I always thought DEET was the worst thing ever, horrible inhalation danger, cancer-causing, the whole 9 yards.
I might have been (gulp) wrong.
Now that I’m learning more about the safety of insect repellents including DEET, Picaridin, and IR3535 and weighing them against the risks of Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from ticks, as well as Zika and West Nile from mosquitoes, I’m changing my tune. I’ve always said that I fear Lyme Disease more than cancer. It’s the only health issue I can think of for which I’d welcome prophylactic antibiotics (preventative) with open arms. (I’m usually one to look for all the alternatives to antibiotics that I can find!)
It surprised me to find that there really are some conventional insect repellents with ingredients you can feel ok with. For today, I still think plant-based insect repellents are a good idea to explore, especially if your exposure to the outdoors will be short and your location doesn’t have a huge risk of insect-borne disease.
This non-toxic insect repellent review is updated for 2018 with one new bug spray and updated pricing and availability. I hope it’s helpful to you!
What kind of person wants to be accosted by insects?
A blogger reviewing natural bug sprays, that’s who.
I get a little bit excited every time we’re swarmed by mosquitoes, and I break out the bag of non-toxic insect repellents that I’ve been collecting and testing for the past six years.
I write notes. I examine ingredients, collect DIY recipes. And I chase mosquitoes, black flies, biting insects and creepy crawly things!
All so that you can test out just 1-3 brands of non-toxic insect repellent instead of dozens – more on why you might not buy just one in a sec.
We’ve watched bugs bite our skin in spite of our sprays, and we’ve also watched them fly close, veer away, fly close again, then veer away, unable to stand whatever natural repellent we were testing. We’ve definitely run these brands through the gauntlet!
And when they fail or we forget to use something because we don’t see the bug until they’ve gotten our kids, we have plenty of home remedies to stop bug bites from itching. 🙂 Spoiler alert – I turn to hydrated bentonite clay first every time!
What Makes a Natural Insect Repellent Work?
Most natural bug sprays that I was able to review use essential oils or other plant compounds that the insects simply don’t like, that interfere with their scent-based location capabilities, or which make bugs sick.
Here is a list of all the plant-based active ingredients in the formulas I tested:
- neem oil or extract
- geranium oil
- tea tree/melaleuca oil
- lavender oil
- rosemary oil
- catnip/catnip oil
- catmint oil
- peppermint oil
- cedarwood oil
- cedar oil
- clove bud oil
- citronella oil
- lemongrass oil
- eucalyptus oil
- lemon eucalyptus oil — Note: This is the only one approved by the EPA for insect repelling, and it’s actually a processed derivative.
- orange oil or extract
- andiroba seed oil
- Most of these are essential oils, but not all
How to Review Natural Insect Repellent Options
I tested at least 17 different chemical free bug sprays from various companies, and although I only have “proof” of effectiveness (i.e. our anecdotal evidence) on some but not all of them, strangely enough, that may not matter.
I know when you’re shopping for the best natural bug spray, the first (and only) question you may care about is:
“Does it work?
Is the natural spray effective against the biting bugs? Will it prevent mosquito bites?”
I can also tell you the ease of use, whether it’s sticky or not, how good it smells, and the price – but if it doesn’t work, you may not care.
Unfortunately, even if I had mosquitoes swarming daily or could put my arm in a glass box full of biting chiggers for you, it’s possible that what works for me and my family wouldn’t work for yours anyway.
The way in which the active ingredients interact with a person’s body chemistry may have a great impact on the bug spray’s effectiveness.
In that case, you’re just going to have to take a gamble and try some, BUT if you find a brand that does or doesn’t work, I can help you figure out what other brands (maybe less expensive) you should try because of similar active ingredients.
Important: What Oils are Safe for Kids?
In the world of essential oils, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. It’s important to educate yourself on kid-safe and baby-safe essential oils and watch ingredients closely if you plan to use a spray on babies under two years old or kids under ten or six, the main cut-offs for most safety recommendations.
Oils Used in Bug Repellents that are NOT Recommended for Kids:
- eucalyptus (most varieties, avoid for kids under 10 – note that lemon eucalyptus is fine for all ages)
- rosemary (1,8-cineole chemotype) Rosmarinus officinalis (avoid under 6)
- peppermint (avoid under 6)
- lemongrass (avoid under 2)
- clove bud (avoid under 2)
- cinnamon (cinnamon leaf is fine, but avoid “cinnamon bark” for kids under 2 – so if it doesn’t specify, as most labels don’t, I wouldn’t risk it)
- sources: 1, 2, 3
On the flip side, cedarwood and lavender are even deemed safe for infants, so it’s pretty awesome that they may repel insects.
When I checked all the natural repellents I tried against this list, I was pretty surprised to find only FOUR that were safe for kids under 6. That knocks everything else wayyyyy down on my list, because it’s not worth having something around that I don’t want to spray on or around my kids (isn’t that the point of avoiding DEET?)!
Of those 5, only ONE rose to the top for me!
Natural Insect Repellent Spray: Top Recommended (for Children and Adults)
Even though we have chased down mosquitoes to help us, it’s hard to test the bug sprays extensively. But of course, I still came out with recommendations. I always have an opinion, just like with the natural sunscreen reviews and when I sought the best cloth diapers.
