If you’re looking for alternatives to chemical insect repellents that include DEET and other synthetic materials, consider plant-based mosquito repellents. These types of repellents don’t leave your skin feeling sticky, don’t contain harmful ingredients, and typically smell better than chemical repellents. Keep reading to learn about some of the most effective natural repellents on the market.
Types of natural mosquito repellents
From oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) to neem oil, here are some popular natural repellents that can prevent mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects.
OIL OF LEMON EUCALYPTUS
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is the only plant-based ingredient approved by the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) and is just as effective at repelling mosquitoes as products that contain DEET, providing up to six hours of protection against mosquitoes and ticks. It’s extracted from the leaves of lemon eucalyptus trees and enriched with para-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD), an organic compound that repels insects. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), oil of lemon eucalyptus is not expected to cause harm to humans or the environment.
It can protect against mosquito-borne diseases, such as Zika virus and West Nile virus, and it also protects against diseases transmitted by ticks, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Not to mention, OLE doesn’t leave behind a greasy residue and doesn’t have an overwhelming scent like some chemical bug repellents.
In a 2015 study, researchers tested neem oil’s effectiveness compared to repellents that contain DEET and found that a concentration of 20% neem oil provided 70% protection against mosquitoes for three hours. If you want a natural mosquito repellent that lasts a little longer than neem oil, OLE is a great alternative.
Citronella is one of the most widely used natural repellents available and is used at concentrations of 5%–10%, which is lower than other repellents because it can cause skin sensitivity at higher levels. According to a study by the Malaria Journal, citronella-based repellents only protect from host-seeking mosquitoes for around two hours.
While some essential oils, including thyme oil, geraniol, peppermint oil, cedar oil, and clove oil, have been found to repel mosquitoes that transmit malaria, filarial, and yellow fever for around one to three hours, they aren’t tested by the EPA and have been found to irritate the skin, especially in the sun.
In addition to these types of natural mosquito repellents, here are some other natural ingredients that have been suggested for use against repelling mosquitoes:
- Cinnamon oil—According to a 2004 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, cinnamon oil was effective at killing mosquito larvae.
- Essential oil in catnip—A study performed by Iowa State University showed that nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip, was 10 times more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes.
- Soybean oil—Insect repellents that contain 2% soybean oil and are applied to the skin can provide a few hours of protection against mosquitoes.
Safety tips for using natural mosquito repellents
When using natural mosquito repellents, follow these tips for adequate protection against mosquitoes:
- Apply the repellent on exposed skin or clothing—don’t use the repellent under clothing.
- Don’t spray repellents in enclosed areas.
- When applying repellent to your face, put some in your hands first before gently applying it to your face. Try to avoid applying the repellent around your eyes and mouth.
- Don’t use a repellent on skin that’s broken, damaged, or irritated.
- According to the CDC, when determining whether to use sunscreen or repellent first, apply the sunscreen to your skin first, allow it to dry for a few minutes, then follow up with the repellent. Users should apply sunscreen first because it needs to be reapplied more often than insect repellent.
- After applying the repellent, wash your hands with soap and water. You’ll also want to wash your skin and clothes with soap and water after returning indoors and before going to bed.
Other natural ways to prevent mosquitoes
In addition to repellents, here are a few more natural ways to prevent mosquitoes:
- Plant insect-repelling plants: Since mosquitoes tend to operate on smell, there are some smells that they don’t like. Consider planting lavender, marigolds, citronella grass, rosemary, basil, bee balm, mint, sage, and catnip in your yard to prevent mosquitoes.
- Use a fan: If you’re sitting outside, strategically place a fan near you to keep mosquitoes away. Mosquitoes are weak flyers and may not be able to navigate against a fan’s airstream.
- Be intentional about the clothes you wear: In the summer, wear long-sleeve shirts and pants to protect your arms and legs from mosquito bites.
- Remove standing water from your yard: Standing water can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Eliminate any pools or puddles around your home by unclogging roof gutters, emptying water bowls and plant saucers, changing the water in birdbaths, and ensuring that the lids of your outdoor trash cans aren’t accumulating too much water.
- Fix any gaps around your home: To prevent mosquitoes from entering your house, patch any holes in screens, windows, and doors.
- Trim your yard: Mosquitoes tend to settle around tall grass that’s cool and damp. Make sure you cut your lawn regularly and trim any overgrown shrubs to deter mosquitoes.
- Attract birds: Some birds, such as swallows and purple martins, are natural mosquito predators. Hang a bird feeder to attract these birds.
How to treat mosquito bites naturally
Even with prevention measures in place, you may still be susceptible to mosquito bites. Here are a few ways to help relieve bites and itching:
- Put ice around the bite to reduce swelling.
- As much as the bite itches, avoid scratching the area, as this will only irritate it and make it worse.
- Apply a relief balm that contains soothing ingredients such as eucalyptus and chamomile oil.
If you notice the area around the bite starting to swell or you start to have an allergic reaction to the bite, consult your doctor right away.
Natural repellents vs. chemical repellents: which are better?
Ultimately, natural and chemical repellents both have benefits and drawbacks. While chemical repellents may last longer, they contain ingredients that are harmful to the environment and can cause your clothing and outdoor gear to degrade. On the other hand, plant-based repellents, such as oil of lemon eucalyptus, are just as effective as products containing DEET and don’t leave behind a sticky residue.
Not to mention, plant-based products from Murphy’s Naturals are harvested sustainably, contain active ingredients that are from the EPA’s 25b list, which consists of natural ingredients that the EPA has approved to be safely used in natural products, and gives 2% of the revenue generated from products sold back to environmental organizations.