Repel Bugs From Your Campsite With One Common Baking Ingredient

Camping always sounds like a great idea in theory. Who wouldn't want to spend a weekend out by yourself or with your loved ones, surrounded by nature and disconnected from the responsibilities of the modern world? However, while camping normally starts out great, the mood can quickly go downhill once the biting insects show up — whether they are swarms of irritating mosquitoes, impossible-to-kill gnats, or those awful biting black flies. While insect repellents, including DEET, have been officially marked as safe (via the EPA), many people would prefer more natural and better-smelling alternatives. That's where vanilla extract comes in.

Yes, this simple baking ingredient that everyone has buried somewhere in their kitchen also moonlights as a repellent for many biting insects, including mosquitoes, black flies, ticks, and gnats. The reason this works is because the strong scent of pure vanilla masks your body odor enough to confuse the blood-sucking insects and cause them to go somewhere else for their meal, per Mercy Health. The one caveat of using vanilla as an insect repellent is that you need to buy the pure extract for it to work because if you accidentally buy vanilla extract that is mixed with sugar or alcohol, you could end up attracting insects instead of repelling them. 

Using vanilla extract as a repellent

Vanilla extract is a very concentrated version of vanilla, and because of this, some people can have allergic reactions to it when it is applied to the skin. So, before mixing vanilla into an insect repellent, it's important to do a spot test on your skin to make sure you won't experience any irritation or swelling. Once that's out of the way, you can go ahead and start mixing your anti-bloodsucker spray together. The recommended ratio is two teaspoons of pure vanilla extract for every cup of water. Then, mix well and pour your new repellent into a spray bottle so that you can easily apply it to your body, clothes, or camping gear. 

If you don't have a clean and empty spray bottle handy, you can use the method recommended by one Redditor on the Life Pro Tips forum of the website, who suggested simply wetting a washcloth with your water and vanilla mixture and then rubbing it over any area of exposed skin. However, it is important to keep in mind that vanilla extract repellent typically only lasts for around 30 to 45 minutes while commercial mosquito repellents containing DEET can last anywhere from six to eight hours.

Mixing and matching for better results

While vanilla extract by itself doesn't last very long as a repellent, the best thing about it is that it can be mixed with other scents that are known to repel insects in order to extend their protection time. This works because vanillin, the main ingredient in vanilla extract, can help prevent other more volatile oils from evaporating from the skin — thereby helping them last longer. In fact, according to a 2012 Thai study published in the Journal of Entomology, when vanillin was mixed with citronella oil lotion, the mixture provided protection against mosquitoes for over four hours, much longer than either ingredient is able to do alone.

This idea was also backed up by associate certified entomologist Shannon Harlow-Ellis in an interview with House Beautiful, where she stated that "you can use [vanilla extract] in conjunction with other DIY repellants to improve the efficacy." Harlow-Ellis then recommended mixing vanilla extract with lemongrass, tea tree, or eucalyptus essential oil as an effective way to repel mosquitoes without the need to apply harsh-smelling chemicals.

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