There were just a few non-toxic bug repellents that I felt I could really recommend when I first reviewed ten of them in 2012 – they were tested successfully and have super safe ingredients. When I added in the requirement of using only kid-safe oils, I was surprised to find out how quickly that sorted my list down to just this one. (EDIT: I got to add another to the top recommended list when I heard the actual ingredients from the supplier, yay!)
However, remember that there are a lot of unknowns in the bug spray world, so be sure to check out the next couple categories, too.
Wildthings Natural Insect Repellent
Price: $10.99 for 2 oz. ($5.50/oz.) or save on a 3-pack
Where to Purchase: Wildthings
Active Ingredients: Essential oils of citronella, geranium, catmint, and lavender/orange (depending on scent chosen)
Safety Notes: None. Comes in a glass bottle and uses all kid-safe oils.
Other Ingredients: Purified spring water, witch hazel
Easy to use? Very! It sprays a nice, thin mist and easily covers everyone.
How does it smell? I really like it. A friend even commented, “Wow, your bug spray actually smells good instead of gross!”
Did it prevent mosquito bites? Yes! We had multiple positive experiences with this insect repellent spray, including times when there were clearly biting bugs flying around and bugging us (pun intended), and then they were no longer an issue after spraying on WildThings. They would not land on us.
KS recommends? Absolutely my highest recommendation. We’ve defaulted to using this brand (we have a few of the scents) all summer long and I couldn’t be happier with it, both in ease of use and effectiveness.
PLUS the brand also has an oil-based repellent, which is of course one more step to apply, but perhaps because the oils are distributed so evenly or coating thicker, it’s even more effective (they call it “extreme”).
In fact, I heard from the founder about their USDA bug repellent tests, and this is SO interesting to me:
We did get our results back from USDA, and they were great! Although it was very frustrating to me to see that their entire focus is on whether repellents last 6 hours with not a single bite, which DEET manages to pull off some of the time (although DEET did not last quite 6 hours in our set of tests, interestingly).
Our new oil-based “Wildthings Extreme” was off the charts for natural bug repellents, getting to almost 5 hours of total repellency in a cage of 200 starving Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes (those are the bad ones that carry malaria, Z ika, yellow fever – found mostly in the southern US, but creeping north at an alarming rate). The USDA scientists were very excited!
But I was nonetheless annoyed that the gold standard was a very random 6 hours with no bites, and NOT: repels bugs incredibly well for 2 hours and doesn’t poison you or melt your plastics, and is safe for children!! Seems like that would be a more important criteria.
And as we are told to re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours, why not bug-spray? So I was very happy with all the results, which showed our different potions to be very effective, albeit for different lengths of time… but our personal experience had been telling that anyways 🙂
We still use just the water-based spray most of the time because I love the easy application and the smell. Have only resorted to the oil-based Extreme once – last weekend – in the worst of swarms while camping on [the coast of Maryland]. It did great – no bites even on on bare legs and arms. We outlasted even the heartiest of the fishermen on the beach that evening, who had all been set up for night fishing but they cleared out in a hurry once the mosquitoes arrived… but the bugs were too thick to even see, even if we weren’t getting bit – truly annoying, so we headed for less buggy territory for the night after all.
We’ve been working on some new products, and I’m delighted to have almost entirely organic oils (all but the catnip) for our ingredients now. We are hoping to begin distilling our own catnip/catmint oil sometime in the next year so that we can have quality control over that key (and most expensive) of the ingredients.
—from Monica, emphasis mine
Ticks too? Yes! From Monica:
“YES! Wildthings works great for ticks as well… we haven’t had any USDA testing on Wildthings yet, but there are quite a few studies showing it is extremely effective in repelling ticks as well as mosquitoes! We’ve used it very successfully against ticks in tick-infested areas… we had a week-long camping trip to Bear Island, NC last year and were warned about the ticks there, and they were indeed out in force. But we did not get a single tick our whole camping trip.We also had the opportunity to do some basic (albeit unscientific) tests on ticks we encountered, drawing a “boundary line” with our Wildthings potion and watching in delight as the ticks approached the line and turned and literally fled – quickly! Very cool to see. Here is a creeeepy video on Instagram of a tick jumping off someone’s leg because of Wildthings!!! When we drew a circle around one, it wouldn’t leave the circle and kept trying to get away from the Wildthings potion.
There are quite a few studies showing catnip oil and geranium oil are extremely effective in repelling ticks as well as moquitoes. These are our two main ingredients. Here is a link to one study.This is very wordy and scientific (link no longer available), but the bottom of page 112 has a “summary” that indicates catnip oil as a repellent, and also, very interestingly, says that basic catnip oil works better than any of the extractions scientists have done of the “active components” like nepetalactone. They don’t know why, but they are still unable to pull out the chemical components and get the same results as they do with the natural product. The natural product actually works better! In addition to being good for you in many other ways.That said, I am hoping to put a stronger spray on the website specifically for ticks (probably stronger smelling than you’d want on the rest of your body, but great for shoes, socks, lower legs when tromping through tick country. The Wildthings Extreme is fantastic for ticks, but is oil-based so not good on clothing. GREAT on skin though.”
