People opt for essential oils as natural alternatives to cleaning, beauty, and some health and wellness products. Some may go a step further and use them to keep insects like gnats or mosquitoes away. But what about repelling, killing, and fumigating bed bugs?
It may seem unlikely that home remedies like essential oils could go toe-to-toe with these urban pests. But it’s true: essential oils are strong enough to deal with bed bugs in many cases.
According to Purdue University, essential oils are top candidates for fighting bed bugs.1 Why? Because these pests are becoming more resistant to mainstream chemicals and pesticides—but not plant-based solutions. I’ve put together the 15 best essential oils for bed bugs right here, each supported by both research and traditional use.
Do you have bed bugs?
Bed bugs (Cimex spp.) cause some of the most dreaded home and personal hygiene issues, and they are incredibly tough to get rid of. How do you know you have them? Here are a few issues to look out for:
- Noticing actual presence of bed bugs in your bedding (mattress, sheets, pillows, etc.)
- Vestiges of their eggs or eggshells (yellow spots)
- Reddish stains or spots in your bedding
- Dark spots (bed bug poop)
- Signs elsewhere in your home or room: furniture seams, wall cracks, cushion crevices, and any small or inconspicuous place
- Bug bites and itching on skin while both awake and sleeping (though not always and not a reliable sign)
Do essential oils really work on bed bugs?
The answer is yes. Many companies are using common essential oils as active ingredients in their own products. Plant oils can either directly kill, repel, or otherwise negatively impact the lifecycle of bed bugs on contact or through feeding.
Luckily, essential oils can be used to make your own bed bug-fighting preparations at home. They’re especially good at mitigating small bed bug outbreaks before they get out of hand. Read on for my best recommendations for essential oils for bed bugs.
The best essential oils for bed bugs
Try mildly diluting the following essential oils in water. Spray directly on any noticeable bed bug infestations. I will combine a whole small 1 fluid oz. of essential oil in about one pint to one quart of water in a spray bottle for these and similar purposes. Be extremely thorough in your search and spray for bed bugs: missing any cold mean the infestation continues. Also, be careful when spraying essential oils and avoid contact with skin or eyes.
Mint oils of many kinds, including peppermint, have been used to repel and kill insects for centuries. In one wide-range study of 18 essential oils against bed bugs, peppermint oil was one of a few select essential oil ingredients in insecticidal formulas that showed high mortality against the insects (especially in their nymph stage). When applied topically to infested surfaces, it wiped out 90% of the bugs.2
In this same study previously mentioned, spearmint was another strong contender for repelling and killing bed bugs. Though not as powerful as its close relative peppermint, spearmint is nonetheless featured in many naturally made non-toxic bed bug-fighting formulas as an effective ingredient for killing these pesky insects in their nymph form. Plus, it will make the room smell fresh too.
The active ingredient found in the thyme plant, thymol, is famously used for repelling and killing a wide range of insects—including bed bugs. Of the 18 essential oils tested in the study, thyme ranked #4 in terms of its insecticidal activity. This oil is very commonly used with, and made more effective alongside, oregano essential oil in formulas.2
The volatile oils from the needles of these evergreen trees have long been favored for their incredibly cleansing, purifying qualities—including the removal of insects. While pine essential oil specifically hasn’t been closely studied against bed bugs, one study from 2015 showed that one species of pine killed the larva and repelled the adult stage of certain other insects. The results suggest broad-range insecticidal activity which could possibly be effective against bed bugs too.3
This widely popular essential oil for coughs, colds, and flus contains an active ingredient called carvacrol. This insecticidal compound is also one of the most widely used (and most effective ingredients) found in natural alternative bug killers including bed bug formulas. In the journal study of 18 essential oils against bed bugs, oregano ranked just after thyme (and thymol) for effectiveness in repelling and killing bed bugs.
