DIY: Natural insect repellents

14 Feb 2011

Most commercial insect repellents contain chemicals that are very poisonous to both pets and humans. Antonella Dési takes a look at the safer and often cheaper way of controlling your insect problems at home

When we spray commercial chemicals in and around the home to keep insects at bay, we can harm the plants in our garden, as well as kill off essential insects, such as bees and earthworms – without which, our gardens would not thrive. These sprays can also cause respiratory problems in humans and they can have extremely harmful effects on our pets, so it is always better to avoid using these sprays whenever possible.

 

Natural insect repellents are made from safe ingredients and not harsh chemicals – they are safer for the environment, and for us. Usually, natural insect repellents are much cheaper than their chemical counterparts, and many of them can be made at home. Some of the simplest household items can be used to keep your home and garden insect-free in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly manner.

Mosquitoes and ants

To make the most effective insect repellent, you can use straight vodka (not the flavoured variety). Fill a jar with lavender buds and cover them with vodka. Seal the jar tightly to avoid evaporation, and keep it standing somewhere safe in the sun for about a month. Every once in a while give the bottle a good shake so the contents get mixed together. After 30 or so days, strain the lavender buds out and put the new liquid into a clean spray bottle and spray it onto your skin before you go to bed or before you go out into the garden at night. It will prevent you from getting any insect bites. You can also use it to spray along all the ant trails in your home or in your garden – within a very short time, the ants will move away. You will have to spray more often than with the chemical insect repellent, but as it costs so much less, this should not be a problem.

Spiders and white ants

Take your leftover onion skins and pieces of onion destined for the bin and put them into a bucket. Fill the bucket with warm water and leave the onion skins to soak in it for about a week. Cover it and then leave the bucket in the sun. After seven to 10 days, remove the bits of onion from the water and bury them in the soil around the plants that are being affected by insects. You can dig them into the soil in the pot plants indoors. This will keep away any pests that are trying to get to your plants through the soil. The water must now be strained and put into a spray bottle - wherever you spray this “onion juice”, the insect population will be drastically reduced.

Aphids

Aphids are very common in most gardens and have the ability to completely destroy really beautiful plant foliage. Get a bucket and fill it with two litres of warm water, and mix in approximately 20ml of dishwashing liquid. Put this into a spray bottle and spray all the plants and leaves that are full of aphids. The soap will smother the insects, making it difficult for them to breathe or feed. As an added bonus, the soap will make the foliage unappetising, and in so doing, it will also discouraging other pests from moving onto the plant. - Antonella Dési  

Readers' Comments
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This article refers to dishwashing liquid as a ‘natural’ repellent, but most dishwashing liquids contain surfactants which are synthesized from petrochemicals, in a similar manner to the way synthetic pesticides are produced.  Synthetic detergents are also regarded as being bad news for the environment. I’ve heard of people using normal soap to get rid of aphids. Perhaps this is what the author meant? - James

Yeah. It all sound so beautiful….We’ve got a vegetable garden in our back yard – been there for about two years already. It’s a very active garden and we harvest quite a lot  for our own consumption. It’s mainly my wife’s venture and she (and me) firmly believe in the “natural” route. The patch is filled with little bottles of this and that so as to lure the insects way from the plants and into the bottles.The problem is, however, that these things just don’t work. Finish and klaar. It’s all so “airy –fairy” that my poor wife has to spend a lot of time in the dark with a flash light trying to find the critters that chows our precious pants and vegetables.The only stuff that really works (unfortunately)  are the chemicals that pharmaceutical companies spend millions on. So every now and again, and using only as liiiiiiittle as possible, we use some of the “REAL” stuff. And there is just no comparison. - Allen

I buy a natural, non-toxic liquid soap from Faithful to Nature.   It contains no artificial fragrances; no artificial preservatives; no phosphates; no petrochemicals; no chlorine or bleaches; no animal or GM ingredients; no testing on animals.   Give them a try – FAITHFULL TO NATURE. - Lynne

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