42 min read

Best Mosquito Repellent Spray

Mosquitoes are not only annoying, but they're also dangerous. Arm yourself with an effective mosquito repellent to prevent bites and diseases.

Best Indoor Repellent
Repel Insect Repellent Family Dry, Aerosol
$5.49 on amazon

Repel Insect Repellent Family Dry, Aerosol 7/10

  • What we like
  • Dries very quickly
  • No scent
  • What we dislike
  • Low DEET concentration means limited effectiveness

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: DEET (Primary), Ethanol & Isobutane
  • Concentration: 10%
  • Hours of Protection: Up to 8 Hours
  • Scent: None
  • Spray Method: Aerosol

Our Review

As a spray with a very light concentration of DEET, Repel’s insect repellent spray is easy to use and safe for children. Since it comes in an aerosol container, it is very easy to apply and has almost no scent. Once applied, it is very dry and does not leave an oily residue over the skin that some other products do.

Since the DEET concentration is on the lower end, we found that this product did not deter all mosquitos but only a majority of them.

That said, the claim to last up to 8 hours will not hold if any strenuous activity is happening such as hiking. This is a spray that will need to be reapplied every few hours if going through strenuous activity.

Of all the mosquito repellents we tested, we found that Sawyer hit the sweet spot. It lasted long, smelled very faintly, and felt pleasant when applied. In practice, we found that Sawyer Product’s Premium Insect Repellent matched or exceeded the performance on other sprays, including DEET-based sprays.

The fact that it’s active ingredient, Picaridin, does not irritate skin like DEET does makes it a bonus. This is a spray that has been proven to keep away mosquitoes of all species, including potential carriers of Zika, Malaria, and Dengue Fever. As an additional benefit, Sawyer’s insect repellent did not have the harsh chemical scents that DEET-based compounds do, which we mark as another benefit! When applied, it dries quickly and leaves a pleasant feeling — as if the skin is freshly moisturized.

Sawyer Product’s repellent keeps away mosquitoes and ticks for 12 hours, and also protects against biting flies, gnats, and flees for 8 hours.

Best Indoor Repellent
Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent
$7.99 on amazon

Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent 10/10

  • What we like
  • Great, mild scent
  • Dries quick and does not feel sticky
  • Very effective insect repellent
  • What we dislike
  • Needs to be re-applied under vigorous activity

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Picaridin
  • Concentration: 20%
  • Hours of Protection: 8+ Hours
  • Scent: Mild Citrus
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

Sawyer Product’s premium insect repellent is fantastic and very effective. As a DEET-free alternative, it not only smells better than most heavily concentrated DEET sprays, but it is just as effective during our testing.

We found that the spray is not too sticky and tends to dry out fairly quickly. Keep in mind that this spray is not completely waterproof, so if you’re planning on taking a dip in water, it is best to re-apply the solution.

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent 7/10

  • What we like
  • Completely natural and very effective
  • No skin irritation
  • Effective insect repellent
  • What we dislike
  • Greatly irritates eyes if it comes in contact
  • Needs to be re-applied under vigorous activity

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Concentration: 20%
  • Hours of Protection: 6 Hours
  • Scent: Cool Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

Cutter’s Lemon Eucalyptus insect repellent uses the only herbal solution that has a proven track record of keeping away mosquitos. The spray itself smells pleasant and is a bit strong at first, but this insect repellent does its job very effectively. The spray does not stain clothing either.

Cutter’s Lemon Eucalyptus insect repellent has a proven track record at keeping Zika-infested mosquitos away. In addition, the spray is easy to apply and not greasy at all — it is absorbed quickly into the skin with no discomfort. Just keep it away from your eyes!

Best Outdoor Repellent
OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent
$11.57 on amazon

OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent 9/10

  • What we like
  • Easy to apply
  • Very effective insect repellent
  • Affordable & accessible
  • What we dislike
  • Not intended for direct application on children

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: DEET (Primary), Other Secondary Ingredients
  • Concentration: 25%
  • Hours of Protection: 12 Hours
  • Scent: Lingering sent
  • Spray Method: Aerosol

Our Review

OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent has always been a family favorite and it’s no wonder why. For a DEET-based spray, it has a minimal smell and delivers powerful results. Since the spray is delivered in an aerosol can, it is very easy to apply and covers a wide area. Just make sure your friends are not downwind, as the sprayed “mist” can drift a little bit.

