These are the types of bug sprays that will protect you from bites.
Picking up a few bug bites used to be one of summer’s rites of passage. But actually, shielding yourself from ticks and mosquitoes is just as important as wearing sunscreen. “People used to hate to wear [insect] repellent, or say, ‘Oh, I don’t care about getting bitten,’” says Walter S. Leal, Ph.D., a chemical ecologist and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. While it’s hard to determine why mosquitos decide to bite some people and not others, using a mosquito repellent can effectively lower your bite tally this summer and also keep you safe from the diseases they carry, including Zika virus, West Nile virus, malaria, Chikungunya virus, and dengue. Some will also shield you from other disease-carrying insects like ticks, which transmit Lyme’s Disease.
Whether you’ll be spending your summer hiking and camping, hanging in the backyard, or lounging at the beach, protect yourself and your loved ones from pesky bug bites with the 10 best mosquito repellents. Here, you’ll find top-rated options that have thousands of glowing reviews, plus our handy guide for finding the right one for you.
- Best Overall: Off! Deep Woods Mosquito Repellent Spray
- Best for Hiking: Adventure Medical Ben's 100 Max DEET Tick & Insect Repellent Spray
- Best Wipes: Repel Sportsmen 30% DEET Wipes
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Sawyer Controlled-Release Repellent Lotion
- Best Long-Lasting: Sawyer Picaridin 20% Continuous Spray
- Best Smelling: Natrapel 20% Eco Insect Repellent Spray
- Best for Backyards: Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
- Best OLE Option: Repel Lemon Plant-Based Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
- Best for Babies and Kids: Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent
- Best for Pets: Vet's Best Mosquito Repellent for Dogs and Cats
How to Choose the Best Mosquito Repellent
Keep your eyes peeled for EPA registration
“Of the 20,000 products out there to supposedly repel insects, many don’t work at all,” says Immo A. Hansen, PhD, a molecular vector physiology expert at New Mexico State University whose team published a study of repellent efficacy in the Journal of Insect Science. So when can you actually believe what the label says? Most skin-applied insect repellents must be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency before they reach the market; if you see an EPA registration number on a product label, you know that it’s been tested for safety and effectiveness. Better yet, some products now have a black-and-yellow repellency awareness graphic that clearly states how long they have been proven to repel mosquitoes and ticks; that symbol means the company has provided the EPA with scientific data to support their claims.Don't be afraid of DEET “People have the notion that DEET is synthetic and therefore it’s not a good thing," says Leal. "But it’s so effective and so good that it’s lasted for more than six decades." No other product has been tested for safety and effectiveness in repelling insects more than DEET, Leal says, and reports of health risks have largely been overblown. Plus, it's the only type of repellent that the CDC recommends for tick protection. It's safe to use on children 2 months and older.
"If you’re going to stay outside and you don’t want to bother with reapplying many times, I think DEET is the best thing we have on the market,” Leal says. For most purposes, formulations containing 20% DEET are effective, says Leal.
There is one downside to DEET: it has a pesky plasticizing effect that can damage fabrics, surfaces, and materials. It won’t harm cotton, wool, or nylon, but materials like rubber, plastic, leather, vinyl, spandex, and even auto paint are fair game, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling it.
Picaridin is also a good choice
Picaridin, another synthetic repellent, is also effective at keeping mosquitoes at bay for extended periods of time. (It may also protect against ticks, but the CDC recommends sticking to DEET if you're going to be in a tick-heavy area.) In a Consumer Reports spray-off study, a product with 20% picaridin repelled mosquitoes for 8 hours and was considered the best repellent overall. While it lacks DEET’s distinguished history (it’s too new for us to know of potential long-term health risks—it was just approved for sale in the U.S. in 2005, whereas DEET has been around since 1946), it won't damage your belongings the way DEET can. Stacy Rodriguez, Hansen’s colleague at the Molecular Vector Physiology Laboratory at New Mexico State University, is investigating the efficacy of repellents containing picaridin this summer.
Candles and bracelets don't work
Rodriguez has studied devices like oil of lemon eucalyptus bracelets and ultrasonic devices, and found none of them to be effective against mosquitos. “At this point in my research, I would strongly suggest spray-on repellents,” she says. You can also forget about citronella candles—research shows don't work any better than regular candles at keeping bugs at bay. If keeping bugs out of your backyard is your goal, then your best bet is to eliminate standing water, where mosquitoes thrive.
There is one natural option, but it's not necessarily safer
Synthesized oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) extract (not the essential oil) is also an effective mosquito repellent. While it’s plant-based, it isn’t necessarily safer than lab-based repellents (and it doesn't repel ticks). The FDA cautions that OLE should be avoided for children under the age of 3, as it can cause temporary injury to the eyes.
Which Mosquito Repellent is Right for You?
For extra peace of mind, plug your criteria (insect, protection time, active ingredient of choice, and so on) into the EPA’s search tool, or consider one of these formulations.