Types of Essential Oils to Repel Mosquitoes

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on July 23, 2023
4 min read

Mosquitoes are pesky and cause skin irritations. Sometimes they even carry diseases. Essential oils can repel mosquitoes.

Mosquito bites can cause itchiness, irritation, or swelling. Some mosquitoes are nuisance insects that bite but don’t spread germs. Others are called vector mosquitoes and carry germs that cause diseases. This makes it important to protect yourself from mosquitoes.

Vector mosquitoes can spread diseases including:

West Nile virus is the most common mosquito-borne disease in the U.S. However, in most cases getting sick from mosquitoes is rare. 

A DEET product is recommended for areas that have disease-causing mosquitoes. For nuisance mosquitoes, essential oils might help.

People have been using plants for thousands of years to repel insects in the house and garden. Burning plants was once a popular and crude method of smoking out insects. People also hung bruised plants in houses and strategically planted lemongrass, citronella, or neem to keep insects and critters out.‌

Organic remedy. Essential oils are aromatic volatile organic compounds that naturally exist in these plants. They are made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen compounds. They evaporate easily, and they have a strong smell. An essential oil is a liquid that is used as a natural remedy. There are some essential oils that can help with mosquitoes.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends lemon eucalyptus oil as an active ingredient in insect repellents. 

Lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora or Corymbia citriodora) is a type of eucalyptus tree. It has naturally high amounts of the compound citronellal, which repels bugs. 

The lemon eucalyptus distillation process also makes a compound called para-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD). This compound is the only plant-based repellent that the CDC recommends using in places that have mosquito-borne diseases like malaria. 

Citronella (Cymobopogon nardus) is an ingredient in many repellents. This oil is also high in citronellal and geraniol, both of which repel bugs. Products that have the right amount of citronella can be as effective as DEET when properly combined with other essential oils.

Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) is high in the constituent geraniol. This repels mosquitoes for a short amount of time.

Peppermint (Piperita mentha) naturally contains a lot of menthol. This can produce a cooling effect on your skin that feels nice in the heat. It can also repel mosquitoes.

Before you use essential oils to keep mosquitoes away, there are some things you should know.

DIY sprays. You might read about making your own essential oil mosquito spray. This is not a good idea. It's hard to properly make a spray. Essential oils evaporate quickly. This means you need other ingredients to make it last longer and actually protect your skin.

Skin irritation. Proper repellents require a high percentage of essential oil. Too many essential oils can irritate your skin. Too much can easily cause a rash or other problems on your skin.

Children. Some essential oils shouldn’t be used on children. Generally, you should avoid using essential oil insect repellents on children under 2 years old. Don’t use lemon eucalyptus products on children under 3 years old.‌

EPA Registration. The EPA doesn’t require brands to register essential oils as insect repellents. This means the Agency says essential oils are safe in general without testing them for effectiveness.

How useful essential oils are as repellents depends on many things, including:

  • Water exposure
  • Sweating
  • Activity level
  • Air temperature
  • Amount of the active ingredient in the product

You may need to reapply your product to stay protected. 

The CDC recommends lemon eucalyptus as an insect repellent. However, it doesn't suggest using the natural oil alone or making your own products. There are several considerations to keep in mind:

  • Use products with a registration number: Buy a repellent that is registered with the EPA as an actual repellent. This means it is tested and proven to work. 
  • Don’t use only essential oils: Buy a product that has natural lemon eucalyptus as an active ingredient.
  • Don’t use essential oils in disease areas: Unless it’s registered with the EPA, essential oil repellent products shouldn’t be used in places that have malaria, Dengue fever, or other diseases. 
  • Cover your skin: Protect yourself by covering your skin with long pants and sleeves. Only apply the repellent to exposed skin.

Before using any essential oil product on your children, be sure to read the labels for instructions and safety.