Effective Non-toxic Insect Repellent Solutions for Kids: Keeping Kids Outdoors Bug Free

The sunshine's calling, the birds are chirping, and your kids are begging for some outdoor fun. But with bug season upon us, pesky mosquito bites can quickly turn a joyful adventure into a scratchy nightmare. Beyond comfort and inconvenience, ticks and mosquitoes can carry diseases - not something you want to risk with your children. Fortunately, there are safe and effective ways to keep those little critters at bay without resorting to harsh chemicals or even repellents altogether. This guide explores non-toxic, eco-friendly solutions to ensure your children can experience the endless benefits of outdoor play throughout the year while reducing the risks and discomforts associated with bugs. 

The Importance of Outdoor Play for Kids

Letting children explore the great outdoors isn't just about fun and games. Numerous studies published by highly respected institutions like the American Academy of Pediatrics highlight the crucial role outdoor play has in a child's development:

  • Physical Health: Fresh air and sunshine promote healthy bone growth through Vitamin D synthesis according to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Outdoor play also encourages physical activity, reducing the risk of childhood obesity.
  • Mental and Emotional Well-being: Spending time in nature reduces stress, improves focus, and boosts mood according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
  • Cognitive Development: Unstructured outdoor play allows children to explore, experiment, and solve problems, fostering creativity and critical thinking skills as highlighted in a study published in the Journal of School Health by researchers at Arizona State University. 

You can check out our article on more benefits of outdoor play for children's development and wellbeing. 

Facing the Challenge of Bugs

While the benefits of outdoor play are undeniable, bug bites can certainly put a damper on the fun. Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects can not only cause itchy irritation but also transmit diseases. This is a particular concern in areas with high rates of Lyme disease or West Nile virus.

However, this doesn't mean you have to keep your kids cooped up inside. The following sections will explore various non-toxic and eco-friendly strategies to keep bugs at bay and ensure a happy, healthy time outdoors.

Why Choose Non-Toxic Bug Solutions for Kids?

While traditional insect repellents containing DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) offer effective protection against mosquitoes and other bugs, they raise concerns for parents seeking a safer alternative for their children. DEET can irritate the skin, causing redness, itching, and burning, especially for those with sensitive skin. In rare instances, high exposure to DEET has been linked to neurological effects like dizziness, muscle tremors, and even seizures, although the exact connection requires further investigation. Due to these potential health risks, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding DEET-containing repellents on children younger than two months old, and advises using a lower concentration (less than 30% DEET) for older children. By opting for DEET free non-toxic solutions (including repellents), parents can ensure their children are protected from pesky insects and diseases they spread without the worry of potential health complications, allowing them to enjoy the outdoors with greater peace of mind. 

Top Ingredients in Non-Toxic Bug Repellents

Here's a breakdown of some popular choices to help you select the right repellent for your child's age and activity level:

  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE): One of the most well-regarded natural repellents, OLE is approved by the CDC for its effectiveness against mosquitoes, including some that may carry diseases like Zika. Studies show OLE protection can last up to six hours for adults and repel a wider range of mosquitoes compared to citronella oil. However, OLE is not recommended for children under three years old. 

  • Citronella Oil: A familiar citrus scent, citronella oil offers decent protection against mosquitoes, but its effectiveness is shorter-lived, typically lasting around two hours. This may necessitate more frequent reapplication, especially for active children. Citronella is generally safe for most ages, but always follow label instructions.

  • Geranium Oil: Extracted from the geranium plant, this essential oil offers protection against mosquitoes and other flying insects. While research is ongoing, studies suggest geranium oil can be effective for up to two hours. Similar to citronella, it may require more frequent reapplication and is not recommended for children under three.

  • Catnip Oil: This interesting option utilizes the same oils that attract cats to repel insects! Emerging research suggests catnip oil can be effective against mosquitoes and ticks. However, studies are still underway to determine the exact duration of protection. Due to limited data, catnip oil repellents might be best for older children and reapplication frequency may be higher compared to OLE.

Choosing the Right Non-toxic Safe and Effective Repellent

When selecting a non-toxic repellent, consider your child's age and activity level. OLE is a great option that provides longer-lasting protection for children over 3 years old.


Earthley non-toxic kids' insect repellent how it works

Murphy's Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil insect repellent spray is a classic plant-based option. 

Looking for the best non-toxic insect repellent for a baby or toddler? Consider California Baby Citronella & Lemongrass bug repellent. It is safe for use with babies 6 months of age and older. Earthly Pest Aside bug repellent is also safe for 6M+ babies and made from safe predominantly organic ingredients. Another good option is Badger mosquito repellent, made from 95% organic ingredients and produced at a 100% solar manufacturing facility, making it both a safe non-toxic choice as well as eco-friendly. 

Another good spray we like for family use is USDA Organic mosquito repellent spray consisting of various essential oils like Lemongrass Oil, Citronella Oil, Cedar Oil, Rosemary Oil, Peppermint Oil, Geranium Oil, Lavender Oil. 

Remember, with most natural repellents, regular reapplication throughout the day, especially after sweating or swimming, is crucial for optimal protection.

