These 10 household items repel bugs — and you probably have them at home already

From lavender to Listerine, make your home a 'no fly zone' with tips from our pros

Woman sweeping a living room floor with sun setting in background
(Image credit: Carlos Barquero/Getty Images)

Knowing how to repel bugs is key to maintaining a clean and ick-free home where you can live, eat, and sleep in peace. But keeping bugs away doesn't have to cost the earth or involve harsh chemicals.

From ants to mosquitos, pests can be a real nuisance. In this guide, our industry experts reveal 10 things already in your cabinets that will ward off bugs, explain why they work, and share tips on how to use them as free pest-control hacks.

Though knowing how to identify bugs in your home is handy, knowing exactly how to banish them will keep your pad a pest-free zone.

Repel bugs without spending a penny

Just like getting rid of ants in a kitchen, it turns out that there's a surprising number of natural or daily items that can keep your home pest-free, without the need for harsh chemicals or great expense. 

Where our pros have recommended products, we've used our wealth of in-house shopping expertise to match highly-rated items from trusted retailers.

All prices were correct at the time of publication. 

1. Citronella oil

Lit round yellow citronella shallow candles, with soft focus on cut lemons in the background

(Image credit: Blanchi Costela/Getty Images)

Citronella oil is one of the most well-known natural bug repellents. Its strong aroma masks scents that attract bugs in the first place, making it difficult for them to locate their targets. 

Andrew Greess, owner of  QSpray, says, "Citronella oil has to be one of the best natural insect repellents, especially effective against mosquitos and other insects that fly about during warmer weather.  

"Derived from various species of citronella grass, its strong citrus-like odor masks the smells of other things that would typically attract bugs — like the scent of humans."

Citronella oil can be found in various household items including candles (these Aottom Store Citronella Candles from Amazon are effective both indoors and outdoors), incense sticks, diffusers (Walmart's Citronella Oil from Diffuse Essential Oils works with steam, reed and ultrasonic diffusers) and aerosols. You can also apply it directly to your skin.

Andrew adds, "On direct contact, citronella oil is an irritant to an insect’s nervous system, discouraging them from landing on you."

Andrew Greess, owner of QSpray, profile photo
Andrew Greess

Andrew Greess is the owner of QSpray, pest and landscape equipment experts. Founded more than 30 years ago, QSpray has served more than 27,000 happy customers, priding itself on selling high-quality products at reasonable prices.

2. Peppermint

The fresh scent of peppermint is pleasing to humans but repulsive to bugs, including ants and spiders (learn how else to get rid of spiders in our dedicated guide).

Andrew says, "Peppermint oil can be a great first line of defense against ants and some beetles that might be interested in coming into your home. In addition to masking scents (like the pheromone scent trail ants follow), the menthol and menthone in peppermint oil irritate insects’ nervous systems."

To harness its, you can create a homemade spray by mixing peppermint essential oil and water (Everspring's Peppermint Pure Essential Oil from Target has a crisp, fresh scent).

Karina Toner, operations manager at Spekless Cleaning, adds, "Simply mix a few drops of peppermint oil with water in a spray bottle and spritz around windows, doors, and other entry points."

She adds, "Soaking cotton balls in peppermint oil and placing them in cabinets or other bug-prone areas can also be effective."

Profile photo of Karina Toner, operations manager at Spekless Cleaning
Karina Toner

Karina is an Operations Manager at Spekless Cleaning, a respected cleaning company operating across multiple US states. She has more than 10 years' cleaning experience and is an expert in professional cleaning solutions and helping clients with sustainable and effective cleaning.

3. Citrus peel

Citrus peels, such as those from lemons, oranges, and grapefruits, contain natural oils bugs dislike, working wonders both in the home and in the garden

Simply save your citrus peels after enjoying a snack and place them strategically around your home. 

Karina says, "Citrus peels contain natural oils that are toxic to insects, including mosquitoes and ants. The scent also masks human odors, making it harder for bugs to detect us.

"Simply place citrus peels in areas where bugs are a problem, or by entry points such as doorways and window sills. Boiling citrus peels in water can also create a natural repellent spray."

4. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus leaves around small apothecary brown bottles of eucalyptus oil with pipette, arranged on a round wooden tray and white linen cloth on wooden table

(Image credit: Anastasiia Krivenok/Getty Images)

Eucalyptus oil is another potent bug repellent with a refreshing scent. 

Cleaning expert Angela Rubin, of Hellamaid, says, "Eucalyptus leaves contain compounds like citronellal and eucalyptol, which have strong insect-repelling properties. 

"Simply crush fresh eucalyptus leaves to release their oils, then place the crushed leaves in a bowl or sachet and put them in areas where bugs are a problem, such as near windows or outdoor seating areas."

Angela adds, "Refresh the leaves regularly to ensure continued effectiveness."

You can also create a spray by mixing water with eucalyptus oil (this Handcraft Blends Eucalyptus Essential Oil from Amazon has an average score of 4.5/5 from more than 100,000 reviews). 

Angela Rubin, cleaning expert at HellaMaid
Angela Rubin

Angela Rubin works at Hellamaid, a top-rated cleaning company in Canada. Hellamaid are industry experts, specializing in residential and commercial cleaning services. 

5. Lavender

Lavender plant and dripping lavender oil from a pipette in foreground

(Image credit: Iryna Veklich/Getty Images)

Lavender not only has a pleasant aroma but also bugs hate it, making it one of the 10 top plants that repel mosquitos.

Angela says, "Lavender contains essential oils like linalool and linalyl acetate, which have natural insect-repelling properties. Furthermore, the scent of lavender is known to repel mosquitoes, flies, and moths."

It's one of the reason you'll find this ingredients in mothballs, a great way to get rid of moths

"To use, place dried lavender flowers in small sachets or bags, before hanging or placing the sachets in areas where bugs are a nuisance, such as closets, drawers, or outdoor seating areas," Angela adds.

You can also purchase lavender essential oils, diffusers and air fresheners for your home, such as the Air Wick Essential Mist Lavender & Almond Blossom Air Freshener from Target, which runs for an eight-hour spray cycle before going into standby mode overnight.

Angela adds, "Alternatively, you can make a lavender-infused spray by steeping dried lavender flowers in water."

6. Listerine

Believe it or not, the mouthwash you use to freshen your breath can also keep bugs away. Listerine contains ingredients like eucalyptol, thymol, and menthol, which bugs find unpleasant. 

Amy Poulton, DIY expert and editor at Hometalk, says, "To make a quick DIY mosquito repellent solution, simply fill a spray bottle with Listerine and mist yourself or your household surfaces. 

"The primary active ingredient in Listerine is eucalyptol, a derivative of eucalyptus oil, which mosquitoes dislike. However, the repellent effect only lasts 30-40 minutes, so re-application is needed."

You can also use Listerine-soaked cotton balls as a deterrent near common entry points such as window ledges.

This Listerine Cool Mint Antiseptic Mouthwash from Amazon has that extra-strong smell you want when ridding your home of unwanted intruders, including roaches, which our experts have shared how to get rid.

Profile photo of Hometalk editor Amy Poulton
Amy Poulton

Amy Poulton is a DIY expert at Hometalk, a DIY home and garden website for those passionate about DIY projects, decorating, cleaning hacks, and home improvement, reaching 23 million DIY enthusiasts.

7. Used teabags

Dried tea bags on a washing line hung inside, with a teapot and mug on the table below

(Image credit: Ian Nolan/Getty Images)

Don't throw away those used teabags just yet — they can serve as effective bug repellents! 

Tea contains tannins and caffeine, which are compounds bugs find unappealing. After brewing your tea, allow the used tea bags to cool, then place them in areas where bugs tend to congregate.

Amy says, "One clever and natural way to repel pests is by using dried tea bags, particularly peppermint-flavored ones. Many pests, including insects, don't like the smell of peppermint, lemon and cinnamon, so those are the best flavors to go for.

"The tea bags can be placed or hung around your home to deter insects and rodents with their scent."

