As exciting as the end of the cold winter months can be, it's hard to ignore the fact that warmer weather brings bugs — namely, mosquitoes. Luckily, having some of the best mosquito repellent on hand can help.
If you live in an area where spending time outside in the summer means risking bug bites, you're probably used to taking some basic steps to protect yourself.
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In addition to wearing long sleeves and pants, using mosquito nets around your patio or room and avoiding standing bodies of water (read: emptying your bird bath), you should use a top mosquito repellent that contains the right active ingredients.
The Best Mosquito Repellents
- Best Overall: OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VII ($26.07 for 3-pack, Amazon.com)
- Best Botanical: Cutter's Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent ($4.68 for pump spray, Amazon.com)
- Best Lightweight: Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Aerosol Spray ($27, Walmart.com)
- Best Lantern: Thermacell Scout Mosquito Repellent Camp Lantern ($56.89, Amazon.com)
- Best Candle: CitroGuard Citronella Candle ($22.22, Walmart.com)
- Best for Kids: OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent IV ($8.49, Amazon.com)
- Best Wipe: Repel Sportsmen Mosquito Wipes ($4.94, Walmart.com)
- Best Lotion: Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard ($15, Avon.com)
- Best Bracelet: PARA'KITO Mosquito Repellent Wristband ($19.50, Amazon.com)
- Best Coils: OFF! Backyard Mosquito Repellent Coils ($12.99 for 2-pack, Amazon.com)
- Best Clothing: Insect Shield Bandana and BALEAF Hiking Pants ($7.95 and $34.99, Amazon.com)
- Best for Clothing and Gear: Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Repellent ($16.13, Amazon.com)
How We Chose
We asked Elmer Gray, an entomologist and public health specialist at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, and Diane S. Berson, MD, an associate professor in the department of dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and assistant attending dermatologist at New-York Presbyterian Hospital, for their input on the best mosquito repellents.
Their picks are based on the following criteria:
- Active ingredients
- Staying power
- Situational appropriateness
What to Look for in a Mosquito Repellent
There are several very effective repellents on the market today — you just need to know what to look for:
1. Active Ingredients
According to both Gray and Dr. Berson, there's no bug spray ingredient that's quite as effective as DEET.
Although DEET has been used since the 1940s, it's still the best option when it comes to hours of protection against mosquitoes, including ones that carry the Zika virus, West Nile virus and malaria, as well as ticks and gnats.
DEET is EPA-approved and safe to use, but it may be irritating for some people, especially if it's used excessively, at a high concentration (over 30 percent) or on those with sensitive skin.
Luckily, you can find DEET alternatives that are nearly as effective against mosquitoes. Synthetic options include picaridin and the ingredient known commonly as IR3535.
Dr. Berson says picaridin may be especially appealing because it's odorless. It's also safer to use on synthetic clothing and plastics (DEET can ruin outdoor gear and plastic accessories like sunglasses).
Permethrin is another effective insect repellent — it can be applied to clothing and gear, but it's not for use on skin.
2. Plant-Based Alternatives
Botanical or plant-based insect repellents tend to lack the staying power of DEET, Dr. Berson says. But, if you don't mind reapplying more frequently, this isn't necessarily a problem.
Gray points to oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is derived from the leaves of lemon eucalyptus trees, as your best option. He adds that products containing catnip oil and oil of citronella can work well, too.
3. The Right Concentration
To a certain degree, the best bug spray is a matter of personal preference — say, whether you like the feel of an aerosol spray versus a wipe treated with repellent, or what active ingredient appeals most to you.
However, for longer stays in bug-infested areas or outings where you won't be able to reapply repellent easily, you should use a product with a higher concentration of active ingredients. A stronger product will help ensure you stay protected for as long as possible, Gray says.
Whether you want something lightweight and odorless or a repellent that you can apply on-the-go, there is a product out there to suit your needs. Here, we'll highlight some of the best options available right now.
1. OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VII
- 8 hours of protection
- Easy to apply
- Small amount of DEET
- Can damage some synthetic fabrics
There are too many DEET-based insect repellents to count, but this spray-on option from OFF! checks all the essential boxes for an effective — but not excessive — DEET deterrent, which is why it tops our list as the best bug spray for hiking or other outdoor activities.
Dr. Berson says you tend to start seeing "diminishing returns" when you go higher than a 30 percent concentration of DEET in an insect repellent. OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VII clocks in at 25 percent DEET and should give you eight hours of protection before you need to reapply.
