When you're having a fancy garden party at the height of mosquito season, would you rather:
a) Douse guests in a toxic cloud of commercial bug spray as they walk through the door;
b) Forgo the bug spray in favor of sending guests home with bug bites that looks like some form of the pox; or
c) Stylishly decorate to repel insects with plants and other safe materials, and offer guests a subtle, non-toxic, natural insect repellent to help ward off bites.
If your answer is A or B, move along, there's nothing for you to see here. For everyone else, stick with me, I'm going to rock your bug-ridden world.
The bug sprays most of us have grown up with are toxic messes. The main ingredient in most of the commercially-sold insect repellents in the United States is known as DEET. DEET repels insects by masking a person's natural odor. Unfortunately, DEET can cause a number of adverse health effects in children and adults.
In 2002, Canada banned the use of products containing DEET in concentrations greater than 30%, but products sold in the U.S. have concentrations as high as 100%. Not cool.
But you aren't limited to using DEET and other toxic chemicals to repel insects. New research has established that there are naturally occurring compounds that are as effective as DEET, but without the toxic side effects. You may need to reapply natural repellents more often than you would compounds containing DEET, but that inconvenience is negligible in comparison with the adverse health risks of DEET.
Below are five ways to naturally, safely, and stylishly repel insects from Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes.
Insect-Repelling Streamers or Bunting
Essential oils of your choice (try some combination of lemongrass or citronella for mosquitoes and catnip, spearmint, and/or peppermint for flies)
Strips of ribbon, cotton bunting, or other fabric
Add some essential oil to strips of fabric and hang the strips around your deck or patio. The essential oils will help repel insects, and the fabric will give a festive feel. Refresh as needed.
There are several pleasant-smelling herbs that deter different bugs. Create beautiful sachets to add to a festive atmosphere, or make them out of unbleached muslin and tuck them away to be more inconspicuous.
To repel fleas:
To repel flies, mosquitoes, and ants:
Create your sachet by wrapping any natural fabric around dried leaves, or put 10-20 drops of essential oil on a cotton ball. Place sachets or cotton balls around the house, particularly in areas that attract flies or fleas (pet bedding, furniture, in the kitchen, etc.). Replace as needed.
Custom Bug Spray
Customize the essential oils in this spray to suit your family's preferences and/or the pests you're up against.
1 part essential oils of your choice (thyme, lemongrass, lavender, peppermint, lemon eucalyptus, citronella, catnip, spearmint)
3 parts carrier (water, vodka, or witch hazel)
Combine your favorite insect-repelling essential oils and add to a carrier base. Pour in a spray bottle and shake well before use.
Essential Coconut Insect Repellent
10-25 drop essential oils (try lemongrass, chamomile, citronella, lavender, and/or rose geranium – the last is especially good for ticks)
¼ cup melted coconut oil
Add the essential oils to the melted coconut oil. Mix well and store in a small container. The next time you head outside, rub some of the Essential Coconut Insect Repellent on your skin. The essential oils will help repel insects while the coconut oil will nourish your skin and provide minimal UV protection.
Plants that Ward Off Insects
Many plants naturally repel insects or encourage beneficial predators of insects. Plant some this spring, or decorate your patio with some potted plants for outdoor parties. Below are three of my favorites.
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria): The oil in catnip, nepetalactone, is ten times better at repelling mosquitoes than DEET. Plant some catnip in your yard and around patios and walkways to help repel mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, and more.
- Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia): Lavender has been used as an insect repellent for centuries, protecting cloth from infestations, repelling insects, and treating bites and stings. Lavender plants are pretty, and they are effective insect repellents both in the yard and dried and added to sachets in your home.
- Mint (Mentha spp.): There are multiple varieties of mint (spearmint, peppermint, and more). Mint can repel mosquitoes and other insects, such as ants, when planted around the permieter of your home.
So what will you choose, toxins or safety? With natural, effective options that are easy to make and as effective as the chemicals, the choice is simple.
You can find more natural and effective insect repellent recipes, as well as an incredible variety of other easy cleaning recipes, in Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes.
Dionna Ford is a lawyer turned work-at-home mama. Dionna shares her passion for attachment parenting and natural family living at her website, Code Name: Mama. She cofounded two other websites for parents, Natural Parents Network and NursingFreedom.org. She makes her home in Kansas City, where she is active in the parenting and homeschooling communities.
 See Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes at p.198-99 for citations of the research studies and other information discussed in this article.