The Unexpected Pantry Staple To Bring On Your Next Camping Trip To Keep Bugs Away

Let's be honest: Just because you love camping doesn't mean you love the bugs hanging around your tent. Besides being a nuisance when you're trying to enjoy the great outdoors, some pests can pose a health risk. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list Zika virus, West Nile virus, and malaria as just some of the diseases passed to humans by mosquitoes. The only thing you should be bringing home from your camping trip are new memories — not a dangerous illness.

Commercial bug sprays work in a pinch, with diethyltoluamide (DEET) being one of the most commonly used types. However, DEET may not be your top choice if you prefer a more natural solution. Moreover, while DEET products are generally safe, they can sometimes cause side effects, such as skin irritation, rashes, and blisters. Overexposure to DEET can even cause mood changes and seizures, according to Medical News Today

Thankfully, you can ditch the bug spray during your next camping adventure without being eaten alive by hungry insects. Grabbing a bit of coconut oil — the same kind you use for cooking or baking — may be enough to keep bug bites at bay.

Mosquitoes and other bugs don't like coconut oil

If you thought a DIY solution like coconut oil would be too weak to keep bugs away, think again. A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports revealed that the fatty acids found in coconut oil are more effective at repelling biting flies (and even bed bugs) than DEET products. 

It's important to note that the study focused on the fatty components found in coconut oil, rather than coconut oil itself. However, a separate 2023 study published in iScience also discovered that coconut scents tend to repel mosquitos. "Based on our analysis, the combination of benzyl benzoate, gamma-nonalactone, and benzaldehyde [all coconut-derived ingredients] was significantly associated with reduced mosquito attraction," Dr. Clément Vinauger, the study's senior author and an assistant professor of biochemistry, shared with Everyday Health. "It is possible that the combination of these coconut-related chemicals and those we identified all contribute to repelling mosquitoes."

So for your next camping trip, you may want to pack coconut oil from your pantry in place of store-bought bug sprays. And if you find that it doesn't offer the protection you're looking for, the next best option is a commercial repellent containing natural components sourced from coconuts.