8 Scents That Gnats Hate (and How to Use Them)


Gnats Outside in Light

As you most likely know, gnats are pesky little bugs that seem to pop up in all of the wrong places. If you are looking for quick and easy, or just any, solutions to avoid gnats in your living space, then you have come to the right place. Did you know that different scents can be used to deter these pests before they become an issue?

Fruit flies and fungus gnats, both commonly referred to as ‘gnats,’ rely heavily on their strong sense of smell to navigate. You can take advantage of this trait and repel gnats by using scents they hate such as peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus, vanilla, lavender, citronella, and DEET.

Before we get into the specifics, we should talk about why you might need to repel these little pests in the first place (if their peskiness isn’t quite enough to convince you.) 

Why Are Gnats So Bad?

Gnats are commonly lumped in with mosquitoes and other insects in the fly family. While they are all quite similar when it comes down to it, it is worth noting that gnats can be a much bigger hindrance in your daily life than you might expect. That’s why it is better to solve the issue before it even begins! Just say no, and all that.

Some varieties of gnats are actually more aggressive than mosquitoes, and peskier than fruit flies. 

Whereas mosquitoes often bite, some gnats take it a step further resulting in blood being drawn. 

Here are some of the most common issues that you might run into upon finding gnats on your property:

Gnats Can Multiply Rapidly

Another unfortunate characteristic of gnats, from fruit flies to fungal gnats, is their rapid ability to reproduce in large numbers. 

A single fruit fly can lay up to 400 eggs on just ONE piece of fruit. Imagine what this could look like if left unchecked. 

Moist areas, fruit peels that are either still covering fruit or have been removed and need to be disposed of, and dirty drains are all common perpetrators of this unwelcome occurrence. 

A gnat infiltration may indicate that plants are overwatered.

Since gnats are drawn to moist places and sweet smells, your houseplants may be part of the reason they are suddenly showing up. Oh, and they can get into your compost and multiply pretty quickly as well.

More on keeping gnats out of your compost here.

While this is a nice natural reminder to check how much you are watering your plants (less is more, sometimes), it is easier for everyone to prevent this ‘helpful’ intrusion.

The longer that they are there, the higher chance there is that they will multiply and then prevention turns into full-blown elimination mode. 

What Scents do Gnats Hate in the House?

We made it, this is the moment you’ve really been waiting for!

Below you will find the 6 scents (and a couple of bonuses) that can help you in your quest to prevent a gnat issue on your property. 

Like anything, contacting a professional is always going to be a surefire way to help a pest situation and have them removed. These are solutions and methods that are meant to be your first line of defense and to help you use what you’ve got without having to go that extra step.

Peppermint

Ah, yes, peppermint. The universal insect and animal repellent.

Animals from deer to raccoons, to flies and Japanese beetles absolutely hate peppermint.

Fruit flies, luckily, are absolutely no exception to the matter. You can either utilize peppermint essential oil in its raw form and spray a diluted mixture around areas where you want to keep gnats out, OR, you can even keep some peppermint plants around areas where you’re trying to repel gnats.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of diluting the essential oil yourself, check out Wondercide’s Peppermint Pest Control Spray. It’s intended for use against controlling all sorts of insects, including gnats, and uses other fly repelling ingredients to boot.

Grab Some Lemon and/or Eucalyptus Essential Oils

On the subject of essential oils, lemon and eucalyptus on their own, or lemon and eucalyptus combined, are some more oils that serve as great additions to your gnat-repellent stock.

Take this study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, if you need some convincing. 

Following this research, this potent natural repellent in the form of lemon eucalyptus oil has been used since the 1960s and is a tried and true way to keep the gnats at bay.

To avoid incurring costs associated with directly applying essential oil in different locations, dilute your oil with water for better coverage and a cheaper way to spread this mixture in and outside of your home.

Use Lavender Spray or Plants

To begin, we recommend utilizing lavender. 

Whether you prefer the sight as much as the scent and want to grow your own lavender, or you opt for a liquid alternative of this scent, gnats are NOT a fan. While these pests seem to enjoy many sweet-smelling scents, something about lavender tends to get them to go right back where they came from (i.e., not your property.)

If you are concerned about the cost that might go into lavender oils or other sprays, don’t fear! There are many options out there, but this Nature’s Truth Mist Spray, Rejuvenating Lavender is one place to start as it is totally plant-based, cruelty-free, and also just smells amazing for daily use in your home.

Not only is lavender a refreshing, calming scent, it also deters a wide variety of insects naturally which means less work for you (and no need to resort to any crazy smells!)

To use it as a gnat deterrent, spray the oil solution from an atomizer, or leave a sachet or saucer lying somewhere you expect to see these pests. This will ensure that gnats will be less likely to invade your space. 

Vanilla-Scented Objects

A more surprising scent that tends to dispel gnats of many kinds is vanilla. A scent that can be found anywhere from candles to body lotion and your favorite desserts, this one seems a little hard to believe. 

