Very effective against disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks. Applications last for weeks. Odorless and non-staining.
Some complaints about the pump sprayer. Active ingredient not safe for cats. Intended for clothing, not skin.
Lotion contains both a sunscreen and insect repellent. Lightweight, with no greasy feel. Safe for all ages.
Can damage certain kinds of clothing and plastic. Some reports of allergic reactions. More effective as sunscreen than insect repellent.
Works well against mosquitoes. Safe for both clothing and skin applications. Dries quickly with minimal stickiness.
Can feel very oily on skin. Some reports of damage to wood surfaces. Strong odor.
High concentration of mosquito-repelling DEET. Ideal container size for traveling and camping. Requires minimal amount of product to be effective.
Not effective against some DEET-resistant insects. Nozzle is hard to control while spraying. Not safe for clothing.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Pesky insects like mosquitoes, gnats, flies, and ticks can make being outdoors miserable. In some instances, unwanted insects transmit terrible diseases, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus. Even when they don’t transmit severe illness, these bugs are a huge nuisance, causing skin irritation, welts, and general annoyance and stress. It’s understandable that you’d want to keep these pests away, and an insect repellent provides one of the easiest solutions.
The active ingredients in insect repellents vary. Some contain DEET; some contain picaridin; some contain essential oils such as lemon oil and eucalyptus oil. What’s right for you? You may have some questions or concerns about the various ingredients found in insect repellents. We’ll shed some light on frequently asked questions in this buying guide.
If you’re dealing with mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, or other winged pests, read on to learn more about insect repellents and how they work. When the need arises, you’ll be glad to have insect repellent on hand. You can go back to enjoying your activities and forget about the buzzing pests and the stress they cause. We also provide our information about some of our favorite products in this article.
You’ll find plenty of choices on the market for repelling mosquitoes, gnats, chiggers, flies, ticks, and fleas. However, not all products repel all pests. One of the first determinations you must make is what type of bug is bugging you.
Mosquitoes: For many of us, the mosquito is a pesky bug that causes an itchy welt. But unfortunately, mosquitoes are responsible for much bigger problems throughout the world. The World Health Organization tells us that mosquito bites are the root cause of close to one million deaths per year. Many of these fatalities are the result of malaria, a mosquito-transmitted disease. Mosquitoes are also responsible for the spread of dengue, West Nile virus, and Zika virus.
Gnats: Gnats are pesky bugs that often come in swarms. They’re drawn to standing moisture, and yes, they do bite humans at times. They’re not thought to transmit the deadly diseases that mosquitoes do, but some types of gnats can damage your plants.
Chiggers: Chiggers are mites that bite. The bites can cause copious itching, but contrary to popular belief, they do not burrow under the skin. Nevertheless, you wouldn’t want to encounter a chigger if you didn’t have to. Most people recover from chigger bites without much more than a pesky itch, but some folks experience an allergic reaction.
Deer flies: Deer flies are outdoor pests that, like mosquitoes, love to feed on the warm blood of humans. This annoying little fly is the bane of fishermen, hunters, horsemen, and hikers, and it can transmit tularemia, hog cholera, anthrax, equine infectious anemia, anaplasmosis, and Lyme disease.
Ticks: Ticks are blood-feeding parasites notorious for causing Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, among other diseases. They are found throughout the U.S. and other regions of the world, and humans aren’t the only victims. Animals can also fall prey to tick bites and tick-borne diseases.
Fleas: Fleas can infest dogs, cats, and other furry creatures, but they can bite and infest humans, too. They drink the blood of their prey and prefer to take residence on creatures that are furry and warm.
You might need an insect repellent for indoor use, outdoor use, or both. Most people who are shopping for an insect repellent plan to use it outdoors. Here are some scenarios in which you might find an insect repellent useful.
In the woods
Whether you’re hunting or hiking, you will likely encounter insects as you trek through the foliage. Ticks and mosquitoes are two of a human’s worst enemies in the woods. But that’s not all; companion animals (such as hunting dogs) are also vulnerable in the woods. If you’ll be taking Fido with you on your forest adventure, make sure he’s protected, too — but NOT with human insect repellent. Chemicals like DEET can be fatal to companion animals. Instead, purchase an insect repellent made specifically for pets.
On the water
If you’ll be fishing in a boat or on shore, you’ll appreciate having some protection from the mosquitoes and flies who like to buzz around you. Fishermen who rise early or stay out late are particularly vulnerable to mosquitoes who tend to show up when it gets cooler. The only bites you should be getting while fishing are bites from fish, after all.