I’m super impressed with Wildthings year after year, and I really want to see scientists do more studies with catnip, especially some with human arms and within a formula like this one. We know it works, now let’s get some data!!
Price: $10 for 4 oz. or $8 for 2 oz. ($2.50-4/oz.)
Where to Purchase: Rainwater Farm
Active Ingredients: Listed on the bottle as only “essential herbal oils.” The site description lists rose geranium, eucalyptus, and Litsea Cubeba. I heard from the founder! The oils are Lemongrass, rose geranium, litsea cubeba and cedarwood. All kid-safe!
Eucalyptus is not safe for children under 10, plus I don’t like when a company doesn’t list every single oil. I wouldn’t let my kids use this one this summer since I wasn’t sure (and I was right, now that I know there’s eucalyptus in there!). Some people say that borax isn’t a good idea for kids either, and I’d lean toward that side as well.
Other Ingredients: distilled water, glycerine, saponified coconut, olive and castor oils, avocado oil, potassium hydroxide, borax. Note: my bottle doesn’t have potassium hydroxide or borax on the outside so the formula has changed a bit.
Easy to use? Sure. It’s a simple spray bottle.
Sticky? A little bit.
How does it smell? It’s so flowery in comparison to the slightly sharp scent of so many of the others. The “rose” really comes through as a major player.
Did it prevent mosquito bites? We think so! My husband used it while out camping, and while quite a few mosquitoes literally hovered around him, none landed on his skin for at least 10 minutes. A few pesky ones landed on his unsprayed shirt. After 10 minutes one did land on his leg a few times but never bit – admittedly, we finally lost patience and smacked it! So much for experimenting in the name of science! 😉 We just needed to finish dinner and quit playing with mosquitoes.
Unsure. Although the product seems to be effective and smells great, because I don’t know the ingredients fully, I can’t give it a hearty recommendation. So glad to be able to give this one a high recommendation now that I know the ingredients. Yay!
Additional Notes: Rainwater Farm also has an insect repellent stick that looks pretty cool and includes extra soothing herbs, plus a REALLY fascinating item: Camper Soap. It has the same essential oils in it as the bug spray and is used as a daily shower soap. From the owner: “As you know, everything we use gets absorbed into our skin, and this acts like a permanent bug repellent. It has helped my customers avoid mosquitos and ticks. Another way this bar is used is slightly wetting the bar and rubbing on exposed skin (or in areas chiggers tend to bite).”
Other Decent Options (for Children and Adults)
Natural insect repellents that I recommend must be easy to use, smell decent, and usually demonstrated their effectiveness in preventing bug bites. These aren’t the best for my family, but they have some very good elements:
Greenbug All Natural Pest Control for People
Price: $8.95 for 2 oz. (~$4.50/oz.)
Safety Notes: Cedar is a “0” rating (extremely safe) at EWG, and I can’t find anything on liquid quartz
Active Ingredients: cedar oil (10%)
Other Ingredients: silane fluid (90%) liquid state of quartz
Easy to use? Yes, spray is simple
Katie’s notes: This formula is the only one to rely on a single ingredient, which I think is fantastic. I figured being totally different, it would either succeed wildly or fail miserably. Cedar oil doesn’t show up in many other natural bug sprays, either. Although upon further digging, I think it’s the same as “cedarwood” essential oil…if it’s even an essential oil.
How does it smell? The bottle says “pests can’t stand it!” Unfortunately, people can’t either (in our house). When I sprayed it on my son, he nearly cried and was mad at me for half an hour for putting it on his arm and not his leg. This stuff really does stink (but then again, so does the DEET-containing competition). I could smell it on myself – and didn’t like it – after using it outside and coming in to type up results! To be fair, everyone reacts to scents differently, so it’s very possible that some may love the smell – it’s cedar, like a cedar chest but less woody.
In fact, when rollerblading near Lake Huron recently, I smelled something that seemed familiar, and I realized I was reminded of Greenbug and was rolling through a grove of cedar trees. It made me wonder: if I hung out there, would I never see mosquitoes? 😉
Did it prevent mosquito bites? Tested twice; no bites on son at day camp, but it didn’t keep mosquitoes away by the pool for hubs and me. No bites, but they were annoying enough to chase us inside.
KS recommends? Tough one. I think this stuff really works, but my kids hate the smell. I really want to look into their other products for keeping bugs away from the house in general and am going to order this one to battle our carpenter ants! (see below)
I love the reason it was created: CREATED FOR OUR TROOPS: Gulf War Syndrome has been directly linked to chemicals including pesticides, so the US Department of Defense went to the manufacturers of EPA 25(B) products asking them to create a safe, yet effective pest control solution to deal with sand fleas (sand gnats, no-see-ems) creating misery for US Troops in the Middle East. Greenbug met the challenge and these standards wonderfully. Note: EPA 25(B) is a list of active ingredients for pest control that have been tested and proven to cause no harm to humans, animals or the environment.
