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What Smells Do Flies Hate? 11 Herbs and Oils to Keep The Flies Away

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No matter how much of a nature-lover you are, I bet you’re not immune to one creature’s presence.The flies. Especially the pesky summertime flies.

Oh, the flies. They will buzz around your head. They will go for your food, sweat, tears, and even your saliva. The saliva part is probably the least romantic iteration of the French kiss in the universe.

To illustrate how influential fly irritation is, look no further than the Aussie salute. Also known as the Barcoo salute, the specific hand gesture inspired by an effort of poor humans to defend against Australian bush fly “kisses.”

Physically deterring flies is useless. You can wave at them all you want (you silly human), but the flies – they don’t care. Luckily, other strategies against flies make you look less foolish – and they have a pleasant aroma.

Some of the smells that flies hate include citrusy scents and herbal fragrances. Plants such as lemongrass, lavender, mint, and neem, among others, make excellent fly repellents due to their pervasive smells.

Want the lowdown on what natural smells flies hate? Let’s explore 11 different plants and natural oils you can use to shoo away those flies for good.

What Smell Will Keep Flies Away? 11 Natural Fly Repellents

What smell do flies hate? It turns out there are plenty – and you can use them as natural deterrents. What’s even better, these aromas are delightful for human noses.

So, take a deep breath and explore the aromatic herbs that are natural fly repellents!

1. Citronella Oil (Lemongrass oil)

Lemongrass in my garden
Lemongrass in my garden

We’re starting the list with an oldie but goodie.

Truth be told, most plants on the list have probably been used as insect repellant traditionally for longer. However, Citronella oil was the first essential oil to be registered as an insect repellent in 1948. Thus, it is considered the first tried-and-tested plant-based insect repellant.

Citronella oil is actually a mix of essential oils of several species of lemongrass (Cymbopogon), but it includes Cymbopogon nardus, which is true citronella grass. Its effectiveness is proven but time-limited. Citronella oil will keep the flies away for several hours on average.

The popularity of Citronella as the “official” repellent also resulted in many products, such as citronella candles, that you can use against pesky insects instead of the oil itself. Besides fly-repelling properties, citronella oil is a biopesticide – non-toxic but effective against garden pests.

Pure lemongrass oil (Cymbopogon citratus) is reportedly effective in repelling house flies, stable flies, and mosquitoes.

Fun note: Flowering Citronella, also called citronella geranium or pelargonium citronella, is ineffective at repelling flies and mosquitoes.

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A natural citronella oil like this one makes both a good topical bug repellent for your skin and a great fly-repelling aroma to diffuse!

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06/12/2024 02:48 am GMT

2. Lavender

lavender essential oil

Not only is lavender renowned for its soothing properties but flies also find its strong scent highly unappealing.

In the garden setting, you can plant lavender around your garden stools or other socializing spots. Lavender oils will evaporate from the plants and emit a highly pleasant aroma, especially during the hottest parts of the day when flies are at their peskiest anyway.

Place dried lavender sachets, or use lavender essential oil in a diffuser to keep those bothersome flies at bay.

3. Citrus Fruits

orange trees plantations

Flies have an aversion to citrus fragrances, so the refreshing scents of lemon, lime, and orange can work wonders.

Of course, just having a lemonade glass on your table won’t do. Essential oils are much more potent. You can create your own natural fly repellent by mixing citrus essential oils with water and spraying it around windows, doorways, or any other fly-prone areas.

Also, if your skin is not sensitive, you can take an orange or lemon peel after squeezing out the juice for a refreshing drink and rub the inner part on your arms and legs.

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4. Mint

holding leaves of aromatic mint plant growing in a pot

Besides being our ally when it comes to treating respiratory and stomach distress, flies hate the smell of mint and peppermint.

Flies despise the strong scent of mint, so try planting some mint seeds on your land and in pots, especially around places you like to hang out.

Just be careful – once established, mints can spread like wildfire and become invasive in the garden. Growing them in raised beds is a solution against their plans for taking over your garden.

As for the essential oil, you can place peppermint oil-soaked cotton balls in fly-infested zones.

If you are bothered by flies outdoors and like to smell like mint yourself, you can mix a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil into a tablespoon of carrier oil and rub it on the insides of your arms, around your neck, and legs.

Placing the mint oil on your skin can burn it, so mixing it into carrier oil is necessary.

You Might Also Like Reading: How to Grow, Harvest, and Prune Mint: The Complete Guide

5. Catnip

Your cat may love to roll around in catnip (Nepeta cataria), but guess who doesn’t like to come near?

That’s right – flies hate the smell of catnip.

Besides folk wisdom, science has something to back up the claim above.

A study on the effects of catnip essential oil on stable flies (Stomoxys calcitrans) and houseflies (Musca domestica) found that it was very effective – on average, 96% against stable flies and 79% against houseflies.

Oh, and the said study also revealed to me that these two species are a part of the fly category known as “filth flies.” Cute, right?

6. Eucalyptus

A eucalyptus tree in my backyard

Known for its refreshing, clean aroma, eucalyptus is also an effective natural fly deterrent.

Because it is so popular, eucalyptus has numerous scent-emitting forms that you can use to deter flies. For example, eucalyptus candles or oil-filled diffusers can help keep flies away from your living spaces.

