The Truth behind Essential Oil Bug Sprays (and why they’re not effective)

The Truth behind Essential Oil Bug Sprays (and why they're not effective)
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Lemon Eucalyptus as a Natural Insect Repellent?

If you like to spend as much time as possible outside gardening, camping, and exploring then we’ll have something in common. Two things actually — a love of the outdoors and the constant annoyance of biting insects. They can sometimes make that time outdoors unbearable.

I live on the Isle of Man and this part of the world we suffer from summertime Midgies. They’re so small that they can fly through the fine mesh of a beekeeping veil. I tried that once and not only did I look ridiculous but I had so many bites on my face afterwards that I looked like I had Measles.

I’m all for finding a natural insect repellent so when I heard about the effectiveness of Lemon Eucalyptus oil I was sold.

The Truth behind Essential Oil Bug Sprays (and why they're not effective)

Making DIY bug sprays with essential oils isn’t an effective solution

There are two types of Lemon Eucalyptus oil

Some time ago I came across an article saying how Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil is as strong as DEET in repelling insects. It recently resurfaced in my mind so I decided to order a small bottle and make my own bug spray. I mixed it with witch hazel and used it the first time at a BBQ where it worked for maybe half an hour. What a disappointment.

It’s only through further research that I’ve found out that Lemon Eucalyptus comes in two forms: essential oil and ‘Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus’. They have completely different properties and the essential oil I bought doesn’t work as a long term solution.

The Truth behind Essential Oil Bug Sprays (and why they're not effective)

Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil is not the same thing as Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

I’d made a boo boo that I think many of us could make — taking advice from an unsubstantiated article or just mistakenly thinking that ‘Essential oil’ and ‘Oil of’ were the same thing.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is extracted from the same plant as the essential oil but in a different way. As a result it has a different chemical composition that makes it comparable to DEET.

In contrast, Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil is much more like Citronella essential oil in its make-up. Fine for using in candles but not for skincare.

A product made with a 30% composition of Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus can protect you from insects from between two to six hours. However, products made with the essential oil have very little effect in repelling insects. You can read more about it over on Wikipedia and on the CDC website.

The Truth behind Essential Oil Bug Sprays (and why they're not effective)

Make or Buy the Right Products

Other essential oil skincare has worn off as I’ve worked outside too. Though I’ve hated it, I’ve resorted to non-natural bug sprays so that I can keep working in my organic garden. The irony is not lost on me.

Why they don’t work is down to essential oils being volatile, which means they don’t last long when exposed to the environment. They quickly evaporate off of the skin so you can forget trying to use them for DIY bug sprays. Even mixing them with other ingredients leaves you with a maximum of two hours protection. That’s just not good enough for me.

So What’s the Natural Solution?

It’s clear that if you’re going to make your own natural insect repellent that you will need to use pure Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. It’s difficult to source so it’s probably better to go with plan B: purchase ready-made insect repellent using Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. Here are some that I’ve found on Amazon:

Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Coleman Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, Deet Free Insect Repellent



2 Discussion to this post

  1. Terri Sidell says:

    Hope you are having a wonderful time on your vacation. I appreciate this article on Oil of Eucalyptus for a bug repellant. I could not find a spot on your page of how to propagate Rosemary to write you,so I will ask the ? here in hope that you will be able to answer my question. I tried propagating our pear tree before we moved ,much the same way you suggested for the Rosemary article. After 6wks in the plastic tent,everything was moldy. What could I have done differently? How does one prevent the mold????

    • lovelygreens says:

      Mold grows in environments that are too wet and warm or where organic material is beginning to break down. As for your cutting, I’ve not propagated pear cuttings before but understand that you need to remove some of the bark. Did you try this?

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