What Can I Use Instead of Mosquito Repellent?
Nothing ruins a backyard BBQ or backwoods hike faster than a mosquito invasion. Spot one, and you know there are more nearby.
While an itchy bite is bad enough, mosquitoes also transmit diseases. You’ve probably heard of West Nile virus. It’s the most common virus mosquitoes transmit in the U.S. But these bugs carry other lesser-known viruses that can also make you sick.
For your own self-defense, you could coat yourself in DEET or some other chemicals. But, if you want to avoid chemicals, there are options. Here’s the scoop on several natural and chemical-free ways to protect yourself from bug bites.
What Kind of Plants Repel Mosquitoes?
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE)
Some bug-repelling lotions and sprays include this oil. It comes from the leaves and twigs of the lemon eucalyptus plant. An analysis from Consumer Reports found that OLE repellents can protect you for at least a few hours. Some studies suggest it’s just as effective as the strong chemical stuff called DEET. That might explain why the CDC recommends it for use in countries hit hard by mosquito-borne diseases.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also gives this natural product its stamp of approval. A nod from the EPA means it’s not only effective but also safe for you and the environment.
Just one note: Don’t confuse OLE with “lemon eucalyptus oil.” The two names are similar, but they refer to different oils.
Peppermint gum and candy fight bad breath. Peppermint essential oil might fight off bugs.
In an experiment, volunteers rubbed peppermint oil on one arm and rubbing alcohol on the other. Then researchers let loose a swarm of mosquitoes. Arms coated in peppermint enjoyed 150 minutes of protection against bites. The alcohol-coated arms got chewed up.
But, be careful when you apply essential oil to your skin. These oils are very concentrated extracts and can irritate you. Test a tiny patch of skin first. In the experiment, researchers only used a few drops of oil on each arm.
Citronella and Citronellal
These two closely related plant-based oils turn up in lots of repellent candles. You can also buy lotions or sprays that include them.
The citronella in bug repellent usually comes from two types of grass. Citronellal comes from several herbs and spices, including the eucalyptus plant. Both can offer you some protection against mosquitoes. But, the results aren’t dramatic. You might have up to 50% fewer bites than you would without any protection at all. Consumer Reports testing found that sprays and other rub-on products containing citronella and citronellal provide only weak defense against the pests.
These oils work by masking the body scents that attract mosquitoes. While citronella candles are popular, some research suggests they don’t work very well.
Some other plant-based products may have mild repelling powers. If you poke around online, you’ll find sites touting the bug-blocking powers of other strong-smelling leaves and herbs, like rosemary. Geraniol -- a rose-scented liquid found in many plants -- also turns up in many repellents. Unfortunately, there’s not good evidence that these botanicals work well. And experts say some strongly scented body products actually attract mosquitoes.
What Are Other Natural Mosquito Repellents That Work?
Mosquitoes may have wings, but they are weak fliers. Even a light breeze is too powerful for them. So, set up some fans around your outdoor gathering space. The wind they generate can cut down your risk for a bite. Consumer Reports testing found fans slash bug landings by up to 60%.
Some mosquitoes are more determined than others. But long-sleeved shirts and pants can keep bugs from landing and biting. And you can spray repellent on your clothes, too. Just test a small, hidden piece of the clothing first to make sure you won’t damage it.
Mosquitoes love to bite wrists and ankles. Tucking your pants into your socks can help. So can wearing a shirt or top with elastic wrists.
What Are Other Natural Ways to Repel Mosquitoes?
Avoid going outside at dawn and dusk.
Mosquitoes are especially active first thing in the morning and around sunset. Stay indoors at these times of day and you’ll cut down on bites.
Get rid of standing water.
Mosquitoes like to lay their eggs in still, freestanding water. Even very small puddles make great nests. Eggs can grow into biting pests in a matter of days.
Be sure to keep your backyard or outdoor space clear of standing water. Some nesting hotspots are:
- Puddles on pool covers
- Clogged roof gutters
- Bird baths
- Drainpipes that collect water
- Old tires
CDC: “Prevent Mosquito Bites,” “West Nile Virus: Prevention.”
Environmental Protection Agency: “p-Menthane-3,8-diol (011550) Fact Sheet.”
Consumer Reports: “Do ‘Natural’ Insect Repellants Work?” “5 Ways to Keep Mosquitos Away.”
Malaria Journal: “Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing.”
Poison Control: “Insect Repellents Components and Risks.”
Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine: “Bioefficacy of Mentha piperita essential oil against dengue fever mosquito Aedes aegypti L.”
National Pesticide Information Center: “Oil of Citronella.”
U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Citronellal.”
NIH: “How Mosquitoes Detect People.”
Journal of Insect Science: “Efficacy of Some Wearable Devices Compared with Spray-On Insect Repellents for the Yellow Fever Mosquito, Aedes aegypti (L.) (Diptera: Culicidae).”
Cleveland Clinic: “How You May Be Unknowingly Attracting Mosquitoes.”
PennMedicine: “5 Reasons Why Mosquitoes Find You Bite-Worthy.”
Mayo Clinic: “Mosquito bites.”