Additional Notes: Greenbug also works on fleas, ticks, ants, head lice – even bed bugs. Read more about it here. I’m pretty excited to know the natural solution for lice, since it’s always been a fear of mine to get lice in the family and be forced to use super strength chemicals on everyone/everything! I also love the idea of spraying it on hotel sheets to prevent bed bugs. :/ RELATED: More on naturally eradicating bed bugs from your home, although I’d rather use one spray and rid hotels of them when I stay there!
I tried spraying Greenbug near some ants outside, and here’s what happened:
The ones who stayed directly in the spray died within a minute, and the others wouldn’t go near it. (The photo above is probably after two minutes; many of the ants scattered to the left, and most were smart enough not to go anywhere near the patch of Greenbug on the right.)
If you don’t buy Greenbug for your skin, I would definitely have some on hand for home pest control and head lice. I wish I would have remembered this use when we had ants in our kitchen (again) this year! I was trying all sorts of things from the how to get rid of ants naturally post and it took forever for me to win the battle.
Miessence MiEnviron Buzz Free Zone Personal Spray
Price: $17.95 for 4.2 oz. ($4.27/oz.)
Where to Purchase: My Miessence store
Active Ingredients: citronella essential oil, olive tea tree essential oil, tea tree essential oil, lemon tea tree essential oil, neem extract [note: my bottle, which I just ordered, does not include this ingredient but it is on the website. ???], bitter orange fruit extract
Safety Notes: This is sourced organically to the highest standards and does not include any ingredients not safe for children.
Other Ingredients: aloe vera leaf juice, water, sclerotium rolfsii gum
Easy to use? Unfortunately, no. The Miessence product is really a runny, squirtable lotion that you have to rub onto your skin. With four kids and two adults in the family, we just don’t have time to be messing around with a lotion-type product for bugs.
Sticky? Not so bad.
How does it smell? Nice. I can really smell the lemon and citronella.
Did it prevent mosquito bites? It does seem that this bug spray is effective on skin, but since one cannot at all apply it to clothing, it loses some power in the overall battle against bugs. We did use it once when another brand was totally failing, and within a minute 95% of the bugs stopped bugging us! It was a pretty impressive display of efficacy.
KS recommends? Sadly, no. I am happy that this is one of four kid-safe brands I tried, and I’m also happy that the price per ounce isn’t too terrible. But even though I technically “sell” this product in my store (which I just have because of the probiotics we use in the family), I don’t think busy families should buy it. I’d rather have an actual spray. (Our sprayer piece broke, too, but we just opened the bottle and rubbed it on, so it wasn’t as big of a deal as if a “real” spray broke.) If you love the ingredients, however, and aren’t worried about having to rub it in, then the product will be up to your standard for sure.
2018 note: The bottle looks different online, and I wonder if it is any thinner and spray-able! I may have to retest this one…
Bug Spray from Raise Them Well
Price: $16.99 for a 3-pack, 1 ounce each (~$5.50/oz.)
Safety Notes: I was surprised to see peppermint in a formula specially labeled as “KidSafe” and asked the company about it. The answer: “We did a fair bit of research on this when we launched the bug spray and found no evidence that moderate topical use on young children was detrimental. The issue seems to be when it is not diluted because of the strong menthol sensation that can feel like “burning” or numbing. Of course, the oil is diluted in the spray. We do recommend keeping away from the eyes or face due to the aroma that could be a bit much for young children.”
Active Ingredients: peppermint oil (mentha piperita), levendar oil (lavandula angustifolia), citronella oil, catnip oil, spearmint leaf oil, St. John’s wort extract, thyme leaf oil, lemon oil.
Other Ingredients: aloe vera leaf juice, andiroba seed oil, polyglyceryl-2 caprate, glyceryl stearate citrate and polyglyceryl-3 stearate and hydrogenated sunflower lecithin, purified water, lactobacillus (vegan) and coconut fruit extract (fungicide), lactobacillus ferment (from cabbage), lysolecithin and sclerotium gum and xanthan gum and pullulan, sodium chloride (dead sea salt).
Easy to use? somewhat – the spray is pretty targeted instead of a mist, so you do end up having to rub it in.
Sticky? A little.
How does it smell? Minty for sure, and I feel like I can smell whatever “andiroba seed oil” is because there’s just something I don’t recognize in the scent.
Did it prevent mosquito bites? Not tested enough to say.
KS recommends? Unsure, more testing needed, but I do know that this company, founded by a doctor (MD) and his wife, does good research and creates safe products. (We did test it that September when the mosquitoes were carrying small children away, and it failed when only WildThings Extreme did not.)
Natural Bug Repellent Spray by LuSa Organics
Price: $16.50 for 8 ounces (~$2/oz.)
Where to Purchase: LuSa
Safety Notes: polysorbate-20 is rated “3” at EWG, just out of the range of the super safe (0-2) but still considered fairly benign.
Active Ingredients: essential oil blend of lemon eucalyptus, cedar, rose geranium
Other Ingredients: *Aloe vera juice, witch hazel distillate, and polysorbate-20 (an olive oil and sugar based emulsifier). *certified organic ingredient
Easy to use? Yes, spray bottle
How does it smell? Not unpleasant, a little sharp from the lemon
Did it prevent mosquito bites? During a camping trip, mosquitos were clearly landing on our 4yo and me quite soon after spraying LuSa on our skin. Disappointing!