In real-world scenarios, OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent did a fine job at keeping away biting insects (and also sand gnats). The formula dries quickly and leaves no trace of it in seconds. It can also be applied to clothing with no adverse effects. Just keep in mind that since it’s a higher concentration of DEET, be aware that it is not recommended to spray directly onto children. Rather, spray the solution onto your hands and then apply onto the child.

Proven 12 HR Insect Repellent Spray 9/10

  • What we like
  • Nice, light scent
  • Very smooth and no greasy feeling
  • Very effective insect repellent
  • What we dislike
  • Needs to be re-applied under vigorous activity

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Picaridin
  • Concentration: 20%
  • Hours of Protection: 12 Hours
  • Scent: Light Floral Scent
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

Proven’s insect repellent spray is an effective spray that has 20% picaridin, lasts a long time, and all without the chemical odor that some DEET-based spray have. Proven’s spray lasted for up to twelve hours and protects against anything ranging from mosquitos to horseflies.

When applied, the spray is very smooth and not at all sticky or greasy. Some users have reported that it feels like they recently moisturized when the spray is applied.

All Terrain, Insect Spray Herbal Armor 5/10

  • What we like
  • Smells pleasant
  • What we dislike
  • Not an effective insect repellent

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Soybean, citronella, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass and geranium
  • Concentration: N/A
  • Hours of Protection: N/A
  • Scent: Pleasant Herbal Scent
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

All Terrain’s insect spray solution is entirely herbal based. It has a very powerful herbal smell. While the herbal mix did dissuade some species of mosquitoes, it does nothing against many types mosquitoes found in the American South.

Since All Terrain’s mix did not use any active ingredients proven to work by the EPA or CDC, we are hesitant to recommend it. It has a very powerful herbal smell and overall efficacy is not good in parts of the U.S., much less elsewhere in the world if you are traveling. This is not a proven solution against mosquitoes carrying zika or malaria.

Natrapel 12-Hour Mosquito, Tick and Insect Repellent 8/10

  • What we like
  • Very effective at keeping away insects
  • Very light scent
  • Comes in a pack of 3
  • What we dislike
  • Greasy, oily feeling when applied

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Picaridin
  • Concentration: 20%
  • Hours of Protection: 12 Hours
  • Scent: Light, Floral Scent
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

Natrapel’s insect repellent solution relies on 20% picaridin to keep biting insects away — and it works. The spray has a very light smell and is not at all unpleasant, all the while lasting for a very long time.

When applied, Natrapel feels like a very light oil. It coats the skin with a light floral smell. Since it is a pump spray, it can be hard to coat all hard-to-reach areas of the body with the insect repellent solution. Overall, this product performs very well and can be applied to clothing with no adverse effect.

Like most bug sprays, strenuous activity that leads to sweating can cause this spray to reduce in effectiveness. For activities such as hiking, it may be required to reapply the spray more often than every 12 hours.

California Baby’s Natural Bug Blend Bug Repellent 5/10

  • What we like
  • Pleasant citronella scent
  • What we dislike
  • Not an effective insect repellent

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Vegetable and Plant-Based Oils (including Citronella)
  • Concentration: ~4%
  • Hours of Protection: 1 Hour
  • Scent: Natural Citronella
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

California Baby’s natural bug repellent claims that it can keep away biting insects for an hour, but reality proves that it does so with only marginal success. While the spray smells pleasant, it needs to be reapplied constantly due to the very short hour-long duration.

In practice, we found that California Baby’s product fails to provide 100% protection against mosquitoes and other biting insects. This makes it a poor choice for those who are trying to keep away Zika-infected mosquitoes or carriers of other diseases.

Like other herbal-based bug repellents, we cannot recommend this solution in good conscious. Not only does it last far shorter than any other option, it does not provide complete coverage.

Coleman Deet-Free Skin Smart Insect Repellent 6/10

  • What we like
  • Easy to apply
  • Effective insect repellent
  • What we dislike
  • Strong chemical scent

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: IR3535
  • Concentration: 20%
  • Hours of Protection: 8 Hours
  • Scent: Chemical Scent
  • Spray Method: Aerosol

Our Review

Coleman’s IR3535-based mosquito repellent is easily applied with an aerosol container and only has a very light scent of alcohol. The spray is absorbed very quickly and any lingering smell disappears very quickly.

Since the active ingredient is IR3535, it is powerfully effective without the skin irritation of other brands. The only downside of Coleman’s IR3535-based solution is that it takes a few minutes to soak into your skin, which will be both sticky and greasy for a little while.

