Homemade Insect Deterrent

Fall is almost here, but that doesn’t mean that the bugs are almost gone, sometimes it means that they are even thicker when you head out to do chores, I wonder if they like the cooler days and nights as well… In view of this I thought I would share a recipe for a spray that I use and love, and when I forget to apply it I usually regret that I did.

It is called The Vinegar of the Four Thieves and you can purchase the mix here at Bulk Herb Store. The mix includes the first five herbs listed below.


  • 2 Tablespoons Rosemary
  • 2 Tablespoons Sage
  • 2 Tablespoons Lavender
  • 2 Tablespoons Wormwood
  • 2 Tablespoons Peppermint
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh, chopped Garlic
  • 2 Quarts of Apple Cider Vinegar
  1. Combine 12 tablespoons of the premixed herbs and the 2 quarts of vinegar in a sealed glass jar, and steep in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks or so, shaking daily.  Then strain out the used herbs, and retain the herbal liquid mixture.
  2. Add several cloves of crushed garlic, and close lid.  Let soak for three days, and then strain out the garlic fiber and discard.

This tincture needs to be stored in a cool place, like the refrigerator.  You can also preserve it for a very long period of time by canning. To do so, fill canning jars with boiling liquid tincture to within one-half inch of top. Cap with rubber seal canning lid, tighten ring, and turn hot jar upside down; leave it undisturbed until it cools to room temperature. This will cause the jar to seal. Don’t forget to date and label it.  This worked well for me as the recipe makes a large quantity and a small family can’t use it very quickly.

This is only for external use and should be diluted to half it’s strength with water if sprayed directly on your skin.  I have only used it as a spray-on, but you can also splash on your shoes and socks, keep a soaked rag in your pocket for use throughout the day, or place in a bath along with a little oil to keep it on your skin longer.  Any member of the family can use it, yay :-), and it will discourage mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, mites, fleas, etc.  Just be sure to keep out of eyes and broken skin.

The name comes from history research on how some people were able to stay alive during plagues like the Black Death by using mixtures of certain herbs and vinegars.  Granted back then they came up with many mixtures because of superstition, the science we have now shows why they worked.  Quite fascinating.

Do you have anything that you use for keeping bugs at bay that works?



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About Erin Phelan

Born and raised in western Michigan, Erin came to Polyface first as an intern in the summer of 2009. While here she met and got to know Grady Phelan, an apprentice at the time. The next spring they were married and after a couple years in Oklahoma they are back, working as sub-contractors for Polyface. Erin keeps herself busy with the jobs of a wife and mother, as well as helping with the animals, gardening, sewing, cooking, baking, knitting and reading.

9 Responses to Homemade Insect Deterrent

  1. Leilani says:

    We have had good luck with Badger’s Anti Bug Balm, they are great company out of New Hampshire who offer organic body care products. Avon’s Skin so Soft is a good anti bug go to produce too. I was tickled when I saw your recipe, I have all of the ingredients growing in the garden 🙂 I am going to start my first batch brewing today!

    • Erin Phelan says:

      I’ve enjoyed Badger products too, haven’t tried the Anti Bug Balm though…let me know how the fresh herbs work for this, I’m curious. 🙂

  2. Lydia Wilson says:

    Can’t wait to try this. I’ve been looking for a natural recipe because the insects are strong near my house this year.

  3. Shawna Barr says:

    Thanks Erin! I have a bag of these herbs from The Bulk Herb store waiting for me to prepare. Now I am motivated. The flies are SO bad here right now (Northern CA, after an unusually mild winter.)

    We make a homemade fly spray that is pretty effective for our cows at milking time. It is made with about 1 cup of vinegar, 1/2 cup Dawn dishwashing liquid, and water to fill a 32 ounce spray bottle. The detergent coats the fly wings and makes them unable to fly…at least temporarily. We spray down the cows, an ourselves sometimes, and it is pretty effective for keeping the flies away at least long enough for us to finish milking without losing our minds. We just have to avoid the eyes. I spray a little on my hand and rub in in the cows’ faces.

    My plan is to substitute the vinegar in my mix with the Vinegar of Four Thieves to see if it might be more effective.

  4. Erin Phelan says:

    That is great Shawna, sometimes I need motivation to start something too. I’ve read that you can spray the vinegar on animals as well and that it works well, would you let me know how it works for you…?

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  6. Cyndi Lewis says:

    I can’t wait to try both Shawna’s recipe and the Vinegar of Four Thieves! Thanks for posting them!

  7. Katie Benz says:

    Just saw this post and I think I will try it this spring:)

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