KS recommends? Only sort of. I’m hesitant about the preservative when no other brands needed it, and since we have one #fail on record, why bother? On the other hand, at least the oils are safe for children.
Additional Notes: The bug spray comes in a metal bottle, which made me wonder if it would get too hot in a sunny vehicle.
About the company: LuSa Organics is a small family operation committed to supporting local and regional economies. Their ingredients are naturally sourced, primarily organic, and consistently high quality. They scent their products with essential oils and create color with natural pigments, herbs, and clays. Ten percent of LuSa’s annual profits are donated to organizations creating positive global change. Their intention is to leave the world a better, happier, and yes, cleaner, place for their work.
Natural Insect Repellent Sprays: The Maybe Group (for Adults Only)
This group includes the natural bug sprays that either couldn’t get a good test but have quality ingredients, perhaps have one ingredient that gives me pause OR are simply not using all kid-safe oils.
Butterbean Organics Bug-A-Boo Herbal Bug Spray
Where to Purchase: Butterbean
Active Ingredients: *26% Azadirachta indica (Neem) Oil, *10% Ricinus communis (Castor) Oil, *8% Cymbopogon nardus (Citronella) Oil, *2% Cymbopogon flexuosus (Lemongrass) Oil, 2% Juniperus virginiana (Cedarwood) Oil, *1% Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil, *1% Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) Oil. *certified organic
Safety Notes: Peppermint and rosemary are not kid-safe. The bottle states “Safe for the whole family” but I’d disagree.
Other Ingredients: Distilled White Vinegar, Witch Hazel
Easy to use? Yes. It sprays nicely. The bottle instructs to shake for 15 seconds before applying, likely to distribute the oils better. I respect that!
Sticky? Not really.
How does it smell? Pleasant. I definitely can smell the citronella. It’s pretty strong.
Did it prevent mosquito bites? We had a pretty incredible experience with this one. My husband sprayed it on one evening when biting bugs were viciously attacking our extended family gathered around a campfire. He then watched a mosquito try to land three times on his bare arm, hovering, turning a 180 away, then coming back, seemingly unable to force itself to land on his arm.
The mosquito finally landed on his unsprayed shirt and proceeded to try to bite him through the fabric. I told you they were vicious! Count us impressed. Also, note that other family members used conventional bug spray and got plenty of bites.
On another occasion, while out camping, I had 2 visible mosquitos on my leg, sprayed the Butterbean Bug-A-Boo on, and saw no mosquitos bothering me for at least an hour. My 11yo son had the same experience.
KS recommends? Yes, almost. With reservations for families because of the rosemary and peppermint essential oils (I confirmed with the company that the oils listed are essential oils, not extracts or anything else).
Where to Purchase: MadeOn Hard Lotion
Safety Notes: Base lotion ingredients rated “0” at EWG (very safe!), but rosemary (a new ingredient as of 2016) is not rated safe for kids. 🙁
Active Ingredients: citronella essential oil, cedarwood essential oil, rosemary essential oil
Updated ingredient list as of summer 2016.
Other Ingredients: beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter
Easy to use? So so. Nothing beats the speed of a spray, but the bar isn’t difficult, it just takes longer to apply.
Sticky? Sort of, like a good lotion. If you’ve ever used MadeOn’s hard lotion bars, it just feels like that. A little bit greasy.
How does it smell? I like it; the citronella is very strong. I’ve only tested the old formula; in the new formula, the citronella was decreased and cedarwood increased.
Did it prevent mosquito bites? Yes. I lent the bar to my son’s day camp last year, and the kids overall loved it and thought it worked great. A colleague of mine also allowed mosquitoes to land on him if they wanted, and although some landed on the arm with the MadeOn Bug Bar, they never bit.
KS recommends? Well…I used to love this one, but with the caveat that a bar is very different than a spray. With the new formula, it now includes rosemary EO which is not generally seen as safe for kids. Bummer.
Additional Notes: Bonus on using the bar – you’re also moisturizing at the same time, so at least you get a benefit for the bit of extra time it takes to apply (vs. a spray).
Bare Market Bugs B Gone
Price: $12 for 8 oz. ($1.50/oz.)
Where to Purchase: Bare Market
Active Ingredients: Essential Oils: Lavender, Peppermint, Orange, Clove Bud, Cinnamon, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Sage, & Geranium
Safety Notes: Four of the oils are not safe for children (although the website says it’s fine for young children). Super cool that it comes in an opaque glass bottle though!
Other Ingredients: Water, Lemon Juice, Vanilla Extract, Aloe Vera, Vitamin E
Easy to use? Yes, although I haven’t tested the current spray bottle top. That seems less convenient than some other shapes for packing in my opinion.
How does it smell? Delicious. 😉 The vanilla does its job!
Did it prevent mosquito bites? This one didn’t get a very good test. Durn those mosquitoes not visiting enough!