Ben's 30 DEET Tick and Insect Repellant Wilderness Formula 5/10

  • What we like
  • Very effective insect repellent
  • What we dislike
  • Very strong chemical scent
  • Not safe for children
  • Can stain clothing

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: DEET
  • Concentration: 30%
  • Hours of Protection: 12 Hours
  • Scent: Strong Chemical Scent
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

Ben’s 30% DEET solution is a powerful product that lasts for a very long time. Keep in mind that DEET-based solutions over 50% are no more effective, and have the downside of potentially causing skin irritation faster.

Ben’s insect repellent does a great job at keeping away mosquitoes and other irritating insects. However, it has a very strong chemical smell and is slow to dry – which means your skin will be wet for a while. A powerful solution, but not the most pleasant to use.

Repel 100 Insect Repellent 5/10

  • What we like
  • Very effective insect repellent
  • What we dislike
  • Not safe for children
  • Very strong chemical scent
  • Stains and damages clothing

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: DEET
  • Concentration: 98.11%
  • Hours of Protection: 10 Hours
  • Scent: Very Strong Chemical Scent
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

Repel 100 insect repellent contains a staggering 98.11% of DEET, which is overkill when it comes to mosquito repellents. Maybe it was intended to be mixed with other solutions, but spraying directly onto skin and clothing leads to an unpleasant experience.

It smells very strongly and each spray will cause a bit of it to linger in the air, and it does not taste good. Applying too much can cause the skin to get irritated very quickly and it is far easier to apply too much of this solution. While effective, the sheer amount of DEET in this solution is overkill. It also stains clothing when sprayed, so it can only be reliably used on the skin.

Bugs at Bay Mosquito Spray - DEET-Free Insect 6/10

  • What we like
  • Effective insect repellent
  • Pleasant lemon scent
  • What we dislike
  • Short duration
  • Needs to be re-applied constantly under strenuous activity

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Essential Oils of Lemon Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, Lavender, Peppermint, Rosemary, Cedarwood and Citronella
  • Concentration: N/A
  • Hours of Protection: 2-3 Hours
  • Scent: Lemon
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

Bugs at Bay’s natural mosquito spray is another herbal blend, but this one includes oil of lemon eucalyptus — a proven alternative to DEET. The spray itself smells pleasantly of lemon. When applied, it dries quickly and does not stain clothing.

The only downside of this solution is the short duration, which is cut even shorter when doing any sort of strenuous activity. If hiking or jogging, it needs to be reapplied far more often than every two hours. That said, the spray is safe for children, pregnant women, and also pets.

Peppermint Essential Oil 1/10

  • What we like
  • Pleasant scent
  • What we dislike
  • Ineffective insect repellent

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Peppermint Oil
  • Concentration: 100%
  • Hours of Protection: 2 Hours
  • Scent: Peppermint
  • Spray Method: Dropper

Our Review

We included peppermint oil on our list out of curiosity – how does it fare against proven repellents? The answer was poorly. It made practically no difference at all, but it smells nice.

Badger - Anti-Bug Repellent Spray 3/10

  • What we like
  • Pleasant scent
  • What we dislike
  • Short duration
  • Ineffective insect repellent

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Glycine soja (soybean)oil, ricinus communis (caster), citronella, ceder, lemongrass, rosemary, geranium, peppermint water, and wintergreen oil
  • Concentration: N/A
  • Hours of Protection: 2-3 Hours
  • Scent: Pleasant, Minty Scent
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

Badger’s anti-bug spray is another herbal concoction, this time without oil of lemon eucalyptus. Like the other herbal remedies that we tested, it only had limited effectiveness against biting insects and the short duration means that it is far less practical to use. When applied, it is definitely noticeable as it leaves a wet and oily feeling. The wetness does dry after a while.

Since it failed to deter the majority of biting insects (or get close), along with the unpleasant sensation of the spray, this is not a bug spray that we can recommend.

Deter Natural Insect Repellent Wipes 10 Towelettes 4/10

  • What we like
  • Easy to apply
  • What we dislike
  • Very strong smell
  • Not a completely effective insect repellent solution

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Natural, plant-based
  • Concentration: N/A
  • Hours of Protection: 6 Hours
  • Scent: Very Strong Herbal Scent
  • Spray Method: Towelette

Our Review

Deter Natural Insect Repellent Wipes are wet towelettes that can be rubbed onto skin in order to rebel insects. The first thing we noticed is that the smell of the towelettes are extremely intense, it is an extremely potent herbal scent. In fact, the smell is so powerful that we recommend separating your laundry to not include clothes you’ve worn while you had this protection on.

