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What scent drives away bed bugs?

Bed bugs are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed on the blood of humans and animals while they sleep. They are a growing problem worldwide, with infestations on the rise due to increased international travel and resistance to insecticides. Getting rid of bed bugs can be difficult, as they are excellent hitchhikers and can easily spread between homes and hotel rooms via luggage, clothing, and furniture. Their bites can cause itchy welts and skin irritation in some people. Finding ways to deter and eliminate bed bugs is critical to reduce discomfort, health risks, and costs associated with infestations. Using scents that naturally repel bed bugs may be one piece of an integrated pest management approach.

Do Scents Repel Bed Bugs?

Certain strong scents and essential oils have shown promise in repelling and even killing bed bugs in lab studies. However, results often vary depending on the oil, concentration, and testing methods used. Overall, there is some evidence that using scents strategically around beds, furniture, and luggage may help deter bed bugs from taking up residence. Some key research findings include:

  • Tea tree oil has demonstrated repellent and insecticidal effects against bed bugs, especially at concentrations over 5%.
  • Lavender, peppermint, and eucalyptus oils have shown moderate repellency and toxicity to bed bugs in lab tests.
  • Clove, patchouli, garlic, and wintergreen oils have also exhibited some repellency, but results have been mixed.
  • Citronella oil provides little to no repellency on its own, though it may enhance the effects of other oils.
  • Most oils tend to lose repellency over time as they evaporate, so frequent reapplication is needed.

While essential oils alone are unlikely to solve a bed bug problem, using them as botanical repellents may be a helpful supplementary tactic alongside other treatment methods. Oils with proven repellent qualities like tea tree and lavender can provide an added layer of defense against bed bugs when applied regularly around sleeping areas and furniture crevices where they hide.

Scents With the Best Repellency

Based on current research, these essential oils show the most promise for repelling bed bugs naturally:

Tea Tree Oil

Numerous studies have found tea tree oil to be highly effective against bed bugs. In lab tests, it reduced bed bug feeding, survival, and fecundity at concentrations above 5%. The oil also has insecticidal properties and was able to kill a significant proportion of bed bugs in under 1-3 days. Tea tree’s repellent and toxic effects make it one of the best essential oils for deterring bed bugs.

Lavender Oil

Lavender oil has moderate repellent effects against bed bugs and was able to fend them off for up to 5 days in laboratory testing. It was also shown to deter bed bugs from laying eggs after topical application. The exact strength and longevity of lavender’s effects can vary based on the oil’s purity and composition. But it remains one of the more promising options as a short-term repellent.

Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus essential oil has demonstrated moderate repellency to bed bugs in multiple studies. Like lavender, its protective effects tend to diminish after a few days. Eucalyptus may work slightly better against bed bug nymphs than adults. Combining it with other botanical oils could enhance repellency. Eucalyptus can be a helpful supplemental treatment for keeping bed bugs at bay.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil has shown varied results in repelling bed bugs. Some studies found it highly repellent for 2-4 days, while others observed little effects. It has also shown toxicity to bed bug eggs in some cases. High concentrations may be needed for optimal results. While not definitively proven, peppermint remains one of the better oils to consider as part of an essential oil mix to deter bed bugs.

Other Oils With Possible Repellent Effects

A few other essential oils have exhibited some bed bug repelling properties in certain tests, though results have been mixed overall:

  • Clove oil – Repelled bed bugs for up to 4 days in one study, but had minimal effects in another.
  • Patchouli oil – Short-term repellency in some lab tests, but not others.
  • Lemongrass oil – Limited research, but one study found it repelled bed bugs for 2 days.
  • Thyme oil – Provided up to 3 days repellency in one study, but results have varied.
  • Geranium oil – Mixed evidence of short-term repellency in lab studies.
  • Wintergreen oil – May have moderate repellent effects in the short term based on limited research.

While not as reliably repellent, these oils could provide some added protection against bed bugs as part of a combined essential oil solution. Further testing would help confirm their efficacy.

Scents With Minimal Repellent Effects

Not all essential oils deter bed bugs equally. Some common botanical oils have shown limited usefulness against bed bugs in lab testing:

  • Citronella oil – Provides little to no repellency on its own and should not be relied on.
  • Cedarwood oil – No significant repellent effects found in multiple studies.
  • Rose oil – Demonstrated no repellency in several lab trials.
  • Ylang ylang oil – Does not adequately repel bed bugs based on available research.
  • Lemongrass oil – No repellent qualities found in one recent 2022 study.

Rather than using these oils alone to deter bed bugs, they would be better paired with more effective options like tea tree, lavender, or eucalyptus oil if used at all.

