6 Essential Oils That Can Help Repel Bugs and Pests

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated November 29, 2021
diffuser surrounded by plants In home
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Believe it or not, some essential oils really can help keep pests away

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If you use essential oils, you probably already know just how relaxing it is to sink into a warm bath of lavender or turn on that diffuser with peppermint oil. But did you know that you can also use some essential oils to help repel bugs and other pests? 

Here are six of the best essential oils to keep unwelcome guests out of your home and outdoor spaces.

1. Keep Away Pests With Peppermint Oil

From ants and roaches to mice and spiders, very few pests aren’t deterred by the smell of peppermint oil. What makes peppermint so effective is its menthol component. 

According to research conducted by the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, menthol contains biocidal properties, which is just a fancy way of saying that menthol can help destroy unwanted organisms like mites and mosquitoes. One study even suggests that menthol works as a pesticide for mosquito larvae, potentially serving to help control the mosquito population.

How to Use Peppermint Oil to Repel Pests

To create a peppermint oil insect repellent, you can use any of the following combinations:

  • Combine a 1:4 ratio of peppermint oil and rubbing alcohol, witch hazel, or white vinegar into a plastic spray bottle.

  • Shake it up and then spray the mixture wherever you see ants, roaches, or other pests.

  • To prevent more pests from entering your home, spray your entry points.

2. Deter Mosquitoes With Citronella Oil

Citronella is closely related to lemongrass, so if you’ve never used this essential oil before, it will smell like lemon. While both essential oils contain properties that may be effective at repelling mosquitoes, citronella tops the list as being one of the most commonly used essential oils for mosquito repellents. 

Plenty of studies show that citronella oil is effective at repelling mosquitoes, with one study showing that protection lasts from an hour and a half to five hours, depending on the mosquito species. The oil contains compounds like camphor, eucalyptol, and citronellal, which work together to repel those pesky insects. 

Research suggests the oil repels mosquitoes by affecting their olfactory receptors, making it hard for them to smell carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Without smell detectors, mosquitoes have a harder time sensing you; so instead of biting you and buzzing irritatingly in your ear, they are more likely to avoid you.

How to Use Citronella Oil to Repel Mosquitoes

There are many ways you can use citronella to keep away the bugs in your home. Here are a few possible options:

  • Buy a mosquito spray or lotion that uses citronella and apply it to your body.

  • Purchase a citronella candle or incense and burn it to deter mosquitoes.

  • Wear a bracelet or sticker that has citronella in it. Some stores sell these, and they work great for kids!

  • DIY a citronella spray with approximately 15mL of citronella to one ounce of water or a lotion of your choosing, as per the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

3. Use Lemon Eucalyptus to Repel Mosquitoes

Some essential oil users don’t like the smell of citronella or are allergic to it. If you want to get rid of swarms of mosquitoes, another option is to use lemon eucalyptus. Lemon eucalyptus essential oil has a more subtle citrus scent than citronella, but it works similarly to deter mosquitoes. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the oil of lemon eucalyptus as a registered insect repellent. One study shows that repellents with 32% lemon eucalyptus oil are 95% effective at protecting against mosquitoes for up to three hours.

How to Use Lemon Eucalyptus Oil to Repel Mosquitoes

Lemon eucalyptus oil works well with a binder like sunflower oil or olive oil, though you can also use witch hazel, distilled water, or alcohol. You’ll want to combine a ratio of one part lemon eucalyptus oil to 10 parts of the base of your choosing as you make your spray or lotion. Then, just apply it to your skin to repel mosquitoes.

You can also use lemon eucalyptus oil similarly to citronella. Just take any of the above options for repelling mosquitoes using citronella, and swap it out with lemon eucalyptus.

4. Apply Lavender to Repel Various Pests

woman pouring oil into diffuser
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Who hasn’t had that all-too-familiar experience of opening the door at night only to let in a few light-bedazzled moths? A bit of lavender oil just might prevent moths and other flying insects like flies and mosquitoes from zooming into your home and flying around just out of reach. It might also prevent pests like fleas and mice from sneaking in.

Lavender contains linalool, which is the active ingredient known to keep insects at bay. In fact, research suggests that linalool diffusers are up to 93% effective at repelling mosquitoes. Another study highlights lavender’s potential to repel flies.

How to Use Lavender to Repel Pests

  • Make a DIY lavender bug spray using a 1:10 ratio of lavender essential oil and distilled water, witch hazel, or rubbing alcohol.

  • Shake it well, and then spray the mixture on yourself or entry points around your house.

5. Use Tea Tree Oil for Lice and Other Parasites

No one likes to think of a parasite infestation in the home. Be it lice, ticks, or fleas, these pesky parasites are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. Fortunately, tea tree oil may just offer you and your family some protection from these creepy crawlies. 

According to one study, tea tree oil killed 100% of head lice within 30 minutes of application. Researchers doubled the concentration to prevent eggs from hatching, which made the essential oil just as effective as nerolidol, another plant-based louse destroyer that was used in combination for this study.

How to Use Tea Tree Oil to Repel Parasites

You’ll want to create a mixture of both tea tree oil and nerolidol at a ratio of 1:2, diluted by a base of alcohol or witch hazel. Spray the solution at entry points and around areas that are prone to parasites, like mattresses, pet beds, and carpets. For head lice, some stores sell tea tree oil shampoo that contains up to 10% tea tree oil to help get rid of lice.

A note on safety: Keep tea tree oil away from children and pets. If you do decide to spray down your pet’s bedding, wash it before returning to your pet.

6. Keep Deer Away With Rosemary Oil

If you live anywhere prone to deer, then you know the struggle of keeping these graceful (yet hungry) animals out of your yard. One way you can keep out deer is through rosemary essential oil. Rosemary oil is an active ingredient in common deer repellents, as per an overview of popular deer repellents conducted by the University of Alabama and Auburn, along with peppermint oil.

How to Use Rosemary Oil to Repel Deer

Combine one cup of white vinegar and eight drops of rosemary oil in a 16-ounce spray bottle. To make it extra effective, consider adding in a few drops of peppermint oil. Shake it together and spray on any plants you don’t want deer to eat while avoiding any herbs or plants you do want to eat.

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