Alternative Bug-Repelling Strategies

While repellents are a great first line of defense (we will explore non-toxic repellents later in this article), there are several creative ways to reduce your child's exposure to bugs without resorting to chemicals.

Dress for Defense: Clothing can be a powerful tool in the fight against bug bites. Opt for long, loose-fitting clothing made with natural fibers like organic cotton or linen. Tight clothes can trap bugs closer to your child's skin, while looser garments create a barrier and make it harder for them to land.

In your search for chemical free non-toxic anti-bug clothing you likely stumbled upon insect shield clothing line for kids and adults. To achieve bug repellent qualities, these clothes are treated with an insecticide called "permethrin". 

What it is: Permethrin is a common insecticide used in various products like bug sprays, lice treatments, and clothing treatments. It works by affecting the nervous system of insects, causing paralysis and death.


  • Potential Carcinogen: The EPA classifies permethrin as "likely to be carcinogenic to humans" based on animal studies, though the risk for humans is considered low with proper use.
  • Skin Irritation: Permethrin can cause skin irritation, redness, and itching, especially for those with sensitive skin.
  • Toxicity for Young Children: Due to their tendency to put things in their mouths, permethrin is not recommended for direct application to young children as it can be toxic if ingested.

Consider these non-toxic clothing tips for added protection:

  • If you dressed your child in appropriate protective clothing, but mosquitos are so bad, they are biting them in the neck or face, consider purchasing head netting. While kids won't love wearing them, when bugs are really bad, this may be the difference between being inside and staying outside. They take up almost no space and are great to have in your outdoor gear bag or at home for outdoor play. 
  • Spray your and your kids' clothes with one of the recommended above non-toxic safe bug repellent sprays. This would serve as an additional protection. 

Time Your Adventures Wisely: Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. Plan outdoor activities for the middle of the day when bug activity is lower. If venturing out during peak mosquito hours is unavoidable, like when you are camping, consider using a screened gazebo to create a bug-free haven.

Become a Backyard Bug Buster: Eliminate mosquito breeding grounds around your home to significantly reduce their population. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water. Check for and empty any containers that hold water, such as buckets, birdbaths, or clogged gutters. Change the water in wading pools and fountains weekly. Keep your lawn mowed and eliminate tall weeds and overgrown areas where mosquitoes like to hide. Additionally, consider using non-toxic, eco-friendly, kid and pet safe outdoor yard spray like Wondercide. This yard bug spray is made in the USA from biodegradable plant-based ingredients, can treat up to 5,000 sq ft. The downside - it is quite pricey, so may not be in everyone's budget. Another good option is Cedarcide - cedar granules you can sprinkle outside around your yard, flower beds, kids' play areas. This is another eco-friendly 100% natural option for additional protection against mosquitos, fleas, and other mites. 

Embrace Natural Bug Repellents: Certain plants are known to have natural insect-repelling properties. Especially if you enjoy gardening anyway, consider planting herbs like citronella, lemongrass, basil, rosemary, peppermint, or catnip around your porch or patio. Marigolds also have mosquito repelling properties. While not as strong as repellents and unlikely to work alone, these fragrant plants can create a natural barrier against mosquitoes and other flying insects. 

By combining these non-repellent strategies with a safe, non-toxic insect repellent, you can create a multi-layered defense that allows your child to enjoy the outdoors comfortably and safely. Remember, the most effective approach often involves using a combination of methods. 

Soothing after the Bite: Non-toxic Relief for Mosquito Bites

Even with the best precautions, bug bites can sometimes happen. Here are some gentle, non-toxic options to soothe your child's itchy discomfort:

  • Cooling Comfort: A cool compress or damp washcloth applied to the bite can help reduce swelling and itching. You can also try a cool chamomile tea soak for a more calming effect.

  • Baking Soda Paste: Mix a baking soda paste with a little water and apply it directly to the bite to create a drying effect and reduce inflammation.

  • Non-toxic bug bite relief products like this Earthley Black Drawing Salve, which is a good solution not just for mosquito bites, but also sprinters, stings, poison ivy and more. Murphy's soothing balm and Badger organic afterbite itch relief are also great options for soothing bites. 
  • Bug bite suction tool - works by removing insect saliva or venom from the skin through the use of suction. Works quite well if used fairly soon after bite. 
  • Oatmeal Bath: Oatmeal has long been known for its soothing properties. Grind up oatmeal into a fine powder and sprinkle it into your child's bathwater for a gentle, itch-relieving soak.

Remember, by avoiding scratching, which can worsen the bite and increase the risk of infection, and using these natural remedies, you can help your child find comfort and prevent bug bites from turning into bigger problems.

Bottom linewith the right preparation, your kids can experience the endless benefits of outdoor play without the worry of bug bites. This guide has equipped you with a toolbox of non-toxic and eco-friendly strategies. From natural repellents to creative clothing choices and backyard bug control, you can create a multi-layered defense that allows your children to explore, discover, and connect with nature safely and comfortably. Remember, the most effective approach often combines several methods. So, pack your picnic basket, embrace the fresh air, and let the outdoor adventures begin!


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