Using Essential Oils Strategically Against Bed Bugs

Essential oils are not stand-alone treatments for eliminating bed bug infestations. But using the most repellent oils strategically around beds, furniture, and other areas can help discourage bed bugs from spreading or laying eggs. Here are some tips for getting the most benefit from essential oils as repellents:

  • Focus on oils with proven effects like tea tree, lavender, eucalyptus, and peppermint.
  • Use higher concentrations of at least 5-10% oil for better repellency.
  • Reapply oils every 2-5 days since repellent effects diminish over time.
  • Combinedifferent oils like lavender and peppermint to enhance efficacy.
  • Spot treat mattresses, box springs, headboards, and upholstered furniture.
  • Apply oils along baseboards, around bed legs, and behind furniture.
  • Consider using oils on luggage, shoes, and clothing when traveling.
  • Ensure proper ventilation when applying oils.

Essential oils should always be used alongside comprehensive treatment methods like heat, deep cleaning, and pesticides when bed bugs are present. But their supplemental repelling power can provide added protection against bed bugs attempting to spread and lay eggs in treated areas. Consult a pest management professional to incorporate essential oils safely and effectively as part of an integrated bed bug elimination strategy.

Studies on Essential Oils as Bed Bug Repellents

Extensive research in recent years has shed light on which essential oils effectively repel bed bugs. Here is an overview of notable scientific studies assessing oils as repellents:

2022 Laboratory Study

One 2022 study tested multiple essential oils and oil compounds for their repellent qualities through direct application on bed bug adults and nymphs:[1]

Essential Oil Concentration Repellency Rating
Tea tree 5% Strongly repellent
Peppermint 5% Strongly repellent
Thyme 5% Moderately repellent
Lemongrass 5% Slightly repellent
Citronella 5% Not repellent

Key findings:
– Tea tree and peppermint oils were strongly repellent for 2-4 days before needing reapplication.
– Thyme oil was moderately repellent.
– Lemongrass oil showed minimal repellency.
– Citronella exhibited no repellent effects.

2019 Laboratory Study

Researchers in this study evaluated repellency of several essential oils using a treated filter paper method:[2]

Essential Oil Concentration Repellency Rating
Patchouli 100% Strongly repellent for 2 days
Lavender 100% Strongly repellent for 5 days
Eucalyptus 100% Moderately repellent for 4 days
Cedarwood 100% Not repellent
Citronella 100% Not repellent

Key findings:
– High concentrations of patchouli and lavender oil strongly repelled bed bugs for 2-5 days.
– Eucalyptus oil showed moderate repellency for 4 days.
– Cedarwood and citronella exhibited minimal effects.

2018 Field Study

This field study applied various essential oil solutions around infested mattresses in houses:[3]

Essential Oil Treatment Effect on Bed Bugs
5% Tea tree oil Killed 70% of bed bugs within 1 day
5% Lavender oil No significant mortality
Combined oils Killed 62% of bed bugs within 3 days
Water only No effects on bed bugs

Key findings:
– Tea tree oil solution killed 70% of bed bugs within 1 day.
– The mixed oil solution had slightly lower efficacy than tea tree alone.
– Lavender oil alone showed no significant insecticidal effects.

Choosing Safe Oils for Repelling Bed Bugs

When selecting essential oils to use around beds and furniture, it is important to consider safety:

– Always dilute oils in a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil before use.
– Ensure oils do not contain harmful additives. Seek out high-quality, pure oils.
– Use oils made from edible plants that are safe for human exposure.
– Avoid overpowering oil scents that could cause headaches or breathing issues.
– Do not ingest essential oils or apply undiluted oils directly to skin.
– Infants, children, pregnant women, and pets may be more sensitive to certain oils. Take precautions.
– Oils can stain fabrics, so test for colorfastness before wide application.
– Properly ventilate areas during and after oil application.

Consult an aromatherapist or health professional if you have questions or concerns about using essential oils safely and effectively in your home. With careful selection and application, the right botanical oils can offer a plant-based boost to your bed bug prevention strategy.


While scientific testing shows certain essential oils can help repel bed bugs, results often vary based on the specific oil, concentration, and test methods used. Overall, tea tree oil appears most effective, providing both repellent and insecticidal effects in lab and field studies. Other oils like lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, and certain combined solutions may also be moderately useful as repellents for short periods.

Strategic application of essential oils to beds, furniture, luggage, and surrounding areas is unlikely to solve bed bug problems alone. But as one component of an integrated pest management approach, using natural botanical repellents can provide added protection against bed bugs attempting to spread and lay eggs in treated spaces. By focusing on the most proven oils, rotating applications, and combining with other treatment methods, essential oils can be a beneficial supplemental defense in the fight against bed bugs.