The People's Perspective on Medicine

Natural Mosquito Repellants

Mosquitoes are more than a nuisance, they can carry disease. Many people are wary of DEET, but what are the effective natural mosquito repellants?
Bug insect itch west nile

Q. Is there any herb I can take to make myself less attractive to mosquitoes without also making myself less attractive to the human race? I wear no perfumed lotions but seem to attract mosquitoes like a magnet.

A. We don’t know why some people are especially attractive to mosquitoes, although it seems to be related to body chemistry. Foot odor has been proposed as one possible explanation, and using an antiperspirant on the soles of the feet might help.

Mosquitoes have been biting humans for thousands of years, and for almost that long people have been trying to ward them off.

Native Americans are said to have used rancid bear grease. At Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau tried a concoction of camphor, turpentine and oil of spearmint. (He eventually decided the smell was worse than the itch.) Marines have extolled the virtues of Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil.

The trouble is, most of these folk remedies have not been proven effective. One indisputably effective repellent was originally developed for the military.

Pros & Cons of DEET:

DEET is unrivaled in its ability to keep mosquitoes from biting. But there are concerns about toxicity, especially for young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using insect repellents with more than 10 percent DEET on little children. There have been a few reports of headaches, behavioral changes, disorientation and seizures.

What About Thiamine?

Another approach to repelling mosquitoes is to take 100 mg of vitamin B-1 (thiamine). The original research on this was done in the 1940s and doesn’t meet today’s standards. But we recently heard from a reader who found it very effective:

“Twenty years ago, my husband and I went backpacking in the High Sierras with three friends. It was an extremely wet year with a lot of snow melting.

“On the east side, we had many good places to camp. But on the west side, there wasn’t a dry spot to be found. Where there wasn’t snow, there were soggy marshes, ponds, and swollen streams. It was mosquito heaven!

“Anticipating such conditions, my husband and I began taking a daily vitamin B-1 supplement two weeks before the trip. No one else in our group believed in this advice, and they all stuck with conventional insect repellent.

“Never in my life (and I grew up in New Jersey) had I seen so many mosquitoes. They hovered in thick black blankets over every square inch of our bodies. They tried to enter every available orifice, making it unpleasant to eat, drink water, or go to the bathroom. It was so horrible that after two days on that side of the mountain, we gave up and retreated to the east side.

“My husband and I had only seven mosquito bites between us after those two nightmarish days. Our three friends, however, were literally covered with bites. One woman had more than 50 bites on a small section of her shoulder. There was a solid row of bites along the part of her hair. Each of the three was similarly blanketed with bites. The evidence I’ve provided is purely anecdotal, not scientific, but it was enough to prove to me the value of vitamin B-1 for keeping mosquitoes from thinking you’re a good target.”

The theory is that oral doses of vitamin B-1 create a smell at the level of the skin that mosquitoes don’t like. But some people report that what once worked well is less effective against some species of mosquito. Personal body chemistry may also have something to do with effectiveness.

Garlic capsules also have their enthusiasts, but the odor might discourage people as much as mosquitoes.

Better Options Now:

Companies have now come up with newer repellents that work as well as DEET, but are derived from natural products or synthesized to mimic natural compounds. Both picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus have proven helpful. According to Consumer Reports, side effects are less worrisome than those associated with DEET. Picaridin is a more appropriate choice for children. Be sure to keep all insect repellents out of the eyes, and use them only on clothing or exposed skin, never on skin under clothing.


Home-made insect repellent can be put together using 1 tablespoon citronella oil, 2 cups white vinegar, 1 cup water and 1 cup Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil.

A product called Bite Blocker contains soybean, coconut and geranium oils. In a Canadian study, Bite Blocker repelled mosquitoes better than citronella and a brand with a low concentration of the effective chemical repellent DEET.

No insect repellent, even DEET, is one hundred percent effective. To relieve itching, a prescription-strength steroid cream may work, but applying hot water (uncomfortable, but not scalding) for a few seconds relieves itching for an hour or more.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    I know that colloidal silver gel can be applied to insect bites to stop itching; it works within 4 seconds.

    My English husband says I’ll smell like a Marmite pot. Hmmm, I read about garlic fending them off, but also humans, so, is it really my choice to be bitten or small like Marmite?

    Perfect and safe way to treat mosquito bites – just rub stick deodorant over them. Works like a charm, itching gone in minutes.

    I am a gardener and have always been a mosquito magnet. Read about B1 and have been taking it for several days. Just went outside 6 pm and not one bite! Usually they are all over me! Plus, we have had rain for several days which makes them worse here in the South. I will continue to take B1 until cold weather!

    What dosage of B1 did you take? We have terrible mosquitoes here because our valley tends to be wet. We might all try the B1 come warm weather.

