Which Natural Mosquito Repellent Works Best?

A number of essential oils can be used as natural insect repellents and help you avoid those pesky and potentially dangerous mosquito bites. These can make good alternatives to the popular sprays that contain synthetic and toxic chemicals, like DEET. Plus, they almost always smell better.

Geranium essential oils in bottles
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From lemon eucalyptus oil to clove oil, you do have some options, though some have been found to be more effective than others. Quite often, products that contain these oils need to be applied often—at least once every hour.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus has been found to be the most effective natural mosquito repellent. A 2016 study found that the efficacy of this particular oil falls third in line, behind DEET and picaridin. It is the only natural repellent that is registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for effectiveness and human safety.

Note: Oil of lemon eucalyptus and lemon eucalyptus oil are not the same thing. They come from different plants and lemon eucalyptus oil has far less of the ingredient that repels mosquitoes, which is called PMD. Make sure any product you use as a repellent contains oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Mosquito repellents that contain this combination of essential oils, such as Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, have been found to be as effective as the top chemical products.

Early studies concluded that the Repel product provided 120 minutes of protection from mosquitoes.

The one problem that some people have with these products is the odor. However, the fresh smell of lemon and eucalyptus is probably not as obtrusive as many non-natural repellents.

Rose Geranium Oil

Geranium oil is not included in the EPA's registered repellent ingredients, so it is not included in their studies for effectiveness. However, it is one of the more common essential oils in natural repellents.

One of the best-known brands to use geranium is Bite Blocker. The studies on this organic repellent vary greatly in effectiveness, from just over one hour to as much as seven hours. It's thought that the combination of rose geranium oil and coconut oil contributes to its success, though neither one alone is as effective as DEET.


Citronella is a well-known natural mosquito repellent. The oils from the plant are used to make lotions, sprays, and candles.

In some studies, citronella-based repellents have been found to be as effective as DEET. The main problem with this old standby is that it can evaporate within two hours, depending on the formula. Newer findings have discovered that combining it with vanillin can slow down the evaporation.

Those citronella candles, which people have long used on patios and when camping, aren't as effective as skin applications. Candles, which offer continuous evaporation of the oil, have been shown to reduce mosquitos by just 50%.

Other Natural Mosquito Repellents

Other natural ingredients are being explored, however, scientific support for the claim that they can effectively repel mosquitoes is limited.

Patchouli Oil

Concentrated patchouli is one of the most effective essential oils. According to one Chinese study, it can offer complete protection for two hours. Many people will agree that it has a very potent aroma, which is why some people have an aversion to it. There are no noted hazards in applying it to your skin. Nonetheless, it's best to use a carrier oil with any essential oil.

Thyme Oil

Carvacrol and alpha-terpinene, two compounds derived from the essential oil of thyme, have been found to have significant repellency characteristics. Certain concentrations are more effective against particular mosquito species, but most topical applications offer at least 89% efficacy for about an hour. Thyme oil must be diluted because it can cause skin irritation. One study found that burning thyme leaves offers 85% protection for at least an hour.

Clove Oil

Studies have found that undiluted topical clove oil is active against mosquitoes. The studies concluded that it's effective for nearly four hours. However, like thyme oil, clove oil should not be applied undiluted to skin as it can be absorbed and result in adverse effects.

Peppermint Oil

Numerous studies have found peppermint oil to be very effective as well. The undiluted essential oil was shown to be an effective repellent for 45 minutes. No skin irritations were noted for peppermint. 

Cedar Oil

Cedar is part of the Pinaceae family which includes other pine trees. These have long been used as insect repellents. The essential oil of cedar has also been shown to be among the most effective oils. However, there are allergy concerns for some people.

Neem Oil

An extract from the tropical neem tree, neem oil has insecticidal compounds called azadirachtins. A 2% concentration of neem oil has been shown to be 56% effective for up to four hours.


When rubbed on the skin, garlic oil appears to be effective protection against mosquitoes. It's a common belief that eating garlic can repel mosquitoes as well, but research hasn't confirmed this.

A Word From Verywell

Before you use any natural mosquito repellent, it is wise to talk to your healthcare provider to discuss your options. As mentioned, some of the oils may cause irritation or allergic reactions in some people. Just because they're "natural" doesn't mean you can just use them without proper knowledge and advice.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best natural mosquito repellent?

    Oil of lemon eucalyptus is the most potent natural mosquito repellent. A DEET-free alternative to commercial mosquito repellent, oil of lemon eucalyptus is the only natural insect repellent recommended by both the EPA and CDC. 

    In fact, in one study that measured the effectiveness of different mosquito repellents, oil of lemon eucalyptus ranked third after DEET and picaridin.

  • What incense keeps mosquitoes away?

    Incense sticks, cones, and coils marketed as mosquito repellents typically contain citronella as the main ingredients. Other active ingredients may include lemongrass, rosemary, peppermint, cedarwood, lavender, or geranium. 

    The smoke from burning incense may also serve as a deterrent to mosquitoes and other insects.

  • What essential oils repel mosquitoes?

    Essential oils that may repel mosquitos include lavender, rose geranium, citronella, patchouli, thyme, clove, peppermint, cedar, neem, and garlic. 

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. West Nile Virus: Prevention.

  3. Consumer Reports. Do 'Natural' Insect Repellents Work?

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  6. Nentwig G, Frohberger S, Sonneck R. Evaluation of Clove Oil, Icaridin, and Transfluthrin for Spatial Repellent Effects in Three Tests Systems Against the Aedes aegypti (Diptera: Culicidae). J Med Entomol. 2017;54(1):150–158. doi:10.1093/jme/tjw129

  7. Lalthazuali, Mathew N. Mosquito repellent activity of volatile oils from selected aromatic plants. Parasitol Res. 2017;116(2):821–825. doi:10.1007/s00436-016-5351-4

  8. Pohlit AM, Lopes NP, Gama RA, Tadei WP, Neto VF. Patent literature on mosquito repellent inventions which contain plant essential oils--a review. Planta Med. 2011;77(6):598–617. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1270723

  9. Muturi EJ, Ramirez JL, Zilkowski B, Flor-Weiler LB, Rooney AP. Ovicidal and Larvicidal Effects of Garlic and Asafoetida Essential Oils Against West Nile Virus Vectors. J Insect Sci. 2018;18(2):43. doi:10.1093/jisesa/iey036

Additional Reading

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.