Friday, May 24, 2024

Natural Alternatives to Deet

Insect bites, especially from mosquitoes, are among the most common problems worldwide. These little flying pests may be carriers of potentially fatal diseases, and they only need but a bite or two in order to deliver their deadly payload. Homeowners and nature lovers know the hassle of having to repeatedly swat insects that land on their skin, hence they rely on products that provide protection.

DEET, also known as diethyltoluamide, is possibly the most well-known ingredient of many insect repelling products in the market nowadays. It was proven to be highly effective in shielding people against mosquitoes and other insects. However, use of products with high concentrations of the said ingredient has been found to induce adverse health effects ranging from skin irritation to more serious neurological cases. Children and infants are only allowed very small concentrations of DEET.

But do not despair, as there are effective natural alternatives that will defend you from insects without the fear of possible side effects. Make sure to check first if you are not allergic to a chosen alternative in order to avoid possible problems that may arise with use:

1. Catnip


Catnip is a plant that is popular for making cats do a lot of crazy things as if they are “high”, but for human beings this herb brings about a lot of benefits. The essential oil derived from catnip, also known as nepetalactone, relieves pains in the muscles, remedies stomach problems, encourages menstruation, and many others. This oil also effectively repels insects as proven by many studies that performed experiments on the herb against mosquitoes, but the exact reason as to why pests are repulsed by it is still unknown. Catnip can be used in a couple of ways, but make sure that you do not have cats in your household to avoid unwanted (and silly) feline activity:

a. Combine a cup of isopropyl alcohol, a cup of water, and half a teaspoon of catnip oil in a small spray bottle. Sprinkle it on your clothes to protect yourself against insects. Alternatively, you can steep pulped catnip leaves in boiling water for up to ten minutes then transfer the liquid into a spray bottle.

b. Crush catnip leaves equivalent to two cups and place it in a jar with three cups of white vinegar. Keep it somewhere dark for no more than two weeks, but do shake the mixture on a daily basis. After the waiting period, strain the contents into a spray bottle and keep it in the refrigerator when not in use. Crushed rosemary leaves and body oil can be used as substitute to white vinegar.

c. Brew two teaspoons of catnip leaves into tea. Consumption of catnip tea allows the body to change its scent that will shoo insects away.

d. If you fancy gardening, grow catnip plants and place some of them on various locations of your house. These will serve as barriers that will protect your household from insects especially if they keep invading.

2. Lavender

These fragrant purple herbs contain an oil that is incredibly relaxing and often used to soothe the nerves and ease depression. Mosquitoes and other insects, however, do not find the scent pleasant and are actually repelled by it. Application of lavender oil is as easy as directly rubbing it on exposed areas or by using a spray bottle, and it does not pose any risk of irritating the skin. The oil can also be mixed with other repelling oils for twice the effect. For those with a green thumb, lavender can be planted on the garden to provide full-time protection for your household.

3. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

Derived from the leaves of the lemon eucalyptus tree, the refined version of this oil is a well-known insect repellent. Aside from warding off mosquitoes, the oil also remedies arthritis, colds, flu, and fever. Tests on humans show that it can provide up to almost eight hours of protection, and it renders the same protection with its fumes when lemon eucalyptus leaves are burned. A spray using this oil is made by combining unrefined lemon eucalyptus oil with your favorite carrier oil in a spray bottle. Take into consideration the bottle’s size in concocting the spray, as only ten percent of lemon eucalyptus oil is needed. So if you have a bottle that is 100 ml, only drop 10 ml of the oil and the remaining 90 ml should be from your carrier oil. Store it in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight and spray it on your skin before you go to insect-prone areas. Avoid accidental spraying on your eyes as this oil is a known eye irritant, and do check first if you are allergic to lemon eucalyptus oil through a patch test to avoid complications. Try not to rely on products that claim to be 100 percent lemon eucalyptus oil as they may have chemicals included in the mix, instead always choose the natural route by buying from known health stores.