    Hope my tips will be helpful – these measures help me to protect myself from mosquito bites. I don’t like DEET repellents and my main “weapon” against mosquitoes is Repel Lemon Eucalyptus. It’s great for me because It’s possible to apply it even on my sensitive skin and don’t worry about negative effects. Also I don’t dress dark or bright clothes (it attracts biting insects) when we go to the forest with my friends. Also I don’t use sweet perfume in the peak of mosquito season (all my favorite fragrances are sweet… but I’m ready to do anything in order not to be bitten!)

    I am an avid gardener which means I do not have the good sense to go inside when the mosquitoes start biting. One such evening, I got multiple bites on the back fatty part of my upper arms. Like covered. When I did go inside I slathered tea tree oil on the areas where I had gotten bit. There was immediate relief but the itchy feeling started coming back after I bathed, so I again dosed my upper arms with tea tree oil. That did it! No more red itchy arms!

    I noticed years ago that taking daily garlic supplements or fresh herb made the mosquitoes totally uninterested in me. WARNING: it may make other humans uninterested in you as well. … I am now experimenting with my own dried, aged garlic which is far less odiferous, but since we have no mosquitoes yet, it’s too early to tell. In any case, the benefits of fresh garlic are so many and so outstanding — and the fresh form is so cheap — that I take it every day regardless of its aroma!

    There are doubtless other natural remedies besides garlic or the ones discussed in the article above. I remember going on a camping trip 12 years ago during a period where I was eating raw vegan. Except for small seasoning quantities, I was using no garlic at the time. However, *something* in my diet totally repelled mosquitoes. The first night and first day of that camping trip, I was able to maintain my diet via vegan snacks I’d brought. When outdoors on the trail, I noticed that every one but me was constantly slapping at mosquitoes and scratching at bites. They marveled at why the bugs were avoiding me. I shrugged and said “I guess I smell bad to them.”

    THEN that night came the campfire where I broke down and had ONE hot dog. And then, the skeeters came after me like there was no tomorrow. That night and the remaining day of the camping trip, I was getting bit and swatting at mosquitos like everybody else.

    So, it’s easy to conclude, there was something in my plant-based diet that repelled them OR something about the meat that attracted them — or both.

    For Mosquito bites used baking soda, make it into a paste and rub it over the bite for a minute or two, stops itching and takes down the swelling. A nurse used this on me in college.

    I lived in the country for 30+ years. People around me suffered with yellow fly bites, red bug (chigger) bites, mosquito bites, etc. They didn’t “get” why I never got bit. When warm weather approached I up my B-1 supplement! Worked great!

    I live in Dallas & have numerous mosquitos. What is safe repellant for 4yr old who loves Grandaddy’s garden? I use deet but prefer not to spray her so often. Any suggestions beyond website comments above?

    Never mind those mosquitoes, in the southern central plains it is ticks that are the problem. I have already had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and never want to be that sick again. But I seem to be a tick magnet.
    Is there something I can change about the way I eat? Don’t want to use Deet or anything like it. Would garlic help? Cider vinegar? We eat almost no processed food, have our own free range chickens, goat milk from neighbors, so we already eat healthier than most Americans. Rather than concentrating on how to safely remove ticks I want to become unattractive to them.

    I read many years ago that B vitamins repel bug bites. Not just mosquitos but all bugs that bite. We have what is called noseeums here in my part of Georgia. I’ve been taking B complex for years and I can sit outside without being bitten and everyone around me is getting bites.

    No, fat soluble vitamins cannot dissolve in the blood stream (unlike water soluble vitamins) so must be encased in lipoproteins (transporters of fatty acids, cholesterol – a critical substance for life and health – antioxidants and fat soluble vitamins (these are known as VLDL, LDL, IDL, and HDL). It means that the vitamins cannot be absorbed and utilized without fat. . A, E, D, K2 are all fat soluble vitamins – we fortify skim milk with A, E, and D and they are synthetic vitamins. But that doesn’t make a difference because we can’t use them without the fat that is supposed to be in milk.

    I hate mosquitoes. For the past 25 years, I have been tormented by these [evil] blood sucking-stalkers. Unfortunately, I am highly allergic to their bite, specifically the saliva. My skin swells up to unnatural proportions with itching so intense it was unbearable. I’d wished I could have the bite area surgically removed to stop the itching. Nothing helped, including antihistamines, & every home folk remedy known. I’d scour the internet daily to find/try anything that might work. Finally, about 3 years, I found it! Someone had traveled in Thailand. A pharmacy team in Bangkok prescribed THE best preventative [healthy] remedy.
    *Vitamin B1* 400mg daily, not anything less! I take 2x 250mg tabs daily.
    B vitamins are water soluble [like C] so you needn’t worry about excess. Your body needs B1, and it will naturally eliminate all excess in your urine. No more potions, mixing, slathering, garlic smell or dryer sheets. This works!! The odd bite I did get didn’t have the histamine reaction in my body. No swelling and barely an itch. I thank God. Hope this helps!