These Bigelow Vanilla Chai Black Tea Bags from Target brings the perfect combination of delicious flavour for you, and potent pest-repelling scent for those pesky uninvited guests. 

For more rodent, solutions dive into our expert guides on how to get rid of mice and rats.

8. Coffee grounds

Coffee grounds poured over a rustic, wooden table

(Image credit: Gabi Musat/Getty Images)

We all love a great cup of coffee. But coffee grounds are not just for brewing your morning joe — they can also serve as an effective bug repellent. 

Bugs like ants, slugs, snails and mosquitoes are repelled by the strong scent of coffee grounds, making them a good natural deterrent. 

To use coffee grounds to repel bugs, sprinkle them around the perimeter of your home or garden, focusing on areas where bugs are likely to enter. You can also create a barrier of coffee grounds around plants to protect them from pests.

Additionally, you can use brewed coffee grounds as a spray by diluting them with water and applying the mixture to surfaces where bugs are present. The caffeine in coffee grounds acts as a natural insecticide, making it an effective solution for controlling bug infestations.

This Lavazza Qualita Rossa Bag of Espresso Beans from Amazon averages 4.5/5 from more than 24,000 reviews and is great if you want to combine drinking great coffee with repelling bugs from your home. 

9. Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is renowned for its natural antimicrobial properties, but it's also an effective bug repellent. 

Vanessa Bossart, founder of GreenTerra Cleaning, says, "We've had considerable success using tea tree oil as a potent bug deterrent. Mixing a few drops of tea tree oil with water in a spray bottle creates an effective natural repellent. 

"Spraying this solution around the home, especially near entry points and ant trails, helps keep bugs away without resorting to harsh chemicals."

The Spring Valley 100% Tea Tree Oil from Walmart boasts great results as both a skincare product, and insect repellent. 

Vanessa Bossart, founder of GreenTerra Cleaning, profile photo
Vanessa Bossart

Vanessa Bossart is founder of GreenTerra Cleaning, which has made more than 28,000 American homes sparkle and aims to redefine cleanliness as the cornerstone of healthy, sustainable living. With 18 years’ experience in the cleaning industry, Vanessa is passionate about promoting eco-friendly cleaning practices.

10. A clean home

Woman sweeping living room with sunset behind her

(Image credit: Carlos Barquero/Getty Images)

Perhaps more effective than any one repellent, maintaining a clean and clutter-free home is essential for keeping bugs at bay. 

Bugs are attracted to food crumbs, spills, and standing water, so be sure to clean up spills promptly, empty trash bins regularly, and store food in sealed containers. Vacuuming and sweeping floors regularly can also help eliminate bugs and their eggs, reducing the likelihood of infestations.

Vanessa says, "Bugs like ants are in constant search for food and water, so it's vital to eliminate these attractants by storing food carefully and maintaining a rigorous cleaning schedule, including deep-cleaning your kitchen.

"Wipe down all kitchen surfaces with a homemade solution of water and vinegar to dissolve food residues and sugary spills that ants find irresistible. Put extra emphasis on cleaning under appliances and in corners where crumbs tend to accumulate."

This Good & Gather Distilled White Vinegar from Target is a high-quality option and rated five stars by thousands of shoppers.

Shop commercial sprays

For those who prefer a ready-made chemical solution, there are plenty of commercial bug sprays available that use natural ingredients to repel bugs. Look for sprays that contain ingredients like citronella, peppermint, lavender, or eucalyptus for maximum effectiveness. 

When using commercial sprays, read and follow the instructions carefully. and apply them to areas where bugs are likely to enter, such as doorways, windows, and outdoor seating areas.

Now you're armed against pesky invaders, learn more about how to prevent bed bugs, how to get rid of flying ants and the pest control mistakes you must avoid. 

Andy van Terheyden
Freelance Writer

I'm a senior writer with an English degree and NCJ qualification, plus years of experience writing news, lifestyle and consumer articles for the national and international press. I'm also a copywriter, working on a breadth of consumer and corporate projects, and a private education consultant. I live in the quiet of the countryside and spend my weekends mooching around homeware shops, completing DIY tasks to breathe life into my small, newly-built home.