Updated On

June 26, 2024

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Traditional insecticides, pesticides, and bug sprays are effective ways of repelling bugs, but they come with their own set of concerns, especially for those with children and pets. However, there are natural alternatives you can use instead of commercial bug sprays.

One household staple has emerged as a true champion in the realm of repelling pests: vinegar. When you use it correctly, vinegar is a great repellant against common pests like ants, spiders, and mosquitoes.

As someone with vast experience in both DIY and professional pest control, I understand the importance of finding solutions that strike a balance between efficacy and safety. In this article, I’ll explore the benefits of using vinegar as a pest repellent and uncover whether vinegar truly lives up to its reputation as a natural bug repellent.

What Bugs Does Vinegar Repel?

Vinegar is most effective at repelling ants, spiders, and mosquitoes. Its strong scent disrupts the pheromone trails ants use to navigate, effectively disorienting them.

Spiders are not only repelled by vinegar but can also be killed upon direct contact with it. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, are deterred by the pungent smell of vinegar, making it a useful tool for outdoor gatherings or areas with standing water.

How To Use White Vinegar To Repel Bugs

White vinegar is a solution consisting of around 5 to 8% acetic acid and 92 to 95% water. It’s created from fermenting grain alcohol and then a second fermentation with acetic bacteria to produce acetic acid.

Acid is the key to white vinegar’s signature scent, sharp flavor, and antimicrobial properties. Acetic acid makes vinegar an excellent tool for pest control, repelling some of the most common backyard nuisances and even killing weaker insects.

If you’re trying to get rid of ants, roaches, moths, mosquitos, bed bugs, or other common household pests, vinegar is a great addition to your pest control arsenal. That said, it is most effective against ants, spiders, and mosquitos.

When using vinegar as an insecticide or repellent, you should always mix it with water, generally at a 50/50 solution. The mixing step is necessary because vinegar is potent and can damage plants and irritate the skin if not diluted.

You can keep spiders from entering your home by spraying vinegar around your property’s perimeter and entryways. For ants, vinegar breaks the pheromone trail they use to communicate, making it harder for them to navigate and enter your property. Vinegar’s potent smell is what repels mosquitoes.

How To Use Apple Cider Vinegar To Repel Bugs

While white vinegar is made from grain alcohol, apple cider vinegar is made from apples. Apples are added to water, and yeast ferments into ethanol and then acetic acid.

Apple cider vinegar functions much like white vinegar except that it’s slightly sweeter, less sharp, and has about half as much acetic acid. These elements make apple cider vinegar a more mild ingredient in food and a less abrasive solution for pest control.

Apple cider vinegar repels ants, spiders, and mosquitos like white vinegar. It still requires dilution, but it’s usable around sensitive plants due to its lower acetic acid content. You can also create a trap to kill fruit flies by mixing it with soap in a large bowl.

Apple cider vinegar is valuable for deterring and killing mosquitoes. If you have significant amounts of standing water on your property, you can add apple cider vinegar to it. The vinegar will repel future mosquitoes and kill any larvae living in the water.

Do All Bugs Hate Vinegar?

While vinegar is an excellent tool for repelling certain insects, not all bugs hate vinegar. Specifically, aphids and fruit flies love the scent of vinegar and will seek it out.

You can use this to your advantage by creating traps. Mixing a quart of water, 12 ounces of vinegar, and a tablespoon of dish soap, you can create a mixture that will rid your garden of annoying, buzzing pests.

This mixture is also harmless to plants, animals, kids, and other garden bugs you want to keep around.

How Vinegar Repels Ants

Ants use powerful scents to communicate with one another. They leave a trail of these scents, called pheromones, that direct the rest of the colony to food sources. These pheromone trails can warn other ants of danger, direct orders, and provide useful information.

The overwhelming smell of vinegar disorients the ants, blocking their ability to read pheromones. Without pheromone trails, ants become functionally blind, lacking direction and order.

Using vinegar against ants is easy. Just mix a solution of one-half water and vinegar and add it to a spray bottle. Then, spray this mixture directly onto the ants. You can then keep the ants away by lightly coating the perimeter of your home, along with its main entry points.

How Vinegar Repels Spiders

Vinegar is not only a powerful insect repellent but also an effective insecticide. It both repels and, if applied directly, kills spiders.

