Summer is full of a lot of things, from BBQ picnics to lakeside summer camps. It is also full of pesky bugs that, if you are like me, cause welts and itchiness which takes away from the enjoyment of other great things summer has to offer. Not to mention the possibilities of what that bug may be carrying that can harm someone, such as the Zika and West Nile virus.
Many people will simply go to the department store and grab a bottle of bug spray but as I am cautious about what I put on or in my family’s bodies, I have begun researching alternative methods.
Why Should you Keep Away from Commercial Bug Repellent?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, using bug spray containing the DEET chemical is okay on occasion but long term exposure means it could absorb into the blood stream and kill brain cells which, in turn, causes neurological damage.
While this seems like it would be painless, exposure can actually cause you to feel pain including headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, and shortness of breath.
In several European countries, such as Denmark, DEET is actually banned from use.
After hearing all of that it makes me wonder if the mosquito bites sound all that bad anymore and it makes me happy that I have decided to trust my own instinct on what goes in our bodies.
Now that we know what issues commercial bug repellent can cause, let’s look at some alternative methods to keep yourself from itching your summer away.
Natural Insect Repellent Strategies
1. Keep Them Away The Natural Way
Know when the bugs are out
Mosquitos are the worst during the early morning and sundown hours of the day, though they do stay out until a couple of hours after dark. The worst case of bug bites for me was on the fourth of July last year. I don’t know why but I did not put any bug spray on and ended up watching the fireworks from inside the house, using our dog as an excuse. Hey, she was trying to eat the fireworks.
They also tend to be present more after a rain because they lay their eggs in standing water. If you have a pond, I recommend a pump or fountain as the water is then aerated.
If you have a kiddy pool or bird bath, I recommend changing the water out every five days or so.
Make friends with mosquito-eating animals
If you are brave, you can create a bat house to help with the mosquito population. The city of Austin has over a million bats that they enjoy getting a show from the bats nightly during the summer and early fall. These bats also keep the mosquito level down in their city.
Other animals that help with the mosquito population include frogs, fish, birds, turtles and the beautiful dragonfly.
So going back to the aerated pond, adding fish and turtles means extra benefits of keeping the bugs at bay!
Add some herbs to your garden
Yes, there are certain herbs the mosquitos do not like, including basil (my personal favorite), anise, mint, marigolds, lavender, cloves, and citronella or lemon balm. The last one mentioned is even recommended by the Center for Disease Control as an effective alternative to DEET.
Planting them in your garden and getting your hands on them while you are working will help because mosquitos do not like the smell. Basil grows really well where I live and my daughter used to pick several leaves off when she went outside and rub them over her arms. I was okay with that because there was still plenty to make pesto or add to a pizza later on.
You can also plant the herbs in pots throughout areas you know you will be frequenting often, such as your grill or the outdoor table. Make them a part of the décor and receive two benefits for the price of one!
For extra benefit, add essential oils in the scents mentioned above to a washcloth before washing and drying your clothes. You will smell good to humans and bad to mosquitos!
And don’t forget about the flowers either
I know, it is mind blowing but there are flowers that will send mosquitos flying the other way! Some of them are flowers that many people plant for beauty as well, such as marigolds, which can be purchased in a number of beautiful colors.
Feverfew is a white flower with a yellow center that is gorgeous and perfect for both aesthetics and clearing the air of bugs.
If pink is more your thing, go with pyrethrum flowers.
Ageratum has a beautiful purple color to them as does lavender, horsemint, and pennyroyal. If you are looking for a flower that adds beauty and color, there are some great examples to add to your garden and even at the table of your next outdoor shindig.
2. What We’re Used To – Bug Spray
From as young as seven years old, I can remember being sprayed down with bug spray before I went outside to play with my friends. I was an odd child and actually enjoyed the coolness of the bug spray as well as the smell of citronella as it was being sprayed on me.
Naturally, I want the same memory recreated for my kids; however, I don’t want the harsh chemicals or the high price of the “natural” stuff. So I opt for my own.
This bug spray is made up with half a cup of water and half a cup of apple cider vinegar. Apple Cider Vinegar is so great for many reasons and I highly recommend you do some research regarding it sometime.
It is also recommended to put in about forty drops of essential oils. Any of the herbs I mentioned above, especially the lemon balm, is recommended. It all depends on what you want yourself and the little ones to smell like. This is where making your own gets fun!
Mix it all together in a bottle, label it, and use it! This bug repellent should last you as long, if not longer than the stuff you buy from the store.
3. For a Fun Alternative: Insect Repellent Lotion
My oldest daughter loves making her own stuff and recently got into making her own lotion. That got me to thinking, “Why can’t we make insect repelling lotion?” It sounds to me that the main thing that detracts from the bugs buzzing around us and eating us alive is, for the most part, the smell.
So choose your scents, once again, and instead of mixing it with apple cider vinegar, add them to one-third of a cup each of coconut oil (which, again, has many wonderful uses) and shea butter. Instead of needing forty drops for this you only need two to three of each scent you chose to use. Again, experiment and have fun with this.
Here you get another two for the price of one. Lotion to smooth your dry summer skin and a way to keep the bugs away.
4. The Party Plan: Citronella Candles
Maybe you’re having an outdoor bash in the evening and don’t want to ask everyone to spray down. That’s okay; just add some citronella candles to the mix and the bugs should stay away.
Just like with the bug spray, you do have a little more leeway here and can pick and choose what scents you want so long as they are on the “no buzz” list. I still would add a few citronella in but, hey, it’s your party!
I adapted this recipe from garden therapy:
Here’s what you need:
- Jars (she says cans but I prefer glass)
- A double broiler – if you don’t have one of these, a metal bowl over simmering water works just as well
- Pre-waxed wicks with tabs (150 mm/6”)
- Citronella oil for candle making and other scents you wish to use as well
- A hot glue gun
Now, here’s what you do:
- Use the hot glue gun to put the wicks in the jars.
- Put water in your pot (or double boiler) and warm up the water, add the bowl and heat the wax over medium heat until the wax is melted.
- Once the wax is melted, add the essentials oils, one ounce per pound of wax. If you are using multiple scents, I would divide them up evenly.
- Let the wax cool slightly and pour into the jars. Hold the wick in the middle to make sure it doesn’t go too far towards the edge of the jar.
- Set them in a warm place to cool. According to garden therapy, setting them in a warm place will create the best looking candles (I have not tested this theory and believe them).
- Allow to cool for forty-eight hours before using.
5. The Two-for-One Deal: Sunscreen and Bug Spray
We all end up going to the beach at one point or another and why bother with putting on two different kinds of lotions, worrying about if one is going to work over the other one or not and just combine the two.
Using several of the methods we have described above we can make a sunscreen that doubles as a bug repellent.
This is a lotion and not a spray, just a heads up. The good news is the recipe is fairly simple:
Just take half a cup each of shea butter and coconut oil and mix with a fourth of a cup of beeswax and ten to twenty drops of insect repelling essential oils and four tablespoons of zinc oxide. Mix well and rub where needed.
Then, go enjoy the beach.
6. For When Your Kids (or You) Want to Look Cool: Mosquito Repelling Bracelets
Mom4Real author gave this great idea to create insect repellent bracelets. She took leather cording (and a cute charm to “kick it up a notch”) and simply added three drops of citronella essential oils to the leather in several different places.
Simple and cute!
One Last Thing…
There are so many great things about choosing to make our own products, including knowing what is in them, having pride that we made them ourselves and allowing us to be creative and get something out of the process as well.
I hope you will consider making your own bug repellent. Who knows, someone might even ask you where you got that great smelling perfume from!