Summer—the sun, the surf, the sand and…the BUGS.
Nothing turns a fun summer day into a downer like an attack by a swarm of mosquitoes, a painful bee sting, a latched-on tick, or a bite by some other creepy-crawly.
Unfortunately, it’s a pretty natural part of summer. No one wants to stay indoors and miss out on the fun or show up at the beach in a full body suit (and mosquitoes are surprisingly good at going right THROUGH clothes, anyway)!
The thought of all those bug bites or of seeing our kid completely miserable as they scratch and scratch can be enough to make anyone reach for the DEET.
Of course we all want to do whatever we can to protect ourselves and our kids from pests, bites and stings…but the thought of spraying chemical-laden bug spray all over a little ones can make many of us cringe. Plus, with super-sensitive younger skin, many kids get rashes and have reactions to the chemicals, scents and contents of bug spray.
A few years ago, I came up with an all-natural bug spray formula for my youngest. For some reason, bugs just love her, so she seems to get the brunt of the attacks, poor thing. It doesn’t work quite like the killer DEET stuff, but it’s definitely less harsh and easier on sensitive skin like hers.
In addition to the spray, we’ve tried other methods too, and I’m here to say, don’t lose hope—there are plenty of options to help you and your family enjoy the yard, the beach, and even the woods without coming home itchy and in pain.
Here are the best natural ways to keep bugs at bay…
When it comes to keeping bugs away, avoidance and prevention will go much further than simply lathering on bug spray. Some people emit more CO2 (what we all exhale) which seems to draw bugs, particularly mosquitoes in. Now obviously we can’t go around holding our breath, but it does help to know that no, it’s not in your imagination—some people are just more attractive to bugs.
Fortunately, there are many steps to take to make both our bodies and our homes less attractive to pesky creatures.
Know Your Bugs by Environment
One of the best ways to avoid bugs is to first avoid the environments that attract them. Additionally, when you know what bugs you’ll be dealing with in certain environments, you’ll be better prepared to defend yourself.
Mosquitoes are drawn to standing water. Make the yard as uninviting as possible by emptying all birdbaths and ponds, and cutting back brush and overgrowth. They prefer shade, so stay in the dry sunshine as much as possible. Mosquitoes also hate wind, so keeping a small fan on a lawn chair, stroller, or near a play spot can keep kids from being bothered by these little blood-thirsty pests. Candles, incense and smoke are rumored to have some repellent properties—particularly citronella-scented ones—but the reviews are mixed.
Ticks are one of the most frightening bugs because they carry diseases like Lyme and Babesiosis, which can be deadly. Ticks love wooded areas and brush. The good news is they don’t jump and can only be transferred. Treat pets with a flea & tick treatment as recommended by the vet. Avoid overgrown paths and heavily wooded areas, as well as piles of leaves and branches. Clear the yard of any debris and keep grass short and trimmed. When you leave a wooded area, always check yourself and the kids for ticks. They can sneak under clothing, so check covered areas and under everyone’s hair as well.
Bees & Wasps are helpers, but with allergies they can also be deadly. Teach kids to identify bee attractors like food, sweet items, and scents. Bees love flowers so keep playtime to the grass and playground. They also like to drink from standing water, so move any birdbaths and keep kiddie pools drained. Lastly, teach kids what wasp’s nests and beehives look like so they can avoid disturbing them. Bees often won’t sting unless they’re provoked.
Spiders can bite and be very dangerous in certain varieties but most are harmless and won’t bite at all. In fact, they get a bad reputation for the most part—they often eat other annoying bugs like flies and mosquitoes. Teach kids to not disturb spiders if they find them. Set up a fan to keep them away and stay in sunny areas.
Ants, Flies, Mites, & Sand Fleas aren’t deadly, but some varieties of ants sting, and bites from sand fleas, flies and mites can be very annoying if not downright painful. In general, always check areas before sitting down and put a blanket or towel down on the ground. Keep ants out of the house by wiping down cupboards with vinegar and making sure containers are tightly sealed and no food crumbs are left around. (This will also keep away cockroaches.) Watch around foundations for any cracks and areas where bugs can enter. Keep screens in the windows to keep flies out and never leave out spoiled fruit or trash.
Wear the Right Clothes
When it comes to clothing, dress in light colors. Mosquitoes and bees seem less drawn to white, and ticks show up well against light-colored clothes. Bring light-colored towels to the beach and avoid floral patterns, which really do attract bees.
On a hike, tuck pants into socks and wear tighter clothing, which is more difficult for bugs to penetrate. Look for clothing with synthetic or tightly woven fibers (like sportswear and compression clothing).
