The best natural oils to keep mosquitoes at bay

Mosquitoes are more than annoying… they are harbingers of disease.

Malaria, West Nile, chikungunya and now, Zika — are all potentially deadly viruses known to spread through the sting of this tiny insect that strikes big fear in many parts of the world… which is why it’s important to protect yourself.

But the wide assortment of DEET-based repellents you see on grocery store and drugstore shelves aren’t exactly threat-free either.

DEET-based mosquito repellents have been linked to serious side effects like seizures, slurred speech and coma. That’s because DEET is toxic to your central nervous system — a fact that has been confirmed by researchers again and again.

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Luckily, you don’t have to expose yourself to the dangers of DEET just to keep mosquitos away: there are natural insect repellents that have been tested and found to be equally if not more effective than DEET…

The next time you’re looking to spend some time outside and would prefer to spend your summer mosquito-free, give these a try:

  • Lemon eucalyptus oil: Oil from the Australian-native Lemon Eucalyptus tree has been making some major waves in recent years due to its ability to ward off mosquitoes better than DEET. The insect repellent brand Cutter even makes a pretty widely available mosquito repellent that is DEET-free and uses lemon eucalyptus as its active ingredient… and researchers have found that it’s just as effective as DEET repellents. One study found that Repel Lemon Eucalyptus mosquito repellent is even more effective than DEET repellents. You can also choose to buy lemon eucalyptus oil in its essential oil form if you want to devise your own repellent by mixing a few drops with a carrier oil. Sweet almond oil is one of the most popular carrier oils for skin applications.
  • Catnip oil: When it comes to putting insects in their place, catnip oil is a traditional folk remedy with a long history of effectiveness. A study even came out in 2001 showing that catnip oil repels mosquitoes more effectively than DEET — in fact, it was ten times more effective than its chemical counterpart. A lot of natural insect repellents on the market right now use catnip oil in their blend of insect-fighting ingredients, including Four Elements Herbals Lavender Catnip Insect Repellent. Like lemon eucalyptus oil, you can also buy catnip essential oil if you want to try your own application.
  • Cinnamon oil: A study that came out in 2004 showed that cinnamon oil killed mosquitos more effectively than DEET. Another huge benefit of cinnamon oil is that it actually smells good too, unlike some other options that can be overpowering or even unpleasant. Despite these promising qualities, there aren’t many commercially-available insect repellents that harness the power of cinnamon oil. But, once again, you can always make your own natural insect repellents using cinnamon oil or any of the essential oils mentioned above.

Of course, these three oils are far from your only natural options. Most commercially available, natural insect repellents use some combination of citronella oil, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, cedar oil and geranium oil — all of which can be very effective too.

And, remember, you can also take simple common-sense measures that help you avoid your exposure to mosquitos in the first place, like staying inside during peak mosquito times (dusk and dawn) and wearing tight, dark clothes that deter mosquitoes from biting you.

Also, ensure there’s no standing water in your yard to keep mosquitoes from breeding on your watch. If you have small areas around your yard that hold water, including ponds, consider using mosquito cakes or dunks — small donut-shaped biodegradable products that release a bacterium toxic to mosquito larvae without being harmful to wildlife, fish, pets or humans — considered safe for organic production.

  1. “Chemical-based insect repellents work, but you may want to try safer alternatives.” The Washington Post. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  2. Corbel, M. Stankiewicz, C. Pennetier, D. Fournier, J. Stojan, E. Girard, M. Dimitrov, J. Molgo, J. Marc H. and B. Lapied. “Evidence for inhibition of cholinesterases in insect and mammalian nervous systems by the insect repellent deet.” BMC Biology, 2009.
  3. D. Rodriguez, L.L. Drake, D.P. Price, J.I. Hammond, I.A. Hansen. “The Efficacy of Some Commercially Available Insect Repellents for Aedes aegypti (Diptera: Culicidae) and Aedes albopictus(Diptera: Culicidae).” Journal of Insect Science, 2015; 15 (1): 140.
  4. “This Natural Bug Repellent Works Better Than Deet.” Time. Retrieved June 6, 2016. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  5. “Catnip Repels Mosquitoes More Effectively Than DEET.” American Chemical Society. ScienceDaily.
  6. “Cinnamon Oil Kills Mosquitoes.” American Chemical Society. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  7. “Natural Mosquito Repellent Recipe.” Retrieved June 6, 2016.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and