The Best Insect Repellents to Keep Mosquitoes Away

These insect repellents are our top picks to keep the mosquitoes away!

I love spending time outdoors during the summer months, but the mosquitos also love me spending time outdoors.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but I feel like the mosquitos are worse this year. It seems like they are all over me as soon as I step out the door! I know I’m sweet and all, but I’d prefer to avoid this kind of attention.

Nothing ruins a great backyard get-together quite like swarms of mosquitoes.

scratching at mosquito bites

Sure, you can treat your entire yard for pests, but this isn’t a pollinator-friendly option. Those mosquito treatments will also kill butterflies, bees, ladybugs, and other beneficial insects in your yard, too. Our flowers and veggie gardens need bees and other pollinators. Other insects serve as food sources for birds, pest control, and other purposes.

Regardless, we still need to protect ourselves from mosquitoes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (aka the CDC), illnesses from mosquito, tick, and flea bites are on the rise. Between 2004 and 2016 alone, reported cases more than tripled.

Okay, so we need to fight mosquitoes without harming the insects we need. The next best step is to apply bug repellent directly to yourself, right? But before you grab whatever is on the store shelves, there are a few things to consider first.

DEET Mosquito Repellents

putting on bug repellent

First and foremost, let’s talk about the D-word. No, not that one! I’m talking about DEET, the active ingredient found in a lot of insect repellents. It’s been around for quite some time. It was developed by the U.S. Army in the ‘40s, and available for use by the general public in the ‘50s.

There have been some concerns over the safety of DEET. I mean, it’s understandable. We should always research the chemicals that are used on or in our bodies. But it is worth noting that this active ingredient has been deemed safe, and it has been around for quite a while at this point.

Related: Say Goodbye to Mosquitoes With These 7 Plants

Both the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have continued to study DEET, and haven’t found any indication that it isn’t safe when used correctly. You shouldn’t inhale it, and you definitely can’t drink it. There is a possibility that it can cause a skin reaction for people that are sensitive.

Don’t confuse DEET with DDT. DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, was commonly used for insect control in agriculture. This stuff is bad news and has been banned in the United States since 1972.

The percentage of DEET in a product doesn’t indicate how effective or potent it is. The percentage actually affects the length of time it will repel mosquitoes and other insects. The higher the percentage, the longer it will keep the bugs away.

Picaridin Mosquito Repellents

Picaridin is another active ingredient used in insect repellents. It is just as effective as DEET, but it does have a few notable advantages. Picaridin is non-greasy and odorless – solving two of the main complaints with DEET.

Just like with DEET, the percentage of picaridin in a product doesn’t mean it is more potent or effective. The percentage indicates how long it will protect you, with higher percentages meaning the product will work for a longer period of time.

Picaridin was developed later than DEET and made by Bayer in the ‘80s. It’s actually a synthetic compound made to mimic a natural plant extract. Studies have shown that it is safe for people when used as intended.

Natural Mosquito Repellents

mint plant

Of course, there are plenty of other insect repellents on the market that don’t contain DEET or picaridin. While they might not be as effective or last as long as DEET and picaridin formulas, they can work just fine for many people. They are an excellent choice for anyone concerned about putting chemicals on their skin.

These natural repellents are made with ingredients such as lemongrass oil, peppermint, cedarwood, citronella, and eucalyptus oil – the kinds of things that mosquitoes and other insects really don’t like. Lemon eucalyptus oil is usually used to repel mosquitoes, while other oils can deter a variety of other bugs. As an added bonus, these natural insect repellents usually smell pretty good to us humans, thanks to those ingredients!

Related: Fun Labor Day Activities That Don’t Involve Travel

So, Which Insect Repellent Do You Choose?

Like most things, there’s really no one-size-fits-all product here. The kind of insect repellent you choose will really come down to your own personal needs. Some people want to stick with the tried-and-true DEET, while others prefer to swap it for picaridin. And others want to avoid both DEET and picaridin.

