A Natural DIY Insect Repellent That Smells Like a Fancy Perfume

Considering I make homemade granola and live in a tent, I don’t really need scientific evidence to support smearing myself with patchouli.
Publish date:
July 24, 2015
clove, patchouli, natural, DIY, grapefruit, bug repellants

In Alaska, we’re outside a lot; whether it’s berry picking, hiking, or just running to the outhouse, we’re in the elements a lot. We are also oddly proud of the absolute mass of mosquitoes that are constantly hovering; they change caribou migrations and make porches without bug screens just seem cruel.

Having lived here most of my life, I have used every single bug spray out there. The only thing that has worked for long periods of time contain weird corrosive chemicals like DEET or permethrin, both of which have documented side effects with continued use. I’m outside most of the time, so I needed something that wasn’t so a) expensive b) corrosive or c) of unknown toxicity status.

I knew there’d be an essential oil or two that could replace the stuff, but which?

Three of the most potent essential oils for keeping mozzies, ticks and other beasties at bay? Grapefruit, patchouli and clove. Each has been used for centuries to ward off biting insects, but recent studies have shown the effectiveness to be higher than previously thought. Add a dash of cedar and lavender, and you don’t smell half bad, and it will keep the mosquitoes away for a few hours without reapplication.

Considering I’m making big batches of homemade granola and living in a tent, I probably don’t need scientific evidence to support smearing myself with patchouli. However, patchouli happens to be one of the longest-lasting, most effective natural mosquito repellents around. It's also one of the most polarizing scents I can think of; it’s earthy, with strong petrichor notes, and pairs well with other herbs and sweet florals. Before you just decide I’m a filthy hippie with nostalgia for damp music festivals, remember: it’s the bottom note of many a designer fragrance.

Grapefruit essential oil is distilled from the rinds of commercially harvested grapefruit. It's been found to contain nooktatone, a compound also found in Alaskan yellow cedar. It's been tested as an insect repellent and found to be extremely effective, especially for mosquitoes and ticks. It smells juicy and amazing instead of like stale ass (like citronella).

Clove might make you think of pomanders at Christmas, but it’s such a rich and complex oil that it can be present in a fragrance and you’d never know it outright. It has a heady, rich, spicy scent that just happens to pair with citrus and herbal scents perfectly. Clove has also been used for centuries to repel ticks, fleas, bedbugs and other blood-sucking bastards.

So there you have it, a perfectly designed concoction for insect repellent that Mother Earth made just for you. Well, or NOW Organics made it—it's where I prefer to purchase my oils. We’ll add in a bit of lavender to balance out the earthy, spicy and citrus notes (and while it also repels mosquitoes and ticks, it doesn’t have as strong as an effect). Instead of mixing it into a water base, I’ve found using an oil and applying it directly to my skin is the most effective.

What you’ll need:

  • 10 drops grapefruit essential oil
  • 10 drops patchouli essential oil (not fragrance oil, it’s garbage)
  • 6 drops clove essential oil
  • 6 drops lavender essential oil
  • 4oz or ½ cup carrier oil—I’m using sunflower, but any light oil would work
  • Container of choice: I’ve found an up-cycled spray bottle is the easiest way to apply repellent, but a roll-on would be nice too!

Depending on the quantity, you’ll want to adjust your quantities accordingly. I used 4 ounces of carrier oil, but this isn’t an exact science; a few drops more or less of any oil isn’t going to end in flames. Try to store it in a cool spot out of the sun, as heat will turn the oil rancid.

  • Do you have a go-to mosquito repellent that you use?
  • Are you terrified of ticks and fleas? We don’t have them here… yet.
  • You do say “bug dope” or is that not a thing outside the North?