6 natural mosquito repellents for babies and kids

When it comes to protecting your baby from those pesky mosquitos, many moms worry whether or not it’s safe to use mosquito repellents and electric burners.

The main chemical you want to avoid when choosing a mosquito repellent for your baby is DEET, which is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents. When reading product labels, look out for N-diethyl-meta-toluamide or diethyltoluamide.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has given DEET the green light for babies over 2 months of age. So it’s really not a train smash to use if nothing else seems to be working.

Where possible, opt for products with 10 to 30% DEET concentrate. Some studies have shown that the fumes emitted from electric plug-in burners, mats and vapour-releasing devices can cause breathing problems, eye irritations and allergic reactions. But, again, there’s no conclusive ruling either way and many paediatricians recommend using these.

There are also some concerns around the use of citronella essential oil. Although natural, you shouldn’t apply the oil directly to your baby’s skin or close to your baby’s nose and mouth. Some studies have shown citronella to cause skin allergies or irritate a baby’s airways. Don’t use essential oils on or around your baby if there is a history of asthma or difficulty breathing. That said, citronella is a main ingredient in many of the approved products available for use on babies (when used in the correct way). If you’re concerned, check with your paediatrician first.

Where possible, I prefer to avoid chemicals and opt for natural alternatives. But if you’re travelling to a high-risk malaria area, rather use the chemical-based repellents that are guaranteed to work.

ALSO SEE: Everything you need to know about malaria

If you’re looking for natural mosquito repellents, you have the following options:

1. Natural skin-application repellents (safe for use from 3 months)
2. Chemical-free electric options
3. Physical barriers
4. Essential oils and scents (not to be applied to the skin).

Natural skin-application repellents (safe for use from 3 months)

There are some really nice natural options available, all of which claim to do the same thing: keep mozzies away while being safe for use on baby’s sensitive skin. They all use a very similar concoction of natural (DEET-free) ingredients, and while some work better than others, they’re all roughly the same thing at the end of the day. The downside to using a natural product is that the effects generally tend to wear off after 90 minutes. So it’s not ideal for an overnight solution. Choose whichever works for you based on smell, price, availability and personal preference.

  • Tip: For outdoor use, sunscreen should be applied first, followed by the repellent.
  • Tip: Homemade remedies: You can make your own remedy using lavender oil or vanilla essence. Some moms swear by this!
  • Use lavender essential oil diluted with aqueous cream or Vaseline, dabbed directly onto baby’s skin behind ears and on wrists.
  • Use vanilla essence, mixed in a spray bottle (10ml of vanilla essence to 100ml of water). Shake bottle and spray on skin. Or apply a few drops to baby’s bath water.

Physical barriers

Cot nets

Your best bet for young babies is ultimately a mosquito net over the cot. You get nice ones from Mr Price Home, as well as The Crazy Store, Makro and Cape Union Mart. Clever Little Monkey also sells cot nets. Cot nets are best suited to very young babies who won’t be able to pull them down and get tangled in them. You can also try to find a net that has an elastic that stretches over the top of the cot (this won’t keep the sides of the cot mozzie-free though). So once your baby is big enough to wreak havoc in her cot, rather opt for another solution.

Insect screens

If you’re in an area that has a really intense mozzie infestation (close to a river, for example), you can have insect screens installed on your bedroom windows.

ALSO SEE: Treating common insect bites

Fan or airconditioning

Point the fan away from the cot. As long as the air in the room is circulating, this seems to help decrease the number of mozzies. But I would still use something else in conjunction with a fan.

Essential oils & scents (not for skin application)

If you want to avoid applying anything directly to your baby’s skin, or if your baby is younger than 3 months, here are some good remedies:

Use on their own or mix together:

  • Citronella essential oil (you should always dilute citronella oil with another oil or with water)
  • Peppermint oil (also good for keeping spiders away)
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Vanilla essence
  • Leave an open jar of Vicks or Menthol Camphor close to where baby sleeps.

You can buy essential oils from any pharmacy, health shop or Dis-chem.

How to use:

  1. Leave the oils in a saucer, ramekin, dish or bowl in close proximity to where your baby sleeps, but out of reach from her grasp.
  2. Apply to a piece of cotton wool and leave in close proximity to where your baby sleeps, but out of reach from her grasp.
  3. You can also apply the oil directly to a cot pillow or sheet (just a few drops). Or dilute in a spray bottle of water and spray onto linen.

Stick diffuser

Mozzies aren’t fans of vanilla scents, so you could use a vanilla-scented stick diffuser in baby’s room.

Here’s what I do, and it’s been working:

  1. Dischem Citronella Patches (stuck around cot, replace every few days) or make your own DIY citronella burner using an existing Raid or Baygon Liquid plug-in.
  2. Ultrasound Plug (Chicco or LifeTrek) left in wall socket 24/7.
  3. One of the natural sprays if needed (applied to pyjamas and linen).
  4. Vanilla scent diffuser

Final Tip: If you’re inundated with mozzies, leave an open stick of a Peaceful Sleep roll-on in your baby’s room (obviously far out of reach from baby). It’s better than applying it directly to your baby’s skin, and better than the fumes emitted from an electric mat burner or coil.

Worst case scenario, if all else fails and your baby is still being chowed to pieces after you tried all the measures above, just use Tabard, Peaceful Sleep or Raid plug-ins and repellents.

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