Is Bug Spray Vegan? Plus, How To Make Your Own Bug Spray

June 13, 2023

As the summer season begins, so does the yearly battle against mosquitoes and other pesky insects! Annoying as they can be, many of us still feel hesitant reaching for bug sprays. Often, these sprays are full of chemicals ingredients and have scary warning labels. No wonder we are unsure if they are safe to use on ourselves and our families! Not only that, many companies test on animals before commercial sale. These practices are concerning to vegans and animal-rights activists. However, growing numbers of environmentally safe, cruelty-free bug repellents are becoming available. Read on to learn how to safely and humanely protect yourself this summer!

When outside, avoid bites with natural bug spray.

How to use Bug Spray when you’re vegan

What is DEET?

DEET is one of the most common active ingredients found in insect repellents. First developed by the U.S. Military in the 1940s, it became available to the public around a decade later. Today, an estimated 30% of Americans use products containing DEET to prevent insect bites. Although scientists are not exactly sure why DEET works, evidence suggests products containing DEET affect insects’ abilities to smell human sweat. This makes humans more difficult to locate for the bugs.

The good news is that DEET is widely regarded as safe to humans when used correctly. However, side effects have been reported with incorrect use of products containing DEET. This includes being applied over broken skin, inhaled, ingested, or over-applied. Additionally, there have been some popularized studies showing toxicity may occur after using DEET, but these usually involve large quantities of DEET not typically seen in normal use. 

The bad news is, DEET can accumulate in waterways. Environmental Protection Agency data shows that DEET is “slightly toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates.” The presence of DEET in water is worrying due to its toxicity if ingested. However, there is little evidence showing that it currently poses a significant threat to human or environmental health. 

Evidence on DEET’s safety and long-term effects is confusing. Right now, it appears that if used correctly and kept out of waterways, DEET is safe in the quantities found in commercial products. DEET is also good at preventing bug bites, which is a major factor in preventing mosquito- and tick-borne diseases. When using products containing DEET, be sure to follow application instructions to prevent adverse effects. If you live in an area where risk of insect transmitted illness is low or are worried about adverse reactions, it may be worth looking into alternative ingredients. 

Is Bug Spray Vegan?

Generally, this depends on the bug spray. Sprays are typically insect repellents. This means that they do not kill insects, but rather cause them to experience aversion and thus not bite. For this reason, most vegans are willing to use bug sprays. 

Unfortunately, many bug spray manufacturers engage in animal testing. Animal testing is a cruel practice that forces animals out of their natural environments and into laboratories where they experience inhumane conditions, painful procedures, and frequent untimely death. Sadly, animal testing is not only cruel, but often yields results that are not applicable to human health according to findings from the National Institutes of Health. It is time to stop this inhuman and unethical practice. 

Fortunately, many bug sprays have been certified as cruelty free through third parties. PETA and Leaping Bunny are good resources for finding cruelty free brands!

How to Make DIY Bug Spray

Many essential oils and plants are natural insect repellents. Indeed, lemon eucalyptus oil has been shown to protect against bug bites at rates comparable to chemical products. This oil is often used as a replacement for DEET. Other natural bug sprays use various essential oil blends to deter bugs from biting. However, it is important to remember not all oils are suitable for pets and children. Fortunately, it is easy to make a pet and child safe DIY bug repellent.

When working with essential oils, it is important to keep a few precautions in mind. Essential oils are not safe for pets, children, or adults to consume and should be applied where they cannot accidentally be ingested. Additionally, always dilute oils and perform a patch test before full body use. This helps prevent adverse reactions such as skin irritation or rashes. Lastly, if you live in an area where insect borne illnesses are common, it is important to pair any type of bug spray with other insect protection. These include wearing long sleeves/pants, mosquito netting, and regular tick checks. 


  • Small spray bottle
  • 2oz witch hazel
  • 2oz distilled water
  • 1 tsp. Almond oil
  • lavender essential oil (5–7 drops)
  • lemon balm or lemongrass essential oil (5–7 drops)
  • geranium oil (5–7 drops)

Combine all ingredients and shake well. For pets, apply to an area they cannot lick off such as the back of the neck. Apply to young children’s’ clothes rather than their skin. Separation may occur, so be sure to shake before each use. 

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Photo: Angelo Pantazis via Unsplash

Willow Lynn
Willow Lynn is an animal and outdoors loving vegan. Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains, she is now lucky to live in Hawaii. Willow enjoys reading, writing, gardening and hiking.


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