In terms of performance, these wet towelettes are not completely reliable like some of the other options we’ve listed. While they do tend to keep some insects away, there are still species that seem to be unaffected. When applied, the towelettes also leave an oily residue behind.

Given the fact that these towelettes are so unpleasantly-strong smelling and that it’s not 100% effective, this is not a solution we can recommend.

doTERRA TerraShield Spray 4/10

  • What we like
  • Better than most other purely-herbal insect repellents
  • What we dislike
  • Concentration of Lemon Eucalyptus is too low, not completely effective as a repellent
  • Can greatly irritate eyes

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Ylang Ylang Flower; Nootka Wood; Cedarwood Wood; Catnip Plant; Lemon Eucalyptus Leaf; Litsea Fruit; Arborvitae Wood; Vanilla Bean Absolute; Fractionated Coconut Oil and Tamanu Seed
  • Concentration: N/A
  • Hours of Protection: 4-6 Hours
  • Scent: Citronella
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

doTERRA’s TerraShield spray prides itself on providing a completely natural and environmentally friendly way to fend off biting insects. While it does include components of Lemon Eucalyptus, it does not do so in strong enough doses.

The spray itself smells pleasantly of citronella and works decently well. However, keep in mind that the smell is quite strong and that it does not seem to ward off all mosquitoes. It does not warp plastic-based clothing or stain the same way that DEET-based solutions do.

REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent 0/10

  • What we like
  • Effective insect repellent
  • What we dislike
  • Can greatly irritate eyes
  • Very strong smelling scent

Product Details

  • Active Ingredient: Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, Ethanol
  • Concentration: 30%
  • Hours of Protection: 6 Hours
  • Scent: Minty Citronella
  • Spray Method: Pump Spray

Our Review

REPEL’s oil of lemon eucalyptus-based spray is a natural herbal insect repellent that also uses ethanol alcohol to keep away insects. Much like research has found, we found that this spray works just as well as DEET-based products.

Due to the high alcohol content of this spray, it is crucial to keep it away from open flames. Also, the light mist created from spraying this product can irritate eyes a lot. REPEL’s insect repellent is very, very strong smelling. It is not recommended to use this indoors.

One essential thing to keep in mind is that oil of lemon eucalyptus is not rigorously tested in areas around the world, so you could be opening yourself to risk in international locations. That said, oil of lemon eucalyptus has been proven to keep away malaria-infected mosquitoes. Also, Lemon Eucalyptus will not repel black flies, ticks, or deer flies.

How to Choose Best Mosquito Repellent Spray

Mosquitoes can carry some of the most deadly diseases in the world. While you have likely become used to the local mosquitos in your area, traveling will expose you to new types of mosquitoes and all the different illnesses they can potentially carry.

Imagine you visit an area where there are hundreds of mosquitos buzzing around — and none of them bite you.

Diseases Transmitted by Mosquitoes

Insect repellents do more than just keep you free from mosquito bites and irritation. They are an incredibly potent way to avoid mosquito-borne diseases, which exist almost everywhere in the world where mosquitoes live. In particular, powerful mosquito repellents can be used to keep away the flying critters that harbor Zika, Dengue Fever, West Nile, Malaria, or many other potentially deadly illnesses.

The World Health Organization declared in 2016 that the Zika virus is rapidly spreading within the Americas, particularly within Latin America, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and the southern states within the United States. The disease itself has been linked to serious birth defects and is transmitted primarily through mosquitoes. It is a large public health threat for American citizens, especially for those who are looking to have children. Proper mosquito repellent use can reduce the risk of receiving the virus significantly by preventing the vast majority of mosquitoes from biting a person. The same species of mosquito that carry Zika can also potentially transmit Dengue fever. Some strains of dengue fever can have a mortality rate as high as 50% if left untreated.

Malaria is perhaps one of the most infamous mosquito-borne illnesses. In a study done by the World Health Organization in 2016, nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria. For areas that are affected by malaria, the disease is a large cause of illness and death in the region. While considerable success has been achieved in pushing malaria back, actual elimination of the disease will only happen in the far future. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, carries a huge risk of malaria risk — nearly 90% of the world’s malaria cases occur there. In order to keep yourself safe in endemic regions, it’s essential to take as many safety precautions as possible, which includes investing in a proven insect repellent as one of the steps.

