Staying Safe Outdoors — DEET-free Bug Repellents

natural mosquito repellentBy Amy Baker

We are so fortunate to live in a state with abundant natural areas to explore!  Of course, we want to embrace the outdoors and benefit from all that nature.  It can feel fraught, though, as we try to balance our desire to be outside with our need to feel safe from insect-borne diseases that can cause long-term health. We are so fortunate to live in a state with abundant natural areas to explore!  Of course, we want to embrace the outdoors and benefit from all that challenges.   With Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are on the rise in Wisconsin and throughout the US, and various mosquito-borne illnesses, like West-Nile, making their way to the Midwest, it’s important to know what you can do to stay healthy as you enjoy your time on trails, in the backyard, on lakes and rivers and in the woods.   While there may be times and places to turn to products that contain DEET ( Community Pharmacy and Community Wellness Shop both carry good options), there are numerous non-toxic alternatives that you can feel comfortable using with the entire family.



Safe and non-toxic, essential-oil-based insect repellents are excellent choices for everyday use.  Essential oils produced by the plant’s immune system naturally contain compounds like terpenes, aldehydes, and alcohols.  These compounds, which help repel bugs and keep them from eating the plant’s leaves and flowers, offer the same protection for us.   Plants like Eucalyptus,  Lemongrass, Mint, Cedar, Citronella and Rose Geranium contain high percentages of these compounds and can be found, in various concentrations, in natural bug repellents.  Because the oils dissipate, natural insect repellents require frequent re-application in order to be effective.  Spray and rub liberally on skin (avoiding the eyes) and clothing.

For children, it’s wise to for adults to apply even natural bug repellents for them, in order to avoid having the oils transfer from kids’ small hands to their mouths.

Some great natural bug spray options include:

  • Badger Anti-Bug (spray & balm)
  • All Terrain Herbal Armor (spray)Herbal Armor
  • Four Elements Lemon Eucalyptus and Lavender Catnip (spray)
  • Veriditas Bug Repellent Concentrate (mix with witch hazel and water in your own spray bottle)
  • Quantum Buzz Away (spray)
  • Murphy’s Lemon Eucalyptus Oil spray (Its effective ingredient, Citriodol, is a well-studied and highly concentrated molecule derived from the essential oil, so while it is naturally derived, it would not occur in such concentrations in nature.  Not recommended for kids younger than three.)


Picaridin-based insect repellents make use of a long-lasting DEET-free spraysynthetic replica of a substance derived from Piperine in pepper plants.  Picaridin appears to work by preventing the mosquito from finding or recognizing its host.  Much safer than DEET for skin, it is effective for up to 12 hours against mosquitoes and ticks.  We carry Sawyer products, which come in both liquid and aerosol sprays. These low-odor, non-greasy repellents are also safe for gear, and won’t damage plastics or synthetic coatings.   Picaridin is the repellent of first-choice of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Canadian Advisory Committee on Tropical Medicine and Travel for children six months – 12 years of age.


permethrin repellent
Permethrin treatments are for clothing and gear
.  A synthetic analog of pyrethrum (a natural insecticide derived from the chrysanthemum flower), Permethrin binds to fabric fibers for up to 6 weeks or 6 washings.  When a tick, mosquito, or other insect comes into contact with Permethrin, it absorbs a dose that will either repel or kill the insect.  Permethrin is non-toxic and registered for use by the U.S. EPA.


Cackle Bee Cedar Flea & Tick Spray is made right here in Wisconsin.  Cnatural flea and tick spray for dogsontaining cedar and neem oils, it effectively kills fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. For first the application, apply liberally until the animal is lightly damp; subsequent applications (the developer applies this to her dogs every three days during tick season) can be lighter.


Amy Baker is a gardener, teacher, wildcrafter, herb enthusiast and an award-winning writer.  She has studied herbal medicine with various teachers in Chicago and Madison, and earned her certification as a Culinary Nutrition Expert and Instructor through the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. Amy has enjoyed creating plant medicines, natural beauty and cleaning products, and all manner of tasty, nutritious, healing recipes for decades.

Tags: DEET-free bug spray , essential oil bug spray , natural insect repellant

Posted in: Essential Oils , Natural Home & Garden