What's the Best Mosquito Repellent? How to Buy the Right One for You

These are the types of bug sprays that will protect you from bites.

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mosquito-repellent-feature
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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.

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.

Best Overall: Off! Deep Woods Mosquito Repellent Spray

OFF! Deep Woods Bug Spray & Mosquito Repellent
Amazon

Active ingredient: DEET

Aerosol cans take up space, but they make it easy to be sure you're covering every last bit of exposed skin. This product contains 25% DEET, and the powder-dry formula never feels sticky or greasy. It provides up to eight hours of protection from mosquitoes and ticks, making it great for any outdoor activity—hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, you name it.

"Over the past few years I have tried basically every 'natural' product on the market with no luck," one Amazon shopper wrote. "I decided to give Off! a shot and I'm so glad I did. It gives me the protection I need! Bugs love me and this does a good job of keeping them away. I have Lyme disease and seven other tick-borne diseases that I have contracted several years ago, so I am super picky about staying safe."

Best for Hiking: Adventure Medical Ben's 100 Max DEET Tick & Insect Repellent Spray

Ben's100 Max Deet Tick & Insect Repellent
Backcountry.com

Active Ingredient: DEET

When you're out on the trails, you'll need a multipurpose repellent that tackles both mosquitos and ticks. Not only is it great for warding off a variety of bugs, but its water-based formulation doesn't evaporate as quickly as alcohol-based formulations do. Plus, its petite size won't take up valuable real estate in a hiker's backpack and its convenient spray nozzle is perfect for on-the-go application.

"It's effective for hours after application," one reviewer noted. "If you have a bug problem, say goodbye. This stuff is really effective the second you start spraying it around your exposed body… I take this little bottle out backpacking and hiking (and really most anywhere) to keep myself covered in neat and packable anti-bug coverage."

Best Wipes: Repel Sportsmen 30% DEET Wipes

repel insect repellent wipes

Active ingredient: DEET

Providing a mess-free application, these travel-friendly wipes feature 30% DEET and promise up to 10 hours of protection from insects, though Leal cautions that repellent needs to be reapplied more frequently when we swim or get especially sweaty. Some "sporty" products offer formulations of up to almost 100% DEET—and are more than anyone would need, he notes. According to the CDC, concentrations of over 50% provide no added protection.

"They were so easy to take along on hiking treks in wooded areas where biting insects are a problem," explained one Amazon reviewer. "One sheet covered arms, legs, face and neck. Then I tucked the used wipe into the waistband of my jeans for added protection. Literally no bites on day or night hikes."

Best for Sensitive Skin: Sawyer Controlled-Release Repellent Lotion

Sawyer Products 20% DEET Premium Family Insect Repellent

Active ingredient: DEET

Perfect for those who are prone to skin irritation, this odorless mosquito-repelling lotion ensures maximum protection without causing redness. The time-controlled release of 20% DEET and other active ingredients in this lotion provides up to 11 hour
\s of coverage—perfect for a long, long hike. Not to mention that it's sweat-resistant and family-friendly.

"Perfect size for traveling," one reviewer shared. My son has sensitive skin, and this was my solution on our trip to the Caribbean. Not a strong odor. No residue behind and was easy to apply — a keeper."

Best Long-Lasting: Sawyer Picaridin 20% Continuous Spray

Sawyer Products Picaridin Insect Repellent

Active ingredient: Picaridin

This product provides up to 12 hours of protection against mosquitoes and ticks, and eight hours against flies, gnats, and chiggers. The same long-lasting formula is also available in a travel-friendly 4-ounce spray bottle—which is key, according to Leal. "I take a little bottle [of repellent] in my carry-on and have a bigger one checked in my bag when I travel," he says. "You don't want to risk arriving [at a mosquito-infested destination] and not be able to find any repellent on the shelves."

"I used this product for twelve days on African safari in Tanzania, five days in the Amazon Rainforest and three days in the Galapagos Islands and it was outstanding," a shopper recalled in their review. "In Africa one person in our party who was using an over-the-counter mosquito repellant continued to be bitten. We gave her some of ours and the biting ceased immediately. I cannot recommend this product highly enough."

Best Smelling: Natrapel 20% Eco Insect Repellent Spray

Natrapel Insect Repellent Spray
Amazon

Active ingredient: Picaridin

Mosquito repellent is notorious for its harsh odor. This formula from Natrapel promises eight hours of protection, and offers a light floral scent to deliver a more pleasant-smelling experience. Like other picaridin formulations, it's safe to spray on clothing as well. In fact, Leal says it's not recommended to apply repellent under clothing. He explains, "There's no benefit to that. Focus on areas of skin that are exposed."

"This works fine to keep away the bugs," one Target shopper wrote. "I use it before going on a run/walk. And it works the whole time, so no problem with sweat. No greasy feeling on skin and I didn't think it had a strong smell."

Best for Backyards: Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
Amazon

Active ingredient: Oil of lemon eucalyptus extract

Formulated without DEET, this spray provides up to six hours of protection. That's probably all the protection you need for spending an afternoon in a backyard setting, Hansen says. "Someone hiking in the Everglades, by contrast, would probably want to reapply every four to six hours."

"The stinging/biting bugs have been unbearable this summer," one Amazon shopper began their review. "I would work in the yard with a long sleeve shirt and long jeans despite the sweltering heat because I couldn't handle more bug bites. I should have ordered this earlier in the summer. Since I've been using it, the bugs avoid me. I saw one do a U-turn as he approached me."

Best OLE Option: Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Spritz on this bug spray and repel mosquitoes for up to six hours. Made from eucalyptus tree leaves, this DEET-free formula features 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus also provides protection against deer ticks when you're out and about.

"The bugs are always attracted to my husband and bite him immediately whenever he goes outside," explained one Walgreens reviewer. "Once I sprayed it on him and his clothes, they left him alone. The smell of the spray isn't bad either."

Best for Babies and Kids: Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent

Babyganics DEET Free Bug Spray

Keep your little ones defended against mosquitos with this baby-safe DEET-free formula, which uses a blend of bug-repelling ingredients and essential oils like citronella, peppermint, rosemary, lemongrass, and geranium. Recommended for ages six months and up, it's packed in a travel-friendly spray bottle that won't get lost in your baby bag.

"There's not many products I feel safe using on my daughter that actually work, but this one does," one Amazon shopper assured. "The smell of citronella [is] a little strong but it keeps the bugs off the babies and mommas if you have sensitive skin."

Best for Pets: Vet's Best Mosquito Repellent for Dogs and Cats

Vet's Best Mosquito Repellent for Dogs and Cats

If your furry friend is always your plus one when exploring, you'll need a pet-safe formula like this one from Vet's Best to protect them against mosquitos. Designed for dogs and cats aged 12 weeks and older, this DEET-free mosquito repellent combines lemongrass oil, citronella-derived geraniol, clove, and peppermint to shield your pet from bites for up to two hours. In fact, it's so gentle that it can be used on humans as well.

"Before this spray, I would notice bugs trying to burrow into my pup's fur while we are walking in the evening, or they would land on her and not leave," recalled one Amazon shopper. "Now when we walk, I watch as bugs land on her and immediately fly off." It works great [and] smells good."

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