The 7 Best Natural Insect Repellents of 2021

Keep bites away the natural way

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The Rundown
"This convenient spray goes on without being sticky or oily and has a pleasant smell."
"Safe for the entire family, Buzz Away natural insect repellent is entirely plant-based."
"Using plant-based oils, Babyganics' repellent won't dry out your baby's skin."
"This effective formula gets high safety rankings and goes on like a light lotion."
"Murphy's citrusy candle keeps your patio cozy and insects at bay."
"Tuck these biodegradable wipes into your carry on or pocket for portable protection."
"Multitask with this cream that protects your skin from sunburns and bites."

If you're looking for an insect repellent without any synthetic ingredients, like DEET or picaridin, there are many products available on the market. Because mosquitoes spread diseases like West Nile, dengue, and Zika viruses and depending on where you live, tick-borne illnesses include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever among many others, it’s important to use an insect repellent that's been proven effective at repelling insects by rigorous scientific evaluation.

What to Look for in a Natural Insect Repellent

Ingredients: The only natural ingredient that the Centers for Disease Control considers as effective against mosquitoes and ticks as DEET is oil of lemon eucalyptus. Note that products containing more than 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus are not safe for children under the age of 3. The chemical p-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD), which can be derived from lemon eucalyptus or made synthetically is also approved by the CDC. Most skin-applied repellents must be registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for human safety and effectiveness, and this registry includes products that have been shown to be effective and use oil of lemon eucalyptus, citronella oil, and catnip oil as the primary active ingredients.

EPA Registrations: Whenever possible, select repellents that have been registered with the EPA; you can find a registration number on the back of the bottle. The makers of some natural insect repellents have voluntarily registered their products for EPA evaluation, but sadly this list is limited, and the EPA's public registry was last updated in June of 2019. Many of the unregistered natural repellents have comparable ingredient lists to registered products, but keep in mind that any unregistered repellents may be less effective at preventing insect bites, and therefore disease. Because of the lack of government oversight, some health experts do not recommend bug repellents with only essential oils for active ingredients.

If you live, camp, hike, or travel in a location with a high risk of insect-borne disease or are buying a product for deep woods use, it is important to select an insect repellent that has been registered with the EPA. Non-registered products should only be used in more urban or backyard applications in areas with a lower risk of disease.

Effectiveness Time: While some insect repellent products can be effective at repelling mosquitos or ticks for up to 6 hours, others need to be reapplied every 2 hours—or even more often. Pay close attention to the instructions on the container. If a product is registered with the EPA, the EPA website will note how long it is effective for and against what insects.

If you want to use products that are free of DEET and picaridin, here are the best natural insect repellents:

Best Overall: REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

REPEL DEET Free

Derived from the leaves of the eucalyptus citriodora tree, the active ingredient, p-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD), is found in a number of insect repellents. The convenient pump spray goes on easily without being sticky or oily, and it has a fresh lemon scent some people might enjoy. Safe for 3-year-olds and up, a single application is good for six hours of protection.

The spray is made up of a 30 percent solution of the natural oil. The remaining 70 percent by weight is 45 percent ethanol (a natural alcohol), 25 percent water, and less than 0.2 percent buffer to control pH for skin application. The solution is flammable due to the ethanol, and can cause eye irritation so you’ll notice warnings on the label to keep it away from children and pets. But it earns the Best Overall spot because it works so well in a variety of situations.

This product is registered with the EPA, which verified that it is effective against mosquitoes for up to six hours.

Best for Kids: Quantum Health Buzz Away Extreme - DEET-free Insect Repellent Spray

Buzz Away Natural Mosquito Repellent

Safe for the entire family, Buzz Away natural insect repellent is entirely plant-based. It's main active ingredients are castor oil (8 percent), geranium oil (6 percent), soybean oil (3 percent), cedarwood oil (1.5 percent), and citronella oil (1 percent). It's also free of fragrances and parabens, and is formulated to repel both ticks and mosquitoes. The manufacturer recommends shaking the bottle before applying, and formula is also available in a towelette format.

Quantum Health is a Certified B Corporation, which means it meets a high level of environmental and social transparency.

This product is registered with the EPA, which verified that it is effective against mosquitoes for up to two and a half hours. However, we noticed that Buzz Away's packaging states that this product qualifies for EPA exemption.