Well, many people, and this article from the University of Illinois, claim that vanilla is an effective repellent. 

While other sweet smells draw gnats in, something about this scent just doesn’t do it for them. So, maybe swapping that vanilla-scented lotion for a more ‘natural’ scent isn’t as necessary, in this case!

Another way to apply vanilla to your skin, your surroundings, or through the air in your home is… can you guess? Yes, essential oils! These heavily concentrated oils are good for more than it might seem, and when diluted with water they can last a looong time.

Citronella Products, an Outdoor Summer Staple!

Finally, we’ve come to the scent that may just be one of the most well-known insect repellents around. Nonetheless, citronella is well-deserving of a mention on this list. 

Like mosquitoes, gnats hate products that contain citronella.

The United States National Park Service recommends using products containing citronella while enjoying time outdoors to avoid getting bites and to better soak in your outdoor experience. 

This 8-pack of outdoor citronella candles combines lemongrass along with its main essential oil to provide a great scent, fun outdoor ambiance. Bonus, they’re a great size for travel! Take them on the go while you are camping, visiting on a friend’s patio, or simply trying to enjoy a book in your backyard on a nice day.   

NO NATZ Spray

We know by now that some scents like lemon and citronella are great insect repellents, but what about a product that utilizes these scents that gnats hate… and then some more? 

NO NATZ Spray is a hand-crafted formula that utilizes lots of essential oils, including rosemary, geranium, and more. 

This product is DEET-free, hypoallergenic, and an all-around highly-reviewed product that requires minimal effort on your part while delivering great results. 

While mixing your own essential oils, buying plants, and browsing which combinations work best is a great way to go, NO NATZ is one of the simplest ways to go. It was created and tested in the southern United States, a place known for its huge insects and pesky critters that always return in the warmer months.

DEET

One of the most tried and true insect repellents their is, DEET works wonders against mosquitos, ticks and even fleas.

In essence, DEET works by masking the scent of a gnats target, meaning that gnats with their incredibly strong sense of smell, aren’t able to smell their accessible food sources.

Now, you don’t want to spray your food with DEET but you could very well go ahead and spray areas like your compost, where gnats are likely to gather.

Quite a few DEET-based sprays will do, but just make sure that they specifically state that they repel gnats on the bottle, like OFF! Deep Woods Bug Spray does on the back of the product.

Bonus: You can use this spray on yourself while outdoors, too!

But Wait… There’s More! Two Scents to Help You Trap Gnats

Gnats trapped on yellow sticky trap

Gnats might not hate these two scents, but it is always good to have an extra trick up your sleeve. While preemption is always better than finding a solution, let’s face it, you might end up with a gnat problem that requires a quick and effective resolution.

The sense of smell that gnats ever-so-conveniently have is typically what gets us in trouble with them to begin with. 

However, using that feature to draw them in so you can kick them out is another very effective method when all else fails, or if it’s too late to try a deterrence technique. 

Banana Peels 

Gnats, specifically fruit flies, have an amazing sense of smell, as we already know. This can be beneficial to all parties if correctly utilized. Creating an inexpensive, humane, and simple way to trap gnats (if it comes to that) requires 3 simple materials. 

Gnats are strongly attracted to bananas, so use that!

This method requires you to use not a scent that gnats HATE but one that they LOVE. 

Reverse psychology at its finest, right? The Department of Environmental Protection for Massachusetts thinks so. They note that nearly 99 percent of fruit flies should be inside your trap within 24 hours of placement.

Curious about how to do this at home? It’s easy: 

You’ll need to place a banana peel in a clear plastic container before making three or four holes in a lid or some plastic wrap. A toothpick works best for this part, but move it around a little to make sure that the opening will be the right size for the gnats to enter. 

To ensure that the gnats do not escape (though it is unlikely that they will), add a few drops of dish soap to make the trap sticky.

Apple Cider Vinegar

A similar method to the banana trap above, apple cider vinegar is another scent that can be used to draw in, and then kick out, gnats who have already made their way into your space. 

While this is another option that you will hopefully avoid by following the 6 scents that gnats hate, it’s worth having a few extra ideas in the back of your mind. 

So, how does this one work?

You will first fill a clear container (again, think bowl, glass, Tupperware, anything really) with apple cider vinegar. Add some dish soap to make the liquid sticky enough to trap the gnats before sealing the container. 

Grab your plastic wrap (this sounds familiar) and seal the edges with a rubber band before poking tiny holes on top with… you guessed it, a toothpick!

Much like the banana trap, the gnats will not be able to get back out once they’ve been drawn in by the scent of the vinegar. 

Long Term Solution: Keep Gnats Away With Habitat Modification

There are so many powerful scents that can be used to prevent gnats from becoming an issue, but with these solutions comes the game of chance. 

To avoid putting the future of your ideal gnat-free property in jeopardy, follow some extra steps around the house and backyard and worry less about all kinds of insects and other pests. 

