What to look for In Natural Bug Repellents and the founding of Nantucket Spider- Growing Home Ep. 15

What to look for In Natural Bug Repellents and the founding of Nantucket Spider- Growing Home Ep. 15

Terry talks to Nancy Jack and Jeffrey Busch, the founders of the Nantucket Spider bug repellent company. Listen in as Nancy and Jeffrey share their insights about natural insect repellents, and the story of how they built their company from their kitchen-made formula, to being sold in 1800 stores.   

Hosts Len and Terry


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Story About the Name

The Nantucket Spider name was a joke name that stuck. Jeffrey was out for a weekend in Nantucket, and he wished he had something to keep the horse-flies away, “like a Nantucket Spider.” That was when his old friend Nancy showed him the first formula of Nantucket Spider.

For the record, Jeffrey wanted to say that they aren’t from Nantucket, nor does it repel spiders.

The Original

Nancy, a former environmental lawyer, prefers using natural products. Once, she used a bug spray with DEET in it while on the job, and it melted her stockings.  When she tried using natural bug sprays, she thought they were either too greasy or too “lotion-y.” As well, she found them to be hard to apply.

Nancy, who Jeffrey says is “a Renaissance woman,” decided to experiment until she found something that worked for her. The original formula, and all subsequent formulas, are made from essential oils and water, “ingredients you can pronounce.”

In particular, some of the herbs in the original formula include rose geranium, peppermint, clove, rosemary, and lemongrass.

The original formula is 99% effective against mosquitoes.

Many bug sprays, organic or not, use emulsifiers to prevent ingredients from settling.  Nantucket Spider products don’t use emulsifiers, as they give the spray a milky consistency, and can cause stains. As a result, you need to shake before spraying on your clothes or yourself.

The two of them started making Nantucket Spider in Nancy’s kitchen. Quickly, they started selling to 10 stores in their local area.

Other Formulas

Bug Repellent for Dogs

They started making a dog formula, as customers wondered if they could spray The Original on their dogs. The Original contains citrus, which dogs shouldn’t come in contact with. The dog formula includes cedar, peppermint, and rose geranium.

Summer Camp Natural Bug Repellent

Their children’s formula, Summer Camp, is citronella free. It’s fine to use the original formula on children, but some kids and adults may be sensitive to the scent of citronella.

Extra Strength Tick Repellent

The other products do repel ticks, but they found interest in a dedicated anti-tick formula.

Nancy started by looking up what ingredients were allowed in tick formulas. They eventually settled on a formula that can repel 92% of deer ticks.

The tick formula has a stronger scent than most of their products, a “spicy vanilla” smell. This includes cinnamon and vanillin sourced from clove.

If you spray the tick formula on your clothes, you will still smell it the next day. It was important to make the tick formula long lasting, as you won’t hear a tick crawling on you if the repellent wore off. However, they do not recommend applying the formula directly to your face because of its strength.

Using the tick formula should be used as a part a process to keep ticks away. Other things you can do include bathing daily, and keep playthings and outdoor furniture at least a foot away from the woods.  

Testing Insect Repellents                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Testing these products can be expensive because it may be difficult to collect enough insects to test with. With testing the tick formula, researchers had to find active ticks. They did this by putting ticks in a sideways petri dish, and see if they’ll walk form the bottom to the top.

After the active ticks are collected, they are moved to another petri dish on one side, with the other covered with the repellent. The effectiveness of the repellent is determined by seeing how many of the ticks cross to the other side. The fewer, the better.

What to Look for in Natural Bug Repellents?

You want between 4 and 15 percent active ingredients. Less than 4%, and the bottle isn’t effective enough. More than 15%, and they tend to not feel good on the skin.

The more variety in active ingredients, the better. This means that the formula will be better at repelling a variety of insects.

Natural repellents should smell good. Repellents need to be applied all over the body, and you’ll use more of a repellent that is pleasant smelling.

Keep the application method in mind. This will dictate the recommended use, and you need to be sure the recommend use fits your needs.

Growing the business

There’s a learning curve to starting a business, and the Nantucket Spider team believe that they’re on the bottom of the curve.

Nancy and Jeffrey tried to be thrifty when they started, like designing a label with Adobe illustrator before the free trial period ran out.

They soon contracted a factory in Norwalk to make the repellent.

Jeffrey said they didn’t have a business plan when they started. He wasn’t thinking of Nantucket Spider as a business, rather as a way to solve a problem.

Eventually, Jeffrey got around to making a business plan. He had a consultation with a Small Business Association mentor. Jeffrey said that meeting helped him focus on what was the appeal of the Nantucket Spider products.

Jeffrey sent free samples to more stores in his area, and by the end of the company’s second year, they were being sold in over 130 stores.

As of 2019, Nantucket Spider products are sold in 1800 stores regionally, and they’re preparing to expand nationally.

However, surprising problems still come up. Nancy said that with online sales, people complained that they were being sent malfunctioning bottles, when in reality, the trigger spray was just locked. Now, they ship their online orders with the trigger spray unlocked and not attached to the top of the bottle. 


Nancy says that people should be familiar with regulations if they want to set up their own business

Nantucket Spider pays attention to EPA regulations, but those are enforced differently at the federal and state level. For example, one ingredient might be okay in one state, but not okay in another.

Even product labeling can be subject to state regulation. For example, states may have rules about the size of the font, where the ingredient list is placed, or even the use of slogans in advertising.

Testing a product is often required before registering a label.

Ethos of the Company

Jeffrey, a vegetarian, says that we’re not supposed to be afraid of the natural world. He says that everything has a right to live, “just not on me.”

Bug repellents shouldn’t scare people. The Nantucket Spider branding emphasizes summer fun, since Nancy wants the company to be “the sunscreen of bug repellent.”  As such, they use bright and colorful labels.



Previous episode What Our Pets Teach Us: Amy Newmark from Chicken Soup for the Soul- Growing Home Ep. 16
Next episode Growing Home Ep. 14 - "Bee" A Pollinator

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