It’s hard to imagine that the oil from a sweet little flower could deal such a devastating blow to bed bugs. But it does: many species of geranium, and their unique cocktail of volatile oils (including geraniol), can help repel and kill these insects. In one study, geranium essential oil was one of many other oils that helped reduce a population of bed bugs that had grown resistant to mainstream chemical insecticidal applications.4
Next up is clove, and it’s not just for pumpkin spice. Its natural numbing agent, eugenol, is also infamously good at keeping insects at bay—and in some cases even killing them. Eugenol, and clove essential oils in general, are mentioned in multiple studies as being premier ingredients in natural bed bug repellents. 2 4 It can kill up to 90% of bed bug nymphs and around 25% of adult stages. Plus, it is even more effective when used in combination with other oils.
This stunning flower comes in many colors and boasts both wild and domesticated species. Also sometimes called wild bergamot, sweet leaf, or Oswego tea, the aromatic essential oils from this plentiful blossom contain both carvacrol and thymol—which are also the active ingredients in thyme and oregano essential oils.5 Bee balm itself hasn’t been closely studied for fighting bed bugs in particular, though its phytochemical content suggests it may be very useful in combination with others.
Citronella works famously for repelling flies, mosquitoes, and gnats in the form of candles, aromatic diffusers, sprays, lotions, and much more. Can it do anything for keeping bed bugs away? According to this recent study, citronella’s active plant compound found in its essential oil—citronellic acid—was very successful at keeping bed bugs away, especially when used mixed with other types of essential oils for the same purpose. However, it was not shown to be very good at directly killing them at any growth stage.5
Essential oils from citrus fruit rinds will always have a high place for pest prevention, while bringing a lovely aroma as well. In the Journal of Economic Entomology study, some types of citrus essential oils were the highest performing against bed bugs, especially blood orange. The citrus compound limonene is shown to cause mortality to the insect pests.4 This compound is also found in lemon essential oils and is also present to some degree in all citrus essential oils.
Popular as a tea, spice, and aroma, lemongrass has similar compounds and properties to citrus, and especially lemon. These properties have brought its possibility for insecticidal benefits to light. Studies show that lemongrass essential oil could in fact be insecticidal, having cytotoxic and neurotoxic effects on many species.6 Whether it can help prevent or repel bed bugs still needs study, though the odds look good with research results. (And it doesn’t hurt to try it in an anti-bed bug essential oil blend!)
The powerful volatile oils from this Australian tree genus are hailed for their cleansing properties. It’s been noticed by more than a few that they keep insects and bugs at bay too. In the broad-spectrum study of 18 different essential oils against bed bugs, all eucalyptus species ranked around #7 in the lineup, making it a strong contender for both killing and repelling them. Eucalyptus essential oils are already established as effective for repelling certain other pests.
Another Australian herb strongly associated with sanitizing, cleaning, and repelling insects, tea tree is a popular natural ingredient in some bug sprays. It may also keep bed bugs away with the help of other essential oils. However, it’s not yet widely shown to kill them. One promising study demonstrated tea tree’s insect-repelling properties on a caterpillar/moth species. The oil had adverse effects on the bugs when they tried to consume or contact tea tree.7 This may carry over to bed bugs as well.
This Mediterranean herb’s compounds are not just good for flavoring Italian food. Rosemary was the feature of one very intriguing stud, in which many different essential oils were tested and explored for mortality against bed bugs. Rosemary performed highest and was the only tested natural alternative to commercial insecticides that killed over 99% of the bed bugs. It performed almost as well as neem oil, a common natural chemical insecticide replacer.8
For both ritual and practical purposes, cedarwoods of many types around the world have been uniformly used for deterring and expelling unwanted spiritual and physical presences. It turns out that cedarwood essential oils are also useful for both killing and repelling bed bugs to a great degree. Two species ranked 3rd and 4th in the lineup, while others ranked 6th, 10th, and 11th.2 This oil’s heavenly alpine scent is desirable enough as it is while also helping you kill and deter bed bugs naturally and safely.
