Natural Insect Repellents Safe for Children (and Frugal Too!)

by Reader Contributors

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If you’re concerned about the dangers of chemicals when it comes to your family, try these solutions from our frugal readers for natural insect repellents that are safe for children.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
Does anyone have any ideas and information about natural or organic insect repellents, especially something that would be safe for children? Many commercial repellents contain potentially harmful chemicals, not too mention they are expensive when you use as much as we do. Thanks for any safe, frugal suggestions!

Andrea H

Suggestions for Natural Insect Repellents Safe for Children?

We sent this question out to our frugal readers. Read on for their helpful recommendations that can keep your kids safe and bug-bite free while keeping more money in your wallet.

Try Cedar Oil for Kids and Pets

Try a cedar oil spray. I get it at PetSmart and use it on the dogs, cats and kids. It may seem a bit pricey but one bottle lasts for awhile. There may be another source for it among herbal shops, natural food stores, etc. One tip for anyone using it for fleas – it’s a REPELLANT and works best if used before you see any fleas.
Cindy of Newbury, OH

Rubbing Alcohol Is a Safe, Cheap Solution

I found out many years ago, when I was a young teenager, that just splashing plain rubbing alcohol on me and allowing it to dry would deter mosquitoes from biting me. I am allergic to mosquito bites and develop huge welts everywhere they bite me. With the alcohol, they never bit me.

And once it dries, it leaves a pleasant odor on the skin, not repugnant at all.
Linda from Tennessee

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Consider Using Vaporub

This is going to floor you, but one of the best insect repellents I have found and I am in the woods every day, is Vick’s Vaporub. I rub it on my pants and legs to ward off ticks. If you can tolerate the smell, it’s pretty good.

Marigolds in the Yard

There are several things to do when trying to protect yourself and kids from those nasty bugs in the yard during the summer.

One thing to do is plant marigolds around the yard. The flowers give off a smell that bugs do not like, so plant some in the garden also to help ward off bugs without using insecticides.

Try putting a Bounce dryer sheet on your belt or in your sock, the sheet will mask your smell and ward off the bugs.

Marine’s Choice

I don’t know how “organic” you want to go, or if it’s just DEET you’re trying to avoid. But here in Jacksonville, NC, home of Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, our “tough guy” Marines who spend a great deal of time “camping out” say that the very best mosquito repellant you can use is Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil mixed about half and half with alcohol.

I’ve tried it, and I have to admit it works just as well if not better than the commercial sprays. Actually, I seen Avon’s own Skin-So-Soft insect repellant. I’m assuming it’s made about the same way, but it may turn out to be less expensive in the long run to mix your own.

An added plus is that it smells great too.
Carol D.

A Homemade Recipe

20 drops Eucalyptus oil
20 drops Cedarwood oil
10 drops Tea Tree oil
10 drops Geranium oil
2 oz. carrier oil ( such as Jojoba )

Mix together in a 4 oz. container. Apply to skin as needed avoiding the eye area. Keep out of reach of children. Test on a small area of skin for sensitivities . Experiment with different percentages of essential oil.

Vanilla Keeps Insects Away

One of the best natural insect repellants that I’ve discovered is made from the clear real vanilla (not the grocery store vanilla extract which is mostly alcohol). This is the pure vanilla that is sold in Mexico. It’s cheap there if you know of someone who lives there or in the US close to the border. If not, health food stores usually carry it or can order it for you.

I use half vanilla and half water and find that it works great for mosquitoes and ticks, don’t know about other insects. It’s nice that you don’t smell like a chemical plant but a cookie! I cannot use chemical insecticides, so I love the way this works and I hope you and your kids will also.

Use Moth Balls

This is not natural but if you put out moth balls in the yard where children can’t find them, they are great for mosquitoes. Or make a mixture of 1 part baby powder, 1 part flower of sulfur (found at drug stores), 1 part cornstarch. Mix in a resealable bag and sprinkle on the ground. Repels most bugs.
Rose M

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A Catnip Concoction to Keep Insects at Bay

Make your own by filling a quart jar with some herbs from the mint family like catnip, spearmint, pennyroyal and then cover with apple cider vinegar. Shake twice a day for two weeks. Strain and either rub on or spray on.

Lavender Oil

I just read about a pleasant solution, though, that worked for me last weekend in the mountains (lots of biting bugs, but they pretty much left me alone.)

Use lavender oil, and dab it on your pulse points (I used it on my wrists, behind my ears, temples, behind my knees, and on my ankles). Smells wonderful, but apparently the insects don’t think so.

Bug-Proof Your Yard

There are many insect repellents that contain “pyrethrum,” which is actually a natural extract of the marigold plant. It is very safe for use around children and pets, but it is quite expensive.

You may also want to regularly spray your plants and grass with a soap and water solution. This will have 3 effects: 1) it will dehydrate most bugs and kill them without chemicals, 2) it will help to keep your grass and plants clean of pollution and make them healthier and 3) it will soften your soil which mean you won’t have to water as much. Use a hose-end sprayer filled with 1 cup of any cheap dishwashing soap for your grass or 1 tablespoon of soap in a hand-held sprayer for your plants.
Glenn P.

Reviewed June 2023

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