10 Scents That Cats Hate (And How to Use Them)

close up of cat

Using scents that cats hate is a great way to deter their poor behaviors in your home, or to keep cats off your property outside. Cats have sensitive noses and can easily be repelled by certain scents!

In truth, cats are VERY sensitive to smell and are much more sensitive to smells and odors than humans. Luckily for us, you can use this wonderful trait to keep your precious pet away from areas you don’t want them!

Some of the scents that cats hate are lemon, grapefruit, orange, citrus, lavender, white vinegar, rosemary, thyme, peppermint, and pine.

Read on to learn more about what scents cats hate and how to use them to deter cats from negative behavior both inside and outside of your home. You can greatly reduce their bad behaviors by using something as simple as an unpleasant scent (ones that humans find pleasant!)

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Cats Absolutely Hate Lemon

Cats hate the smell of lemon.

When used in its essential oil form, it can be very strong and offensive to cats. You can create a lemon-scented spray by using lemon juice diluted in water, equal parts of each, and then spray it on the areas you want to keep cats out.

You can also use lemon essential oil by adding 10 drops to a spray bottle of water and using it in the same way.

Now, please keep in mind that lemon is mildly toxic to cats, according to the ASPCA. So, don’t let your feline friend ingest it or don’t spray too much near your cat.

The good note is that naturally, cats will be more inclined to stay away from lemon as it can upset their stomach if ingested.

As an alternative, you can use actual lemon balm plants in your home as cats dislike the scent as well! The plant itself is non-toxic according to the ASPCA, so you’ve got the greenlight there.

I highly encourage you to take a peak at our guide on the houseplants that cats will leave alone for more info on specific ones to use (like lemon balm) if you’d like to go as natural as possible here.

White Vinegar Repels Cats With Ease

One of the most effective repellents for animals AND insects alike is natural white vinegar.

White distilled vinegar is particularly effective for repelling cats. The extremely pungent aroma of vinegar overwhelms a cats senses and masks any potential food sources in your home.

Thus, cats steer clear of vinegar when the scent is pungent.

If you use apple cider vinegar, it won’t repel cats. This is because the scent of apple cider vinegar is actually a bit sweet. It may even attract cats to the very area you’re trying to repel them! So, stick to white distilled vinegar.

You can dilute vinegar according to your products specifications (usually a 1:1 ratio with water,) and then place it in a plastic spray bottle to apply near areas where you want to repel cats.

Grapefruit, Orange, And Citrus Deter Cats

These other citrus scents, such as grapefruit, lime, and orange are also a big no for most cats who are poking around. As with the lemon-scented spray mentioned above, you can also eave the peels of citrus fruits, such as oranges, limes, grapefruits, or lemons in your potted plants to help deter cats.

Again, most citrus fruits are toxic to cats when ingested, so it’s best to place the peels in porous satchels where cats can’t directly ingest the peels.

Lavender Will Keep Cats Away

Another common scent, cats hate lavender!

You can use lavender in a few different ways to deter cats from marking or hanging around where you don’t want them, both inside and outside of  your home.

Planting lavender in pots or incorporating them into your landscape is an effective way to keep cats away from your property. 

Inside your home you can use lavender in essential oil form. To make a DIY lavender cat repellent you can add it to a water or vinegar mix in a spray bottle as we mentioned above.

According to the ASPCA, lavender is toxic to cats. So, make sure not let your cat ingest any lavender oil or lavender plants during the process.

Use Rosemary To Deter Cats

Guess what, rosemary isn’t toxic to cats! According to the ASPCA, rosemary plants themselves are non-toxic to cats. Finally! So, this scent may be your best pet to use.

Rosemary is another herb that can be used in essential oil form or planted. As this is also a culinary herb it can do double duty in your garden. Planting rosemary can help keep cats away and also be a lovely addition to your kitchen garden.

I would still not recommend using too heavy of essential oils near your cat, as anything in high concentration like that always has a potential for a negative effective with your cat.