If you want to use eucalyptus on your skin, like in the case of mint, you have to use a carrier oil to dissolve it. Note that pure eucalyptus essential oil is toxic when ingested, so keep it well away from kids and pets.

7. Basil

fresh basil harvest straight from the garden
Fresh basil from the garden!

People have been in love with the flavor and smell of basil for centuries – primarily in the culinary context.

However, there was another lucky perk of our gastronomic love affair with basil – flies can’t seem to stand its smell, and mosquitos tend to avoid it, too.

Growing basil plants on your window, balcony, or garden will probably reduce the number of flies.

Sweet basil essential oil is also effective against fly attacks – using basil essential oil can be an excellent way to deter those pesky flies. I’m also a big fan of basil hydrosol – you can spray it on your face and body anytime you feel like refreshing your skin.

More Info: How to Harvest Basil Without Killing the Plant

8. Neem

Neem oil has many wondrous properties and applications. One of them is to be an insect repellent, which most certainly includes flies.

For example, you can make a neem fly spray that can be applied to humans and animals simply by mixing 1 part neem to 20 parts water with a couple of drops of dish soap or shampoo.

What’s wonderful is that, besides flies, neem oil solutions are provenly effective against biting midges and even sandflies.

For example, concentrations of 2% neem oil mixed in coconut or mustard oil (as carrier oils) provided impressive 100% protection against the Phlebotomus argentipes, the dreaded species of sandfly that transmits Leishmania.

9. Cedarwood

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The earthy scent of cedarwood may not seem incredibly potent, but fortunately, flies find it quite repulsive.

On the market, numerous natural insect-repelling products combine cedarwood and rosemary – a nice combination indeed.

Also, you can utilize cedarwood essential oil or chips to make your immediate surroundings less appealing to flies.

10. Clove

the smell of cloves repels flies

Not only are cloves a must-have ingredient of authentic mulled wine, but flies hate the pungent smell of these tiny dried flower buds.

You can create a simple clove-based homemade fly repellent by combining a few drops of clove oil with water and spraying it around the house.

Another exciting idea is to stick whole cloves into a lemon or an orange and place them on a plate, acting as a natural fly-repellent centerpiece. Summer vibes! This lemon-clove “hedgehog” is called a pomander.

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06/12/2024 02:42 am GMT

11. Rosemary

white rosemary herb flowers

Rosemary is more than a tasty herb for marinades – it sends the flies away for good!

The pros over at Bellevue University recommend throwing a few rosemary sprigs over the grill during a cookout to repel flies from the food.

However, even when it’s not time to fire up the grill, rosemary can work overtime to keep the flies at bay.

Rosemary essential oil is a popular ingredient in many natural pest repellents, and it’s not hard to see why. This natural, deliciously aromatic, and edible plant has a smell that flies just plain hate.

What About Cattle? How to Repel Flies In Cattle

We use an essential oil blend in our cattle back rub (next to the tree)
We use an essential oil blend in our cattle back rub (next to the tree)

If you think flies are giving you a bad time, look at the poor cows, horses, and other livestock. Our domestic mammalian brethren have been targeted by various fly species that buzz around and inflict painful bites. And it doesn’t happen randomly – the animals are specifically targeted (think horse flies, yikes!).

Fly attacks can be so distressing that they can negatively affect not only mood and general well-being but it can also affect milk production.

Sunflower-Geranium-Lemongrass Combo

One attention-worthy study tested a combination of sunflower (95%), geranium (2.5%), and lemongrass (2.5%) oils. The team successfully applied the mix to dairy cattle, reducing the number of stable flies on the animals’ bodies and the defensive behaviors against flies, such as tail flicks, head throws, and leg stamps. The oiled cows also grazed more, probably because they were less disturbed.

How Were the Oils Applied to Cows?

In the study, the essential oil mix was applied around 30 minutes before the cows were released to pasture in the morning.

The amount of the repellent oil was adjusted to each animal’s metabolic body weight. The mean of 115 ± 11 ml of the mixture was applied manually to the cow’s entire body, excluding the hooves, udder, and sensitive facial regions (near eyes, mouth, and nose).

Keep Reading:

To Buzz It Up (and Away)

Nature might have given us flies to tempt us and test our patience, but it has also “sent” numerous wonderful aromatic plants to our rescue from all the buzzing summer fly affection. If you’ve wondered what smells flies hate, I hope this article provided enough answers!

Plant fly repellents are usually made from essential oils, but fresh herbs can also work.

Remember, the key to successfully repelling flies with scents is to use them consistently and strategically.

Unfortunately, all essential oil repellents have relatively short efficiency times – from 4 to 12 hours, sometimes up to a day. That means you’ll need to re-apply them frequently, but it’s a non-issue since they’re non-toxic and not irritating to the skin when used right.

Place the fragrant weapon of choice in areas where flies tend to enter, gather, or bother (you) – near garbage bins, windows, or outdoor seating areas.

While the added fragrances can discourage flies from buzzing around, removing those they love from the environment is essential. In the first place, that means maintaining good sanitation is critical. Proper waste disposal and not leaving food or dirty dishes in the open for long will reduce the flies’ enthusiasm to hang around.

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    1. That’s true, Carol! Thanks for those great resources. Citronella is a type of lemongrass, as both belong to the Cymbopogon genus.

      Thanks so much for reading and leaving us some feedback! 🙂

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