Best for Babies: Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent

Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent

Made from 100 percent plant-based oils, Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent doesn’t contain the alcohol found in many insect repellents. That means it won’t dry out a baby’s sensitive skin. Instead, this repellent is made from 95 percent certified organic soybean oil mixed with small amounts of rosemary, citronella, geranium, cedarwood, peppermint, and lemongrass oils that drive off pesky invaders.

Parents appreciate that this spray contains no parabens, sulfates, phthalates, artificial fragrances, or dyes. It works equally well against mosquitoes, gnats, and biting flies. Like all insect repellents, you’ll need to use soap to remove it thoroughly at the end of your day. Because it is 100 percent oil, it may stain some clothes and gear.

Not just for kids, this product works well for the whole family, and you’ll feel good knowing that Babyganics never tests their products on animals. The company is committed to sustainability in packaging and obtaining ingredients. Their formulations also avoid their list of “never use” ingredients so you’ll feel confident when spraying this product directly onto your child’s skin.

The EPA has not evaluated this product for efficacy.

Best for Backyards: All Terrain Herbal Armor Natural Insect Repellent

All Terrain Herbal Armor

All Terrain Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent spray works using some of the same plant-based oils as Babyganics Insect Repellent. But it is less oily and goes on like a light lotion.

This formulation contains more citronella oil (10 percent compared to 1 percent in Babyganics) as well as small amounts of peppermint, cedar, lemongrass, and geranium oils. Each of the inactive ingredients included are rated with the best safety rankings of 1 or 2 on EWGs Skin Deep cosmetic database, which evaluates over 9,000 ingredients against strict standards for health and safety.

The EPA has not evaluated this product for efficacy.

Best Candle & Incense: Murphy's Naturals Murphy’s Mosquito Candle

Those with sensitive skin may want to avoid spraying repellents directly on their body and instead try Murphy’s Naturals Mosquito Repellent Candles and Incense. Both work best on calm days while adding a fresh scent to your patio, porch, or backyard barbecue. The warm flicker of a candle also adds cozy festivity to any party.

Murphy’s Naturals combines plant-based essential oils of rosemary, peppermint, lemongrass, cedar wood, and citronella. The soy/beeswax blend candle offers 30 hours of burn time while the sustainable bamboo incense sticks cover a 12-foot radius for up to 2.5 hours. You’ll enjoy the refreshing fragrance without the DEET or petroleum products of other candles and incense. Poured in the United States, the candle comes with a cotton wick in a recyclable metal tin. Murphy’s Naturals offers both as part of a kit along with a mosquito repellent balm.

You can also feel good about your purchase because Murphy’s is a certified B Corporation. That means they’ve met the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. They’re also business members of 1% for the Planet, a movement where businesses make annually verified donations to environmental nonprofits.

Although this candle has “mosquito” in the name, it uses the same essential oils that other citronella-based repellents use to chase away gnats and biting flies as well as those annoying little blood suckers.

The EPA has not evaluated this product for efficacy.

Best Wipes: Auntie Fannie's Mosquito Repellent Wipes

Auntie Fannie's Mosquito Wipes

Although single-use wipes are more wasteful than a bottle of cream or spray, there are situations where a potentially leaky liquid spray just isn’t the right fit. To avoid air travel limits on liquids or situations where you just can't risk a leak, Aunt Fannie’s Mosquito Repellent Wipes is a good alternative to sprays. The wipes are biodegradable, and are available in a canister containing 25 wipes or individually wrapped.

Aunt Fannie’s wipes use the same repellent essential oils found in Babyganics, Murphy’s, and All Terrain repellents. They’re considered suitable for children who are six months and older, so they’ll be great for the diaper bag.

In addition to the essential oil ingredients, the remaining 80 percent is made up of vitamin E, regenerated cellulose (vegetable fiber), and isopropyl myristate. Isopropyl myristate is a common cosmetic compound that does double duty as an emollient that also kills lice, fleas, and ticks by dissolving the wax that covers their exoskeletons. Its presence increases the effectiveness of the repellent essential oils against these insects.

The EPA has not evaluated this product for efficacy.

Good to Know

You might notice that these wipes (and other natural repellent products) are not available for purchase in or shipment to Indiana or Washington State (and other states). That’s because it's not registered with the EPA and is on the list of products made from active ingredients that the EPA considers of minimal risk to human health, including many of the essential oils upon which these natural repellents rely.

