Whether you're camping, gardening, hiking, or otherwise playing outside, you need a good insect spray to keep from getting covered in bug bites. If you want to keep bugs away but are leery of some of the chemicals found in traditional sprays, the best natural bug sprays will be a valuable addition to your medicine cabinet.
Diethyltoluamide (aka DEET) is one of the most common bug-repelling ingredients used in traditional sprays, though there's controversy over whether or not it's harmful. That said, if you're looking to avoid DEET and other harsh chemicals, there are several natural ingredients that make a good alternative. Natural oils like coconut, and palm, as well as essential oils like vanilla (aka “vanillin”), lemongrass, and cedar are some of the most common and effective ingredients in natural bug sprays.
An important thing to consider is whether you'll be in an area where malaria or other insect-driven diseases are a concern. The only plant-based repellents the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recommends for disease endemic areas are those containing PMD (para-menthane 3-8, diol, an active ingredient in lemon eucalyptus). While many sprays use the lemon eucalyptus as an essential oil, far fewer have PMD specifically. I've included one such option on this list, but you may still want to consider a traditional bug spray if you're traveling to any high-risk areas.
Aside from this, a lot of what you choose comes down to personal preference. As far as smells, some folks like lemon-based scents while others like muskier, vanilla-focused aromas. The key is to find one you like that actually works (and also glides on smoothly without being sticky or uncomfortable).
To help you out, I’ve done the research and put together four of the best natural bug sprays, so you can enjoy the outdoors without all the bites.
1. The Best Overall
Capacity: 4 ounces
What's great about it: This Coleman natural bug spray is the only option on this list that contains CDC-recommended PMD, a factor that puts it at the top of my list. It has a lovely lemon eucalyptus scent, and reviewers say it works great, too. The DEET-free formula is easy to apply, and the consistency isn't greasy like with some sprays. Each application offers protection from insect bites for up to 6 hours.
What fans say: "This is the BEST bug spray I've ever used. I was looking for something more natural that wouldn't melt rubber and irritate my skin. It has a very strong citrus smell, but I find it pleasant. I use it when I run in the woods, and don't get bit ... Highly recommend!"
2. The Runner-Up
Capacity: 8 ounces
What's great about it: If you prefer a richer vanilla smell to citrusy scents, this Bug Soother insect repellent is a solid choice. Made with a formula that's 100-percent natural and DEET-free, Amazon reviewers say it's super effective, helping to protect against gnats and sand flies, as well as mosquitos. This one comes in a sturdy bottle that sprays on easily. However, it does contain soy components, so you may need to steer clear if you have soy allergies.
What fans say: "I love this stuff! Not only does it smell good, but it works too. I almost feel as it's a great natural cologne that happens to repel insects ... No more stinky chemical spray for this girl."
3. The Best Organic Spray
Capacity: 4 ounces
What's great about it: With almost 200 reviews on Amazon, this popular all-natural bug spray is made with a sweet-smelling combination of lavender, lemongrass, cedar wood, and other organic ingredients. Unlike some sprays that are just "natural," this one is fully organic. Instead of DEET, it features citronella and castor oil to help keep the bugs away. As a result, when you spray it on, it doesn't have that sticky, chemical-like feel. It comes in a strong aluminum bottle with an easy spray trigger and a convenient, leak-free design. One note: it does contain soy, so it's not a good choice for people with soy allergies.
What fans say: "Finally I can sit on the patio with my family in the evening. This works! We also garden and use it before we pull weeds. So happy with this product because it has a pleasant, light scent with no residual feeling on your skin. Love it. Ordered more!!!"
4. The Most Travel-Friendly
Capacity: 3.3 ounces
What's great about it: If your travels tend to take you to places where bugs are an issue, this handy insect spray is a great choice due to the 3.3-ounce bottle it comes in, making it both compact and TSA-friendly. It has a fresh, lemon smell, with a formula that is all-natural and DEET-free. Reviewers say it works well to keeps insects at bay and that it's good for sensitive skin, too.
What fans say: "This stuff is fantastic. I'm one of those people who will have a dozen bites every time I go out at dusk in the summer. I've tried this multiple times even when sweating doing yard work ... and didn't get even one bite! I am thrilled - and it's a natural repellent."
An Alternative To Sprays: Natural Bug-Repelling Bracelets
What's great about them: If you hate spraying yourself with bug repellent, even when it's natural, these insect-fighting bracelets are an awesome alternative. They use natural oils, like citronella and lemongrass, instead of DEET and last up to 240 hours each (aka 10 days). Best of all, they're fully waterproof, so you can do things like swim, raft, sail, kayak, or participate in other water activities without them losing their effectiveness.
What fans say: "My husband and I took this product to Thailand to help repel mosquitoes. We were on the islands in Thailand where there is a huge outbreak of Dengue fever. This product was absolutely amazing. We were there during the peak summer months and I did not get a single mosquito bite. People were covered in bites, but I had not a single one on my body. My husband and I are very active people and spent the whole of our vacation outdoors; this product is simply a must for any outdoor vacation."
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