KS recommends? With so many non-kid-safe EOs, I was hesitant to use this one anyway. I love the company, but this might not be the right product for our family. However, if you learn that a certain EO works well for you and you don’t have young children, there is a unique blend in this brand. And it’s very economical!
Mexitan Skedattle DEET-free All Natural Anti-Bug Spray and Mosquito Repellent
Safety Notes: Potassium Sorbate is rated “3” at EWG; vanillin is a “0” but many don’t like to use it in food products. Peppermint is not safe for children.
Active Ingredients: Citronella Oil (4%), Lemongrass Oil (4%), Peppermint Oil (2%)
Other Ingredients: Vanillin, Purified Water, and Potassium Sorbate
Easy to use? Yes, simple spray – can even be sprayed upside down!
How does it smell? Mmm, really good. The vanilla scent is heavenly.
Did it prevent mosquito bites? Maybe? We only had one test, and no one got bitten, but maybe they wouldn’t have anyway.
KS recommends? Jury is out. I don’t love the preservative included, but the price is nice, and if these active ingredients work for you – and especially if anyone doesn’t love the smell of the essential oils – Mexitan is a well-sourced brand. Also, Skedattle is one of the more inexpensive brands.
Additional Notes: After 8 hours of swimming and sprinkler play, you could still smell the bug spray on my kids. It has staying power! Note: That test was obviously before I understood that I shouldn’t use peppermint on my little ones.
Selestial Soap’s I’ll Fly Away
Price: $7.49 for 2 oz. ($3.25/oz.) or $14.95 for 4 oz. (but multi-pack discounts will help!)
Active Ingredients: Essential Oils of Eucalyptus, Citronella, Tea tree, Lemongrass
Safety Notes: Eucalyptus is not rated safe for kids, although the site and bottle say “safe for kids and sensitive skin” and more.
Other Ingredients: The site lists Catnip, Aloe Vera (my old bottle had water, indentured alcohol, aloe vera)
Easy to use? Yes? The bottle I have from a few years back is not the same as the metal bottle offered now.
Sticky? Not sure.
How does it smell? The version I had used cinnamon instead of tea tree and lemongrass, so I can’t really say.
Did it prevent mosquito bites? The formula has changed so I can’t say.
KS recommends? Unsure. The directions do not say to shake well but I’m guessing they should – but again, this is an old bottle, so hopefully that’s been updated.
Additional Information: Their motto is, “Saving the planet within your budget.” I like that. 🙂
Natural Insect Repellents: Not Recommended
We did find a few natural bug sprays that didn’t seem to work for us – but remember that everyone’s body chemistry is different, so they might work for you! Purple Prairie also seems to have reformulated, since the online ingredients did not match my bottle…
Purple Prairie Deet Free Bug Spray
Price: $7.99 -$14.30 for 4 ounces ($2-3.50/oz.)
Safety Notes: polysorbate 20, a preservative, is rated “3” at EWG; oils not deemed safe for kids include eucalyptus, rosemary, and peppermint.
Active Ingredients: eucalyptus citriadora (lemon eucalyptus) oil, azadirachta indica (neem) seed oil, cymbopogon schoenanthus (lemongrass) oil, eucalyptus globulus (eucalyptus) leaf oil, melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil, lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) oil, mentha piperita (peppermint) oil.
My bottle is really quite different from the online ingredients. The formula must have changed in the past year or two, but I’ll go with what is listed currently.
Other Ingredients: aqua (water), hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel), polysorbate 20
Easy to use? Yes, spray is easy
Sticky? Maybe a little
How does it smell? Pleasant but strong; the lemon and eucalyptus come through
Did it prevent mosquito bites? No. In two trials on two different people, it failed both times, both in keeping mosquitoes from landing and from biting. Note that the formula has changed though…
KS recommends? No. Many brands don’t need a preservative, and this one didn’t seem to be a good fit for my family, PLUS there are multiple non-child-safe oils.
Additional Notes: Can be used as a general itch reliever on bites or chicken pox, etc.
Purple Prairie Deet Free Lotion Bug Stuff
Price: $7.99 for 4 ounces ($2/oz.)
Where to Purchase: Purple Prairie
Safety Notes: I checked all the ingredients I didn’t already recognize individually at EWG, and they’re all a “0” for safety
Active Ingredients: eucalyptus citriadora (lemon eucalyptus) oil, cymbopogon schoenanthus (lemongrass) oil, eucalyptus globulus (eucalyptus) leaf oil, melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil, lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) oil, mentha piperita (peppermint) oil, rosamarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract.
Other Ingredients: aqua (water),organic cold pressed olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel), kosher vegetable glycerin, organic cocos nucifera (coconut)
UPDATE 2016: The ingredients have changed to eliminate behentrimonium methosulfate, cetyl alcohol, and organic butylene glycol. Great!
Easy to use? Not so much. It’s a lotion in a pump bottle, so you must rub on the surface of your skin; can’t use on clothing. However, it does rub in well and clear, so if you are looking for a lotion, this is fine.
How does it smell? Pleasant; I think the eucalyptus comes through rather strongly
Did it prevent mosquito bites? No. In two tests, Purple Prairie failed to prevent mosquito bites. I even allowed mosquitoes to land on my arm and waited to see if it could stay there long enough to get a bite in if it wanted. It did.