    I have never used listerine as a repellant but strongly recommend it to stop the itch. Mosquitos think of me as
    “Thanksgiving dinner”

    I always took B-1 as a kid and found it was helpful. Trying it again am adult.

    I have lemon balm growing around my house. I never have insects, flies, etc. I break a leaf and rub on hands etc while gardening and never get bit. I even break some leaves and put it my rain barrel.
    A fellow that sprays for ticks said that there is lemon balm in their sprays.
    Watch out…lemon balm seeds spread.

    This goes back quite a few years. My wife and I took a year around the world in ’80-’81, 7 months in north Africa and Asia. The People’s Pharmacy was our bible and served us well. Until we got to the Philippines.
    Because of the malaria on one of the islands we intended to visit we went to a doctor in Manilla and received the dosage of B-12 recommended in the book for one week’s use. The doctor said the daily dosage we asked for was definitely not recommended. He was concerned about the side-effects.
    Well, to cut the story short- we sure found out why the mosquitoes didn’t bite. We both literally started stinking real bad. And, it wasn’t perfect. We got a few bites every day or so. I don’t know which bothered us the most. And for about 10 years after that the smell would come back every so often for a few days for unknown reasons.
    This convinced me that contrary to popular belief- you can overdose on a vitamin. In all my years in the Canadian bush- I swear by deet.

    I used to get covered with bites whenever we went camping. A friend told me to drink 2 tsp. of apple cider vinegar in a cup of hot water daily. I start a week before we leave and while camping. I have used this remedy for years and mosquitos now leave me alone.

    P. S. I agree that wearing scents of any kind will encourage the bugs. And perspiration! If you’re sweating a lot (like on a hike), always take time to wash the sweat off when you pass a creek. Thanks.

    I have always taken B Complex (100’s), and garlic too, every day. And I’ve never been much bothered by biting insects. While friends get several bites in a certain time frame, I’ll get none, or maybe one — and I rarely use repellant! Likewise, if my cats get a few fleas, the only way I find out is by seeing a flea on one of the cats. Never have I been bitten by a flea, although my cats often have a few and they always sleep with me. I firmly believe in the power of B-complex and garlic!

    almost all of the b vitamins are water-soluble; what you don’t need is excreted. the exception is b-12 it has a tendency to be fat-soluble & is stored in the liver. taking a daily multiple b (b-25 to b-100) shouldn’t be a problem
    hope this helps you. claudia
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Another exception is vitamin B6: it can be toxic at high doses, and we don’t recommend taking more than 100 mg per day.

    We stop eating bananas during mosquito season. It helps a lot. Will use the excellent suggestions made here as well. What a great collection of remedies.

    There are several natural repellants avail. One is White Mountain that is great for black flies and horseflies. It has a combination of essential oils and effective alternatives to DEET based prod. If one wants to have the convenience of an already compounded natural prod. I have used these w/ good success. A newer prod. is on the market named Thermacell, if I am not mistaken that creates a change in the air temperature near the body that repels the offending insects by disorienting their sense of chemoception. Enjoy your time in the great outdoors!

    I’ve been using B-12 successfully for over 50 years to protect against bug bites. Mosquitoes, horse flies, chiggers (red bugs), ticks, etc. I was raised in the country and while the kids I went to school with had horrible bug bites, I never had any. I ran through the woods and swamp a lot, so I know I was exposed. I was in my teens (mid ’60’s or so) when we worked that out. The rest of my family followed with the same results. I’d like to recommend an amount, but as kids we didn’t care, probably fairly high because most of my associates that did that had to take a lot.

    I am very sensitive to all kinds of insect bites — mosquitoes, fire ants, chiggers, etc. After I get an insect bite, I apply castor oil to the bite. It relieves the itching and shortens the amount of time before the bite goes away.

    have heard Listerine will kill & repel mosquitos…haven’t tried myself…have used the smoldering coils mentioned above with success

    Thanks for that idea! I ordered coconut milk to drink but found it is pretty high in carbs and I am “low carb” in my food intake. The expiration date is looming so I will try using it for a mosquito repellant!

    Brewers Yeast is the cheapest.If you like a lotion, Johnson’s Baby oil or lotion.
    Works for all flying insects. Plain old listerine in a spray bottle bug proofs your patio or porch.
    Garlic does work but only if you are Italian.

