The 10 Best Mosquito Repellents
This wiki has been updated 36 times since it was first published in April of 2016. Mosquitoes kill more humans than any other animal on the planet by a large margin. Luckily, there are various substances that can keep them away from your body for hours at a time. Some are more effective and some smell better than others, but they're all safe as long as you use them properly. One of these repellents will keep you mostly bite-free as long as you closely follow the directions. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 20, 2019:
There's a considerable amount of scientific evidence that DEET and picaridin are effective at repelling mosquitoes, and a growing body of evidence suggests the same for PMD, which is a primary element of the oil of the lemon eucalyptus plant. Outside of those, there's been little else that shows promise, though there have been a few field studies that show some other essential oils to have a minor effect. Notably, turmeric, clove, thyme, and lemongrass have seen anecdotal use for years, and show potentially increased effectiveness when paired with vanillin. But the fact remains that no "natural" compound touted as an alternative even comes close to DEET, picaridin, or PMD. So if you're in a place where bloodborne disease is an issue, it's a good idea to stick to the big guns. And here's the real kicker: when used properly, those three repellent powerhouses are all perfectly safe, even for pregnant women. Don't drink them, of course; that would constitute improper use. But there's no evidence that proper use of any of these common chemicals is actually harmful, although the Internet would absolutely have you believe something far, far scarier.
What nobody can argue about is that DEET stinks. And it usually leaves an unpleasant, slightly oily film on the skin. But mostly it smells really bad. So a lot of experts and dedicated backwoods enthusiasts now support picaridin-containing products, and of those, Sawyer Premium is one of the most popular. Natrapel is also pretty well-known, and it claims to last even longer than Sawyer. As far as Repel's plant-based formula goes, it's one of the first and most popular products to include 30% PMD as an active ingredient. As such a close relative of the oil of lemon eucalyptus (which is not actually closely related to the lemon or eucalyptus plants, go figure), it smells awfully nice. And it works pretty well, to, though it doesn't last as long as picaridin or DEET.
Speaking of DEET, we included 4 products that use this proven solution to insect bites. Ben's 30% offers a balance of comfort and effectiveness, as 30% is the recommended minimum for travelers to regions susceptible to malaria, Zika, or dengue. If you're flying to Panama anytime soon, it's worth a solid look. Off! Deep Woods and Cutter are both commonly seen in households, and their aerosol operation makes them a breeze to apply. Just make sure not to get the vapors in your eyes, which can be quite painful. And if you're headed to parts of South America or Africa where bloodborne disease is a major factor, Repel 100 should at least be on your radar. It apparently stinks to high heaven and isn't especially comfortable on the skin, but malaria is for life, Zika causes problems we don't even understand yet, and dengue is known as "bone-break fever" for a very good reason. If those or any other conditions are prevalent where you're going, consider this nearly pure DEET option.
Which brings us to the alternative products. Off! makes a clip-on machine that's relatively effective as long as you keep fresh cartridges in it, which can get somewhat pricey. But you can clip it to yourself and enjoy a relatively bug-free outdoor experience, as long as you're not moving around too much. If you hunt around the web, you can find evidence suggesting that some of the ingredients in Bug Mace do confer a little bit of repellent activity, especially when paired with vanillin, which they are in this blend. And we decided to include a wristband option because a lot of users claim that it's very effective, even though in scientific studies they don't usually do much outside of a range of several inches. But if you load up your wrists and ankles with them, they could very well minimize the number of mosquitoes that come near you, and you won't have to apply anything to your skin.
Finally, if you are traveling to a tropical area, consider treating your clothing with permethrin, which isn't a repellent, but an actual insecticide that kills mosquitoes, ticks, and couple other bugs with ruthless effectiveness. When used alongside a good repellent, this level of attention to your gear should keep you malaria-free for your entire trip.
Choosing And Using Mosquito Repellent
Coupled with the fact that Malaria and Dengue Fever are both horrible diseases, DEET remains the standard by which all repellents are judged.
The mosquito is the deadliest animal on Earth, and it's not even close.
There is more than one way to repel a bug, and you might have to try out various methods before you find one that works well enough for you and your family, not to mention for the circumstances specific to your area. Mosquito prevalence can be impacted by everything from the time of year and the latitude of your home to the factors near your property (or place of business or work site) including the presence of lakes, rivers, or streams, developed areas, or tracts of wilderness.
To put it simply, a mosquito repellent that works for one person might not work for another; even a single individual may need to use various types of repellent at different times. Many experts agree that the single best type of mosquito repellent is one that contains plenty of DEET, also known by its less concise name, diethyltoluamide. DEET is largely considered safe for application directly to the skin, and has been shown to activate an olfactory neuron in mosquitoes that compels them to flee the source of the smell.
In other words, mosquitoes hate DEET. With that said, many people try to avoid it due to concerns about its potential toxicity. However, when used properly, DEET is actually quite safe. Coupled with the fact that Malaria and Dengue Fever are both horrible diseases, DEET remains the standard by which all repellents are judged.