One thing to keep in mind with DEET-based repellents: They can damage some synthetic fabrics, so if you're spraying down your clothes, make sure you're wearing cotton, wool or nylon. And apply it away from plastic or varnished lawn furniture.
2. Cutter's Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
- Only protects for six hours
Featuring a clean, cool scent, Cutter's Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent is a DEET-free, plant-based repellent that's also available as an aerosol.
Both formulations can be applied directly to the skin or clothes, and they'll protect users for up to six hours.
3. Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Aerosol Spray
- DEET alternative
- Less greasy than some brands
- Aerosol version not always available
Picaridin is odor-free and a lighter-weight, less-greasy alternative to DEET, which tends to have a sharp smell and can make your skin feel oily. Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Aerosol Spray promises to work effectively without leaving a residue behind — and it won't damage plastic and synthetic materials, either.
Gray points out that this best picaridin insect repellent is safe to use on children (as are most picaridin repellents), and Dr. Berson says it's unlikely to be irritating, even for those with sensitive skin. If you want a product that works like a serious bug spray but doesn't feel like a serious bug spray, look for one made with picaridin.
4. Thermacell Scout Mosquito Repellent Camp Lantern
- Great for camping
- Can be used as a light or repellent
- Works up to 40 hours
- Must be set up near you to get full coverage
If you're trying to decide between the best mosquito lantern or candle for an area repellent, lanterns tend to be a little more effective in campground or backyard settings, Gray says. He adds that it's important to set them up near you so that you can be sure you're in the area of coverage.
The Thermacell Scout Mosquito Repellent Camp Lantern works by sending out vaporized, odorless repellent into the air in a 15-foot area for up to 40 hours. You can use this best mosquito repellent lantern solely as a light or bug deterrent, or as both at once.
5. CitroGuard Citronella Candle
- Smells great
- 40-hour burn time
- Best used in an enclosed space
- May need multiple candles for maximum coverage
The classic citronella candle is a porch staple for a reason — it gives off a pleasant smell along with moderate mosquito coverage. For best results, use it in a somewhat enclosed space, as the citronella vapors tend to disperse too rapidly in wide open spaces.
The CitroGuard Citronella Candle from Cutter is a particularly great mosquito chaser thanks to its long burn time of 40 hours and its sturdy base. The brand suggests using multiple candles for maximum coverage.
6. OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent IV
- Only 7% DEET
- Safe for sensitive skin
- Need to reapply after 2 hours
OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent IV makes our list because, with 7 percent DEET, it's gentler on kids' sensitive skin than higher concentrations, but it's still strong enough to keep backyard explorers and little hikers well-protected. Due to this lower concentration, however, you'll need to reapply after about two hours.
Gray notes it's important you don't spray children directly with mosquito repellent. Instead, spray some into your hands, then rub it into their skin, he says.
7. Repel Sportsmen Mosquito Wipes
- Quick reapplications
- Contains a higher concentration of DEET (30%)
The best mosquito repellent wipes have some advantages over sprays: They're lightweight, packable and better for quick reapplications, making them one of the best personal mosquito repellent options for hikes or camping trips (as long as you're prepared to carry out any used wipes when you leave).
Repel Sportsmen Mosquito Wipes have a 30 percent concentration of DEET and give you up to 10 hours of protection. Available in packs of 15, these wipes are powerful repellents, perfect for avid outdoors people who don't want a swarm of skeeters ruining their recreation time.
8. Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard
- Won't clog pores
- Can't apply it to clothes or outdoor gear
- May offer less protection overall than some other repellents
Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard works double duty as a combination sunscreen and insect repellent lotion, thanks to the active ingredient IR3535.
It's hypoallergenic, fast-absorbing, non-comedogenic (meaning it doesn't clog pores) and won't leave skin feeling greasy. You get about two hours of protection, but you should reapply after you go swimming.
Just keep in mind that there's a downside to using a repellent lotion: You can't apply it to your clothes, shoes, hiking backpack, tent or other fabrics, so you may have less protection overall compared to the other best mosquito repellers.
9. PARA'KITO Mosquito Repellent Wristband
- Easy to use
- Natural ingredients
- May not be as effective as chemical-based products
If you're looking for a more natural mosquito repellent, this bracelet works by giving off essential oils that repel bugs. All you have to do is place the essential oil pellets (which come with the bracelet) inside its mesh pocket, throw it on and start your adventure.
The essential oils works to mask the scent of your body and breath, making it harder for mosquitoes to find you. Plus, the bracelet is waterproof, adjustable and comes in a variety of fun colors.