West Nile is the leading mosquito-borne disease in the United States that has spread throughout almost all of the U.S. over the past two decades. There are no vaccines to prevent or treat people who have been infected. About 1 in 5 people who are infected by the disease develop a fever and other symptoms, with 1 out of 150 infected developing a serious, potentially fatal illness. Once infected, the symptoms could range anywhere from a few days of discomfort to several weeks of illness in severe instances.

The key part of avoiding mosquito-borne illnesses is staying away from mosquito-infested areas and minimizing any potential exposure to the biting insects. Mosquito repellents are just one part of a multi-layered strategy to fend off biting insects. It’s important to also wear long-sleeved pants and shirts when outdoors, to minimize open skin that mosquitoes can land and bite on. Many mosquito repellents can also be applied onto clothing, as an extra barrier of protection. Most mosquitoes are also only active during certain parts of the day, particularly dusk, so avoiding the outdoors during that time can prevent unnecessary exposure as well.

The Active Ingredients

There are hundreds of mosquito repellents available in the market today, many of them using all sorts of ingredients and combinations to try and keep insects away. Fortunately, there are two agencies based in the United States that evaluate how safe and effective bug sprays are, which is where we start our search.

The CDC and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend the four following ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, and IR3535.

This means that strong perfumes and aromatics won’t be enough to deter the most stubborn of mosquitos, which is why our guide is going to focus primarily on just mosquito sprays with these active ingredients.

DEET

DEET is known chemically as N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, and is a yellowish liquid that repels all sorts of biting insects when applied to skin or clothing. It was a chemical first created in the 1940s for the U.S. military, and has become available commercially since 1957.

When evaluating active ingredients, DEET is a repellent in every sense of the word. It does not kill insects on contact, but rather prevents them from landing on people. While there is still a bit of confusion on how exactly DEET works, it is hypothesized to confuse insects when they are close to the chemical, which makes it hard to land onto the person. Another theory is that DEET just simply smells awful to most bugs, so that they stay away.

Regardless of how DEET works, it is one of the most widely used active ingredients in insect repellents in the U.S. This is because DEET is so effective — many scientists believe that DEET can be used as the gold standard to measure repellents against. Testing has shown that DEET-based repellents have consistently ranked among the top performing insect-repellent products available in the market.

DEET is not perfect, however. There have also been reservations about the overall safety of DEET. While the chemical has been deemed safe in testing when used as directed, there have been people who remark that DEET causes irritation and itchiness. When too much DEET is used, it can cause something called “DEET poisoning,” which can potentially cause seizures and death.

In general, DEET has caused some of the following limitations and drawbacks:

  • DEET can cause minor skin irritations and rashes. Absolutely do not use DEET on broken skin or eyes. It can be toxic if swallowed.
  • Sprays with over 10% DEET should not be used on children
    DEET can melt some synthetics, which can ruin plastic or vinyl products.

Fortunately, the sheer amount of DEET that needs to be used to experience serious DEET poisoning is massive. Most cases of DEET toxicity occured when consumers failed to follow instructions (such as consuming it). The reality is that the vast majority of people getting DEET poisoning is very mild, which can be treated at home with just some rest. In the end, the only way to get DEET poisoning is to outright ignore the instructions clearly labeled on the container.

Picaridin

Picaridin is a synthetic compound that was first discovered in the 1980s. It was created to closely resemble a naturally occurring compound called piperine, which are produced by the same group of plants that produce black pepper. Ever since its discovery, Picaridin has been widely used in Europe and Australia but was only made available commercially in the United States in 2005.

Much like DEET, Picaridin repels insects without killing them. Unlike DEET, Picaridin seems to prevent mosquitoes from sensing people at all. Picaridin-based sprays are typically applied on either skin or clothing, which will form a vapor barrier that prevents mosquitoes from landing on the surface applied.

Picaridin is completely safe when used in instructed quantities. It is highly recommended to your hands if you apply a picaridin-based spray on them, but ingesting a small quantity is harmless to people.

Much like DEET, overusing or improper use of Picaridin-based sprays can cause skin irritation. Studies have shown that proper usage of Picaridin will not cause an increased chance of cancer.

Picaridin has some of the following limitations and drawbacks:

    • Skin and eye irritation
    • Vomiting, in rare cases

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Unlike both DEET and Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus is a natural method to protect against mosquitoes and other biting insects. Insect repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus can be found in a number of different forms, ranging from the familiar insect spray to wearable bracelets. We strongly recommend sticking with insect sprays instead of wearable repellents, as it can more reliably cover vulnerable areas of your body.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus is made from the leaves of the lemon eucalyptus tree. This ingredient only became a major player in the mosquito-repelling world in 2015 when researchers did an in-depth comparison of the performance of eight commercial repellents versus non-synthetic methods. The results showed that the only plant-based spray that could compete with DEET and Picaridin’s level were options that contained Lemon Eucalyptus. Perfumes, essential oils, and vitamin B patches fell far behind.