When mixed with water and applied to cracks and crevices, vinegar’s powerful scent can keep spiders from entering your home.

How Vinegar Affects Fruit Flies

As mentioned above, vinegar, especially apple cider vinegar, attracts fruit flies instead of repelling them. These buzzing nuisances mistake vinegar’s overpowering scent with overly ripe fruit, their favorite food. This is what makes apple cider vinegar such an effective attractant for DIY traps.

Vinegar’s powerful smell is strong enough to attract them from a good distance away, while the dish soap water mixture makes it impossible for them to swim and escape once they’ve landed.

This premise applies the same way to aphids, with the only exception being that aphids are so small that a light misting on your afflicted plant is more than enough to drown them.

Is Vinegar Alone Enough to Repel Bugs?

While vinegar is a powerful natural bug repellent, it isn’t always a complete solution on its own. Vinegar’s effectiveness is temporary, as it evaporates quickly — so you’ll have to reapply it often.

Plus, some pests, like fruit flies and aphids, are attracted to the scent of vinegar. For best results, use vinegar in combination with other natural repellents listed below for a better solution.

What Other Scents Make Good Bug Repellents?

While vinegar is one of the most potent natural insect repellents and insecticides, many homeowners dislike its pungent aroma.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of natural bug repellents to choose from, each with its strengths and weaknesses:

  • Citronella: Citronella is one of the most readily available natural mosquito repellents in sprays and candles. While some studies have shown that citronella is ineffective for long-term use — as it fades too quickly — it’s more than adequate for a quick outing. It’s derived from lemongrass and can effectively repel mosquitoes, fleas, aphids, mites, and flies. 
  • Lemon eucalyptus oil: The CDC lists lemon eucalyptus oil as one of its main recommended mosquito repellents for adults and children above three. Lemon eucalyptus oil comes from a tree of the same name, specifically its leaves. This oil is known to repel many different insects, although it has only been proven effective against mosquitos. Still, this is one of the most reliable natural ways to deter mosquitoes besides citronella.
  • Basil: Basil, with its lush green leaves and aromatic scent, not only enhances your culinary creations but also acts as a natural repellent against flies and mosquitoes. This popular herb can be easily grown in your garden or indoor pots, making it a convenient addition to your pest control arsenal.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary, a fragrant herb commonly used in culinary dishes, also serves as a natural insect repellent. Its robust aroma makes it effective in deterring flies and mosquitoes, making it a valuable addition to your garden or outdoor living spaces.
  • Cedarwood: Cedarwood, with its rich, woody aroma, is a time-tested natural repellent against moths, ticks, bed bugs, termites, and fleas. This scent is especially effective in deterring pests that are known for infesting clothing, bedding, and pet areas, including bed bugs and roaches.

The Downsides of Vinegar as a Bug Repellent

Vinegar is not a comprehensive, long-term pest management strategy. It tends to evaporate quickly, losing its potency. Vinegar’s pest-repelling effects are temporary (at most 30 minutes to a few hours) and rely on continuous application.

Moreover, consistent and excessive use of vinegar can have unintended consequences. Prolonged exposure to vinegar can harm and potentially kill plants. Additionally, it’s essential to be cautious when handling vinegar, as it can irritate your skin, eyes, and sinuses.

Which Vinegar is Best for Repelling Bugs?

If you’re considering using vinegar as part of your pest control efforts, I recommend white vinegar, especially when dealing with lightly colored materials like baseboards and fabrics. This can help prevent potential staining, as apple cider vinegar, in particular, may leave marks on such surfaces.

While vinegar can be a helpful tool, remember that it’s best used in conjunction with a comprehensive pest management plan for lasting results.

The bottom line is that vinegar can:

  • Disrupt the militaristic order of ants and then keep them away afterward.
  • Be an effective bait for drowning fruit flies and aphids. 
  • Kill spiders on the spot. 
  • Repel many garden insects like earwigs

Final Thoughts on Using Vinegar as Bug Repellent

Vinegar is a strong bug repellent and a great DIY pest management solution. When you dilute it with water, vinegar can indeed serve as a safe and effective DIY solution for keeping pests at bay around your home and garden. However, it also attracts gnats and fruit flies. So, if you want to repel these bugs, you’ll have to use other natural repellants along with vinegar.

