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Neem oil for insect control

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A few weeks ago now I was watering the garden just after dark, torch in one hand, hose in the other, when I was attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes (mozzies).  I could feel them biting me, but there wasn’t much I could do with both hands in use and I really needed to finish watering.  When I came inside I found that I had several bites on each leg between the top of my gumboots and the bottom of my shorts.  These proceeded to itch, swell and annoy me for several days.

At this time of year, when the mozzies start biting, as I do have such a terrible reaction to the bites, I usually reach for my bottle of conventional insect repellent, typically containing DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, mmm mmm), and smelling terrible.  A quick search of google shows that the safety of DEET is questionable.  Yes the US EPA and the insect repellent companies say is ok, but plenty of other sources say that its not.  I suspect that it is a chemical with long-term effects that would be very difficult to measure or prove one way or the other, so I’d like to avoid it if I can find an alternative.

I asked on my facebook page if anyone knew a better way to prevent mozzie bites and I had a few suggestions including neem oil, tea tree oil and taking vitamin B.  Again I couldn’t really find a definitive answer on the Vitamin B idea, but it can’t hurt to increase Vitamin B levels, so I bought a multi B tablet to take.

Neem oil, however, is very highly recommended (for example), so I thought it was worth a try.  I ordered a small bottle of neem-based insect repellent.  This product contained organic pure neem seed oil, rose geranium oil, tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, citronella ceylon oil, lemon myrtle oil, lavender oil, based on pure grape seed oil.  It smells quite nice actually.  I have been using it ever since it arrived, and haven’t had another bite, so it works as well as the DEET-based insect repellent.  I will be testing it in a sandfly area when we go up the coast over Christmas and will let you know what I think.

Since I tried neem oil as an insect repellent, and it worked, I started to wonder what else it would be good for.  It turns out that neem oil has both repellent and insecticidal properties.  The exact nature of all the components of neem oil is not well understood (conspiracy theory: probably because some large chemical companies would suffer if neem oil was more widely used, most of the research seems to focus on synthesising the main component, Azadirachtin, but chances are this is one of those natural products where all the components are important, and isolating the main component will just cause more trouble, eg aspirin). 

Unlike most chemical insecticides that kill by contact with the insect, neem oil works by disrupting the insects’ hormones, so they must ingest the neem oil to be affected.  This means that it only affects insects that bite or chew, and is safe for bees and spiders (and, unfortunately, fruit flies), unless they become coated in the oil.  As the neem oil affects the hormones, only small amounts are required for insecticide use (0.5–1% neem oil in a carrier).  Read more here and here about how it works.

The repellent action of neem oil is less well understood, but appears to work (I am living proof), although its effectiveness seems to depend on the type of mosquito (see here).  As far as I kind find out, slightly higher concentrations (up to 10%) of neem oil are effective as an insect repellent.  I think this explains why beneficial insects are not affected or repelled by the low concentrations used to kill biting insects, however, higher concentrations work to repel all insects (because I don’t want to wait for them to bite me, get sick and then die!). 

Now that I kind of understood how neem oil works, I had a think about how I could use it around our home and farm(s):
  • Obviously as an insect repellent on my own skin, but we also use it on the cattle as part of an organic product called “Cattle Coat”, which they self-apply using a backrub at Cheslyn Rise, and we spray onto the tame cattle at Eight Acres. 
  • I picked up a hen the other day who was crawling with lice, so I gave her a good spray with a mixture of neem oil in water.  A few days later I checked her again and the lice were gone.  Now I have the spray made up, I check the chickens weekly when I’m feeding them, and give any with lice a quick spray.  I also sprayed inside their cages.
  • We usually burn a mosquito coil when we are sitting outside in summer, they contain the other type of nasty repellent chemicals called permethrin, so I’m going to replace that with a diffuser and use the Pesky Protect in that.
  • In the garden, I am disappointed that it won’t work on the fruit flies, but I think it will do a good job on the potato leaf beetle; I just have to make up a separate spray bottle at lower concentration.  I got a little over-excited and sprayed the potato plants with the same oil I had been using on the chickens and it was too strong and damaged the leaves.
  • When I put away my winter clothes in the wardrobe, I also put a dab of neem oil on a cloth inside the plastic boxes to repel moths.
  • Next time I clean out the pantry, I will wipe the surfaces with neem oil to deter cockroaches and weevils (I read that neem leaves can also be used inside containers).
There’s lots of good resources out there, so do some research and let me know what you would like to try (or anything that you have already tried).  Unfortunately this giveaway is for Australia only, but feel free to comment anyway if you’re in another country, just let me know not to put you in the draw.  I will announce the winner next week.