Not only will habitat modification help with this specific concern, but it could also be the difference between preventing and eliminating other, larger creatures such as raccoons, skunks, and other pesky animals. 

Additionally, while scented mixtures and liquid repellents are very effective, smells fade and reapplication will always be a necessity. 

Banking on one prevention or one solution? Don’t. A backup plan almost always pays off at some point in time and helps give you peace of mind.

Follow some of these quick, simple steps for a long-term addition to all of your newfound gnat-repellent knowledge. 

Cover Your Garbage

A common-sense starting method, it is not always one that comes naturally to everyone. 

Sweet smells, damp areas, and food scraps are the perfect breeding ground for not only gnats, but other insects, animals, and unwelcome visitors. 

To ensure that all of your other efforts are not in vain, be sure to always cover your waste bin upon adding any type of garbage. 

Maintain your space and cover your waste.

Another tip that is not only beneficial for avoiding insects is to wipe down your garbage bins at regular intervals. 

Spilled sodas and other sugary drinks, sauces from takeout containers, melon rinds, candy, and even soggy paper towels can attract insects of all sorts. Gnats, of course, are no exception.

An added benefit, your bins will not be sticky or dirty and you’ll be more inclined to regularly clean them if they are not already caked with those smelly remains of garbage past.

If you haven’t been convinced yet, just take this one from us. Cover your garbage!

Check on Your Compost Pile

Outdoor garbage cans and kitchen spaces aren’t the only ones that might attract gnats to your property. Food compost piles, while fantastic resources to have, can attract these flying critters. 

Since compost piles are typically moist and contain food peels and other products, they may attract both fungal gnats and fruit flies. 

This, however, does not mean you should give up on your compost pile. Maintenance is magic and here is how:

If possible in your location, keep your compost in a covered area. If this is not possible, opt to place your items for compost in a pile that is at least a few feet from your home. 

While these gnats will likely be more immersed in the compost than anything you’ve got going on, keeping that space too close to your doors or windows could lead to a tricky situation. 

Utilize Screens in Open Spaces

Houses, naturally, have lots of cracks and holes that we don’t often notice. That’s why we should be extra vigilant about those openings that we do know about and have some control over.

Gnats are tiny and can enter virtually anywhere, especially your screenless bedroom window or when you leave your patio door open because it’s just such lovely weather outside.

Don’t think it’s that big of a deal? Reconsider for a moment.

Taking a small step that covers major open space all while allowing you to enjoy those nice weather days, what isn’t there to like about that, really?

A quick solution that doesn’t cost much and will keep more than just gnats at bay is screen installation in your doors and windows. It is another highly recommended method of prevention.

This, paired with covering garbage and compost, is a huge step in the direction of keeping your indoor space protected from gnats and any creatures that may be roaming around your outdoor space. 

Properly Store Your Foods

This seems simple, but it is easy to forget until the gnats or other pests have arrived. 

Be sure to keep not only fruit contained, but also sodas or any sweet-smelling items. Unless your banana is sitting partially unwrapped to contain an already-occurring gnat issue, it should be unpeeled, sealed, or composted out in a field.

This step will not only ensure that gnats stay away from your indoor space, but will also help you get in the habit of avoiding ants and other insects.

If All Else Fails… Ask For Help!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if these home remedies aren’t as successful as you’d like against gnats.

While these methods are all proven effective, there are so many factors to take into account when dealing with any sort of pest, wildlife, and nature in general. Once in a while, a home remedy may just not cut it and that is okay.

Remember, you can always contact a professional by locating them via our free service to find a professional exterminator near you.

That’s All For Now!

So, that’s pretty much it. Simple, right? We think so too!

Remember about gnats: 

They like sweet smells but hate vanilla. Say yes to essential oils, especially those containing citronella. Properly store your food and gnats will be much more likely to avoid you.

While gnats are a nuisance, don’t forget that these 6 simple yet effective home remedies will help deter them in the future:

When repelling them doesn’t work, or you notice a little too late, keep these two gnat trap methods in mind:

  • Bananas (specifically the peel)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar and Dish Soap

On top of these gnat-specific practices, avoid leaving produce skins and other scraps indoors after consumption and get those out to the compost instead! 

Also, remember to check the water levels in the soil of your house plants to not only avoid fungus gnats but to keep your plants adequately watered and thriving.

Thank you for taking the time to read this piece, here’s to hoping that your gnat problem subsides and that you can go on enjoying your space as usual!

References

Brown, M., & Hebert, A. A. (1997). Insect repellents: an overview. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 36(2), 243-249.

Cloyd, R. A. (2015). Ecology of fungus gnats (Bradysia spp.) in greenhouse production systems associated with disease-interactions and alternative management strategies. Insects, 6(2), 325-332.

Koehler, P. G., & Pereira, R. M. (2000). Use and Application of DEET Repellent. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, EDIS.

Maia, M. F., & Moore, S. J. (2011). Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing. Malaria journal, 10(1), 1-15.

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