Group Research Project

What is the safest and most effective homemade fly spray?

Stuff Riders Say about Fly Spray - Episode 2

What is fly spray?

Fly spray is something riders use on their horses to repel insects, such as house flies, mosquitos, gnats, bot flies, and some moths, from biting their horse. By repelling the flies it provides the horse with comfort, and indirectly comfort and security for the rider. Horses may sometimes get agitated by insects and fussy during the ride causing the rider possibly to be thrown. Fly spray also prevents insect diseases from spreading to the horse. Some flies transmit disease mechanically, directly transferring infectious organisms from the blood, mucus or lesions of an infected horse to the next horse upon which they feed. Other flies serve as intermediate hosts in the life cycle of transmitted parasites, passing immature forms on to their next-stage host, the horse, during feeding. Still others use the horse as an incubator of sorts, for their own young. And then there are the hordes of flying insects who are just plain irritating, firing up skin allergies with the venom of their bites. These allergies include:

  • Mechanical Dermatitis
  • Allergic Dermatitis
  • Bacterial Disease
  • Viral Disease
  • Surface Parasites
  • Internal Parasites

Fly spray vs. Bug spray

The ingredients used in both fly and bug spray are usually very similar. They both often contain DEET or Citronella oil as an active ingredient. When compared you will see no difference other than the living organism it is being used on.

What are the active ingredients in fly spray that repel insects?

Most active ingredients used in fly spray are processed and can be potentially harmful to the horse. By creating your own fly spray using all natural ingredients you can reduce a horses chance of being around harsh chemicals. In homemade fly sprays essential oils are commonly used as repellents. These essential oils include:

Cedar oil - used as a repellent in some natural products. It is extracted from cypress or juniper trees (rarely from true cedar trees). Cedar oil is primarily used in pet products to repel fleas.

Citronella oil- used as a natural insect repellent and is also classified as a biopesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A biopesticide controls pests naturally and is non-toxic. It is extracted from the cymbopogon (lemongrass) plant.

Eucalyptus oil- is a natural insect repellent. The oil is extracted from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree (found in Australia) and from a grass located in Asia (C. nardus and C. winterianus). It is thought the scent confuses insects, making it difficult for them to locate the target. Eucalyptus is most effective against mosquitoes.

Permethrin - a pyrethroid (synthetic) insecticide. Permethrin is highly toxic to cats and will kill them. Permethrin can be an ingredient in spray and wipe-on products that are applied directly to the horse. It is also an ingredient in many premise sprays. Insects may still land on the horse, but do not remain on the treated area for long. The pest may still swarm around the animal, but not land. Permethrin is one of the longer lasting chemicals used in insect repellents. Its chemical formula is C21H20Cl2O3

DEET - Diethyl-meta-toluamide is a slightly yellow oil. It is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents. It is intended to be applied to the skin or to clothing, and provides protection against mosquitos, ticks, fleas, chiggers, leeches, and many other biting insects. Its chemical formula is C12H17NO.

Fun Fact!

  • DEET was developed by the United States army, following its experience of jungle warfare during World War II. It was originally tested as a pesticide on farm fields, and entered military use in 1946 and civilian use in 1957. It was used in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
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Advantages and Disadvantages of Citronella

Citronella oil is a natural insect repellant, especially for mosquitoes. Tests have shown it to be less effective than the standard chemical used in repellants, DEET. However, those same tests indicate that it is an effective deterrent against insects.The disadvantage to natural repellants is that they do not stay effective as long. Many chemical insect repellants are good for hours. It is recommended that citronella repellants be reapplied every 30 to 60 minutes. Some purchasable repellants with citronella have been tested to repel insects for 2 hours, but even then the effectiveness decreased after 40 minutes.One way to increase the effectiveness of your homemade citronella spray or lotion is to add essential oils from another plant identified to repel insects. Some suggestions are basil, catnip, cedarwood, juniper, lemon, lemon eucalyptus, myrrh, pennyroyal, rose geranium and rosemary. There is some risk of allergic reactions to citronella. Whenever trying a new repellant, apply a small amount to a spot on your arm in advance. If there is no rash or reaction, then use your new repellant in good health. However, if there is a reaction, at least it is to a small portion of your arm only.

Fly spray Recipes

Recipe One

1. 950 mL raw apple cider vinegar

2. 15 mL citronella oil (Active ingredient 2%)

3. Spray Bottle

Recipe Two

1. 120 mL conditioner

2. 45 mL cedar oil (Active ingredient 8.6%)

3. 120 mL baby oil

4. 240 mL cup water

5. Spray Bottle

Recipe Three

1. 475 mL white vinegar

2. 15 mL coconut oil (Active ingredient 3%)

3. 240 mL water

4. Spray Bottle

Lab Procedure

1. The recipes were combined into each designated spray bottle then marked citronella 1, cedar 2, and coconut oil 3.

2. The sprays were then transported to a barn to be tested on a horse.

3. First, the spray bottle was shaken to mix substances mixed completely (polar bonds). The citronella spray was then sprayed on the horse.

4. The horse was then taken outdoors and ridden for a time period of one hour while stopping to walk every 30 minutes to check for attraction of flies.

5. After the first 30 minutes of riding, a one-minute video was recorded while stopped to count the number of flies attracted to the horse. This process was then repeated after the following 30 minutes was finished at the end of the hour.

6. The next day the cedar spray was tested and the process was repeated. The process was then repeated with the coconut as well the following day.

7. Then the most effective spray was determined based on the number of flies counted per minute attracted to the horse.

8. Once the most effective spray was determined it was tested on an additional horse using the same procedure in order to avoid lab error or bias.

Test Horses


Data Recorded

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In Conclusion

After performing this lab procedure I found the citronella fly spray was the most effective. This lab taught me how to properly identify active ingredients in non-tested recipes and how to identify a safe fly repellent from a non-safe one. Some lab errors that occurred were not testing all three fly repellent recipes on the same day. The temperature may have been different causing the amount of flies to vary. Also one day it began to rain so I had to ride inside. There were fewer flies inside than outside so this may have also caused some lab error. Overall I believe this lab procedure was beneficial to my knowledge of making homemade fly spray for horses. I now know Citronella oil is both a safe and effective insect repellent.

Class Procedure: Make your own Fly Spray! (Bug Spray)

I promise this will not hurt you if you do use it as bug spray. Citronella oil is the same thing that is put in insect repelling candles, clip ons, and sprays. However please do not ingest it!

You will need:

100 mL raw apple cider vinegar (yellow)

3 mL citronella oil (Blue)

Spray Bottle

Measure ingredients using a beaker then combine in spray bottle. Shake bottle well after mixing!

Stuff Riders Say about Fly Spray - Episode 1