If you encounter ants, spiders, or other insects often in your home, you may have an infestation. In the garden, you should look out for pests like aphids, ladybugs, or other plant-damaging insects. In the case of an infestation, you should contact a pest control company to handle the problem and find a long-term solution. 

Reach out to one of our trusted pest control experts for effective extermination.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do essential oils repel insects?

Using essential oils as pest repellents is a popular trend making circles around online blogs and how-to sites. Unfortunately, there’s no conclusive evidence that essential oils make good insect repellents. Some oils are shown to irritate insects and keep them away, but usually don’t last long enough to be helpful. Even worse, many of the oils that may repel insects also irritate the skin, have an extremely strong or unpleasant smell, or don’t work well enough to warrant their use as repellent.

Some evidence suggests garlic oil may effectively repel ticks, and peppermint oil may repel spiders. Unfortunately, the rumor of essential oils keeping annoying invaders away has become widespread but has very little information to support it. Besides citronella and lemon eucalyptus oil, I don’t recommend essential oils for repelling or controlling insects without doing your homework first.


Are any bugs attracted to vinegar?

Yes, certain insects are attracted to vinegar. Namely, those attracted to decaying plant matter, with aphids and fruit flies as the primary culprits. That’s why I suggest using equal parts of lemon juice and vinegar for your home remedies that use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar.


Should you spray vinegar around windows?

Windows are one of the primary ways insects invade your home. You can deter some common pests, especially ants, by spraying vinegar on and around your windows. Ants can fit through the smallest gaps in window screens or even between the screen and frame. By spraying vinegar outside your window and its frame, you can deter ants before they become a problem.


Where shouldn’t I spray vinegar?

Vinegar is an amazing cleaning solution and repellent, but it’s not universal. There are some locations in your house and garden where you should never use vinegar, such as:

  • Granite and marble countertops: While it might be tempting to spray your countertops as a preventative measure against ants, you should avoid this for granite and marble. The intense acids inside vinegar can damage these beautiful stone materials. This acid can result in discoloration or dulling in the locations the vinegar makes contact.
  • Anywhere around bleach: This applies more to the usage of vinegar as a cleaning agent, but it’s worth mentioning all the same. Vinegar, when mixed with or exposed to chlorine, creates chlorine gas. Chlorine gas is a severe irritant in small amounts, agitating the eyes, nose, and throat. In large amounts, chlorine gas is lethal, so you should never expose, let alone mix the two.
  • Hardwood floors, stone floors, ceramic floors, or laminated floors: Like countertops, certain floor materials don’t react well to the acetic acid inside vinegar. Specifically, acetic acid can weaken any flooring with a chemical finish, wearing it down and making it look weak or unpolished.


How long does vinegar last as a bug repellent?

It usually repels insects for a few hours, but depending on how much you apply and how fast it evaporates, it may last only 30 minutes.


Can I use vinegar directly on my skin to repel bugs?

Yes, but you should dilute it with water first — at least a 1:1 mixture of water and vinegar.


Editorial Contributors
avatar for Sam Wasson

Sam Wasson

Staff Writer

Sam Wasson graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Film and Media Arts with an Emphasis in Entertainment Arts and Engineering. Sam brings over four years of content writing and media production experience to the Today’s Homeowner content team. He specializes in the pest control, landscaping, and moving categories. Sam aims to answer homeowners’ difficult questions by providing well-researched, accurate, transparent, and entertaining content to Today’s Homeowner readers.

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photo of Jonathon Jachura

Jonathon Jachura

Contributor

Jonathon Jachura is a two-time homeowner with hands-on experience with HVAC, gutters, plumbing, lawn care, pest control, and other aspects of owning a home. He is passionate about home maintenance and finding the best services. His main goal is to educate others with crisp, concise descriptions that any homeowner can use. Jon uses his strong technical background to create engaging, easy-to-read, and informative guides. He does most of his home and lawn projects himself but hires professional companies for the “big things.” He knows what goes into finding the best service providers and contractors. Jon studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and worked in the HVAC industry for 12 years. Between his various home improvement projects, he enjoys the outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with his family.

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