insect repellent
The outdoors call upon all of us in unique ways. Camping, hiking, and hunting all offer degrees of challenge and fun for every individual. Even the less rugged calls of the wild, like swimming, golfing, or fishing can get us outside to enjoy the trappings of nature.

Different as all of those activities may be, they do have a uniting factor, particularly in the spring and early summer. Unfortunately, it’s not a good one. Bugs and mosquitos.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from the hand swat debugging days of yore. There is a multitude of insect repellents on the market today that can make your outdoor excursions much more enjoyable.

Before we take a look at the top bug sprays and mosquito repellents, let’s have a quick review of a few basics.

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The Best Defense

Depending on where you live or wherever a particular trip may take you, there’s a good chance you’re going to encounter bugs or mosquitos or any of a variety of flying (or crawling) insects. There’s an even better chance those zippy little annoyances are not as trivial they seem.

Mosquitos and their ilk are notorious carriers. Diseases such as Zika and West Nile Virus have been prevalent in the US for years with the most common transmission method through a mosquito bite.

One of the more commonly transmitted diseases by mosquitoes, West Nile Virus, if left untreated can be deadly. Approximately 1 in 150 infected people end up developing a severe or fatal case of the virus.

Zika, in particular, can be devastating in pregnant women, so it’s essential to protect you and your loved ones whenever you’re outside, not just camping or hiking.

Deer ticks carry Lyme disease, which can be very harmful to young children and the elderly. According to the CDC, ending with the most recent data from 2016, yearly cases of Lyme disease have topped 20,000 for 15 straight years.

Active Ingredients

Not all bug repellents are the same. You may think that any spray will do the trick, but that just is not the case.

Different brands contain different active ingredients, and it’s important to know what’s what. All are made to treat the basics in outdoor annoyances, mosquitos and flies, bugs, and deer ticks, though some are more effective than others.

One side note to the ingredients in insect repellents is their ability to cause damage to clothing and other soft materials. Common in sprays with heavy chemicals; the top products seem to be gentler than some lesser-rated brands.

Below are the three most common active ingredients in bug spray, along with two less useful outliers.


Perhaps the most widely known and common ingredient in bug and mosquito sprays is DEET. A chemical compound, DEET has been around in some form since the 1940s. It can be applied numerous ways including sprays, lotions, or even in items like moist wipes.

Contrary to popular belief, DEET is not designed to kill insects or mosquitos, but to repel them. Typically, any product that contains between 15 percent and 30 percent DEET is excellent for most needs. If it’s less than 10 percent, the spray could be ineffective.

Anything more than 30 percent, however, can carry some potential health risks primarily with highly concentrated doses. They include rashes or more severe side effects like seizures. Overall, if applied according to directions and used in the proper concentrations, DEET is considered safe for all ages as well as pregnant women.


Picaridin is a synthetic compound first developed in the 1980s but has only been available in the US since the mid-2000’s. Picaridin is a viable alternative to the chemically based DEET, modeled from piperine, a black pepper compound.

Similar to DEET though, picaridin doesn’t kill the insect but instead repels it from the treated area. Concentration makes a difference as well as how it’s applied. The higher it is, the better, though overuse can cause some discomfort. The spray-based form is more effective than other applications like lotion.

Picaridin is safe for all ages. Though like everything else on this list, always avoid getting it in your eyes or mouth.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Naturally occurring, oil of lemon eucalyptus or OLE comes from the gum eucalyptus tree. OLE is perhaps the least effective of the top three repellant ingredients. Though it still proves useful if a product containing OLE uses approximately a 30% concentration.

Usually, applied in spray or oil form OLE has been found to be unsafe for children under age three. Due to this, it should also be considered risky for pregnant women.

2-Undecanone and IR3535

Though commonly found in a handful of repellent sprays on the market 2-Undecanone and IR3535 are the least effective of the bug repellent active ingredients. 2-Undecanone is a synthesized variant of rue extract. Two-Undecanone has in the past been used as a flavoring or in perfumes because of its strong odor.

IR3535 is another synthetic developed in the 80’s. Though it does offer moderate protection, when compared to DEET or Picaridin, it does require more frequent applications. Both are considered safe for use by all ages.

