Spring in Maine brings joy. Finally it’s time to clean up from the winter, trim the apple trees, plant your garden and do some hiking, camping or fishing. Spending time outside refreshing your soul. Suddenly another Spring reality strikes when you find a tick crawling on you or attached to your body. The tick population has exploded over the last few years. One of the reasons may be we have moved away from burning fields, which kills ticks, coupled with the increased population of host animals like deer, mice, rats, and squirrels. More ticks are finding their host animals easily, therefore laying more eggs. Nature provides some natural predators to help control ticks like guinea fowl, chickens, turkeys, opossums and ducks. What if you don’t have these around or can’t keep them because you rent. What can you do to feel safer outside?
The number one thing is to start is a tick protocol every time you venture outside. The best protocol starts before you go outside with treating your exposed skin and clothing with a repellent. Following are some natural, simple, safe and effective ways you can protect yourself from tick bites and the bacterial or protozoan infections that cause the diseases and co infections associated with a tick bite. Not every tick is a carrier of these diseases or co infections but the best practice is to treat every tick bite like the tick has a disease.
Tick Killer/Repellent #1: CEDAR OIL
The most effective choice is cedar oil. Cedar oil is non toxic to humans and pets. The same can’t be said for its use on ticks! Cedar oil is a natural insect and tick killer or repellent. This oil can be sprayed directly on your skin and clothing. You can treat your yard with a dilution of this oil but be aware it does kill ants, crickets, roaches, chiggers, mosquitos and japanese beetles and many more insects. It is safe for butterflies and bees! Cedar oil is safe for your pets and can be purchased at most pet stores.
Tick Repellent #2: ORGANIC NEEM OIL
Organic neem oil can be rubbed directly onto your skin. Use several drops in the palm of your hand, rub your hands together and then spread the oil on any exposed skin. You can mix the neem oil with an almond oil or other light carrier oil to dilute it. In it’s diluted state it is safe to use on your dog. DO NOT treat your cat with neem oil. There is a recipe for a pet safe spray you can use on your cat included near the bottom of this article. Optional spray you can make using Neem oil if you prefer this method of application:
- 2 cups of water
- 2 tablespoon of Neem oil
- 4 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
- Mix together in a spray bottle, shake well before use and spray on clothing and exposed skin. This solution is great to use on dogs as well. Be sure to label your spray bottle with the ingredients!
DIY tick sprays are very effective at repelling ticks. What makes them effective? Ticks dislike certain scents. All those scents are available in organic essential oils. Therefore, making solutions using one or any combination of these scents is a great way to repel ticks. The scents most repugnant to ticks are peppermint, lavender, cinnamon, orange, rose geranium and lemon or lemongrass. These scents can also be used with a light carrier oil like almond oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, jojoba, olive or sunflower oil. Mix them well and rub onto your skin. It is recommended to use 100% organic essential oils for making your tick repellent solutions.
DIY Tick Solution # 1: ESSENTIAL OIL SPRAY
- 4 oz Water
- 20 drops of Lemongrass essential oil
- 20 drops of Eucalyptus essential oil
Add all the ingredients to a small spray bottle and mix well, label the spray bottle. Shake well before every use, spray your exposed skin and shoes, socks, pants or other clothing as desired. Store in a cool dark place to maintain the efficacy of your solution. This solution is suitable for use on children, adults and dogs.
DIY Tick Solution #2: ESSENTIAL OIL SPRAY
- 4 oz water
- 20 drops of Rose Geranium essential oil
Mix in a spray bottle, label with ingredients before storage. Shake well before use and enjoy the great scent. Can be sprayed on skin and clothing, has an added benefit of antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Store in a cool dark place. BONUS: can be used to treat acne!
DIY Tick Solution #3: ESSENTIAL OIL SPRAY
- 4 oz water
- 20 drops of Eucalyptus essential oil
Mix in a small spray bottle, shake well before use. Spray exposed skin and clothing before going outside. This solution is safe for dogs as well but only in this diluted state. Never use straight eucalyptus oil on your dog. As with all DIY sprays label the bottle before storage and keep in a cool dark place to maintain the effectiveness of the essential oils.
DIY Tick Solution #4: ESSENTIAL OIL LOTION
If you would rather have an oil based body lotion try this nice combination for insect and tick repellent. Choose your favorite carrier oil, jojoba, olive, sunflower, coconut or almond oil to use in this recipe.
- 1 Tablespoon of light carrier oil
- 6 drops of Tea Tree essential oil
- 6 drops of peppermint essential oil
- 9 drops of citronella essential oil
Mix well and spread lightly onto your skin. Take the remaining mixture and put in a little bottle to take with you for reapplication if needed. Any one of the above solutions will work to repel or in the case of the cedar oil kill the pesky disease carrying ticks.
DIY Tick and Flea Solution for Pets (including cats)
- ½ teaspoon of baking soda
- ½ teaspoon of salt
Mix these two ingredients together in a large spray bottle then add the following ingredients. There will be a foaming reaction so slowly add the wet ingredients while holding the bottle over a sink.
- 8 oz of apple cider vinegar
- 4 oz of warm water
After the foaming reaction subsides spray on pets avoiding the face and eyes. If you want to treat their faces, spray solution onto your hands and gently rub into their fur. Spray your pets body with this solution and then rub into fur down to their skin. This solution can be used on their bedding and throughout the house to treat for ticks and fleas. Retreat on a regular two week cycle during the flea and tick season.
PRO TIP: If you own a lint roller use on your body before entering your house. The sticky paper will pull the tick off your clothes preventing infestation of your home. Keep one in your car to use after hiking or working away from home.
Go wild with your essential oils and combos, try cinnamon and orange or lavender and peppermint, lemon or lemongrass with cinnamon, be adventurous with your scents. No reason tick repellent can’t smell great! If you forget and need to purchase an OTC spray use Ben’s Tick Repellent Spray. It works great but avoid getting it on your skin.
The next step in tick protocol is when you return home. Remove all your clothing and put them immediately into the washing machine. Washing does not kill the ticks but drying them will dehydrate them, preventing an accidental infestation of your home. Take a hot shower and check yourself all over paying close attention to your legs, head, arm pits, mid section including your groin as these are favorite spots for ticks to attach. Slowly run your hands over your body feeling for hard bumps, even tiny ones as the tick nymph are small.
What to do if you find one attached:
- Use a tick removal tool kit, (spoon or key type) Don’t have one? Follow these steps.
- Use fine point tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible
- Gently pull straight up ~ Do not twist or jerk the tick
- Do NOT crush the tick between your fingers (bodily fluids carry any diseases)
- Wash the wound and follow with peroxide or alcohol to disinfect
- If the head of the tick is left in the skin do not dig it out. If it can be easily extracted with tweezers without crushing the head, remove it. If not, leave it and let your body take care of it or go to your doctor for proper extraction.
- Capture tick in a zip lock baggie (do not tape or use alcohol to kill the tick if you are having it tested)
- Write in permanent marker on the bag date: time: location on body: location where tick was picked up : Activity during this time
- If in Maine follow this link to have the tick identified and tested https://extension.umaine.edu/ticks/submit/
- Watch the bite site for a rash, bullseye ring or for fever for several weeks
- Call your doctor immediately if you develop any rash or fever.
Arm yourself with knowledge in the war against ticks. Know what works to repel or kill them, and how to properly remove them if they do make it past your defenses. Don’t let ticks prevent you from enjoying the great outdoors!