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DIY Essential Oils for the Home: Make an All-Natural Insect Repellent

A while back we ran a miniseries on how to use essential oils in the home, from all-purpose cleaners to simple linen sprays. Today—in time for the heat of summer—we’re revisiting how to make a chemical-free insect repellent, courtesy of Dawn De La Fuente, owner of herbal apothecary S/he Studio. It’s a subtle way to keep mosquitoes at bay around the campfire or in the summer bedroom. Here’s how.

N.B.: Featured photograph by Dustin Aksland and Eric Striffler, courtesy of Elizabeth Roberts, from Elizabeth Roberts at Home: The Architect’s Own Beach House in Bellport, NY.

Ann Stephenson Fire Island A-frame Kate Sears
Above: An unwelcome side effect of letting in the summer breeze (as in this A Chic Fixer-Upper on Fire Island): buzzing visitors. Unlike standard bug sprays, essential oils are pleasant-smelling enough to use indoors.

Forget deet: “Essential oils like clove, citronella, and patchouli are often used as ingredients in bug repellents because their scent is potent to the olfactory senses of many insects,” De La Fuente says. “Traditionally, a few drops of clove oil were placed on bedsheets at night to keep bugs away.” De La Fuente suggests spraying a blend of clove, rosemary, and lavender essential oils on sheets and clothing or dotting the mixture around the tent when camping.

To make all-natural insect repellent:

4 oz distilled water
4 oz witch hazel
20 drops of Clove Essential Oil
10 drops of Rosemary Essential Oil
15 drops of Lavender Essential Oil

Add to a small glass spray bottle and shake well. Spray on clothing, sheets, and gear.

Note: Take care before using essential oils, and always test in a small, discreet area of skin, clothing, or furniture before applying. “Essential oils are the most potent form of plant medicine and must be respected and handled with care,” De La Fuente says. You may want to consult your physician (and your veterinarian) before using.

N.B.: This post is an update; it was first published August 2019.

For more natural DIY recipes for the home, see:

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