Application Methods

There are a lot of insect repellents currently in the marketplace. Estimates show that close to 120 products alone contain DEET. With all of those options comes a lot of variety in the types and forms that are available.

  • Pump sprays and aerosols
  • Lotions, liquids, and creams
  • Oils and treated towelettes.

There are effective brands in each category, but the key to ensuring you get the most out of your repellent is proper application. Reading the directions carefully and understanding how a repellent needs to be applied is step one.

If using a spray, avoid getting it in your eyes or mouth. Apply it to your hands first then rub it on your face. When putting repellent on a child, steer clear of their hands since they are prone to eye rubbing and touching their mouths.

Do not apply creams and lotions on sensitive spots like cuts or an open sores. That holds true for sprays too.

Although some brands suggest application to clothing is safe, it’s usually unnecessary. Clothes offer their own level of protection. Making sure your exposed skin is treated is more than enough to keep insects at bay.

Finally, know that multiple applications of repellent are not necessary. Unlike sunscreen, insect repellents are designed to last upwards of eight hours. Frequent use in a short amount of time could pose health risks.

Best Mosquito Repellents

Now that you’ve got an overview of the active ingredients and applications, how about we review a few of the top repellents out on the market today.

Repellent: Total Home Woodland Scent Insect Repellent (CVS)

Price: Around $6

Active Ingredient: DEET 30 percent

Bug Off: CVS’s Total Home Woodland aerosol repellent is an exceptional product for outdoor activities. It repels mosquitoes as advertised and shows to be just as effective with other flying pests and even ticks.

The drawback is the strong smell when being applied. In most cases, the heaviness of the odor will dissipate after a few minutes, leaving a light scent. It may also leave behind an oily feel, which does eventually dry out. Overall, slight inconveniences aside, this is your best bet for mosquito repellent.

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Repellent: Off Deep Woods Dry Insect Repellent

Price: Around $7.50

Active Ingredient: DEET 25 percent

Bug Off: Off Deep Woods might be the best smelling repellent on our list. From the company that is perhaps most well know for it anti-bug products, the Deep Woods variation is their top line treatment.

First-rate at keeping mosquitos at bay, the Deep Woods is also reasonably effective against deer ticks. One downside is that it may cause some light harm to clothing, which can be avoided by proper application.

Aside from the pleasant smell, this product goes on much more natural than a lot of other aerosols. Not at all oily, it dries quickly after application and feels much the same with minimal residue.

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Repellent: Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent 2

Price: Around $5

Active Ingredient: OLE 30 percent

Bug Off: With a name like that you would expect this pump spray to be very long on protection, and it doesn’t disappoint. Our only OLE-based treatment, the Repel works well against most flying insects.

It is, however, strictly marketed to guard against mosquitos, so if you want tick coverage, another product on our list may be more suitable.

Otherwise, if it’s just mosquitos and other winged insects, this is a good bet. Damage to clothing is non-existent, and the application is quite clean, with a lemony scent and barely-there oily feel.

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Repellent: Ben’s 30 Percent DEET Tick and Insect Repellent

Price: Around $8

Active Ingredient: DEET 30 percent

Bug Off: Another DEET based product, Ben’s 30% is the only one on this list to declare war on the tick first, insect second. Regardless of the order, it works well on both.

Unfortunately, that brashness comes with a few shortcomings. The spray goes on heavy and stays that way leaving a greasy base on your skin and a thick aroma in your nose. It also may damage some materials if you get careless with the application.

Regardless though, it makes our list for a reason, and if DEET is your preferred repellent, you cannot go wrong with Ben’s.

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Repellent: Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent

Price: Around $8

Active Ingredient: Picaridin 20 percent

Bug Off: The lone picaridin entry on our review, the Sawyer Premium repellent is a fantastic alternative if you want to avoid DEET based products.

Just as effective against mosquitos as the others on our list, this is an all-around good repellent. It’s safe against your clothing and goes on with a light citrus odor. The residue is a bit oily but does dry over time.

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Enjoying the outdoors doesn’t mean having to put up with some of the less pleasant aspects of Mother Nature. Protecting yourself and your family against mosquitos, bugs, and other insects goes a long way to getting the most out of your outdoor experience, whatever it may be.

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