Watch for Signs & Treat
Most of us know the telltale signs of mosquito bites (red, itchy bumps). But it can also be helpful to know what other bug bites and stings look like and also how to identify poisonous spiders, such as black widows and brown recluses. Always research poisonous bugs in the areas you frequent so you can identify them and know how to treat bites. For bites that swell quickly or reactions to stings, get emergency attention right away, especially if an allergy is suspected. Tick bites present with a red bulls-eye rash—a sign it’s time to get to the doctor to be treated for Lyme.
Removing a tick should be done with tweezers, as close to the head as possible. Check to be sure all of the head is removed and then go to a doctor for follow-up. Ticks often bite lower legs and in the groin region (so watch for tick bites when you bathe kids or shower).
For other bug bites and stings, clean with witch hazel and soothe with some lavender oil or balm to help alleviate the stinging and itchiness. Aloe can also be soothing, as well as ice. Try freezing chunks of aloe or aloe juice and letting itchy little ones hold the cube on their bite to soothe it.
Avoid Peak Times
Most bugs are active at sunrise, sundown, and in the shade. Stay in the sunshine to keep bugs at bay. When on the water, stay away from swampy or murky areas, as well as areas with a lot of plant growth, where bugs tend to swarm.
Bugs don’t enjoy the wind, so if there’s a breeze, it can be a great chance to get outdoors. Sit in areas with a little cross-breeze and even bring along a portable fan when attending sporting events and other outdoor activities.
Plant Plants that Repel Bugs
Incorporate bug-repellant plants into landscaping. Many bug-repelling plants make fantastic border plants and some even have great color. A row of marigolds, for example, looks great and keeps a barrier between the yard and the flowerbed where bugs might be more prevalent.
Don’t limit bug-repellant plants to just the herb garden or flower borders. Many make great pots for the porch and around the yard. Keep them planted interspersed with other plants to ensure your yard looks and smells great and keep bugs away.
If you’re trying to repel mosquitoes and other annoying insects from your home or garden, keeping the following common and easy-to-care-for herbs and plants around can help your efforts. The scents and essential oils in these plants help naturally repel insects.
Basil is not only a fantastic herb to cook with but basil helps repel houseflies and mosquitoes. They can also be planted in tandem with tomatoes to help keep tomato-eating pests at bay.
Mint is an herb that most people LOVE and most bugs can’t stand! So it’s a win-win all around. Mint IS prolific, however, and it will take over the garden, so try it in a few pots first (which can be moved around to keep bugs off the patio or away from the porch too).
Rosemary can conveniently be planted in many different ways—in containers on your patio or window-box herb garden, in landscaping beds, and in larger herb gardens. Rosemary repels mosquitoes and other insects that are harmful to vegetable plants, so it’s effective when planted in your vegetable garden as well!
Lavender has a scent which most people love and find has calming effects. Flies, mosquitoes, and other insects hate it. You can even keep bunches of dried or fresh lavender around your home to keep pesky insects outdoors.
Lemon Balm is yet another herb that bugs tend to avoid. This herb smells great and can be dried and hung to keep bugs away as well.
Plants & Flowers
Citronella is probably the most common plant used in mosquito repellent and bug spray. It has a strong scent and a beautiful green leaf that can look great in some baskets. Surround it with marigolds or add geraniums and keep it right on the patio table or porch.
Marigolds are easy to grow and keep bugs away from other plants AND from family members. These have a cute, bright pop of color and some varieties are even edible.
Geraniums, another easy-to-grow favorite, can be put in baskets or flowerbeds to add a little height. Most geraniums get to be 10-12 inches tall, so these aren’t border plants, but still add great color to the garden. They love sun and bugs don’t like them at all.
Chrysanthemums are beautiful flowers that repel a host of different insects from invading your yard including roaches, ticks, beetles, and mosquitoes.
Repel Bugs Naturally
There are some natural options for bug repellent out there, and many of them work to various effect.
Try mixing a ½ cup witch hazel to a ½ cup water in a small spray bottle, you could also add several drops of your favorite essential oils for fragrance. ( I like the smell of Rosemary, Citronella, Lavender, & Peppermint in this spray). Adding a few drops to lotion or carrier oil and massaging into skin can also help keep bugs at bay.
There are also many natural products on the market that contain all-natural repellents and come in balms, sprays and lotions. Citronella-scented bracelets may have some effect (although the reviews are mixed).
If you’re going into the woods or camping out, use a heavier duty product like Deep Woods Off, which does contain DEET and other chemicals, but it’s also very effective. Weigh your options and take all other precautions as well. Then use chemical sprays very sparingly and apply only to clothing rather than directly to the skin.
By trying these natural bug-repelling options, we can all have a summer that’s free of bites, stings and itchiness. Plan ahead and take every precaution possible so you and your family can enjoy as much summer fun in the sun as possible without worry!