Mythbusters: Can DIY bug repellent save you money (and mosquito bites)?

Photo by Hope Morawa/Brokelyn.
Photo by Hope Morawa/Brokelyn.

I always hated the smell of DEET. Mosquitoes and I have never been BFFs, and as a semi-popular band/theater/show choir socialite in high school, my social life over the summers was shrouded in a dark cloud of bug spray. It was a bite or be bitten way of life, and being slightly allergic to such bites, I wasn’t one to risk walking out of the house without a can in my backpack/fanny pack.

But I’m a part-time adult in my 20s now, and recently, when on a date at King Tai with a handsome 6ft-something ginger, this boy had the privilege and horror of seeing me in my truest form as I smashed a mosquito to smithereens, smearing it’s/my blood over my face while maniacally cackling. I knew better: it was a warm night, the doors of the bar were propped open, but Date Hope opted to smell like sexy coconuts rather than bug spray, making Date Hope a stupid, sitting duck who gained a bunch of bug bites in under a hour and no boyfriend. Enough was enough. Hence, my search for a more natural alternative to getting mosquitoes to bug-OFF had begun.

Fast forward a few days with my itching new bug bites fueling my fire, I had finally settled on two recipes found online I could make myself. Would both fail? Should I had not have taken those vodka shots while I was DIYing? I was about to find out!


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Step 1: Research and buying supplies

After a quick research sesh at my local, enclosed, no-bugs-I-could-see coffeeshop for some sprays I could make within a reasonable budget, I found two deemed plausible enough for experiment (more on these below). Both seemed simple enough, and though I didn’t have any experience with essential oils, my best friend back in Michigan who does was on text-standby.

I was ready to commit, so the next day after work, I ventured down Nostrand Avenue on my daily commute to the trains for the following materials:

Pint of vodka: Not just for spirited consumption or sterilizing wounds, but used to keep the spray over time from going bad, according to instructions.

Almond oil: For dilution! Because you’re not supposed to put most essential oils directly on your body! I learned this the hard way by getting peppermint oil on my arm and the spot going numb/tingling like when you drink water after chewing Winterfresh gum.

Lavender oil: Not only useful for taking the itch out of bug bites, but also for your eczema, hay fever and nosebleeds!

Citronella oil: More than just a poolside tiki torch. Citronella has so many other uses beauty/health benefits!

Plastic spray bottles: $1.19 each from local hardware store. Shout out the the owner who laughed at me when I couldn’t reach the box on the top shelf.

Distilled water: Free. Thanks, Britta.

Bonus item: Peppermint oil: My favorite scent. It wasn’t my intention to use this for this project, but I had read that it keeps mice away and at the time, I was currently sleeping on the common room futon in fear of the mouse (I named her E.T.) taking up shop in my bedroom. And it worked!

Total cost: About $45

I know, I know, a little steep even for this Brokelyn gal. I could have bought better alcohol with that money, put it toward my student loan payments, or bought 15 BEC sandwiches from my favorite bodega. But the time had come for me to get crafty and I was psyched! Mosquitoes, you have fucked with me for the last time!


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Step 2: Read the instructions (More carefully than I did)

The reasoning behind picking these two websites and their instructionals was simple enough. First, because Beth at Tasty-Yummies had some bomb-ass tattoos and seemed to be more knowledgeable in this area than the other Christian Moms on the internet with a blog. Secondly, DIYNatural gets real with their readers by stating clearly on their website a disclaimer that they are not reviewed or endorsed by the FDA. Honesty is the best policy in my book, and I love a tatted woman. I am obviously too easy to please.


First attempt at DIY bug spray. Photo by Hope Morawa/Brokelyn.
First attempt at DIY bug spray. Photo by Hope Morawa/Brokelyn.

First attempt: The Lavender Spray

The instructions for this one were essentially basic, but true to my fashion of loosely following DIYNatural’s guidelines, I figured I had everything under control: I started with two tablespoons of vodka (and a shot for Hope because she likes alcohol). This supposedly helps the spray keep for extended amounts of time. Then, I added two tablespoons of the almond oil for dilution, because I was advised by my friend and the internet to not just go around pouring random essential oils all over myself.

This was followed by 50 drops of lavender oil, because like an idiot, I didn’t realize until typing this up now that I was supposed to use all the oils listed (including the lemon eucalyptus, the cedarwood, and the rosemary) instead of just lavender. Then: shake, shake, shakes.

The end result had me smelling and feeling like a fairy princess, and the almond oil made my skin feel great, not sticky. But would this hold up outdoors against mosquito fiends? We’d have to find out.


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Second attempt: The Citronella Spray

This one involved math, because who honestly remembers how many tablespoons make an ounce? I got to include all the oils I had purchased too! After converting a bunch of math, I took 2oz of distilled water, added 1oz of vodka (and one more shot down Hope’s throat for giggles) and then things got a little overwhelming…

“Then about 50 to 75 drops of essential oils, any combination of the above oils should work. If you want to add more varieties of oils, just add less of each oil you are adding in, if you wish for it to be less strong of a mixture, just add less drops. You just want be sure to keep the total percentage of essential oils under 15 percent for safety” …WHAT.

Long story short, I added 30 drops citronella, 20 drops lavender and 15 drops peppermint. Then, with the confidence of two (maybe three?) shots of vodka pulsing through my bloodstream, I decided to throw in 1oz of almond oil just to make my skin feel nice, and then five more drops of Peppermint because the smell of Citronella was oh too strong.

The end result smelled like those tiki torches your dad would put up around the pool every summer. I was no fan of the smell, and though I did NOT feel like a fairy princess once I test sprayed some on my leg, I believed that it would at least still have the same effect as the tiki torches of my past did and drive the mosquitoes away. Added bonus, I finished making both sprays within a half hour, leaving me plenty of time to go out afterwards.


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Alas, whether it was wishful thinking or me just falling for what I read on the internet, the sprays did not have the impact on my outdoor endeavors as much as I had hoped for. Upon applying the lavender spray and watching Game of Thrones outside while enjoying my sausage and knodel, I returned indoors with four new bites. We did not have a winner, and I was a sore, bitter loser.

The citronella spray, on the other hand, after spending a few hours in Prospect Park with a boy who no longer matters, I found myself only with three new bug bites, all while smelling particularly odd and unpleasant throughout the entire experience. I was the smelly one on the train, and I knew it when the woman I sat next moved over to an empty seat. Her face said it all.

At the end of the day, my concoctions were only useful is steering people away, as opposed to mosquitoes. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken those shots of vodka while I crafted, or maybe I should have picked an easier recipe. Either way, maybe my journey with DEET isn’t at the end of the road just yet? Until science can give me a reason why we haven’t made the little fuckers extinct, DEET will be very present in my outdoor summer fun times.

Follow Hope, she probably doesn’t smell like citronella any more: @havinghope14.

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