One thing to keep in mind is that lemon eucalyptus-based sprays do fall behind when compared against highly-concentrated DEET or Picaridin sprays. In general, a repellent with 30% Lemon Eucalyptus oil performs at a similar level to a 10%-15% DEET solution. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus also has not been thoroughly tested against mosquito species found elsewhere in the world, so this plant-based spray might not be the best choice if traveling outside the United States.

The major benefit of lemon eucalyptus-based sprays is that they are based on natural resources, which mean there have been no reports of adverse effects from proper use. There have been practically no reports on skin irritation. Oil of lemon eucalyptus sprays are best used as short-term repellents.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus can cause significant eye irritation. Make sure to wash your eyes out if a little of the spray mist gets into your eyes!

IR3535

IR3535, which is short for Insect Repellent 3535, is a synthetic repellent that was originally created by Merck in the 1980s. IR3535 functions by befuddling an insect’s sense of smell, which allows people to pass by undetected by biting insects such as mosquitoes or fleas.

IR3535 has been used over three decades in various commercial products. It has an excellent track record in terms of safety, where most people report no discomfort at all. Studies have also shown that IR3535 is unlikely to have long-term risks for people and is safe for the environment.

When pitted head-to-head against DEET, IR3535 saw very similar results against most insects. The area where DEET excels versus IR3535 is against mosquitos found in sub-Saharan Africa, which tend to carry diseases such as malaria, encephalitis, and dengue fever.

When pitted head-to-head against Picaridin, IR3535 also saw similar performance. There were no specific species of mosquito that one active ingredient trumped the other.

IR3535 irritates the eyes if it gets in. Fortunately, IR3535 has almost no reports of skin irritation.

Beware “Natural” Repellents

Most natural insect repellents, which typically contain plant oils such as cedar, lemongrass, rosemary, or citronella, claim that their solution can keep away mosquitos. Our tests and findings by both the CDC and EPA dispute that fact — the only reliable, proven active ingredients are the four listed above.

Number of Active Ingredients Matter

The number of active ingredients in a bug spray can make a great difference. There is such a thing as having too little or too much, which is especially true for DEET-based repellents. While both EPA and CDC have asserted that DEET is safe, repellents that have a high concentration of DEET has been reported to cause side effects such as nausea or skin rash from overexposure. Unless you have already been using DEET for a while and are confident that you will have no reaction from higher concentrations, it’s best to start with DEET sprays ranging from 20 to 50 percent.

The concentration of active ingredients influence both the efficacy of the repellent and also how long it lasts. Here’s a quick breakdown on what the numbers look like.

Active Ingredient Concentration Hours of Protection
DEET 5% – 10% 2 – 4 hours
DEET 15% 6 hours
DEET 25% – 30% 8+ hours
Picaridin 20% 8+ hours
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus 30% 5-7 hours
IR3535 20% 7-10 hours

Another thing to keep in mind is that some active ingredients have a strong smell. DEET, in particular, does not have the most pleasant of smells – which means higher concentration repellents will smell stronger of DEET. With DEET options higher than 30%, the smell was immediately obvious as soon as it was sprayed.

On the other hand, Picaridin is a compound that smells far less intense than DEET does. In fact, it often has barely any scent, which means the sprays can smell much better when applied. Throughout our testing, we found that Picaridin-based repellents tended to smell floral and were far more pleasant.

Things to Keep in Mind

There are a huge variety of insect repellents — and here are a few things to keep in mind when taking a look at any option.

Stay Away from “Natural” Repellents. They don’t work as well as any of the CDC and EPA-proven solutions listed above. The only natural repellent to buy are options based on Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.

Don’t just look at active ingredient or concentration. It’s the combination of concentration and active ingredient that makes the magic happen. However, there are other factors to consider like “stickiness” of the repellent or how repulsive (or pleasant) it might smell.

Combination sunscreen & insect repellent options are no good. Sunscreens typically have to be reapplied every few hours while insect repellents last far longer. It exposes users to too much of the chemicals in insect repellents or sunburn if they opt to apply the combined solution less often.

Other Forms of Mosquito Repellents

Checkout our analysis of the claims behind other forms of mosquito repellents: