Non-Toxic Tick & Bug Repellent

Finding a natural tick repellent became a big priority for us. We wanted to hike and camp in the woods without fear of contracting Lyme disease, and the toxicity of medications available for this concerned us. Dogs that got them seemed sick in a few days. Long ago we gave up on commercially available bug sprays that use DEET, Permethrin and other insecticides on our skin. Clearly risky. We didn’t want to give such things to our dog.

The solution:
It turns out that applying an inexpensive essential oil to skin or fur will do it. The oil is called Rose Geranium (aka Geranium Bourbon). It repels human and canine ticks so well that some users report going through infested (even ticks with Lyme disease) areas for years and finding zero ticks when they use it, and many ticks when they don’t.

You can rub a few drops on yourself, although I find it easier to put it into a small spray bottle, combined with other oils or use it by itself. The smell is pleasant. Here is the report from the scientific study that showed Rose Geranium to be an effective, natural tick repellent. And did I say inexpensive?

Tick Repellent recipe

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon witch hazel or vodka
  • 40 drops Rose Geranium essential oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dr. Bronner brand liquid soap (Adding this reduces need for repeated shaking by keeping it mixed)

Mix the above in a bottle you can seal and shake. After shaking, place in a spray bottle. A four-ounce bottle works well and lasts.

Tick/Bug Combination recipe

Different essential oils work better on different pests. The oil mixtures listed below are effective for a wide range of insects and use several different oils to protect from ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, mites, grubs, no-see-ems, gnats, and hopefully all their insect cousins. All the oils are inexpensive. A small amount will make gallons of spray.

Find the combination that works for you in your region of the country. You could even experiment to create a customized insect repellent. Although ticks are the most common way for people to contract Lyme Disease, they are not the only way. It is also possible for Lyme to be transmitted by spiders, fleas, mites, and even mosquitoes, although we don’t know how often this occurs.

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon witch hazel or vodka
  • 20 drops Rose Geranium essential oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pure soap, such as the Dr. Bronner brand (Reduces need for repeated shaking)
  • Add one of the following combinations:



Powerful Benefits from these Essential Oils
These oils have powerful benefits as well, and are used in holistic medicine and aromatherapy to fight diseases and for their healing properties.

Citronella oil:
Antisceptic Although it does not kill mosquitoes, citronella is as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes (including the dreaded Aedes aegypti which spreads diseases like dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever), ticks, and other insects. Protection lasts 2 to 3 hours. In medicine and aromatherapy, citronella is used to provide relief from anxiety, headaches, muscle spasms, cramps, as well as other things.

Cinnamon Leaf Oil:
Antisceptic More effective than DEET at repelling and killing mosquitoes and repels bed bugs. In aromatherapy is used to improve circulation and oxygen flow to the cells, for relieving nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea.

Eucalyptus Oil:
In 1948, the United States officially registered eucalyptus oil as an insecticide and miticide (one that kills mites and ticks). For healing mucus membranes (such as irritated and swollen by allergies and asthma), apply a drop of eucalyptus oil on an organic cotton ball and sniff it several times a day. You can also add a few drops to water in a bath or in a nebulizer as steam therapy. It is non-toxic, but can be irritating in larger quantities.

How to apply

Our vet suggested an easy way to apply it: use moist towelettes or baby wipes. This makes it easier to cover an animal’s fur, which does not spread the oil as easily as bare skin.

  • Give the bottle a good shake.
  • Spray the towelette and wipe on.
  • Cover the dog, including the ridge of the nose (a favorite spot for ticks to mount the dog), and the ears (especially floppy ones).
  • Keep it out of the eyes.

For humans, spray areas of exposed skin. You can spread it with your fingers, if that’s helpful.

Additional Sources:

Osimitz, T.G., Murphy, J.V., Neurological Effects Associated with Use of the Insect Repellent N, N-Diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET), 1997, Vol. 35, No. 5, Pages 435-441.

Sudakin DL, Trevathan WR, DEET: A Review and Update of Safety and Risk in the General Population. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol, 2003, Vol. 41, No. 6 , Pages 831-839

Nerio LS, Olivero-Verbel J, Stashenko E., Repellent activity of essential oils: a review. Bioresour Technol. 2010 Jan;101(1):372-8. Epub 2009 Sep 2.

Maia MF, Moore SJ., Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing. Malar J. 2011 Mar 15;10 Suppl 1:S11. “Mosquito bites: Prevention”. May 2008.

Müller GC, Junnila A, Kravchenko VD, Revay EE, Butler J, Orlova OB, Weiss RW, Schlein Y. “Ability of essential oil candles to repel biting insects in high and low biting pressure environments.” J Am Mosq Control Assoc. 2008 24(1):154-60.

Nerio LS, Olivero-Verbel J, Stashenko E. “Repellent activity of essential oils: a review.” Bioresour Technol. 2010 101(1):372-8.

Tawatsin A, Wratten SD, Scott RR, Thavara U, Techadamrongsin Y. “Repellency of volatile oils from plants against three mosquito vectors.” J Vector Ecol. 2001 26(1):76-82.

Trongtokit Y, Rongsriyam Y, Komalamisra N, Apiwathnasorn C. “Comparative repellency of 38 essential oils against mosquito bites.” Phytother Res. 2005 19(4):303-9.