How to Repel Bugs Naturally (and Cheaply)

Little Redhead Boy Playing Outside on Campground and Wearing Mosquito Netting Hat


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Little Redhead Boy Playing Outside on Campground and Wearing Mosquito Netting Hat

Sting Operation

Insects such as mosquitoes, fleas, and wasps have always been a major drawback of the summer months, and with many people opting out of summer getaways to stay home, it won't be easy escaping critters in your own backyard. An invasive pest identified as the spotted lanternfly has been seen in New Jersey and other parts of the country. According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the spotted lanternfly can "feed on — and kill — about 70 different types of vegetation or trees." Authorities have advised people to dispose of the insects by squashing them or using circle traps (available for free at nature centers) to trap, seal, and dispose of them.

There are also simple and cheap ways to repel bugs naturally. Use these tips and DIY antidotes to minimize the ouch factor this season. (If all else fails, We Tried 4 Bug Sprays and This Is the Best.)

Related: How to Deal with Bed Bugs

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Make Your Own Bug Repellent

Aside from the gratification of concocting DIY bug repellent, there's the benefit of its chemical-free composition. Ingredients needed for a bug-repellent lotion bar include coconut oil; shea, cocoa butter; beeswax; and various essential oils. The site Our Oily House offers a recipe.

Related: How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs

Use Essential Oils

Use Essential Oils

Essential oils of lavender and any type of mint (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, etc.) are known to repel bugs and often appear in premade repellents as active ingredients. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a long-lasting, effective way to repel mosquitoes and ticks, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A half-ounce bottle of lemon eucalyptus oil costs less than $7, and only a small amount is needed to fend off blood-sucking insects. Take a dab of the oil and rub it on skin, avoiding the mouth and eyes.

Craft Citronella Candles
BW Folsom/shutterstock

Craft Citronella Candles

Barbecues are a summer essential, but mosquitoes can turn them into a nightmare. Rather than rush to the store for an antidote, repel insects with DIY citronella candles. The project requires safe-to-melt wax, crayons, containers for melting the wax, wicks, citronella oil, a spoon, a thermometer, jars, and hot glue (to affix the wicks to the bottom of the jars). Heat water to 140 degrees, add wax, and stir (include crayons to give the wax a nice color). Add citronella oil, pour the melted wax into jars (leaving some wick showing), and let cool. Be aware, however, some tests show that citronella oil does little to reply pests.

Homemade trap for wasps

Create a Wasp Trap

A few minutes adapting a soda bottle into a wasp trap can save lots of money and prevent stings. Start by slicing off the top quarter of a plastic bottle. Smear petroleum jelly or cooking oil along the steep inner sides of the bottle, place the inverted neck into the cut opening, and secure in place with duct tape. For bait, mix sugar and water and squeeze droplets into the bottom. Hang the trap from a tree and watch the wasps swarm.

common ant on the kitchen table, close to food, need for pest control

Use What's In the House

Ants can find their way through every crevice in a home when summer rolls around. To repel them naturally, sprinkle cinnamon or chili powder around the areas they seem to be coming from, along the back edges of kitchen counters, and around cabinets. For a stronger option try this recipe: 1 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons boric acid, and 3 cups warm water. Combine the ingredients in a jar, put some cotton inside the lid of the jar, and saturate it with the mixture. Leave it on the counter where the ants will find it, drink up, and bring the "goodness" back to their nest. 

Avoid Salty Foods

Avoid Salty Foods

Mosquitoes are attracted to the lactic acid in human sweat. Eating foods containing large amounts of salt and potassium produces more lactic acid and a scent that attracts insects. Staying away from foods with these components, such as pickled vegetables and dairy products, can help make mosquito bites a thing of the past. To deter ticks and mosquitoes, down 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and include garlic in your diet. The addition of vitamin B1 to a morning routine also might help repel pesky bugs.

Cover Up
Mila Supinskaya/shutterstock

Cover Up

If coating skin in chemicals and concoctions doesn't sound appealing, covering up might be the second-best line of defense. Long sleeves and full-length pants make it harder for insects, including mosquitoes, to reach bare skin. In the summer, when mosquitoes are most active, opt for thin, breathable materials that cover most of the body.

Wear Light-Colored Clothing
Morsa Images/istockphoto

Wear Light-Colored Clothing

Mosquitoes use their vision as one way to locate targets. Dark colors, such as black and dark blue, stand out to blood-seeking mosquitoes. When outside, don clothes in pale shades. A lightweight pastel sweater is a good choice for cool and buggy evenings.

Douse Your Clothes

Douse Your Clothes

Even a homemade spray of organic essential oils can irritate the skin — it's the irritant properties that make them effective at keeping pests away. Rather than use a lot of bug repellent on your skin, spray or dab a thin scarf liberally and drape it over your shoulders. The high concentration will be more powerful at keeping bugs at bay, and a pleasant-smelling oil such as lavender won't bother those around you. 

Remove Breeding Spots
Steve Cordory/shutterstock

Remove Breeding Spots

Stagnant bodies of water are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Get in the habit of regularly emptying areas that collect water, especially after heavy summer rainfalls and dewy mornings. Drains, pet food dispensers, open containers, and other shallow areas easily collect small pools that harbor mosquitoes. Even small amounts of water are enough to attract mosquitoes and other pests.

Turn to Technology

There's an App for That

The Anti Mosquito app for iOS uses a high-frequency noise to supposedly deter mosquitoes (and potentially other small insects, such as ticks, flies, and fleas) and there are Android apps for the same purpose. The average human ear doesn't pick up these audio frequencies, so users won't be pestered by constant noise while the app is activated — but while some reviewers call the apps effective, there's no rigorous science to back them up. Downloads are free, so disappointed users may get bitten but won't feel ripped off.



Mosquitoes are attracted to body movement, heat, and the chemical compounds released during heavy physical activity. In areas heavily populated by mosquitos, refrain from exertion. Instead of working out or chasing after a ball, take a leisurely stroll or watch the garden grow.

Avoid Dusk
Tatiana Aygi/shutterstock

Avoid Being Out at Dusk

As day turns to night, mosquitos and other parasitic pests are just waking up to start a night of feeding. If at all possible, schedule activities indoors during this transition period to avoid being an easy first meal. Bugs are still on the prowl after nightfall, but not as active as at dusk, when many get their fill.

Focus on Wired Bladed Fan, Selective Focus
Focus on Wired Bladed Fan, Selective Focus by jugbo (CC BY-NC-ND)

Turn On a Fan

Mosquitos are powerful little creatures, but what feels like a refreshing breeze to a person can feel like hurricane-force wind to a tiny insect. Using a fan in a bedroom or patio can greatly reduce the chance of mosquito bites. Another option is to use a hand-held fan when out in the woods, to keep bugs away from uncovered areas such as your face.


Apply a Green Thumb

Some decorative plants have natural bug-repelling chemicals and aromas. Lining an outdoor space with these plants is aesthetically pleasing and practical. Garden Design magazine lists 12 plants that work as natural mosquito repellents, including herbs such as basil and rosemary, which offer an added culinary benefit.