Today we’ll be sharing a DIY insect repellent recipe with you. We didn’t come up with the recipe ourselves, but you should actually be glad about that. This recipe was handed down by a fisherman who used it reliably for decades in some of the most intensely insect-ridden habitats you’ll find in the US.

Why you should make your own mosquito repellent

  • Cheaper
  • You can make it in bulk and store it
  • Free of the cancer-causing chemicals found in the vast majority of store-bought insect repellents < srsly!

Most well-known and widely available brands of insect repellent in the US contain one, more or all four of the following compounds: DEET, Permethrin, P-mentane-3,8-diol, and Metofluthrin. These chemcials might sound made-up, but each of them is known to be harmful to human health.

A report from the Californian Department of Pesticide Regulation found that Metofluthrin correlated with liver tumors in necrosis in toxicity studies using lab mice and rats. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered that long term skin exposure to P-mentane-3,8-diol causes microscopic lesions on your kidneys, as well as local swelling and redness. Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency mentions one study that pointed toward genetic damage from P-mentane-3,8-diol. According to the EPA, Permethrin is corrosive to eyes and ‘likely to be carcinogenic to humans [if ingested].’

Despite these facts, bug sprays containing these dangerous compounds continue to be found on the drugstore and department store shelves because the manufacturers –and the EPA- assert that it is the dose makes the poison. If you use these popular brands correctly, they say, you should be fine. The problem is this: ‘correct use’ doesn’t actually correspond with normal use.

Bug Spray

According to the Centre for Disease Control, these repellents are all fine as long as you don’t use them directly on your skin, only use them sparingly, never use them inside an enclosed space (e.g. a tent, or inside the house before you walk outside), never apply them on your hands, don’t breathe in any of them whatsoever, never apply over cuts, burns or irritated skin, and always wash your skin with warm soapy water once you return indoors. Do you see the problem here?

On top of all these common behaviors that contravene ‘correct use’, you’re also not supposed to use conventional bug sprays ‘long-term.’ So if your daily job or hobby requires you to protect yourself from bugs, you’re pretty much boned.

Ultimate DIY insect repellent recipe

 There are plenty of herbs which, made into decoctions, are supposed to help defend against bug bites. Some of them are indeed as effective as low-strength DEET. Feel free to add some of them to this kick ass recipe if you want. Base recipe:

  • Dettol
  • Methylated Spirits (aka denatured alcohol)
  • Baby oil
  • Funnel
  • Atomizer (a hair-dressing bottle is good for bulk batches. You might want to get a pocket-sized atomizer instead, make the mixture in a big bottle, and decant the amount you need as you go)
  • Optional herbs include rosemary, Eucalyptus Maculata Citriodora, citronella, and lemon balm

Dettol is a disinfectant that has been used directly on skin as an antibacterial for a long time. It contains water, detergent, castor oil, pine oil, isopropanol and chloroxylenol. Some of those ingredients are harmful if ingested, so don’t ingest it! However, Dettol is much safer for external application than the active ingredients in commercial brands of repellent.


Mixing the ingredients together is simple: using your funnel, pour one/third part water, one/third part Dettol, and one/third part baby oil. Replace the lid over your mixing container or large atomizer, and give it a good shake.

To include any of the optional herbs, either add a few drops of the essential oil, or steep some freshly picked and lightly bruised leaves of the plant in pure alcohol for a few hours up to a week. Strain all solids out of the alcohol before mixing together with the Dettol and oil.

Enjoy your new bug-free happiness!

Go Deeper

If you want to dig even deeper, check out this reading material: