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Safe Bug Repellent Cheat Sheet

Last updated on July 4th, 2022 at 10:52 am

The Safe Bug Repellents Cheat Sheet has been requested a zillion times and it’s finally here! We will show you how to make those nasty mosquitos and other biting insects stay away without applying harmful chemicals to your body.

In this Cheat Sheet we will cover:

Why do Mosquitoes and other Insects Bite?

Biting insects are attracted to the scent of carbon dioxide gas to find food… in this case, your blood. Your skin and breath naturally give off carbon dioxide.

It’s easy to understand why biting insects like mosquitos think your skin makes for a tasty meal!

SafeMama Safe Bug Repellent Ingredients Criteria:

Bug repellents including lotion, sprays, and patches have to be free of:

Most insect repellents contain a toxic soup of ingredients.  While they are great at deterring insects you are exposing yourself to unnecessary harmful chemicals.

If the product lists “other ingredients” without specifying what those ingredients are it most likely contains one or more of the yucky chemicals listed above.

Use our Glossary to learn more about the chemicals listed above.

What Is DEET And Why Is It Used In Bug Spray

In fact, DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is a widely used active ingredient in insect repellents. It masks the scent of carbon dioxide (which insects are attracted to), therefore, it keeps bugs away.

DEET can act as an irritant and has been reported to be the cause of seizures, insomnia, mood disturbances, and impaired cognitive function. A brief encounter with DEET might not cause any harm, but long-term exposure may. While the American Academy of Pediatrics still stands by its safety for children over 2 months old. Places like Denmark are an example of countries that have banned DEET in insect repellents. Here in the United States, New York has restricted the sale of products containing more the 30% DEET due to health concerns.

While DEET is extremely effective there are natural alternatives that work just as well to mask carbon dioxide and keep those biting insects away.

The Best Natural Ingredients That Repel Insects

There are many known essential oils that repel bugs. In fact, the Environment Protection Agency lists several of these safer alternatives as their top choices for insect protection. Including lemon eucalyptus oil and citronella oil.

Safe natural bug repellents ingredients include:

SafeMama recommendations for safe bug repellents.

I tried to select all-natural products when possible. I have tested a handful of these products and they do work for general kid and adult use.

Safe Bug Repellent Sprays

  1. Natural Insect Repellent USDA Organic from Bubble & Bee Organic

    Bubble and Bee Insect Repellent contains organic oils that naturally repel bugs, which I have seen work with other products. I trust Bubble & Bee immensely and their passion for safe ingredients trumps all others. I strongly recommend giving this one a try. Stephanie of Bubble & Bee says “Yes! Our Bug Repellent is effective against ticks too.” 100% USDA Certified Organic by UDAF. It is all oils so expect a level of greasiness, but major effectiveness.

    Ingredients: Organic soybean oil (non-GMO), organic geranium essential oil, organic clove essential oil, organic lemongrass essential oil, organic peppermint essential oil, organic rosemary essential oil.

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  2. Kinfield Golden Hour Insect Repellent

    I'm always excited to find products from companies that meet the SafeMama criteria. Kinfields bug spray fits the bill and their products can be found online and at stores like Urban Outfitters.

    Active Ingredients: Citronella Oil (10.00%), Lemongrass Oil (1.00%), Clove Oil (0.01%)

    Inert Ingredients: (88.99%): Isopropyl Alcohol, Lauric Acid, Water, Vanillin

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  3. Brittanie's Thyme Organic Natural Bug Repellent Spray,  Safe for Kids & Pets

    Fig + Sage Says: “I’ve been using this for the past three weeks at all hours of the day (and night) and I’m happy to report that I’ve had absolutely NO BITES!!! You see, for me this is a huge feat as I so look forward to months of sunshine and warmth, yet despise the little blood-suckers that want to feast upon me.” – Thanks for the find!

    Ingredients: Distilled water, Acetic (organic white vinegar), Organic Citric Acid, Sodium Bicarbonite, Eugenia Aromatica (organic clove), Cymbopogon flexuosus (organic lemongrass), Mentha piperita (organic peppermint), Thymus vulgaris (organic thyme), Pelargonium graveolens (organic geranium), Cedrus atlantica (organic cedarwood) essential oils. Gluten-Free/Vegan

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  4. Lusa Organics Insect Repellent  Essential Oil Blend of Lemon Eucalyptus and Cedar

    LuSa Organics is one of my FAVORITE companies. Family-owned and operated, and Rachel (she’s the bee’s knee’s) is the master of all things natural and pure. I am a sucker for their sugar scrubs, lip balms (some of the best lip balm in the universe) and they are known for their amazing Booty Balm and Wipes Juice. So when they came out with a bug repellent, I was happy happy happy. I have one coming in the mail and I’ll update here on it’s effectiveness. I’m sure it’s rad. LuSa Organics tells me they are working to improve the formula even further so I’ll update that here if that happens soon.

    Ingredients: *Aloe vera juice, witch hazel distillate, and essential oils of lemon eucalyptus, cedarwood, citronella and rose geranium.*organic ingredient

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  5. Badger - Anti-Bug Shake & Spray, DEET-Free Natural Bug Spray

    I basically love and approve of all the Badger products and this one is no exception. It’s fragrant like all the others but it works. Can’t say one negative thing about Badger. This one relies on basic repellents like soybean oil, cedar, and citronella to ward off the biters. Sprays on well and lasts for a longer time than some of the musty types of bug sprays.

    Active Ingredients: Organic Soybean Oil, Organic Castor Oil, Organic Citronella Oil, Organic Cedar Oil, Organic Lemongrass Oil, Organic Rosemary Oil, Organic Geranium Oil, Organic Peppermint Oil.

    Inactive Ingredients: Water, Organic Wintergreen Oil.

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  6. Lafe's Baby | Organic Baby Insect Repellent | No Alcohol, Chemical Free & All Natural

    I’ve heard a lot about this one and ordered it for myself to try out. It’s one of the few Certified Organic by USDA. The ingredients lists looks great, I’ll update here with my thoughts on it’s effectiveness when it arrives.

    Ingredients: Deionized Water (Aqua), Saponified Oils*, Geranium (Pelargonium Graveolens) Oil*, Cedarwood (Cedrus Atlantica) Oil*, Lemon (Citrus Limon) Oil*, Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus Globulus) Oil*, Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia) Oil*. *Certified Organic

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  7. All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor Natural Insect Repellent Spray

    I’ve been holding out on you. This is one of my hands-down favorites. Living in the South, mosquitoes are AWFUL. I use this on me and the kids all the time. Effective, stinky.. but effective. I always have this on hand daily. Its a spray lotion too so you can see where you have covered and can rub in to hit spots you missed. Helpful. There is also a Phineas and Ferb version that is a dollar more but I don’t see what’s different about it. The ingredients look the same to me. I like the adult versions of this too. Since there is water in this product you do have to re-apply.

    Active Ingredients: Soybean Oil 11.50% , Citronella Oil 10.00%, Peppermint Oil 2.00%, Cedarwood Oil 1.50%, Lemongrass Oil 1.00%, Geranium Oil 0.05%  Inert Ingredients: (73.95%): Water, Glyceryl Stearate, Beeswax, Glycerin, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid, Xanthan Gum.

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  8. Quantum Health Buzz Away Extreme - DEET-free Insect Repellent

    This stuff I do like, comes in a great spray. It sprays on a little oily. This stuff claims 8 hour protection but my son still got bit wearing it after an hour or so, so I don’t know if 8 hours is an accurate assumption but we’ll go with it. I’d still reapply every few hours to be covered. The towelettes are cool but for $8+ you only get 12. Compared to Bit Blocker Wipes, which is about the same price you get 25. It’s more affordable price-wise but I don’t love this one. Has a really strong scent. However, it does boast to have a 2 hour protection factor from ticks so for those of you seeking something to protect from ticks this might be the one for you.

    Ingredients: Castor Oil (8%), Geranium Oil (6%), Soybean Oil (3%), Cedarwood Oil (1.5%), Citronella Oil (1.0%), Peppermint Oil (0.5%), Lemongrass Oil (0.25%). Inert Ingredients: (79.75% total): Purified Water, Coconut Oil, Glycerin, Lecithin, Sodium Bicarbonate, Citric Acid, Vitamin E, and Wintergreen Oil.

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  9. California Baby Plant-Based Natural Bug Repellant Spray

    This works well and doesn't smell too strong. I prefer the spray, it’s easier than applying lotions. They are both gentle and haven’t caused any reactions. I managed to find this in the store recently and I like it, it sprays a fine mist so you end up spraying a lot and you have to be careful with the kiddies – it stings if it gets in or near their eyes. Doesn’t provide a ton of protection (the spray) because you have to spray so much of it. But might be ok for just short play time and not so much woods or extended outdoor time. Not a huge fan of their customer service.

    Active Ingredients: Citronella, lemongrass, and cedar essential oils, Inactive Ingredients: water, lecithin, soap bark, vegetable glycerin USP

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  10. Babyganics DEET Free Natural Plant Based Insect Repellent

    I’m including this BabyGanics product because it meets my criteria for safety. I have not tried it so I’m not sure of its effectiveness. Also, the main ingredient is soybean oil, which while fine for most might pose a problem for individuals with soy allergies. I want to stress that because I approve one product in a brand line doesn’t mean the whole line meets my approval. I get a lot of questions about BabyGanics products because of their readily available nature. Read the labels in this case. They tend to use chemical ingredients in their products to skirt around the marketing. The “organic” nature of their marketing is a bit deceiving. However, bug spray is pretty easy to formulate without the need for chemical ingredients so this one gets a passing grade.

