I live for the summer and eating outside on summer nights. The only thing that can dampen my enthusiasm is those pesky bugs. I am one of those unlucky people who puff up like a balloon when they get me, and somehow I think the bugs know it!
I’m not fond of the idea of poisoning myself with DEET and other chemicals in order to avoid them though either, but bug-borne diseases like West Nile virus and Lyme disease means that some kind of protection is definitely a good idea.
Until recently, DEET was the only mosquito repellent recommended by the Center Of Disease Control (CDC) for the skin, but since 2005, plant-based alternatives that are a chemically synthesized form of lemon eucalyptus oil have been added to the list, under the label Para-Menthane-3,8-diol (PMD). In 30 percent concentration, it is potentially effective for up to 6–8 hours. These chemicals are registered versions with the Environmental Protection Agency, unlike the pure oils.
Several studies have found this plant-based bug repellent to be as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes, and their potential against ticks continues to be of interest as well. One of the major downsides, however, is that it is not recommended for children under three by the CDC, and it is not as natural as the advertising would have you believe.
Health-food stores sell more natural versions, and I am more comfortable with their ingredients, but their effectiveness has not been studied to the same degree. Although soy-based, cream repellents do seem to be better, according to scientific research and some are designed to be child-safe.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather double up on my protection, bug-borne diseases are no joke. That’s where bug repelling candles come in, but they have to be chosen carefully too. Some of them have chemicals that are as bad for humans as they are for bugs. Many are for outdoor use only as well, because they put off harmful particulates.
I look for candles that use the pure essential oils. Citronella is the traditional choice. The smoke apparently confuses bugs and prevents them from smelling you out. Studies have proven its effectiveness in reducing bites by 42.3 percent within 2 meters, but that’s assuming that there is no breeze. That’s why I want a botanical backup on my skin.
Studies also praise the effectiveness of clove oil. On the skin, it beat out 38 other essential oils, including citronella, to provide 100 percent repellency for 2–4 hours. It’s another ingredient that I look for in my all-natural bug repelling arsenal, and it smells great.
As I’ve said, a lot of candles I’ve looked at in stores contain DEET and other toxins, or the quality was just not up to par. The best way to really guarantee that I know what’s going into them is obviously just to make them myself. That way I can choose the container too, and I get exactly what I want for my outdoor decorating as well.
CITRONELLA AND CLOVE BUG-BE-GONE CANDLES:
Start To Finish: 12 1/2 hours
- 454 g (1 lb) soy wax flakes
- 118 ml (½ cup) beeswax
- Mason jar, small flower-pot without a hole, or any other heat safe container
- 153 mm (6 inch) pre-tabbed candle wick, cut to fit your container and 1.3 cm or 1/2 inch over the wax before burning
- 1 ml (¼ teaspoon) clove oil
- 4 ml (¾ teaspoon) citronella oil
When reusing old candle holders and containers, first fill it with boiling water to release any old wax. Most of it will float to the top. Use hot water and dishwashing liquid to scrub out anything that’s left, along with any residual soot. The container must be completely dry before continuing for safety.
Cut the pre-tabbed wick with a few centimeters to spare over the top. I use a small loop of scotch tape to stick it to the bottom, and press it down firmly with a wooden skewer or pencil, making sure that it is as centered as possible.
You can use a wick bar or holder across the top of your container to keep the wick straight or use a skewer and tie the wick to it, in which case you’ll need a longer wick. Try to get it to be as tight as possible.
In your least favorite pan, or one specifically designated for making candles, melt 454 g (1 lb) of soy wax flakes and 118 ml (½ cup) beeswax over low-medium heat, stirring regularly. Beeswax can be a bit more challenging to clean up, so I find it’s better to have a cheap pan just for candle making.
Remove from heat and use rubber gloves to stir in 1 ml (¼ teaspoon) clove oil and 4 ml (¾ teaspoon) of citronella oil, because it isn’t supposed to touch your skin.
Use oven mitts to pour a little bit of wax into your container. Let it stand 10 minutes to make sure that the wick stays straight and upright. Slowly and carefully pour in the rest of the wax, and let it cool and set at least 12 hours, depending on your containers.
Remove the wick holder and give the wick a final trim to about 1.3 cm or 1/2 inch over the wax, and you are ready to go.