KS recommends? No. I think the lotion is annoying as a spray is much quicker, especially for kids, and easier to spread evenly and fully. Rosemary is not kid-safe anyway, and since it didn’t work for us either, I’m not a fan.
Additional Notes: The lotion can also be used as an itch reliever if you do get a bug bite.
Price: $10.45-12.67 for 15 mL (~$25/ounce)
Active Ingredients: proprietary blend of 15 essential oils including at least lemon eucalyptus, citronella, and lemongrass
Safety Notes: Since we don’t know what’s in it, I wouldn’t use it around kids. Plus, I don’t know the dilution percentage if at all. Too much of a gamble to bother.
Other Ingredients: fractionated coconut oil
Easy to use? Not at all. The oils come in a regular oil bottle, so you either have to get just a few drops out and put on the skin or put a spray attachment on, in which case you end up using wayyyy too much for the price, and it doesn’t mist very well. This was the only bottle that leaked all over.
Sticky? Yes (sort of oily, really)
How does it smell? Smells like candy
Did it prevent mosquito bites? No. Not at all. In fact, the instructions say that TerraShield can be used aromatically as well, which would be great, except that when I opened the bottle all the way to try to form a cloud of protection around my face, hungry mosquitoes landed right on the bottle.
KS recommends? No. Besides the fact that it’s uber expensive, enigmatic, and doesn’t really stretch farther than other formulas, it didn’t work and most likely stains clothing.
Additional Notes: I don’t like “proprietary blends” anyway. What if someone was allergic to an ingredient, like my aunt’s violent reaction to eucalyptus oil?
What Active Ingredients Work for You?
If you’ve tried a natural insect repellent and had good luck, but you want one that’s easier to find or a better price point, or if your favorite was discontinued, you can use this chart to find another brand with similar active ingredients.
If you try a blend that doesn’t work for you at all, you can also save yourself some grief by making sure your next attempt uses a very different set of scents!
Here’s a little comparison chart of what brand has what oils:
|Loving Nat||Mex||Pur Pra||Miess||LuSa||Made On||doT||Green bug||Butter bean||Wild|
|lemon tea tree||x|
Other Reader Recommendations
- “Vinegar of the Four Thieves works well and you only smell like salad for a short time! You can read about it and find the herb mix here.” (Totally amazing stories, and I noticed the Bare Market brand has many of the ingredients…)
- All Terrain’s Herbal Armor (liked by quite a handful of folks!)
- Badger Bug Balm (corroborated by a few)
- Bite Blocker Organic
- California Baby (uses EOs not safe for kids though)
- CJ’s all natural or CJ’s Bug Banisher
- Away essential oil by Butterfly Express
- Fly Away Critter Spray by la sunflower (proprietary ingredients)
- Liquid Net by Liquid Fence
How in the world are you going to choose? As I mentioned at the top of the post, various body chemistries may react differently with various oils, so you have to find the one that works right for you.
My recommendation, as an unapologetic frugal girl, is to start with something inexpensive or borrow a friend’s.
One More Thing: Does it Stain Clothing?
I figured if a bug spray is going to ruin all your clothing, who cares how well it works, right? I sprayed all of my initial tests right on a dark colored towel (others were added in later years).
You can see that a number of the sprays left an oil mark (the jar on the right is coconut oil, something I figure would leave a stain to compare). I washed the towel on hot and probably should have done cold, since that’s how I wash most of my clothes. All the stains came out.
BUT. I think some of these have a great possibility of leaving problematic dark spots on brightly colored clothes.
For the record, those that initially left a mark included:
- Bien Ella
- Greenbug (not as dark)
- doTERRA (very badly)
- Purple Prairie Bug Stuff
- Graham Gardens
- (the last 3 are lotions and bars, so you wouldn’t rub them directly on clothing anyway…)
The Bottom Line on Naturally Keeping Bugs Away
The great thing about the natural bug sprays and insect repellents is that even their chemical-laden competition doesn’t always work, either. The last time we were out with bugs and people, I overheard another July 4th partygoer tell the host that she had to go home and shower off to get the stinky bug spray smell out. “Not that it worked worn a darn anyway,” she complained.
I smiled secretly and breathed easily, thinking three things:
- I thought I smelled pretty darn good
- I didn’t have any mosquito bites
- I wouldn’t have to shower when I got home because my bug stuff was all natural
I reviewed a few back in 2010 that are now off the market…
Bien Ella All Natural DEET-free Bug Repellent Price: $14.50 for 2 ounces (7.25/oz.)
Where to Purchase: Bien Ella
Safety Notes: “Do not use if pregnant or susceptible to seizures.” Rated “1” at EWG.
