Which Ingredients Make the Best Natural Bug Sprays?

May of 2020 was a bit of an odd weather month. We were brushing snow off of our deck one weekend, and shewing black flies away from us the next. We had about 3 days in between where the weather was warm and the country air was not yet filled with swarms of insects. Oh how we cherished those in-between days <3

But now that the warmer season is upon us, our black fly and mosquito friends are here to stay. And with a lot of our favourite festivals and fairs being cancelled in 2020, we are thinking this is a summer to spend more time connecting with smaller groups of family and friends in nature. If you are also planning for the months of hiking, beachcombing, fishing, camping, and gardening ahead, you've likely listed bug spray on your list of summer essentials. So, let's talk about what to look for in a great natural bug spray. 

We have researched, sourced and experimented with a number of simple ingredients that have been heralded as great natural deterrents of insects. And over the years, we found two that check the boxes of;

  • substantive research showing their effectiveness,
  • reputable sources with ethical cultivation practices,
  • and pleasurable aromatic profiles for use in natural products!

Neem Oil

Neem oil has a mild nutty aroma and is pressed from the fruit and seeds of the Neem tree. Neem oil is a naturally occurring pesticide that is an effective mosquito repellant at just a 2% dilution and is nearly as effective as DEET over the first 3 hours after application. Neem has been used by gardeners for decades, as it has been shown to be an effective pest control against over 200 insect species that is non-toxic to birds, mammals, bees and plants. It is safe for topical use, but can cause toxicity in children if ingested (would require consumption of more than a full bottle of Shew Fly) so must be treated with a similar level of care and diligence that is common with pesticides.  

Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil

Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil is steam-distilled from the leaves of the Eucalyptus Citriodora tree. The aroma is very similar to that of citronella and lemongrass, but the effectiveness in repelling mosquitoes is greater, comparable to that of DEET over the first few hours after application. In that same study, the Lemon Eucalyptus repellent was many time more effective than a natural variant from Avon and comparable to Off Deep Woods over the first 120 minutes.

Summary

There are a lot of variations of DIY or handmade natural bug sprays. Whether you are making your own, or purchasing, you want to look for both of these ingredients. If looking to make your own, find a recipe that includes a 2-4% dilution of Neem, as very little is required to remain effective. You will need to apply your natural bug spray more frequently than a DEET or Picaridin based spray, so you can anticipate having to reapply every 2-3 hours in order to maintain efficacy throughout the day. A small price to pay to stay all natural, all summer long.