Here are a few other houseplants that cats will leave alone!

Thyme is Offensive to Cats

Another culinary herb, the scent of thyme is offensive to cats because of its potent smell. Planting a combination of thyme, and rosemary will be a nice combination to both repel cats and give you many useful herbs to use for cooking and freshening around your home.

Thyme is quite strong on it’s own, so you can place its leaves in satchels around places you want to keep your cat from and thus, keep your cat away! The scent of thyme is overpowering to cats and doesn’t indicate a food source.

Thus, cats stay away from thyme!

Guess what? Thyme is also also listed as non-toxic for cats by the ASPCA. So, it’s leaves are safe to keep around your cat.

Use Peppermint to Change Cat Behavior

Probably one of the easiest plants to grow and keep around is mint. There are many different varieties of mint, all of which cats dislike!

Mint is perennial, it comes back all by itself year after year. Mint is notorious for its tendency to spread quickly and voraciously wherever it is planted.

If you are concerned about it overtaking your yard, you can plant mint in pots to keep it contained. Also, consider that mint is toxic to cats, so you’ll want to make sure your cat isn’t overexposed to mint, peppermint, spearmint, or any kind of mint you’re using.

The Smell of Pine Upsets Cats

Many of us love the smell of pine to clean with and to scent our homes around the winter holidays. Cats, on the other hand, find pine to be far too strong and will avoid it! Pine can be used outdoors in other ways to keep cats away from your property.

Place bunches or piles of pine needles in areas of your yard where cats seem to enter. Cats will dislike the strong smell, but they will also be deterred from walking in those areas because of the unpleasant texture as well.

Planting any variety of pine trees or hedge bushes around your property will also likely deter cats from visiting your yard. 

Be cautious spraying pine or presenting too much of it to cats, as some species of pine are listed by the ASPCA as being toxic for cats.

Most Common Behavior Problems in Cats

litter box mess prevention

Even if you are a cat lover, there are still behaviors that you will want to deter. And if you are not a cat owner, stray cats may display some of these unwanted behavior problems in your yard or on your property.

Some of the most common behavior problems in cats inside the home include going to the bathroom outside of the litter box, scratching furniture or other items in the home that can be damaged, jumping on counters, and marking.

On your property, cats can urinate in unwanted places, cause damage to plants or outside furniture, and bring an unwanted presence of fleas to your yard. If you have pets, stray cats can be an issue for them if they are outside and they decide to fight with them. Stray cats probably do not have vaccinations and can cause issues for your domesticated pets.

How to Fix Bad Cat Behaviors

Tabby cat scratching furniture

There are a few popular and effective ways to correct bad cat behavior. Most of them involve deterring cats with smells, as we discuss in this article, or creating an environment that cats find offensive.

Loud sounds can deter cats as they agave very sensitive hearing and they are easily startled by sudden and or loud noises.

Other loud sounds like bells, clapping, and any sudden noises will deter a cat from bad behavior.

Of course, if you own a cat you know that you can deter a cat at the moment if you catch them doing something you don’t want them to do, but they may come right back and do it again when you aren’t in the room or watching.

Using scents that cats hate to deter bad cat behavior is slightly more effective inside the home than trying to use a loud noise deterrent because you can saturate an area with a spray and then walk away and when the cat returns, they will not want to be there because of the strong scent.

Some people use textures to deter cats from jumping on counters, scratching, fabrics, or lying in areas that they are causing damage. Textured items like a plastic carpet runner or aluminum foil can be laid down in areas you want to keep your cat away from.

Using scents that cats hate in and around your home is probably the most common way to deter bad cat behavior. It is quite simple to implement and you have a lot of options from DIY to purchasing premade scented cat repellent.

Products That Help Repel Cats

Vinegar is particularly useful when you are looking for a way to deter negative cat behaviors.

You can use vinegar on its own to repel cats or you can mix it with any of the other essential oil varieties that cats do not like. Most DIY cat repelling sprays contain vinegar as at least part of their base ingredients list. 