    Ingredients: Soybean oil, Rosemary oil, Citronella, Geranium oil, Cedarwood oil, Peppermint oil and Lemongrass oils.

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Bug Repellent Balms


  1. Badger Anti-Bug Balm Stick

    I LOVE this bug balm. I never thought a balm would be enough coverage but I found this at my local grocery store and picked it up. The balm in the push-up stick is great and goes on smooth and you can easily cover exposed areas quickly. It works to boot. I really love Badger's commitment to natural and organic ingredients. Do not leave these in warm environments though because they will definitely melt. Has the same citronella smell to it but is not as overpowering as others. Comes in a round tin too. USDA Certified Organic. Badger is always a go-to brand for me.

    Active Ingredients: Organic Castor Oil, Organic Citronella Oil, Organic Cedar Oil, Organic Lemongrass Oil, Organic Rosemary Oil, Organic Geranium Oil.

    Inactive Ingredients: Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Organic Beeswax.

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  2. Murphy's Naturals Mosquito Repellent Balm, Plant Based

    Murphy's Mosquito Balm features two sizes. I keep a tin of this in my glove compartment and its comes in handy on multiple occasions.

    Ingredients: Castor oil (10.5%), Lemongrass Oil (3.25%), Rosemary Oil (3.25%), Cedarwood Oil (2.0%), Peppermint Oil (2.0%).

    Inert Ingredients (79%); Olive Oil and Beeswax

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Insect Repellent Wipes

  1. Quantum Health Buzz Away Extreme Towelettes

    SafeMama Notes: Basically the same insect repellent as their spray, but in a handy towelette. There is, again, benzoic acid present in this formula as well. This brand boasts tick protection for up to 2 hours so these would be great to have on hiking and camping trips or if you live near wooded areas that have a tick population.

    Ingredients: Soybean Oil, Geranium Oil, Castor Oil, Purified Water, Coconut Oil, Glycerin, Citric Acid, Lecithin, Sodium bicarbonate, Citric Acid, benzoic Acid. In a blend of Essential Oils of Wintergreen, Citronella, Cedarwood, Peppermint and Lemongrass. (Patented base HOMS® formula*)

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Wearable Repellents

  1. BugBand Insect Repllent Bands, 4-Count Family Pack

    SafeMama Notes: This wristband is great for kids and can be stored for future use. Geranium is a great natural repellent. People with perfume allergies may have trouble with this one since its about 20% Geraniol. But if you have a perfume allergy you may have problems with any natural repellent since they rely heavily on scents. I still got bit wearing these though – I don’t think it was that effective rally. NOTE: This company makes wipes and a spray as well, but I didn’t include them due to them containing Sodium Laureth Sulfates in the ingredients.

    Ingredients: Geranium Oil, Polypropylene plastic band

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  2. Don't Bite Me! Bug Patch 20 Pack- DEET Free | stjamesnutrition

    Unlike the other repellents, this patch uses Vitamin B1 instead of fragrant oils. B1 when excreted from the skin will mask the scent of carbon dioxide (which is what the bugs are attracted to). By applying the patch to the skin directly, rather than taking a vitamin, there is faster absorption. Like lotions (which is why we are so adamant about safe skincare), things applied to the skin go directly into your bloodstream instead of having to travel the digestive system first. So this will take effect quicker. I am not a huge fan of having something stuck to my or my kids skin (seems like it would be an irritant) but the materials.

    The patch itself is made of "Acrylic Pressure Sensitive Adhesive with Aloe and Thiamine Hydrochloride on Urethane film laminated to polyethylene coated kraft paper". I can't find any solid reason to not use this product (or the wristbands for that matter) other than the waste factor, as they may not be recyclable.

    Main Ingredients: Vitamin B1 and Aloe

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Commercial Brands For In a Pinch

Finally, the above products meet my safety criteria. But, I know that sometimes you just need to know what you can buy at the store that’s not totally horrible.  Luckily there are some DEET-free products on the store shelves that can be handy in a pinch.  These aren’t perfect, and I’ll point out their hazards, but sometimes you need something “good enough for now”.

Murphy's Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray DEET Free

I'm on the fence about this Murphys product but its one of few safer options that is available at a chain store. Target. The ingredient that I'm not comfortable with is Corn Ethanol.

I do like the ingredients in both the Murphys bug repellent wipes and bars. If you have the option I would choose Murphys bug wipes or bars first.

Ingredients: Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus 30%, Distilled Water and Corn Ethanol 70%

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How to Deter Mosquitos and Insects Naturally at Home

There are several ways to keep those bugs at bay around your home.

Here are a few of my favorite tips:

Enjoy the outdoors!

Remember to also choose safe sunscreen for sunny days! Read SafeMama’s Safer Sunscreen Cheat Sheet report for our top sunblock picks.