In that vein, there are a lot of other items on the market that claims effectiveness in keep the little buggers away. There's a vast selection of plant-based products, most of which smell far more pleasant than the number 1 repellent chemical, but there's one major catch: remarkably few of them have shown serious promise in objective studies. There's limited anecdotal evidence that some alternative methods can help, and if any of those anecdotes are even remotely accurate, it's likely because the substance has simply covered up the smell of the human and sensation of carbon dioxide, which are the two main ways that mosquitoes find their unfortunate targets. Nevertheless, some people find that they work, so if you don't need to prevent bloodborne disease in your location, a milder solution may get the job done. But in insect- and disease-heavy regions, the fact is that after a moderate period of time or in just a little bit of wind, most essential oils lose most of the effectiveness they once had.
At any rate, there are two compounds that show promise in lab studies. Picaridin is one that many hikers swear by, and the products that use it do prove quite effective. Another one that's much more recently come to market is oil of lemon eucalyptus, whose active ingredient, PMD, shows considerable promise. Above all, it smells good and doesn't feel unpleasant on the skin, which is another major criticism of DEET.
But many people try to avoid the compound as they are worried about using chemicals directly on their skin, thus the prevalence of many other types of repellents.
Most of the options that eschew DEET, picaridin, and PMD use more familiar substances such as cedar oil, citrus oils, and extract from the citronella plant, a celebrated natural insect repellent. These "natural" options can offer some success, but again, they tend to require much more frequent reapplication than a DEET-based mosquito repellent.
Yet another option is to try out a wrist or ankle band infused with oils and extracts that mosquitoes are known to dislike. As a rule of thumb, the more strongly these smell, the better the chance they work. A few devices also exist that use butane canisters to emit carbon dioxide-masking chemicals, and these are effective as stationary repellents, but not effective when you're moving, or if there's wind.
If you're in seriously tropical locations, an additional line of defense is an actual poison such as permethrin. It doesn't repel mosquitoes so much as outright kill them, and it's not meant for application to the skin, but when applied to clothing and used in conjunction with a good repellent, it can save you from life-altering diseases, including Zika. After all, if a bug is dead, it can't bite you.
Some people claim that ultrasonic devices can also repel mosquitoes, but in real-world testing, these devices have actually sometimes increased the number of bites. We wouldn't recommend using a sound-based device, due to this lack of evidence of their effectiveness.
Other Steps That Help Prevent Pests
Mosquito repellent is one of the best ways to prevent mosquito bites. But reducing the likelihood of mosquitoes even coming near you is also important in keeping these pests at bay.
The positioning of fans that blow air across a patio, porch, or deck can do much to keep mosquitoes at bay.
The single most important step a person can take in terms of mosquito population control is to make sure they never leave standing water pooled anywhere around their property. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, and it is in still pools that their larvae grow. A single breeding pair of mosquitoes can produce thousands of offspring in a matter of weeks, so preventing them from successfully laying eggs near you and your family is of paramount importance.
And indeed it is effective: many mosquitoes travel only a few hundred feet in their lifetimes, and almost none range more than a mile or two. The more effort you and your community members put into clearing standing water, the fewer mosquitoes you will have to face.
Mosquitoes are notoriously weak fliers, which is much to the advantage of the human being with technology on his or her side. The positioning of fans that blow air across a patio, porch, or deck can do much to keep mosquitoes at bay. Most mosquitoes can only fly at about 1.5 miles per hour, so even a light breeze produced by an oscillating tower fan can help clear the air, so to speak.
You can also use traps that lure in and then kill mosquitoes to help clear localized areas of these insects. Some rely on carbon dioxide to attract them, while others use sugars to draw in the pests. Traps used in coordination with other methods of prevention and repellents are a smart move for people in areas prone to large mosquito populations.
A Closer Look At A Winged Menace
Every plant, animal, and mineral has its place in the natural balance of the eco system. While mosquitoes might seem like little more than bloodsucking pests, they also serve as an abundant food source for everything from fish who feast on the larvae, to certain species of frogs, spiders, and birds, who devour adult insects.
And of the thousands of known varieties of mosquitoes found around the world, not all species even rely on parasitic bloodsucking for nourishment.
Many types of mosquitoes also play a role in pollination; male mosquitoes tend to derive their nutrients from plant nectar (or other sources of sugars, such as a can of soda), not from blood. And of the thousands of known varieties of mosquitoes found around the world, not all species even rely on parasitic bloodsucking for nourishment.
That said, as far as most humans are concerned, mosquitoes are nothing more than pests. And indeed they don't serve humanity in any direct capacity. They do cause their share of sickness and frustration, though. The most recent example of the woes mosquitoes inflict on humans concerns the ongoing outbreak of the Zika virus that is plaguing much of the Americas.
This is just the latest in a string of often recurrent ills spread by mosquitoes. The most well-documented (and often most serious) diseases these pests spread include Yellow Fever, West Nile Virus, and Dengue Fever. No sickness spread by mosquitoes, however, has caused so much suffering and death as Malaria, an infectious disease that kills as many as a half million people each year–even in the modern era–and sickens tens of millions annually.
The only way to reliably protect oneself against an infection caused by a mosquito's bite is to avoid that bite in the first place through the faithful use of mosquito repellents and by reducing the likelihood of mosquito contact with screens, fans, and other measures.