A pre-made Cat & Kitten Training Aid with Bitter can also be very useful for keeping cats at bay inside your home. These sprays work by using scents that cats hate to deter them from bad cat behaviors like marking and scratching furniture, rugs, or curtains.

Natural Options to Keep Cats Away

friendly cats non-territorial

Depending on your situation and needs, you may have several other options available to you aside from using scents to repel cats.

While using scents that cats hate to keep them away or to stop unwanted cat behavior is very popular and effective, there are a few other options you can try.

Use Pheromones to Repel Cats

If you are a cat owner and you have cats who are marking or spraying inside your home, you can look into pheromones that calm cats. You can buy a pheromone collar that emits a smell that helps keep cats calm. There are also calming pheromone cat sprays available.

These pheromone sprays are very effective at keeping cats calm, which helps with unwanted cat behaviors that are often caused by feelings of aggression in cats, especially if you have one or more cats. Cats do not like competition or to feel threatened. 

Cats are also very territorial. If you have one or more cats, especially two males, aggression could be at the root of your cats’ bad behavior.

If you feel like aggression or feelings of competition are causing your cat to exhibit unwanted cat behavior like marking, fighting, staring, or excessive scratching, this type of pheromone spray might be a great approach. 

Often cats are provoked to spray to mark their territory if they are stressed these devices emit a pheromone that only cats can smell that is calming and may reduce spraying and marking.

Motion Sensor Lights to Repel Cats

If you are a homeowner or renter who wants to keep cats away from your property, you can also look into motion sensor lights or sensor sound repellents.

Cats hate loud noises and they startle easily. If cats are making a habit of visiting your yard, using lights and noise can be an effective deterrent. 

Keep stray cats from coming onto your property by creating an unattractive environment for them.

Cats will not continually visit a place where they are consistently met with things they find offensive. Using a combination of cat-deterring methods is the most effective way to do this.

Remove Standing Water From Your Yard to Keep Cats Away

Do not leave out water, or have places where water pools and cats can drink from.

Any open water is basically a drinking fountain for any animal, let alone cats.

Planting plants and shrubbery that will be offensive to cats, either from smell or texture will also help keep cats away from your yard and help to soak up water in nearby grass.

Water Sprinklers Repel Cats

Water sprinklers installed on your property can also be a deterrent for cats. If you notice a certain time of day that cats tend to visit your yard, setting the automatic timers on a yard sprinkler system can signal to cats that your yard is not a place they want to be.

You can look into a product like the Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer Motion-Activated Sprinkler which will quite literally soak your cat with water whenever it gets near an area where you have to keep it away, such as your garden or under your deck.

Make Sure Your Trash is Secured

Make sure your trash is well secured. This applies to keeping all kinds of pests at bay, including raccoons, squirrels, and skunks. But cats will scour through your trash to find a meal just like other wild animals.

Making sure that your trash is well-secured is a good way to make your yard less appealing to the neighborhood strays.

Additionally, keep the trash in your house secure as well!

Wrapping Up!

Often using more than one method to help keep unwanted cat behaviors or cat presence at bay is the best option. This fact sheet on cat deterrent methods has useful info on these ways to keep cats away from your property without harming the cats.

Cats can make wonderful pets, but if they are consistently displaying bad behavior you can take safe measures to deter those unwanted cat behaviors both inside and outside of your home. 

If you have tried to keep cats away from your property on your own but are still struggling with a cat problem, you can call your local animal shelters or other community animal rescue groups that may be able to help you in relocated or rehoming stray cats in your area.


Rogers, Lura. Breaking Your Cat’s Bad Habits: Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin A-257. Storey Publishing, 2000.

Nagelschneider, Mieshelle. The Cat Whisperer: Why Cats Do what They Do–and how to Get Them to Do what You Want. Bantam, 2013.

Mash, Holly. Holistic Cat: A Complete Guide to Natural Health Care. Crowood, 2014.

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