But states with regulations that are more restrictive than the EPA may limit the sale of these products without further testing at the state level. Many smaller companies just accept that they cannot sell their products in these states rather than spend the money and navigate each state’s red tape. Several essential-oil-based products fall into this category of being considered safe at the federal level, but lack evaluation required at the state level.

Best Suncreen: Badger Anti-Bug Sunscreen SPF 34

Badger Anti-Bug Sunscreen SPF 34

When sun protection is also needed, Badger Anti-Bug Sunscreen SPF 34 serves a dual purpose in one convenient cream. Using the same organic essential oil repellents as the other top-rated natural products, this cream offers the additional quality sun protection of 20 percent non-nano, uncoated zinc oxide. Non-nano means that the particle size is larger than 100 nanometers, so it cannot penetrate your skin and therefore is considered the safest option for filtering UV light while also not harmful to marine life and coral reefs.

This cream is made in the USA, certified USDA organic, biodegradable, and free of BPA and sulfates. It's resistant to sweat and water for at least 40 minutes. Badger is a certified B Corp. Its products are also cruelty-free and Leaping Bunny Certified.

The EPA has not evaluated this product for efficacy.

Final Verdict

When possible, pick a bug spray that's been evaluated by the EPA. REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent (available from Amazon) earned the Best Overall spot for EPA registration and effectiveness. For a spray that's safe for kids under the age of 3, pick Buzz Away Natural Mosquito Repellent (view at Thrive Market), which is also EPA registered.

Good to Know

Whether you’re working in the garden, hosting a BBQ, or camping, nothing is more frustrating than the swatting, itchy welts, and scratching that these invaders cause. But insects are also an important part of terrestrial and aquatic food chains so—where possible—scientists recommend we avoid killing them and instead try to deter and repel them and accept that we might be annoyed or have to scratch occasionally.

Another defense you might want to consider to deal with unwanted insects is to change your home environment to discourage biting insects, plant insect-repelling plants, or mix up your own homemade repellent. When you experience just a few bites, you might try this handy, well-rated gadget to extract the insect saliva that causes irritation, one-bite-at-a-time. You can also consider using a mosquito trap that won't zap beneficial insects.

FAQs

Why should you use a natural insect repellent?

Unfortunately, both of the most popular approaches to repel or kill mosquitoes—DEET-based insect repellents and electric zappers—have significant drawbacks. DEET is an acronym for an organic chemical, N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, and concentrations of over 30 percent of this chemical are considered toxic to the central nervous system. For some, DEET-based repellents have caused adverse skin reactions, seizures, brain malfunction, fatigue, and respiratory conditions. As a result, some European countries have banned use of the chemical.

While electric zappers work without chemicals, they are also known to kill beneficial insects including vitally important pollinators like bees. Unattended zappers are also potentially dangerous to young children and curious pets, and are capable of starting a fire. There are a number of non-toxic traps available, the approach that’s best for the environment may be to repel them from your person.

Do natural insect repellents work?

Because there's less government oversight of natural repellents containing essential oils, not all natural formulations have been shown to be effective. When possible, pick an insect repellent that's been evaluated by the EPA, or look for ones with oil of lemon eucalyptus, citronella oil, or catnip oil as the primary active ingredient.

Is picaridin natural and safe?

Since 2005, some insect repellent sprays have employed picaridin to avoid DEET. A synthetic compound designed in the 1980s, picaridin resembles the naturally-occurring compound, piperine, which is found in plants and used to produce black pepper. Although picaridin is as effective as DEET and also repels chiggers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still considers it slightly toxic to humans, a moderate irritant to our eyes, and moderately toxic to freshwater fish. While science-backed consumer watchdog Environmental Working Group (EWG) found picaridin to have many of the advantages of DEET without the same disadvantages, they recognize that the compound has not been tested thoroughly enough over the long term.

If you would prefer a repellent with picaridin, consider our list of DEET-free bug sprays.

Why Trust Treehugger?

To make our recommendations, Treehugger evaluated the ingredient list of all our recommendations to make sure they include ingredients considered to be effective, and we've noted if each repellent has or has not been evaluated by the EPA. We also found that some repellents have packaging that say they have not been evaluated by the EPA, although in fact they have been.

Lorraine Wilde grew up swatting at and itching bites from a range of biting insects in rural Michigan. She and her family have tested a number of products while camping and river rafting in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest. Lorraine holds a Master’s degree in environmental science and is a firm believer that consumers can make healthy, informed, and environmentally-conscious choices to protect our planet.