10. OFF! Mosquito Coil Refills
- Fresh Scent
- Can only protect up to a 10x10-foot space
If you have a smaller porch or outdoor patio that you would like to protect against mosquitoes and other insects, coils are a great option. These small and portable coils are made out of insecticides and citronella. Simply place one on a table or shelf and light the end with a match or lighter.
Bonus: These coils give off a fresh scent. Burn them for up to four hours for protection and a nice aroma.
11. Insect Shield Bandana and BALEAF Hiking Pants
- Good for kids and dogs
- Contains permethrin
- May not be as effective as sprays
Besides being a fun accessory, this bandana by Insect Shield can actually help you ward off pesky critters like ticks and mosquitoes. The lightweight bandana is made with permethrin — an insecticide — that will last for up to 70 washings. Wear it on your wrist, neck or ankle for relief.
Bonus: You can put this bandana on your four-legged hiking friend if they're bothered by mosquitoes, too!
- UPF protection
- Sizes may run small
Another great find, these pants by BALEAF are great for all your outdoor adventures. Apart from their fabric containing mosquito-repelling ingredients, they're also lightweight, water-resistant and UPF 50+.
Keep in mind, even though they're stretchy, you may need to order a size up. Some reviewers said the pants run small.
- Each application provides six weeks of protection
- Great for mosquito and tick protection
- Easy to spray
- Cannot be used directly on skin
If you like camping, hiking or any other outdoor activity that requires a lot of gear, a spray specifically for your things is helpful. This pick from Sawyer's Premium offers up to six weeks of insect-repelling power after only one application.
That means your tent, hiking clothes, backpack, shoes and more are all protected from pesky mosquitoes and ticks. Plus, it's available in both a 12- and 24-ounce bottle. The only drawback is that you can't use this product directly on your skin.
Tips for Applying Mosquito Repellent
Stay safe when using even the best mosquito repellents by following these steps from the Environmental Protection Agency:
- Always follow the directions on the product's label.
- Apply the repellent only to exposed skin and on top of clothing, never underneath clothing.
- Avoid your mouth and eyes, and use it sparingly around your ears.
- Never spray repellent directly on your face. Instead, spray it into your hands, then rub it on your face.
- Never put repellent on any cuts or wounds, and avoid using it on irritated skin.
- Don't breathe in the repellent while you're spraying it (and avoid spraying it in an enclosed area).
- Never use repellent near food.
- When you go indoors, wash the repellent from your skin and clothes with soap and water.
1. Is There a Way to Repel Mosquitoes Naturally?
There are a few natural mosquito repellents (along with natural bug bite remedies). While they may not work as well as chemical repellents, they can still offer some protection. These include: lemon eucalyptus, catnip oil, peppermint oil, lemongrass oil and eliminating standing water, per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
2. Is There a Vitamin That Prevents Insect Bites?
There's been research to suggest that taking thiamine (vitamin B1) prevents bug bites, but there's not enough evidence to prove this is true, per the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
#3. What Prevents Mosquito Bites From Itching?
There are a couple of natural fixes for itchy bug bites. These can include calamine lotion, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, a cold compress, applying pressure for 10 seconds or even over-the-counter oral antihistamines like Benadryl, per the Mayo Clinic.
Also, avoid scratching your bites. Scratching increases inflammation, causing an "itch-scratch cycle." It can also cause breaks in the skin and increase your risk for infection or skin discoloration.
4. Why Do You Get Bitten by Mosquitoes So Much?
Your natural body odor, body temperature and the carbon dioxide you exhale may make you more attractive to mosquitoes than others, per Hartford Healthcare. This is why you may get bitten more after working out or if you're pregnant — due to high body temperature.
Mosquitoes are known to spread a variety of serious illnesses, including West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis and the Zika virus, but there is no evidence to suggest they can spread the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Gray says.
Nevertheless, it's important to stay vigilant when it comes to protecting yourself against mosquitoes as the weather gets warmer and bug populations grow. At worst, you don't want to catch a mosquito-borne illness, and at best, you'd probably rather not spend the first cookout of the year swatting and scratching bites.
- Environmental Protection Agency: "Using Insect Repellents Safely and Effectively"
- Environmental Protection Agency: "DEET"
- National Pesticide Information Center: "Picaridin"
- Merck MGaA: "IR3535"
- EPA: "Skin-Applied Repellent Ingredients"
- AAAI: "Thiamine as a prevention of insect bites"
- Mayo Clinic: "Mosquito Bites"
- Hartford Healthcare: "Do Mosquitoes Bite You More Than Other People? This Could Explain Why"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.