  1. Oh how wonderful - I have read about neem oil, and thought I should give it a try, but since I never see it on the shelf the thought has remained just that - a good thought! I even thought of planting a neem tree - until I read how big they grow! That looks like a great site - amazing that you can add it to the soil to build up stronger, more resistant plants. I am off to read more about it. I use avon skin so soft bath oil for sand flies and also mix it with eucalyptus oil in the pantry to keep away ants and spiders. We also use the coils - it would be marvelous to be able to do away with those so I look forward to your next update to see how the diffusers work. We have some pretty aggressive mozzies up here! thank you for hosting the giveaway! :)

  2. I would use the Neem oil to stop Daddy Eco grumbling. For some reason Mozzies ignore me. I've never had a bite in my life. But they LOVE Daddy Eco and Little Eco. Little Eco comes up in welts and Daddy Eco grumbles and grumbles about them biting him. So as soon as the mozzies come out our house is closed up - despite there being a cool breeze outside.

    So I'd love to see is the Neem oil could stop daddy Eco grumbling ;-)

  3. Mozzies aren't a big problem here(well not for me anyway). Flies on the otherhand have been quite bothersome of late. I think I would be like you and use the Neem oil for the poultry. We have problems with grasshoppers too so hopefully it would deter them along with the pesky 28 spotted lady beetle. Sorry, I'm not too creative.

  4. I'd love to win to see if the Neem Oil prevents me from considering gnawing off my feet this year...
    ;) I live near wetlands so we get everything and they all love having a feast on me. but I really hate to use the DEET based products as well.


  5. I WISH we could grow neem down here in Tasmania as I would donate the entire back paddock to it. Steve is apparently delicious to our Aussie mozzies and suffers terribly over our summer period. He spends the summer spraying our bedroom with noxious clouds of nefarious substances prior to going to bed and STILL gets bitten. I would like to enter your giveaway to try him with neem so that he doesn't look like the toxic avenger and has to shy away from being seen in public for most of our warmer season...thank GOODNESS we only have a short growing season... paper bags are expensive! ;)

  6. I had heard of Neem Oil but had no idea what it was used for really. I too would be very curious as to whether it was effective against the sandfly... As soon as I step outside over summer here we get covered from head to toe and only the use of bushman's spray seems to keep them at bay... I don't really like using it, but it seems preferable to the itchy uncomfortable bumps that sometimes end up oozing! We have bought ourself 5 acres and plan to move out there sometime next year (fingers crossed) We envision cows, chooks, heaps of fruit trees and a HUGE veggie patch and would love to try out neem on all of them.
    keep up the great posts and pics

  7. I have pet soap that contains Neem Oil and other natural products - it is good for fleas. i also have soap for shampooing to keep nits at bay and it seems tto work well also!!

  8. Oh what a great and timely post. I hate to use DEET based products, but my girls and I are apparently delicious to mozzies, and the girls react with huge welts (like the size of a 10c piece and bigger). I used to be the same, but not since my first pregnancy. My lucky husband jokes that as long as one of us is around, he and our son are safe!

    So I would use it on us, so that the perfect watering time (dusk) which is also the perfect BBQ time and the perfect outdoor play time on hot summer days, doesn't give me such misery. I tend to use tea tree oil on its own, and spray it on our clothes, which helps, but is not perfect.