Best EO blends for bed bugs
Essential oils, and herbal remedies in general, are well-known for working better together than alone. With that in mind, here are some well-suited bed bug-fighting essential oil blends and combinations. You can combine up to 1 fluid oz. of different oils together in 1 pint to 1 quart of water for spraying directly on bugs or as a preventative measure.
Peppermint, spearmint, and rosemary blend
This trio may be the perfect choice for particularly bad infestations. Their scents can lend a clean, fresh feeling to an infested room. Peppermint and rosemary are also able to kill bugs on sight.
Thyme, oregano, and bee balm blend
If you don’t mind the zestier Italian scents of these herbs, this trio is also effective at repelling and killing bed bugs. Each of these oils contains thymol, which can hamper bed bugs in many ways.
Pine, citronella, and cedarwood
For a very pleasant evergreen-smelling combination, use these 3 mainly for repelling and preventing bed bugs from returning or spreading after they have been killed or removed.
Citrus, lemongrass, and geranium
This sweet and citrusy blend is a good alternative for those who may find evergreen, minty, or highly aromatic scents less desirable. The blend is effective at both repelling and killing as well.
Eucalyptus, tea tree, and clove
Go with these 3 oils for strictly deterring bed bugs from spreading or returning. Go light on the clove oil and stronger on eucalyptus and tea tree: clove’s aromas are highly powerful!
Give essential oils for bed bugs a try
Essential oils and EO blends for bed bugs are more than reasonable first lines of defense against infestations, especially small outbreaks. If done correctly, these natural remedies can kill small and beginning populations with ease and no outside help, if users are vigilant and thorough. If you use essential oils against bed bugs and your infestation only gets worse—or if the outbreak is extensive and very large and unmanageable to begin with—contact a professional fumigator right away.
About Adrian White
Adrian White is a certified herbalist, organic farmer, and health, food, and agriculture freelance writer—and upcoming author. She is a past contributor to Healthline with bylines in The Guardian, Civil Eats, and Good Housekeeping. Adrian is also the co-owner and operator of Jupiter Ridge LLC, an organic farm growing diverse vegetables, mushrooms and herbs.
1.. “Study identifies essential oil compounds most toxic to bed bugs.” Purdue University. Purdue.edu.
2. Zha, C., C. Wang, & A. Li. “Toxicities of Selected Essential Oils, Silicone Oils, and Parrafin Oil against the Common Bed Bug (Hemiptera: Cimicidae).” Journal of Economic Entomology 111, no. 1 (2018): 170-177.
3. Koutsaviti, K., A. Giatropoulos, et al. “Greek Pinus essential oils: larvicidal activity and repellency againsts Aedes albopictus (Diptera: Culicidae).” Parasitology Research 114 (2015): 583-592.
4. Gaire, S., W. Zheng, et al. “Plant essential oil constituents enhance deltamethrin toxicity in a resistant population of bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L.) by inhibiting cytochrome P450 enzymes.” Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology 175 (2021): 104829.
5. Ghost, M., I.A. Schepetkin, et al. “Essential Oils from Monarda fistulosa: Chemical Composition and Activation of Transient Receptor Potential A1 (TRPA1) Channels.” Molecules 25, no. 21 (2020): 4873.
6. Mukarram, M., M.M.A. Khan, et al. “Biosynthesis of Lemongrass Essential Oil and the Underlying Mechanism for Its Insecticidal Activity.” Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (Springer Cham, 2021): 429-423.
7. Liao, M., J.J. Xiao, L.J. Zhou, et al. “Chemical composition, insecticidal and biochemical effects of Melaleuca alternifolia essential oils on the Helicoverpa armigera.” Journal of Applied Entomology 141, no. 9 (2017): 721-728.
8. Feldlaufer, M.F., & K.R. Ulrich. “Essential Oils as Fumigants for Bed Bugs (Hemiptera: Cimicidae).” Journal of Entomological Science 50, no. 2 (2015): 129-137.