Natural Insect Repellents

Natural Insect Repellents

It’s summer! And as the temperatures creep up we’re all living outdoors more, which means we’re all spending more time with lots of mini-beasties. I have a live and let live approach to most insects in my life. I’m happy to share my living space with them, after all I’m the one invading their world not the other way around. This doesn’t mean that I’m not above using some harmless tactics to help us all live together harmoniously.

As always I favour food-grade ingredients over synthetic chemicals, most of which you may already have around the house. I’ll admit to not having tried all of the suggestions listed here but I have tried quite a few and found them to work very well. If you have tried any of these I’d love to hear how it worked out for you.

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Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

NOTE: If you’ve pets you should double check whether anything listen here is toxic to them before using.

In the Home
Insects dislike citronella, a fragrant component of the plant lemongrass. So if you have a sunny patio, conservatory or warm window cill consider growing this plant to keep little critters at bay.

There’s nothing like fresh basil in food dishes so it’s great to have a pot on-the-go on the kitchen window cill. Did you know that it’s also deters insects? And if you team it up with oregano you can get twice the culinary flavouring and twice the deterrent.

Mint has the same effect on flies, mosquitoes and ants as basil but being hardier than basil, can be kept around doorways. You can also hang up little bags of dried mint leaves or a something impregnated with a few drops of mint essential oil on it, around the home to deter insects in other areas.

Cinnamon sprinkled around openings is said to deter walking insects from crossing it. Might be worth a try if you’ve some curious ants.

Similarly the smell of clove oil is said to be unattractive to mosquitos. Similarly a lemon stuffed with whole cloves is said to keep flies away.

Vinegar is said to deter spiders and ants. Just spray some diluted vinegar on the offending area to send spiders packing.

Rubbing citrus peel around your home is said to repels spiders and ticks. If that doesn’t appeal (pardon the pun) you can make up a citrus spray by simmering two chopped lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruit – alone or in combination – in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes and then letting it infuse for an hour. Once cool, strain out the fruit, put in a spray bottle and spray wherever ticks or spiders might venture.

Cucumbers are meant to be repellent to ants and flies. Just leave a few slices laying around on a plate and it’s suppose to keep both at bay.

Lavender has been used for centuries to ward off unwanted insects. Tied in pretty bunches and hung from window frames it deters them from entering the house in the first place. It is also said to help repel moths from clothing (Source: Compound Chem). You can also try using lavender essential oil instead.

If you draw a chalk line across a entry way is it said to stop ants in their tracks. Apparently the powdery substance blocks their scent trails, which they don’t like so they avoid it.

We’ve long been told that cedar will deter moths in the home so I went in search for cedar balls for my garage, where we dry clothes if it’s raining outside. I put the cedar balls into a jute bag and hung them on the line we use for the clothes, whereupon a moth landed on it! I should have done my research first. It seems that cedar doesn’t work as a repellent per se, more that it’s smell masks the smell of natural fibres, which the moth likes like to it, but it won’t work if it’s in a large space because the smell of cedar dissipates and can’t mask the natural fibre smell. Also the essential oil from the cedar reduces with time, meaning that the timber is not effective a few years after harvest.

Note: I know a lot of people are squeamish about spiders but bear in mind spiders eat most of the insects we’re trying to keep out of our homes, including fleas, flies, moths, mosquitoes, gnats and midges, earwigs and silverfish.

In the Garden

Another strong smelling herb, rosemary is hated by lots of flying insects and spiders, which is surprising given that it’s pretty blue flowers are a magnet for bees!

As well as having pretty purple flowers that pollinating insects adore and mildly flavoured leaves that are great for salads chives are a great deterrent for flies, Japanese beetles, and aphids.

One of my favourite herbs dill looks great in the garden, seeding itself freely and keeping aphids, spider mites and lots more insects at bay.

A easier plant to grow than lavender, catnip has equally beneficial insect repellent properties. In fact research from Iowa State University concluded that the essential oils in catnip are more effective at keeping roaches away then the commercial repellent, DEET.

The traditional flower Chrysanthemums contain pyrethrum which is commonly used in garden insecticides, household sprays, and pet shampoos. If you pick their flowers when they are at their fullest, leave them to dry in a cool, dark place with plenty of ventilation and then crush them, you can use the powder as an insect deterrent powder.

A long time gardeners favourite Nasturtiums repel whiteflies, aphids, cabbage loopers, squash bugs, aphids and beetles

Like Chrysanthemums Marigolds also contain pyrethrum and in addition to some insects are also said to deter deer and rabbits.

Monarda, also known as bee balm, is an impressive sight in any garden and is a favourite of butterflies and bees but not mosquitoes.

Physical Protection
Now there are two insects that I would really prefer not to encounter where I live and that’s mosquitoes & ticks. Other insects might be annoying but they rarely seek us out, unlike these guys.

Up until recently I didn’t know that we have mosquitoes in Ireland, but we do and as our weather changes there’s a strong chance we get more and more. The mosquitoes in Ireland may not carry the same serious diseases that you get in other countries but bites can be very uncomfortable and prone to getting infected if scratched.  There are steps you can take to keep mosquitos at bay including;

  • having screens on open doors and windows to prevent mosquitos getting into the house.
  • not having any standing water in the garden for mosquitos to breed in – and it can be the smallest amount like a dish under a plant pot.
  • having fish or a fountain in your pond if you have one. Fish will eat mosquito larvae whereas a fountain keeps the water moving, making mosquitos less likely to lay their eggs there.
  • Build a bat and bird house. These creatures will go a long way to reducing the numbers of mosquito in an area.

Ticks have become better know to us because of their potential to carry the hugely debilitating Lyme’s disease. The risk of being exposed to them in your own garden is rare unless you live with or near livestock or deer.

The main advice given to dissuade ticks from taking up residence in your garden is to keep it neat and tidy and to keep grass cut short. This goes against all the advice we’re getting to help increase biodiversity in our garden but we have to balance health with sustainability so maybe restrict the long grass to particular areas, where kids or animals won’t be playing.

On Your Body
One of the simplest ways to protect yourself from bites is to cover yourself up, which is also the best way to avoid sun damage, or as we in Ireland like to call it ‘a tan’

But the idea of not stripping bare as soon as the golden ball appears in the sky is an anathema to most Irish people and so the next best option is to use a spray on insect repellent.

If you want to stay clear of synthetic insect repellents, which I do, then consider using Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), which has been shown in tests to be a highly effective and long acting mosquito repellent and a natural alternative to DEET, so much so that it is now an approved by the Government of New Zealand as an insect repellent for adults and children over the age of 3.

A word of warning though, a similarly named product Lemon Eucalyptus Oil / Lemon Eucalyptus Oil does not offer the same protection as OLE. It has far less of the active ingredient p-menthane 3,8-diol (PMD) but unfortunately a lot of journalists and bloggers confuse the two names and talk about the two products as if they were one in the same. This less potent oil is still useful in deterring insects and mosquitos but not to the level of OLE.

As with all insect repellent sprays concentration is key, the advice is to seek out an OLE product with at least 60% of the active ingredient PMD in it.

If you’re travelling to a location with disease carrying insects then you will most likely need something a longer track record that OLE. In 2018 the Environmental Working Group (EWG) an environmental and health watchdog in the US, issued their guide to insect repellents. It does include OLE but they don’t recommend it for high risk areas. They claim that additional testing is required to determine that offers the same protection as Picardin and DEET in countries with disease carrying mosquitoes and ticks.


PS – This time in previous years I’ve published the following articles

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

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