Safe, Nontoxic Insect Repellents

Home & Family, Outdoors
on May 3, 2012

Bug bites from mosquitoes, chiggers and other insects can disrupt an otherwise enjoyable time spent outdoors. Chemical repellants often smell unpleasant and may not contain the type of ingredients some people want to inhale or to have touch their skin. Alternatives include non-toxic insect repellants containing natural ingredients such as citronella, geraniol and linalool.

Citronella. Citronella oil repels insects with its distinctive odor. This aroma makes it hard for the insects to find a host, keeping them away from your tasty, tempting skin. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, citronella is derived from dried cultivated grasses and, when used according to the product label, will not “cause harm to humans, pets or the environment.” How well the citronella repels insects varies depending on the amount of the oil in the product. You can find citronella in products such as candles, moist wipes, lotions, gels and sprays.

Geraniol. Geraniol became a breakthrough insect repellant ingredient in 1999. Entomologist Dr. Jerry Butler, from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, developed this natural repellant, offering protection from mosquitoes, ticks, fire ants and more. Geraniol, derived from plants such as lemongrass, is an extracted plant oil. Plants containing it have the natural ability to repel insects. Look for geraniol in diffusers and candles to provide about four hours of protection from biting bugs.

Linalool. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), linalool occurs “naturally in oils from herbs, leaves, flowers and wood.” It is found in essential oils such as coriander, lavender, orange and rose and is made synthetically from geraniol. It is used as an insect repellant on dogs and cats in the form of shampoos and dips, as well as in candles and electronic fragrance diffusers as an outdoor insect repellant.

Effectiveness of citronella, geraniol and linalool. The NCBI reports that citronella, geraniol and linalool, when tested, “were more active in the form of a continuous release diffuser than in candle form.” Candles containing linalool were not available for study, but the linalool diffusers repelled insects by 93 percent. Citronella diffusers repelled at a rate of 68 percent and geraniol diffusers at rate of 97 percent. The NCBI concluded geraniol had the most repellency in both indoor and outdoor testing.

This article was originally published as Safe, nontoxic insect repellents on