vintage canned ham trailer

How to Get Rid of (And Keep Out) Bugs in Your Camper or RV Without Harsh Chemicals

Whipping up your own natural, bug repellents is easy – I’ll show you how!

In the battle to keep bugs out of our camper, my plan of attack is to use natural, easy DIY solutions I can mix up myself without harmful ingredients.

I don’t want to share such a tight space with toxins or critters!

Luckily, I’ve had great success with these eco-friendly strategies. The ingredients are easy to come by, cheap (I’ve included links to top-rated ingredients), and simple to apply in your RV or camper.

1. Essential oils to repel mice, spiders and bed bugs

Essential oils as bug repellent
Choose your favorite scent or combine a few oils to make your own custom bug repellent.

We’ve used plant-based essential oils to keep mice and insects out of our camper for years and, as a bonus, have kept it smelling great. 🙂

The smell is actually how they work: mice dislike the scent of these oils – and so do spiders, mites, centipedes, and other creepy crawlies.

You can use different kinds of oils and even combine them to create your own special “brew”. Just make sure you buy 100 percent pure oils, so you’ll get a nice strong concentration, like this set, which costs under $10.

Recommended oils to use for pest control

  • Tea tree
  • Peppermint
  • Lavender
  • Eucalyptus

And a few more known to work (though may not be as nose-friendly).

  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Citronella

Making the solution is so easy that I keep this recipe in my head.

Essential oil bug repellent spray recipe:

  1. Get a clean spray bottle (I use a 4-ounce bottle)
  2. Fill it up with half rubbing alcohol and half water
  3. Add about 50 drops of oil
  4. Shake vigorously

For the bottle, I recommend using food-grade glass bottles because plastic bottles can leech chemicals into your solution. Give the bottle a good shake each time you use it.

Applying essential oil spray in your RV or camper

Spray this bug repellent mixture inside the camper wherever there are seams or gaps, inside cabinets, and in storage areas.

I will also mist some in the air so it falls lightly on the cushions; I avoid spraying directly on the upholstery to keep it from staining.

Our van’s kitchen is prime real estate for critters. Instead of spraying the shelves where the dishes are stored, I soak a cotton ball in the essential oil mixture and place it in a cap or jar lid at the back of the cabinet.

When it’s time to winterize the camper, I place these cotton ball bug bombs throughout the van, and also put a few on the garage floor underneath the van.

Essential oils repel lots of types of insects, including ticks, ants, roaches, moths, and fleas, but as a word of warning may not be the best choice for keeping mosquitos and ticks away: oils are not FDA-approved for protecting against vector-borne diseases like Zika virus or Lyme.

We live in Pennsylvania, the state with the highest occurrence of Lyme disease in the country, and take tick prevention seriously. If you’re looking for a DEET-free alternative that is proven to protect you and is recommended by the CDC, try this one. It’s crazy effective, cheap has absolutely no odor!

2. The best DIY ant killer for RVs and campers

Homemade ant trap poison
My DIY ant poison making kit

Have you ever made simple syrup?

If you have, or if you haven’t, you can easily make up a batch of my homemade ant-secticide.

This special cocktail works by slowly poisoning ants and is super effective. They take a drink and run with it back to their nests to party with the other ants, who are instead poisoned by it. On their way back home, the ants leave a pheromone trail that entices other ants to visit the trap.

It’s common to see a big swarm of ants drinking the bait, especially the first or second day, and stagger away. You may be tempted to smush a few crawling around your counter – but don’t! The idea is to poison the whole nest, so you want to see these ants make it home again.

It takes about three days to kill off the ants. To be on the safe side, leave the trap out for a week.

Here’s the recipe – it’s simple syrup with a bit of boric acid mixed in.

Homemade ant killer recipe

1 cup sugar
1 TBSP boric acid
1/2 cup water


Combine in a saucepan. Boil for three minutes.
Cool before use.

Applying the ant killer

Pour a small amount into a jar lid. You don’t want to drown the ants, so either use a lid that’s shallow enough for them to climb out or tilt it so the solution pools to one side, leaving the other side clear.

Buy (the same) ant killer

If you don’t want to make your own ant potion, you can buy it. It’s called Terro Ant Killer.

I bought a couple of boxes of Terro years back and saved the plastic traps. I reuse them each year by filling them up with my homemade solution.

When the ants are good and gone, I rinse out the traps and put them away for next time.

The solution keeps for a couple of years in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. I’ve used the same traps for five years and counting!

Want more clever camping ideas?

Natural remedies for your camping first aid kit

Travel light & right: the best gear in our campervan

How to make a shower you can use anywhere

3. Boric acid to kill roaches, ants, silverfish and other insects

Applying boric acid in cracks of camper to keep bugs away

The same ingredient that kills ants in the syrupy solution, boric acid, can be used to kill roaches and other pests in powder form.