Active Ingredients: neem oil, rosemary essential oil, peppermint essential oil, lemon tea tree essential oil, geranium essential oil, eucalyptus essential oil, lavender essential oil, catnip essential oil, citronella essential oil, lemongrass essential oil, tea tree essential oil and cedarwood essential oil. Other Ingredients: soybean oil, coconut oil Easy to use? Yes, simple spray Sticky? No How does it smell? Ok. Nothing really stands out in the long list of oils and scents. Did it prevent mosquito bites? Amazingly, I think it did. In four tests, three of which had prior mosquito sightings, the Bien Ella prevented all mosquito bites and landing mosquitoes. The day my husband said “When do we get to go inside?” and raced in as soon as I gave him permission, we both used Bien Ella on our legs. We were so busy fending off mosquitoes from our faces and arms, the legs went almost unnoticed, but when I took notes afterward, I realized we didn’t have any issues with our legs, and no bites the next day. Score one for Bien Ella. The most recent test, on July 4th, 2012, I had Purple Prairie on my arms and was busy watching a mosquito bite my bicep. My husband, next to me, said, “Well I can say for sure they’re not visiting me, but they usually don’t.” I tried the one he was using (Bien Ella!) and it worked like a charm. I didn’t have a single visitor again. Impressive! What’s the difference in ingredients? You might wonder the same thing I did. Many of the active essential oils are the same but in different quantities, but Bien Ella used a few that Purple Prairie didn’t, namely: peppermint essential oil This is in the Purple Prairie ingredients online now, so perhaps it’s been added lemon tea tree essential oil cedarwood essential oil. KS recommends? It kills me, because this one is SO expensive and hard to find, but I actually would recommend Bien Ella. This Bien Ella formula is just packed with ingredients! But which ones are effective? Did the brand just hit on the right one or two for me because they threw everything in there, or is it the “everything” that makes it work? I’d love to try the new Purple Prairie as well. Additional Notes: After both swimming and sprinkler play and a full day outside – over 8 hours later – you could still smell the Bien Ella on my kids’ arms. For the record, I don’t love the soybean oil. I try to stay away from soy in food products, but I guess since I wouldn’t be using the bug spray very often, I don’t think I can get too worked up about that.
Bien Ella is off the market.
Graham Gardens Bug Bar Price: $16.50 for 0.8 ounce tube ($20.50/oz.)
Where to Purchase: Graham Gardens
Active Ingredients: organic citronella oil, cedarwood oil, organic catnip oil, need seed oil, rosemary oil, organic catnip, lavender, peppermint, rosemary, sage, wormwood Other Ingredients: olive oil, castor bean oil, candelilla wax Easy to use? Yes. The applicator stick wins out over the MadeOn bar for ease of use, since you don’t have to get your hands into it. Sticky? Yes, just like a good lotion. How does it smell? Okay, verging on unpleasant for me Did it prevent mosquito bites? Maybe? The only times we got to use this bar was when we weren’t sure there were biting mosquitoes out anyway, so no bites didn’t necessarily mean anything was “blocked.” KS recommends? Probably not; it’s just too expensive. However, if you want a bar type block that you don’t have to touch with your hands, this would still be worth it because the ingredients are quality and it would last a long time, I think. Additional Notes: Moisturizes, too!
Graham Gardens apparently does not make this product anymore.
My Mama’s Love Bug Off Me Price: $8.50 for 4 ounces (just over $2/oz.)
Where to Purchase: My Mama’s Love
Safety Notes: website states the oils are “100% pure, steam distilled.” Rated “0” at EWG.
Active Ingredients: organic essential oils of tea tree, lavender, citronella, eucalyptus, lemon and lemongrass. Other Ingredients: Water Easy to use? Yes, sprays easily. Sticky? No How does it smell? Quite pleasant and mild, almost sweet like vanilla Did it prevent mosquito bites? Find another blogger’s positive experience here. KS recommends? Unknown, but very safe formula; compare active ingredients to what works for you Additional Notes: I wondered if the metal container would get too hot to touch if in a hot vehicle. The product is also available in a glass container instead of aluminum for an extra $1.00 here.
My Mama’s Love has closed.
Loving Naturals Organic DEET-free Insect Repellent Price: 4 ounces
Where to Purchase: Amazon
Safety Notes: Rosemary not child safe.
Active Ingredients: organic citronella oil, organic neem seed oil, organic lemongrass oil, organic cedarwood oil, catnip oil, organic geranium oil, organic rosemary oil Other Ingredients: organic witch hazel extract, organic aloe vera gel, water, sea salt Easy to use? yes, sprays in a nice mist Sticky? No How does it smell? Fine, verging on pleasant Did it prevent mosquito bites? Maybe. I had a good test once, with mosquitoes that chased all the children inside before we could figure out if it worked or not. My neighbor and I stayed outside and I wrote afterward: “I don’t think any mosquitoes landed on me…but tough to say.” The neighbor went on record thinking they sort of worked. KS recommends? Probably? Loving Naturals is falling on the expensive end of the spectrum, but it did a decent job. You might want to check into others with similar ingredients first. Additional Notes: If organic carries weight for you on essential oils, not all the brands use organic ingredients, but Loving Naturals does.
Loving Naturals seems to be out of stock everywhere although no one is saying it’s actually discontinued.
A huge thank you to the small businesses and brands that sent me products to review:
- Lullaby Organics
- Graham Gardens
- doTERRA and Cindy T
- Rainwater Farms
Disclosure: All these products were free for my review, but my opinion is strongly my own!