suggested cactus juice… It works wonders and it doesn’t have a bad smell like other natural alternatives :)

  • The osage orange or hedgeapple repels most insects and spiders. They are an interesting looking fruit (a conversation piece!) that you may be lucky enough to find growing wild in your neighborhood. You can buy them online in season as well.

  • I was always told to rub dryer sheets on my skin to keep the mosquitoes away. I haven’t tried it since I was little, but I remember it worked.
    Also, I know this wasn’t listed, but for flies indoors (and maybe outdoors), my aunt always hangs a ziplock bag full of water and a penny (literally put a penny in the bag with the water) by the door. I don’t exactly remember how she hangs it nor do I know why it works, but it seems to do the job.

  • @ ashley thank you for the info! i’ve had all of those mosquito ingredients in my cabinet for years now but never put 2 and 2 together. big congratulations to you!

    @ deanna thanks for the cinnamon info!

  • While in Greece last year, I placed saucers of sweet almond, tea tree, lavender and cinnamon oil in every room and never saw a mosquito while our neighbours were plagued. They really hate cinnamon, so put that directly on skin.

  • Excellent tips, both in the article & the comments. I’m definitely trying the peppermint oil, for ants. I don’t like the commercial remedies & they don’t work well, anyway.

  • Believe it or not, large grains of sea salt placed at the entry point for ants will create a barrier and will prevent them from coming in. For some reason, they won’t go past the salt. I found a line of ants the first night we moved into our house. I placed several large grains of salt on the window seal in the corner and they were gone by the next day and haven’t come back since (over a year later!)

  • You’ve got no idea of what it is to live in the tropic! These pests are around all year long, and I don’t accept those chemicals sold nowadays. So home remedies are fine with me – going to try them. I’ve planted some citronella by the bedrooms’ windows, but they’re still too small… THANK YOU!

  • @Alice Drew: That seems very surprising to me – I’ve never had weevils in any of my grains, and I don’t put them in the freezer. Though, if it is a problem, that seems a reasonable solution.

  • sprinkle a little cinnamon around where you see ants coming from. they really don’t like it and will not want to get near it or attempt to pass over it!

  • Thank you for the advices on slugs. I got rid of 30 or so of them in 2 nights… maybe half with the beer, and half with manual removal. I got a big 4 in. long one tonight. Beurk! Hopefully my hostas will survive (I guess so since the bulbs was not eaten, I think…)

  • I wish I had read this prior to camping this weekend! I used that nasty, greasy OFF, and am still covered in bites! So…itchy…

  • Does anyone have suggestions for getting rid of spiders indoors?

    I just moved into a new apartment and there have been loads of little black and yellow spiders by all of the windows….

  • My 3 1/2 year old welts up after a mosquito bite and I have always directly applied a drop of lavender oil and it reduces the swelling and itching right away. Plus, she smells like a Princess.

  • For mosquito (and other insect) bites, chew on a plantain leaf for a minute and apply the resulting green mush to the bite. I’m referring to the extremely common North American herb (genus Plantago) not the banana (genus Musa). Greatly reduces the inflammatory response (the sting, the itch, the swelling).

    I was a bit skeptical, perhaps because I work in medical research and had never heard of plantain leaf (maybe not so surprising). In desperation, I tried a chopped plantain compress on a days-old brown recluse bite (if you’ve ever had one, you’re probably grimacing at the memory of it). It stopped the necrosis in its tracks and shrank the wound in half in two days. Best of all, you can find the leaf in any sidewalk crack, playground, or driveway in the U.S.!

  • re: potato bugs and centipedes
    My beloved spouse grows orchids. Even in dry Saskatchewan, that mean damp & bugs in the basement. This doesn’t keep them out, but it sure catches them: duct tape. We always have a strip with the sticky side up running along the floor at the base of the stairs. It does get kind of gross-looking when it fills up, but it’s better than having them upstairs! Change as necessary.

  • One night I woke up madly scratching mosquito bites, and went searching for anything I could find to get relief. I saw an alum block and moistened it and rubbed it on my bites. I got almost instantaneous relief.

    Alum blocks are less well-known in English-speaking countries. You might find them as sticks to relieve razor burn after shaving. My reasoning when I tried it was that if it could relieve one kind of skin irritation, it might relieve irritation from insect bites, and it did.

    It’s also used as a natural deodorant. I used it for a while for that, and it is effective, but then I read that it contained aluminum and might not be so good, even though it’s in a natural form. So I switched to baking soda, which works even better. I wouldn’t worry about using it occasionally, though, especially when the itching is driving me crazy!

    Thanks for all the good tips for repellents – I’ll be using them so hopefully I won’t even need to use the alum.

  • Any green tips for getting rid of cockroaches? We’ve moved and they seem to be everywhere now that it has gotten warmer. Gross! They range from tiny to thumb-size. I have a preschooler and toddler so I don’t want to use bug bombs or industrial sprays (and really if a spray kills a cockroach how can it possibly be ok for a weak little human?). Please help!

    I’ve heard that grits sprinkled around/near ant hills works to get rid of them too. I haven’t tried it, but thought I’d offer that one as a potential solution.

  • With the Summer coming up, and the prospect of a nice hot one for once, it’s good to know that there are lots of natural insect repellents and deterrent methods available. You might find this article about the dangers of mosquitoes useful. I certainly did, and your blog post was perfect for helping me work out what to do about it! Many thanks, Wendy

  • I am allergic to ALL the bug repellant sold on the market, and I think bugs know it. Deet, citronella, skin so soft- they all make my skin burn and turn red.so all of this info gives me warm fuzzies. Thank to all!

Leave a Reply

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, that comment on people's physical appearance, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.