General Question

aviona's avatar

What are some natural insect repellent alternatives to DEET?

Asked by aviona (3250points) April 30th, 2009

I hate DEET. I feel physically ill when I use products with DEET in them—like my skin is burning off. Plus, I am going to be backpacking in the Sierras and would like to make as little environmental impact as possible.

I know there are various essential oils that work naturally as insect repellents. Burt’s Bees also makes one. Would anyone recommend it, or another one in particular?

Remember, I’m going to be in the Sierras in the middle of summer…AH mosquito heaven!

Also, not so into taking garlic pills, they haven’t worked so great for me in the past…I just smelled like garlic.

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26 Answers

AstroChuck's avatar

I wouldn’t recommend it but you could contract hepatitis. Mosquitos have pretty much left me alone since I came down with hepatitis in 1980. Apparently my blood is no longer tasty enough for the little bastards.

crisw's avatar

Accoring to Consumer Reports, none of the non-DEET products are nearly as effective as DEET products. The most effective non-DEET product was Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus, with an overall score of 51 (the top DEET spray received 92.)

RedPowerLady's avatar

I applaud your non-DEET efforts. It is horrible for the environment and not so good for us either. Also the sticky feeling it leaves behind is so gross especially when you can’t shower it off.

I don’t have an answer for you but I look forward to reading others recomendations.
You know you could always go with the Burt’s Bees one and carry the DEET just-in-case. You’d still be supporting them financially.. yuck.. but wouldn’t be harming the environment if you don’t need to use it. And if you do need to use it then I’m sure you’d be grateful to have it along. (taking up extra backpack space aside)

rooeytoo's avatar

The mozzies and midges (noseeums) here could carry you away, there are that many and they are that big! So we mix up a batch of our own brew. Most everyone has their own secret formula but I take a bottle of inexpensive lotion, doesn’t matter much what kind, add a couple of ounces of tea tree oil, some lavender oil, some eucalyptus oil, mix it all up and apply generously, I kind of like the smell and I am not sure if it repels the bugs or you are so slippery they can’t get a grip, but it works well. Also stops the itch if you do get a bite. Some people add strong tea also, but I have never done that.

aviona's avatar

Thanks @rooeytoo, I like the smell too, and I don’t think you have to dilute any of those with water.

Also, nice idea @RedPowerLady. At least I don’t have to worry about Dengue or anything like that in the Sierras like I did in Costa Rica! So all I have to deal with is annoying bites rather than an awful illness.

I am aware of DEET’s effectiveness @crisw, hence my skin singeing off! But thanks for the statistics.

crisw's avatar


“I am aware of DEET’s effectiveness @crisw, hence my skin singeing off!”

Sorry- I was just trying to give some data that compared the two so that you could judge effectiveness.

aviona's avatar

I know, I appreciate it, thank you :)

I also honestly think it depends on the person. When I was on a service learning trip with some classmates in Costa Rica I ended up with something like 52 mosquito bites by the end of it (including on the bottoms of my feet!) and some of them had like 8…no joke. And we were all using the same repellents, sleeping in the same places, and doing the same activities. I must have sweet blood or something!

RedPowerLady's avatar

@aviona I have “sweet blood” as well. Or that’s what I was always told as a child. I’m always the one that ends up with ten bites to the typical persons two bites. I thought it meant my blood was actually sweeter to the bugs at first. Then I thought maybe I emit a certain smell. Now I have a different theory. See I don’t feel the bugs when they land on me. I was on a camping trip with hubby and a large group of teens. Several of them asked me why i don’t swat the mosquitoes off when they landed on me. I didn’t realize that others could feel that…. (i mean I can on rare occasion but apparently not as well as everyone else).

aviona's avatar

@RedPowerLady Hm interesting theory. Maybe we’re just not ninja enough for those little fuckers…

augustlan's avatar

Some people swear by Avon’s Skin-So-Soft, but I don’t have any personal experience with it. I have also heard that you should apply the DEET stuff to your clothes rather than your skin, but again, I have no idea if that’s effective. Apparently, I taste awful to mosquitoes, while they love one of my daughters… poor girl.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@augustlan Now do you feel the buggers and swat them off when they land on you??

aviona's avatar

I remember Skin-So-Soft! I used to use it as a kid! Wow. It’s been a while. I can remember the smell right now…kinda nice as I recall…

augustlan's avatar

@RedPowerLady Nope… they just never land on me! OK, I’m exaggerating a little. Every once in a while I feel one, and every once in a while I get bit, but hardly ever.

andrew's avatar

Isn’t DEET supposed to be back in fashion again? Let me see if I can find any recent studies.

Lupin's avatar

Cover yourself with a loose, light colored shirt and wear long pants. Not as stylish as tank top and shorts but effective. To keep the malaria carrying buggers off (while in India for example) I treated my overshirts with 0.5% permethrin spray. I think it is sold commercially with the name Repel. Don’t spray your skin. Spray the overshirt. It both repels and kills ticks and mosquitoes. They are not your friends.
A light spray of DEET on your clothes, not on your skin is also pretty good.
I let my chest hair grow out if I am going to be in a skeeter infested locale. But I’m guessing that’s not an option for you.

casheroo's avatar

Here’s a recipe

1/2 ounce citronella oil

1/4 ounce lavender oil

1/8 ounce pennyroyal oil

1/8 ounce tea tree oil

1/8 ounce jojoba oil

Do not use this blend undiluted on your skin. Follow these instructions for diluting:

To make an insect repellent oil that can be used on your body, add 16 ounces of jojoba or almond oil to the base oil mixture and blend thoroughly. For an insect repellent spray, add 16 ounces of vodka to the base oil mixture, pour into a spray bottle, and shake before using.

(i took that off a site. i haven’t tried it, but will this summer.)

aviona's avatar

Thanks @cash, I’ve made similar concoctions…

bea2345's avatar

I don’t know if American mosquitoes are typically more vicious than West Indian ones, but here we use citronella oil, applied directly to the skin. There are also perfumed lotions where the citronella oil is the active ingredient.

iquanyin's avatar

it says right on the can that you put deet on clothes, not skin, if i remember right.

rooeytoo's avatar

I just received this e mail today, haven’t tried it yet myself.

Mosquito Spray…Worth a try
I was at a deck party awhile back, and the bugs were having a ball biting everyone. A man at the party sprayed the lawn and deck floor with Listerine, and the little demons disappeared. The next year I filled a 4-ounce spray bottle and used it around my seat whenever I saw mosquitoes. And voila! That worked as well l. It worked at a picnic where we sprayed the area around the food table, the children’s swing area, and the standing water nearby. During the summer, I don’t leave home without it…..Pass it on.

aviona's avatar

Very interesting @rooeytoo, perhaps something to do with the alcohol in it?

And imagine how minty fresh you’d smell!

crisw's avatar

The Listerine rumor has gone around enough to make it onto Snopes. :>)

augustlan's avatar

@crisw Aw, dang. Another cool urban legend bites the dust. ;-)
Seriously, though, thank god for Snopes.

rooeytoo's avatar

Ooooops, I had never heard it before and it didn’t seems anymore illogical than Skin so Soft.

I stand corrected and will go back to my tea tree oil brew.

aviona's avatar

Thanks for killing that one @crisw

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