Boric acid is a natural mineral with antiseptic properties that’s been used for years as a home remedy to treat fungal infections. Its non-toxic to your living space but can be harmful if swallowed or toxic to people and pets with prolonged exposure.

Insects die when they eat boric acid because it disrupts their nervous system.

Boric acid is marketed as roach powder and is sold in a variety of packaging.

I buy it in a plastic squeeze bottle with a pointed tip, like a big mustard bottle, which makes it easier to apply precisely where you want it (and avoid where you don’t want it).

I also look for a product that is 100 percent pure boric acid, like this one.

How to apply boric acid in your RV or camper

Snip the top of the bottle and apply boric acid in cracks, behind appliances, and in drains.

After application, wipe down areas around the floor or counters … the idea is to put in the cracks and out-of-reach places only.

4. Treatments to kill bedbugs and fleas

Years ago, we had a vintage canned ham camper that came to us all the way from Arizona – with bedbugs!

We discovered them a few days after our first camping trip when our son woke up with red, itchy bites covering his legs.

Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of.

While essential oils help keep bed bugs away, you will need to do more to get rid of them if they have already taken up residence in your camper.

The key to wiping them out is to kill both the bedbugs and their eggs. The best plan of attack is to use a few strategies in combination.

Before starting treatment, the first thing to do if you suspect bed bugs in your camper is to make sure nothing leaves your camper and goes into your house unless it’s bagged and sealed, especially your clothes.

As bad as it is to have bedbugs in a camper, they will be worse in a house! Your advantage is that campers are small and so it’s less work to treat them compared to an entire house or apartment.

Remove in sealed bags and launder

Luckily, our camper had removable cushion covers, so the first thing I did was to take them off, bag them up and launder them in hot water. I then dried them on the hottest cycle the fabric could handle.

If your cushions don’t have removable covers, launder the whole cushion if possible. If not, move on to the next methods …


Thoroughly vacuum your camper or RV, making sure to go over foam cushion inserts and any seating/upholstery that can’t be laundered in your camper. Use an attachment to suck up bugs and eggs in crevices. Tie/seal the trash bag after emptying your vacumm’s canister.

Look for evidence of bed bugs – brown stains on fabric or little broken bits of bugs – as you vacuum. They like to hide in seams and cracks. Make a note of where you spot signs of activity and treat these areas with the techniques below.

I also like to hold the vacuum hose up to the vents to suck up any bugs hiding out there.

Steam clean

Many of us use steam cleaners these days to get rid of wrinkles in our clothes. Steamers are also a great weapon for getting rid of bugs.

After you’ve vacuumed your camper and removed all cushion covers, cloth and clothing, turn your steamer loose on your camper, blasting it in areas with corners, crevices, cracks, and over seats, paying special attention to places where you found evidence of bed bugs.

Diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is a natural powder made from finely ground seashells and is my ace-in-the-hole bedbug treatment.

It kills bed bugs by dehydration. When they crawl through it, the powder, called silicon dioxide, sticks to their oily shells and dries them up in a few hours, killing the bugs.

This treatment involves sprinkling diatomaceous earth on mattresses, seating and storage areas in your camper.

You’ll want to be careful using it, as the powder is a very fine dust that can harm humans’ lungs.

Be sure to buy food-grade diatomaceous earth – it’s lower in silicon and is non-toxic to humans. This one is highly rated and comes with an applicator.

Wear a mask when you apply diatomaceous earth and when you vacuum it up.

After application, lock up your camper and leave it undisturbed for a week.

Remove the diatomaceous earth with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter that will allow you to safely suck up the dust.

Lastly, wipe down treated surfaces with a wet microfiber towel.

5. Vinegar as a bug repellent and a natural disinfectant

Vinegar is an amazing substance capable of removing red wine from white carpets, dissolving grease from your stove, disinfecting your countertops and cleaning your windows.

AND…. did you know that bugs hate it?

That’s right, we can add bug repellant to the long list of uses for vinegar.

You can use vinegar to keep bugs out while keeping your camper clean.

I keep a small spray bottle of vinegar in the camper to use as an all-purpose cleaner. It’s a natural disinfectant capable of killing bacteria – an amazing ability considering it’s edible and safe for humans and the environment.

I like to joke that the only downside to cleaning with vinegar is that your room will smell like salad dressing for 10 minutes afterward. Small price to pay, if you ask me! 🙂

You can buy special “cleaning vinegar” that has higher acidity, but any type of vinegar is suitable for cleaning. This is the highest-rated on Amazon. Cleaning vinegar usually has other ingredients (besides vinegar), so be sure to check the label.

Do you have any cleaning tips to share?

I’d love to hear about them!

Drop a comment below. 🙂

Advertising Disclosure: recommendations in this article contain links that may pay me a small commission, at no cost to you, when clicked. As always, thank you for your support.

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