Mosquitos are terrible pests that ruin time outside. Conventional insect repellents contain questionable ingredients, but a homemade solid insect repellent with essential oils works well without the worry!
There’s nothing like quiet time outdoors to refuel your spirit and calm your mind. The rustle of leaves, sounds of wildlife, and smell of fresh outdoor air are practically therapy.
That is, until a certain high-pitched hum starts ringing in your ears.
Mosquitoes know just how to ruin a good time!
The only thing I enjoy when it comes to mosquitos is watching the bats circle through the air eating the rascally buggers.
May the bats multiply abundantly.
If you want to spend time outdoors when the weather is nice, especially if you’re going out in the evening, you’ll likely need some kind of insect repellent.
Many conventional insect repellents use questionable ingredients, leaving the naturally-minded momma stuck in a tricky trade-off: Is DEET really safe? Will natural repellents actually work?
I have good news, my friend! There’s no need to skip the repellent or use something that makes you uncomfortable. With some common skincare ingredients and a handful of essential oils, you can make a natural solid insect repellent that keeps the bugs away!
Developing a Natural, Homemade Insect Repellent
I made the first version of this repellent recipe to rescue my husband from the monster mosquitoes of Guyana, South America. He went there every summer for a time and needed something that was travel-friendly, effective, and didn’t worry his label-reading wife.
The first version worked quite well, both in Guyana and back home in Ohio. But to be honest, I didn’t have enough essential oil education to confidently create a formula based on good aromatherapy practice. So I stalked other products on the market and used those to guide me.
After getting my herbalism training and later my aromatherapy certification, I continued to improve this recipe until it better balanced safety and efficacy. Because even if something works well, it isn’t smart to use if it has the potential to cause harm.
The recipe now features an essential oil that wasn’t even included in the first formula, along with a better dilution rate and options for young children, pregnant women, and the elderly.
The Key Ingredients You Need in a Solid Insect Repellent
A hard lotion bar recipe forms the base of this solid insect repellent. Hard lotion bars are like giant lip balms, usually made with equal parts butter, oil, and wax. This recipe uses beeswax, cocoa butter, and coconut and castor oils.
Castor oil provides some repellent activity, but essential oils do the main work in keeping the bugs away. There’s a balance with essential oils, though. Too much or the wrong oils and your skin can become painfully irritated; too little or the wrong oils and you don’t have an effective product.
The oils in this recipe are powerful repellents, but in safe dilutions to keep your skin happy.
The Insect Repellent Essential Oils You Need
- Lemon Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) is the star. It contains a chemical called p-menthane-3,8-diol which is sometimes isolated and used in conventional repellents. Oil of lemon eucalyptus, a standardized product that’s similar to but not entirely equivalent to lemon eucalyptus essential oil, is even listed by the EPA as an effective insect repellent. *Important note: you cannot blend lemon (Citrus limon) and eucalytpus (Eucalyptus spp.) together to make a lemon eucalyptus substitute. Lemon eucalyptus is a unique plant species.
- Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) and lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) are traditional insect repellent botanicals. Their active repellent compound is citral, but it’s come under fire lately for topical use. In moderate to high concentrations, it can be harmful to skin cells. Since this is a topically applied product, that’s important! Since learning about this possibility, I’ve lowered the amount of both citronella and lemongrass to safer dilutions.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is mildly repellent but nourishing to the skin, making it an important addition.
- Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) helps repel insects because of its menthol content. Menthol can be irritating to the skin, though, so it plays a minor supporting role in the formula.
- Geranium (Pelagorium graveolens or P. asperum) is also soothing to the skin and mildly repellent.
I chose these oils with mosquitos primarily in mind, though many of them will repel most bothersome bugs. This formula will also help repel ticks, but with Lyme disease and other tick-born illnesses on the rise, it’s crucial to take additional steps to avoid being bitten.
Solid Natural Insect Repellent Recipe
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- 1/4 c. + 2 T. beeswax pastilles
- 1/4 c. + 2 T. cocoa butter wafers or shea butter (cocoa butter creates a firmer end product)
- 1/4 c. coconut oil
- 2 T. castor oil
- 40 drops lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) essential oil
- 10 drops each: citronella (Cymbopogon nardus), lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oils
- 5 drops each: peppermint (Mentha piperita) and geranium (Pelargonium graveolens or P. a) essential oils
- Place all of the ingredients except for the essential oils in a heat-safe bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and gently melt the butter and wax into the oil while stirring. The beeswax will be last to melt.
- When the beeswax melts completely, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before adding the essential oils. I like to wait until the edges of the mixture just start to become opaque and firm.
- Add the essential oils, mix thoroughly, and pour the mixture into glass jars, metal tins, or cosmetic grade plastic containers to solidify. You’ll need two 4 oz. containers.
After about 30 minutes, the balm should be all cooled down and ready for a lid and a label. Always write the product name, ingredients, and date made on the label.
The finished product is quite firm, making it a great repellent to carry in your purse or diaper bag. A little goes a long way, and you don’t have to worry about it leaking or spilling.
To add a double-repellent-whammy, pair this with an insect repellent spray that you apply over your clothing.
Adjustments for Young Children, Pregnant Women, & the Elderly
You can use this formula on everyone in the family over 4 years of age. For little ones younger between 2-4 years old, pregnant women, and the elderly, you can eliminate the lemongrass, citronella, and peppermint essential oils for a milder product. This adjustment also works well for individuals with sensitive or damaged skin.
For little ones under 2 years, you can combine three drops of lavender essential oil in 1 1/2 teaspoons carrier oil and apply topically.
This recipe is definitely a must-have for the outdoor season, but in case you don’t have the time to DIY (because, life) or don’t want to gather up the supplies, you can try one of these other options:
- Bug Block, a solid repellent made with three repellent essential oils in a soothing base from small business MadeOn.
- Badger Anti-Bug Balm, featuring five repellent essential oils
- Bug Away Balm from Wild Thera includes catnip, another powerful repellent
Now, imagine yourself outside again, this time without that annoying soprano hum darting in and out around your ears. Nice, right?
The first time I used this repellent and watched a mosquito hover over my arm, then fly away, I was thrilled!
And I hope a bat swooped by shortly after and ate it.