In your backyard
If you’ll be spending substantial time in your yard, consider applying an insect repellent first. This is especially handy if you plan to spend time gardening or weeding on your hands and knees. As in the woods, mosquitoes and ticks may be your biggest enemies in your yard. However, you’ll appreciate having a barrier against gnats, flies, and other pests as well.
There are other bugs you may encounter that respond better to treatments other than the type of insect repellent we’re showcasing in this article. These bugs are particularly annoying if they invade your home. Fruit flies, cockroaches, and wasps are three of the biggest nuisances.
Fruit flies: Fruit flies (and drain flies) are attracted to rotting fruit and slimy, clogged kitchen and bathroom drains. These pesky flying insects feed on food in your home and the gunk inside the drains of the shower and kitchen sink, laying their eggs in the residue that lines drainage pipes. To eliminate fruit and drain flies, keep drains clean and free-flowing by applying a drain opener product followed by a rinse with boiling water. Don’t allow fruits to sit out — particularly those that are overripe — and take the trash out of your house regularly.
Cockroaches: Cockroaches have been with us since the days of the dinosaurs. If you see one cockroach in your home, there are likely scores more. Cockroaches take up residence in places where it’s damp and dark: kitchen cupboards, behind the toilet, under the bed, and in the carpets, closets, baseboards, and walls. You’ll want to lay down an insect barrier at the exterior openings of your home and place roach traps under sinks and in cabinets.
Wasps: Wasps can do good work for your garden by taking care of other unwanted insects, but if a wasp gets in your home, you will likely want to eradicate it quickly. After all, wasps can sting multiple times, and the stings are painful and can cause allergic reactions in people and pets. For a wasp problem in the home, use wasp spray.
Most people think of spray canisters and bottles when they think of insect repellent. However, insect repellents actually come in several forms, including rub-on liquids, creams, and solid sticks. Insect repellent is also available for purchase in impregnated bracelets or clip-on clothing tabs. Several brands of liquid, cream, and spray insect repellent also include sunscreen and/or skin moisturizer.
DEET is one of the most well-known (and most effective) insect repellent ingredients. It has not been proven to be carcinogenic, the EPA tells us, but to be safe, you should always use DEET-containing products according to package directions. Failure to do so could lead to skin irritation or much worse. Insect repellents containing DEET should never be used on infants.
Picaridin is thought to be safer than DEET, though it may not be as effective. It’s found in some insect-repelling lotions because it’s safe for the skin. If you’re not enthused about using a product containing DEET, consider a product containing picaridin.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is found in some insect repellents, and it’s obviously a more natural ingredient than DEET and other manmade chemicals. However, the length of the effectiveness of this ingredient has been questioned by some. Whereas DEET might protect you for five hours, for example, an application containing oil of lemon eucalyptus might only protect you for two hours.
Permethrin is found in lice treatments as well as some insect repellents. The chemical is effective at killing lice, mosquitoes, and fleas. It’s found in a lot of pesticides and some insect repellents. Don’t use a human lice treatment to address a flea problem on a pet, however. When shopping for insect solutions for pets, choose from pet-specific products only.
The price of insect repellent depends on the manufacturer, the brand, the merchandiser, the cost of the ingredients, product size, and packaging. In the lower price range, you can buy products that cost from $2 to $8 for a two-ounce or four-ounce product. For example, you might be able to get a purse-sized pump to carry with you for just a few dollars.
Between $8 and $20, you’ll find you have lots of choices. There are multi-packs of spray bottles and canisters available here. You can find creams and lotions that repel pests while they moisturize and protect you from the sun. Bracelets are sold in small bulk (four to 12) here as well.
If you opt to pay more than $20, your extra expense will likely go toward a larger quantity of insect repellent. If you’re stocking up for the season or looking to supply a group of people with insect repellent, it may be a good idea to buy in bulk, as it can actually save you a few dollars over buying single products.
Q. Why do mosquitoes seem to prefer some people over others?
A. Ticks, flies, mosquitoes, and other biting insects are attracted to their prey by skin odor and the scent of exhaled carbon dioxide. Bugs also use movement, heat, smell, and taste to determine who they will bite next. There is some research that suggests mosquitoes prefer Type O blood.
Q. I’m planning to host a patio party, and I’m worried about bugs. What can I do in addition to providing guests with insect repellent?
A. Consider using an outdoor fogger to mist the area before guests arrive. You could also light citronella torches and candles. Bright white lighting attracts moths and other flying insects to the light, so consider using special blue or yellow bulbs designed not to attract insects. Make sure there is no standing water to attract mosquitoes, and hang a bug zapper to eliminate flying pests.
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