Diethyltoluamide or DEET has caused some speculation over the years regarding its use. Author of “Is Bug Spray Dangerous” Remy Melina mentioned in his article in LiveScience that, ”Although the Environmental Protection Agency re-approved the use of DEET in 1998 after extensive safety review, new data suggests that the substance may affect cells in unintended ways.” Also, in a 2009 study conducted by the Institute of Development Research in France found that DEET, although it blocks the enzyme cholinesterase in bugs, has side-effects which include muscle spasms, excessive salivation and watery eyes and eventually, death in prolonged use in mammals.

This leaves us to question whether bug bite protection is important enough to undermine the risky side-effects of cholinesterase blockage using DEET. We kind of have to weigh our risks, right? With certain bugs, I would definitely say that a very occasional DEET application is of lesser concern. But if there’s a less-toxic option that is still effective, I’m absolutely choosing it!

Studies supporting the effectiveness of essential oils as pest deterrent have surfaced many times. More recently in 2013 when the Department of Medicine at the University of Arizona published a study in PubMed that compared DEET’s bug repelling properties to that of more natural alternatives like peppermint oil, tea tree, picaridin and citronella oil. The results were astounding! Citronella proved to be the most effective in repelling bugs not to mention its long-lasting protection.

These studies, plus countless user reports on efficacy made me willing to try it out with great results. I now use essential oils in my organic garden to keep pests away, too.

I have a very simple all-natural bug repellent recipe that I highly recommend.

Safe DEET-free Bug Spray Recipe

  • 2 oz witch hazel or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 oz distilled water
  • 15 drops Purifying blend oil, (a blend of orange, lemon, citronella, and thyme is recommended)
  • 8 drops geranium oil
  • 5 drops Peppermint oil (omit if using on younger than 3 years old)
  • 10 drops Tea Tree oil

Combine all ingredients into a spray bottle and shake well before application.

*If using on younger than 5 years old, you may dilute this mixture even more by spraying 5 times into a small dish or palm of hand, then adding a small amount (10 drops) of fractionated coconut oil, aloe vera, or olive oil to the palm of hand and then rubbing into the exposed skin.