4. Neem Oil


The tree azadirachta indica, or better known as neem, is abundant in India and its neighboring countries. The extract of its fruit and seeds are used in traditional Indian medicine such as Ayurveda and Unani, and for preparation of cosmetic products. A field study was conducted and its results published in 1995 at the Indian Journal of Malariology with the purpose of determining the efficacy of neem oil as an insect repellent. The oil was mixed with coconut oil and rubbed on the bodies of volunteers, and it provided an impressive 91% protection against mosquitoes throughout the 12 hour observation period. A more recent field study in 2013 at the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine reported the same promising results that was also seen 18 years ago. When using neem oil, always combine it with coconut oil or other carrier oils that you like. You can also burn the leaves of the neem tree to create repelling fumes. Do not apply neem oil on parts of your skin that is broken or has cuts.

5. Peppermint Oil

Fragrant to the nose of human beings, and appalling to insects Peppermint oil has a wide range of medicinal uses that span throughout history, and it can also protect you against those pesky winged bloodsuckers. Mix peppermint oil with rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle and sprinkle on your clothes, household plants, and even on your pets. If you choose to use it on your skin, make sure you spread the solution after spraying by rubbing it to avoid irritation. You can combine peppermint oil with other insect repellant oils such as lemon eucalyptus to further enhance its efficacy and protection time. Oil derived from vitamin E capsules can also be included in this solution so your skin becomes soft and smooth when applied, without compromising its repelling capabilities. Do not overuse peppermint oil as it can eventually irritate skin, and always wash your skin with hot water upon returning home to remove all traces of the oil.

6. Repellent Plants

There are certain plants whose leaves or extract cannot be directly applied on skin, but their presence emits an aroma that repels insects:


a. Ageratum: This plant contains coumarin, a chemical usually seen in the ingredients of many insect repellants. Ageratum thrives on either partial or full sun, and it does not need to be in rich soil. You can crush the leaves to make the odor more intense against insects, but never apply it on your skin. They have beautiful blue, white, and purple blooms that will surely make your lawn or garden attractive.

b. Citronella: Citronella can be directly grown in the earth as long as there is no frost in that climate zone. These grasses are low maintenance, needing only yearly application of fertilizer and just left under full sun. They can be transferred to garden pots to better spread protection against mosquitoes. Aside from the plant itself, citronella is also made into other forms such as scented plants, candles, and torches. Always seek the Cybopogon nardus and Citronella winterianus types when buying citronella, as these are considered to be the true variants.


c. Marigold: These bright and beautiful plants contain a scent that can be repulsive not only to the mosquitoes but to some gardeners as well. Marigold’s anti-insect capabilities stem from the compound pyrethrum, another common ingredient of many insect repelling products. Starter plants are available in the market for those who do not have much experience in gardening, and marigolds favor fertile soil and full sunlight. Aside from deterring mosquitoes, it can also ward off insects that may attack your tomato plants. Wasps may find its bright colors very attractive.

d. Sweetgrass: Native Americans have long known of the anti-mosquito properties of sweetgrass, and modern day studies reveal the two chemicals responsible for it: coumarin and phytol. Coumarin is commonly seen as part of the ingredients of many insect repellants, while phytol’s abilities in warding off insects have been brought to light by by the scientific community. Simply plant the sweetgrass on your garden to make the most out of its insect repelling aroma. Other more traditional uses for the plant involve making loops out of the grass strands that can be hung as a decorative piece.

7. Tips

Aside from using alternatives, here are some things you can do to avoid unwanted encounters with mosquitoes:

a. Mosquitoes are actively feeding during dawn, dusk, and a couple of hours after the onset of night. Avoid going to mosquito-prone areas during these times.

b. Wear clothes that do not have dark colors. Mosquitoes aren’t expert flyers, and even the weakest of winds pin them down, forcing them to hover near ground. They look for their next meal by noting silhouettes, and dark colors are ideal candidates. Don light colored clothes to avoid this.

c. Breed or make your place more inviting to known mosquito predators such as birds, fish, dragonflies, and turtles.

d. Get rid of standing water in your home to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs, or install screens with small holes if you cannot remove said sources of water. If you have a bird bath or fountain, make sure to regularly replace the water so it does not become an ideal mosquito love nest.

Bridget Rogers
Bridget Rogers
Bridget Rogers is an independent freelance writer based out of Madison, Wisconsin. Bridget's work can be found on a variety of sources in both online and print media.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here