I can’t tell you a single repellent spray that works for every single person. But what I can do is give you a little insight to the best of the best, across all the different kinds of repellents!

Sawyer Products Insect Repellent With 20% Picaridin

Sawyer Products Picaridin Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products Insect Repellent with Picaridin is one of the best and most effective DEET-free repellents. Because it uses picaridin, you can expect it to repel mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, black flies, stable flies, gnats, chiggers, and sand flies. And with 20% picaridin, it remains effective for up to twelve hours. The spray is non-greasy and fragrance-free, plus it is safe to use on your clothing, backpacks, watches, and more.

Sawyer Products offers their insect repellent in a regular pump spray bottle, and a continuous spray bottle option, too. For added protection, they also make picaridin-containing lotion. Pick up the insect repellent lotion in single-use packets for convenient protection on-the-go!

OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent

OFF! Deep Woods

Not everyone enjoys the smell of DEET, but for those that don’t mind it – OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent is extremely effective at keeping the pests away! It provides protection against mosquitoes, ticks, black flies, sand flies, chiggers, gnats, biting midges, and fleas. Formulated with 25% DEET, it will give you up to eight hours of protection. This is the stuff you need when trudging through the (you guessed it) deep woods.

I am a big fan of OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII, which goes on feeling dry. It doesn’t give you that greasy feeling that DEET sprays can have sometimes. However, OFF! also offers Deep Woods in the original formulation in an aerosol spray, a pump spray bottle, and in convenient towelettes. 

Murphy’s Naturals Eucalyptus Oil Mosquito and Tick Repellent Spray

Murphy's Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent

This natural insect repellent spray from Murphy’s is DEET- and picaridin-free. Instead, it takes advantage of lemon eucalyptus oil to repel mosquitos and other insects. If you’re cautious about ingredients you can’t pronounce, this one is simple: it only contains oil of lemon eucalyptus, distilled water, and corn ethanol. Don’t let the simplicity fool you, though, because it’s still effective. It can repel mosquitos for up to six hours, repels deer ticks for up to four hours, and other varieties of ticks for up to eight hours.

Murphy’s Naturals also offers their insect repellent formula in a few other convenient forms. They offer a Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Mosquito and Tick Repellent Mist, which features a continuous spray cap that allows for 360-degree application. This spray uses compressed air (insead of propellant chemicals) and recyclable packaging. The company also made a Mosquito Repellent Balm Stick, which is made with castor oil, lemongrass oil, rosemary oil, cedarwood oil, and peppermint oil.

Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin

Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin

If the Avon lady comes knocking, maybe don’t shoo her off until after you snag some insect repellent. Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin has quite a fan base. Not only does the stuff really work at repelling insects, but it smells a lot nicer than many other repellents out there. Avon offers their repellent in an aerosol spray, a pump spray bottle, and convenient individually-wrapped towelettes that you can keep in your bag.

Avon’s Skin So Soft Bug Guard protects a good spread of insects, including mosquitoes, deer ticks, gnats, sand flies, biting midges, and more. It keeps mosquitoes away for up to six hours, black flies for up to three hours, and other insects for as many as eight hours. As an added benefit, Avon’s insect repellent is also oil-free and dermatologist tested.

Sawyer Premium Permethrin

Sawyer Products Permethrin Repellent

I know I didn’t mention permethrin as one of the repellent ingredients above. That’s because it’s a pesticide, and its use is restricted. Besides, your skin breaks down permethrin really quickly. You won’t find it in sprays used on the skin. However, you can use it to treat clothing and gear, which is what Sawyer Premium Permethrin is for. Permethrin spray bonds to fabric fibers and can last for six weeks or six washings, whichever comes first.

Use this spray on your clothing, socks, shoes, sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, and more to provide an extra layer of protection when outdoors. It repels and kills more than 55 kinds of insects, including ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, mites, spiders, and many more. This is especially helpful when setting up a campsite.

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