    If you read more CAREFULLY, it said “I take one B1 -100mg!!!!!!Paleeeze, read it again!!!

    I’m from Minnesota, where the mosquitos are relentless.I was chewed up every summer. About 30 years ago someone told me about B vitamins for keeping them away. I’ve been taking ample B complex supplements ever since, and have seldom had a bite, or even a mosquito hovering around me. As far as I’m concerned, it works! I take a good complete B complex, though, because I think that B vitamins are interdependent.

    I’m going to share ALL of this information with my daughter, who tends toward being bitten more so than the rest of us in the family. However, some vitamins are toxic taken at higher doses and fat soluble, meaning they start becoming stored in body fat vs. water soluble (like vitamin C) which is excreted when there is an excess. Which is vitamin B-1, and would someone have a problem taking it long term at that dosage if they live in a warmer climate like Florida?

    I was homeless for a short while and lived in the woods at the height of summer. I used a dryer fabric sheet, hung from my pocket and never received 1 bite…I also hung them around my campsite and the results were the same…no bugs!

    Mosquitos have always loved me. But for many years I have used Vitamin B1 and Pantothentic Acid (100mg each) pills in anticipation of being in mosquito areas. Before going to the southern part of the United States in the summer few years ago I also used Bounce sheets and didn’t eat bananas. Worked for my husband and myself fabulously! I start the pills several weeks before traveling.

    We have always burned mosquito coils when we sit outside, and the mosquitos stay away without our having to apply anything topical. These are inexpensive and are available from our local hardware store (also at Amazon). They are slow burning and give off a pleasant odor similar to wood burning (i.e., no harsh chemical odor). We generally use one coil burning for every two people.
    My 75-year-old father remembers these from when he was growing up in Argentina and swears by them.

    I started using coconut milk on my skin thinking it might help my skin from a lot of sun exposure from yard work and gardening. The “side effect” was that after a short while I noticed that the mosquitoes were not biting me, nor the ticks, which was remarkable considering the prior problems I was having with them. My neighbor says it doesn’t help her, not sure why. But I do make sure I slather it on well and it won’t last all day. Since I’ve had two tick borne illnesses, I’m pretty happy with the results. Hope this helps others.

    How much B1 do you take for it to be effective? The B-complex I take daily has 100 mg. I don’t get as many bites as I once did, nor do they bother me as much as they used to. Would MORE B1 help even more? 100 mg seems like a lot.

    I am a member of Holborn Herb Growers Guild in Youngstown,Ohio and we use 5 drops of Essential oil (LAVENDER) to a 12 oz hand spray bottle filled with water. Use as needed. Better than spraying poison on you or your kids.
    We use in the evenings working in our gardens and have had no problems. So far no flying insects have bothered us.

    My daughter made me an herbal insect repellant that I found very effective. It doesn’t work for everyone but it does for me. It’s
    3 ounces distilled water
    1 ounce almond oil
    10 drops peppermint oil
    10 drops lavender oil
    Shake before spraying on skin.
    I have used a commercially prepared herbal insect repellant with different ingredients and developed a rash but this one causes no problems and it works.
    I have also found the Burt’s Bees 100% natural Outdoor Bug Bite Relief stick to be very effective against bites. Applied after bitten, it takes the itch away quickly and even the bite will disappear within the hour, especially if it’s applied soon after bitten. I usually need only one application.

    I know mosquitos like body heat. Anyway they like heat. I left my warm laptop on a picnic table for a while and when I got back mosquitos were all over it and more were hovering. Knowing that has not helped in repelling them though.

    This works great for me–I take what are called “odorless” garlic gels every day to help my circulation (instead of aspirin) and mosquitoes stay away while biting everyone else! There is no odor with these gels, so it’s just another benefit of garlic that I didn’t plan on.

    I have used “the dirt doctor”(Howard Garrett’s formula for mosquito repellant for years with great success:
    8 oz water
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    1 tsp. orange oil
    Spray on liberally. this give me about 6 hrs protection.

    I have found that using unscented shampoos and deoderants makesa difference when I am out. It isn’t just lotions or mild scents. And when in really infested woods, wearing head and body nets made of mosquito netting helps too. I have also noticed that a new person to an area with mosquitoes is often attacked more than those of us who are there all the time.
    Dear kaf,
    Thanks so much for your observation!
    Anyone who would like an unscented deodorant may find our MoM (Milk of Magnesia) unscented deodorant helpful.
    Anyone who orders 3 or more gets a 15% discount with the discount code mom15.
    PS…we are sending you a few bottles for being such a loyal People’s Pharmacy contributor!

    A neighbor who flyfishes alot here in Wisconsin insists that plain ol’ (real) vanilla extract is the cat’s meow. Haven’t tried it myself yet.

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^