    As for my chooks, they don't seem to suffer from lice or mites, which I'm guessing might be because they roost in the lemon tree (even through winter, and they laid all last winter too). But, we do suffer from an annual infestation of citrus bugs in that same tree, and I just read the you can use neem oil on them! So that would be my experimental use :)

  9. I wonder if it can be used for headlice which seems to be in plague proportions these days.

  10. I haven't used neem oil before but I am very interested in using it because my children and I suffer terribly from mosquito bites. I am also interested in trying it in the garden. Cheers Maria

  11. Thanks for blogging about the neem oil. I must check out the Pesky Protect as I seem to be meals on legs for the mossies around here.

  12. Oh my goodness! How did I not know about this oil?! I use essential oils a lot but I didn't know about neem oil. Yes Linni, you can use it for lice mixed 50/50 with a carrier oil. It can be used for athletes foot, can be used to stop mozzies breeding (but I don't know that I want oil in my pond), get rid of warts, add it to shampoo to get rid of dandruff...... The list goes on and on. If I'm not the lucky recipient, I'll be rushing out to buy some. How did I ever live without it?!
    Apparently it can even be used as a contraceptive! Do NOT use it internally for any ailments though! There have been cases where small amount have been deadly.

  13. I would really like to try neem for mozzie repellent, and for my pooches for fleas. The fleas are really bad here over summer :(
    Thanks to Linda for the link to essential oils :)
    Also thanks Liz for the chance to win.

  14. I wonder if it would work to soak the chooks legs in it... for leg mites? mmm hang on though is it safe if they ingest it (chooks, that is)?

    anyway I was thinking there's a few pesky humans about that could well do with a bath in the stuff but I won't say that! lol

    mmm... I think I'd be 'boring' and just use it on us people :) then I could water in the light of the early night and enjoy it rather than doing a funny slap dance and watering myself in the process.

  15. i'd like to try it on my zukes... i've been trying all sorts of natural ways to get rid of powdery mildew with no success :( plus as a replant... we don't have screens :/

    thanks for all the info about it. will have to get some!!

  16. Hi Liz,

    Neem oil comes from Azadirachta Indica which is of the Meliaceae family.

    The uses of this family of tree are vast and have huge traditional medicinal use.

    Check out the "Uses" section in Wikipedia.

    Happy hunting!

    Kind Regards,

  17. thanks for all the comments everyone. The winner was Linn. I hope everyone else has a look at buying some neem oil for their own use, it really does work on the mozzies, so it sounds like it could help most of you!

  18. I bought some Neem Oil over the weekend to spray our gooseberries as they are covered in mealy bugs (which was a recommended natural solution on another website).

    It wasn't until I got home though that I realised the label said to use on grass and ornamental plants only and not to use it on food crops. Apparently it can cause fertility issues.

    I'm going to read up more on this and would be curious to hear what other people recommend. Thought I'd at least mention it here in case others are thinking of spraying their crops :)

  19. I have tried Neem oil too and I must agree that it really works! I always love to use eco-friendly products over chemical-based ones. Though it may take quite some time before you feel their effect, what’s important is that they work and don’t bring any side effects. I also recommend citronella and lavender scents. Those are my favorite scents!

  20. We grow Neem trees here in Central Queensland. I add the leaves to the muesli each morning for my Alpacas to eat and they LOVE them. Haven't had to worm any of them for over 12 months, after 1st checking with poo samples to make certain. Don't like to use chemicals in or on our animals if we can avoid it "naturally".

  21. I get eaten ALIVE by mosquitoes, always have. I've also never really found anything that stops them (except staying indoors, away from the mozzies!).
    That said, I was at my parents a few months ago getting attacked by mosquitoes when, in desperation, I tried rubbing some citronella plants over my skin. The citronella plants did nothing to keep the mozzies away on their own (the plant was sitting on a table next to me) but I didn't have another mosquito bite once I rubbed the citronella on me. Hardly a rigorous scientific study, but enough to make me consider growing citronella and try it again this summer!


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