Summer time fun can come with drawbacks. Mosquitoes and ticks are not only a nuisance but they are also vectors for many serious diseases such as the West Nile Virus. In 2015, there were 21 reported cases of West Nile Virus in Canada, which is typically a mild condition. However, in some cases the virus can severely affect the brain and spinal cord. From the West Nile virus to Lyme disease and the Zika virus, it is important to take the necessary precautions to protect your family and pets from insect bites. The most common commercial insect repellents contain the insecticide DEET and although it is very effective and touted as safe when used correctly, it does not have the most appealing smell and you must be very careful to wash it off completely when you return indoors and to not spray it into your eyes or mouth. In some cases, natural, homemade insect repellents can be just as effective as the conventional options, if you are willing to get a little creative in your kitchen.

Natural, Homemade Insect Repellent

Insects are attracted to the carbon dioxide released from your pores and breath as well as the heat and sweat that emanates from your body during the summer months. The aim of a good homemade bug repellent is to disrupt the sense of smell of mosquitoes and ticks. For homemade preparations, it is common and recommended to combine a few of the active ingredients for best results.

Soybean Oil

This plant-based bug repellent offers approximately 90 minutes of protection from bug bites, which is better than some low-concentration DEET products. There are commercial products containing 2 per cent soybean oil that are available for purchase. However, you can also use a mixture of soybean oil with other ingredients to make up a homemade insect repellent. Since soybean oil is only effective for 90 minutes, it is important to reapply as needed. Soybean oil is safe for use on children.

Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

Discovered in the 1960s, this potent natural insect repellent is derived from the Lemon Eucalyptus tree. Consumer Reports found that one type of commercially available bug repellent containing Lemon Eucalyptus oil was effective for 7 hours in one study. Lemon Eucalyptus oil has now been approved by Health Canada for use as a mosquito and tick repellent and the Centre for Disease Control claims that it is as effective as DEET. It is recommended not to use this oil on children younger than 3 years of age.


Citronella is a widely used insect repellent and one of the most common natural insect repellents on the market to date. You can find it in over-the-counter preparations, such as sprays, lotions and candles. However, depending on the preparation, it may only be effective for a limited amount of time. A 2002 study showed that various formulations of citronella could keep mosquitoes at bay, but only for up to an hour.

Essential Oils

Essential oils have a strong scent that may also repel bugs away. Common essential oils used in homemade bug repellent formulations include: the essential oil of peppermint, lemon, lavender and thyme. Lavender can be planted around your garden and the crushed flowers can be sprinkled around your garden to help repel mosquitoes. Essential oils can only repel insects for short periods of time. Therefore, if you live in or if you are visiting an area where serious insect-borne diseases such as the Zika virus exist, the Environmental Working Group does not recommend the use of essential oil combinations as a bug repellent.

Homemade Bug Repellent Recipe

Combine 1 part lemon eucalyptus oil with 10 parts soybean oil or witch hazel. This is the base repellent. You may add 5 drops each of lavender, thyme and peppermint essential oils. If this mixture is too greasy for your liking, use 5 parts of soybean oil and 5 parts of witch hazel instead of 10 parts soybean oil. Before applying the mixture shake well. Use all over your body, avoiding contact with your mouth and eyes.

No bug repellent is 100 percent effective. To minimize your exposure and risk of insect bites, remain indoors during dawn and dusk, use an overhead fan and wear long sleeves and pants to cover your arms and legs. Choose an insect repellent that suits your needs and apply appropriately to maximize its effectiveness. If you are interested in learning more about the safety and effectiveness of bug repellents, visit the Environmental Working Group’s website at for further information.

About the Author

Dr. Olivia Rose graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Nutritional and Nutraceutical Sciences and in 2006, she graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.

In addition to her private practice, Dr. Rose is the director of Fertility Acupuncture Services, a mobile service that brings acupuncture to couples undergoing in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination at Toronto fertility clinics. Her special areas of interest include infertility; children and teen health; stress management; weight loss; heart disease; digestive and immune health; skin rejuvenation and pain management. She is a birth doula and has additional training in cosmetic acupuncture and needle-less therapies for skin rejuvenation and joint pain.

Dr. Rose is a sought-after lecturer for community organizations; a freelance writer and mentor to new graduates. She has been interviewed by various media outlets including Global Toronto’s, “The Morning Show”, “News at Noon” and “News Hour”. In her free time, she unplugs at the spa and she enjoys spending quality time with her husband, son and tea-cup Yorkie. For more information on Dr. Rose's practice and special events, please visit -