Best Mosquito Repellents Reviewed and Compared
In the summer, the cool temperature in the early mornings and late evenings are ideal times for runners who want to beat the heat. Unfortunately, these times provide prime conditions for some of our least favorite companions—mosquitos.
Mosquitos and other insects sometimes carry unwanted diseases and result in uncomfortable, itching red bumps on your skin. In places where there is a high-risk of mosquito-borne diseases, it is especially important to have a repellent you can rely on.
We want everyone to be able to enjoy the summertime–whether you’re an outdoors enthusiast who has waited all year to bask in the sun, or you just want to enjoy the cool summer evenings outside with your family.To avoid letting mosquitos ruining your time outdoors it’s important to keep mosquito repellant on hand at all times. We’ve researched and tested a number of different mosquito repellents to put together a list of what we think are the best of the best and hopefully make your mosquito repellent shopping a breeze this summer.
- Off! Deep Woods
- Very effective
- Sawyer Picaridin
- Easy to use
- 3M Ultrathon
- Water resistant
Best Mosquito Repellents
1. Off! Deep Woods
The concerns surrounding DEET typically arise from the harsh nature of this chemical. It has been shown to strip paints and melt plastics, not surprisingly it can also be harsh on skin and cause irritation. There has been one test to suggest other negative effects (see discussion under “Metrics We Used”) but this chemical has been around for a while and consistently passes rigorous testing done by the EPA. DEET does warrant some caution but it has been shown to be safe and is closely regulated.
The EPA and CDC recommend products with 10-30% DEET and this formula falls near the upper end with 25% DEET. Testing by Consumer Reports showed this is the most effective product for repelling mosquitos. This is supported by reviews by users who note this is reliable enough to drastically reduce bug bites.
This aerosol provides convenience and is great to leave by the door for use just before hitting the trail. Application does not require too much attention to detail to ensure it is dispersed; most users report adequate coverage without too much effort. This convenient aerosol formula does not contain CFCs or other ozone-depleting substances.
Reported to last up to 8 hours.
Chemical odor with a hint of pine. Better than some other chemical products but not the most pleasant scent.
The price is about average when compared with other repellents on this list and it does provide very effective coverage.
- Very effective
- Repels mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas, gnats, chiggers and no-seeums for up to 8 hours.
- 25% DEET in the recommended range
- EPA certified
- Easy, full coverage for skin and clothes
- DEET may be irritating to skin
2. Sawyer Picaridin
Picaridin is a newer chemical on the market in the US and is one of the active ingredients approved and tested by the EPA. While it does not have the same associated concerns as DEET being newer means it has not been studied as thoroughly. That being said, this product is regulated carefully and has passed all safety tests. It is also widely used in Europe and Australia.
This product has been shown to be more effective than some DEET products and was top-rated when reviewed by Consumer Reports. It reports to be more effective at repelling flies than DEET. The EPA reports this product is effective for up to 8 hours.
Pump bottle is easy to use and does not require much time to apply effectively.
It does have a chemical odor initially but it seems to dissipate quickly and becomes odorless.
Slightly more expensive than some other options. You pay about the same as other products but for a smaller bottle.
- Effective against Mosquitoes, Ticks, Flies, Gnats and Chiggers for 8 hours
- Non-DEET 20% Picaridin
- EPA certified
- Easy to use
- Smell dissipates quickly
- Slightly more expensive
3. 3M Ultrathon
This is a slightly higher concentration of DEET with the upper recommendation typically being 30% DEET. However, this lotion is designed to slowly release over the 12 hours in provides coverage.
The lotion formula provides very effective and focused coverage. Many users report using this product to minimize mosquito exposure in high risk areas and report having very few, if any bites. The EPA approves this product for up to 12 hours of protection.
This is a lotion product so it is great for more focused application. May get sticky or greasy with sweat but most reviewers felt it was not too greasy for everyday use. Applying lotion is a bit more time consuming but allows you to focus coverage on exposed areas. Unlike aerosols, it cannot be applied to clothing but it also does not evaporate as quickly off skin and provides longer protection.
Users stand by this product for hiking and running.
There is a mild chemical scent with initial application that dissipates quickly.
Price is around the same as many others on this list. This is a lotion to be applied to exposed areas only so how fast you go through it will depend on how much skin you leave exposed.
- 12-hour protection from mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, chiggers, gnats, fleas and deer flies
- Long-lasting and water resistant
- Focused and reliable protection
- Very effective for use in high risk areas
- High concentration of DEET
- More time-consuming than other forms of application
4. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus
30% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
One of the two naturally-derived active ingredients registered by the EPA. This plant-based active ingredient is much less worrisome than synthetic chemicals but this oil and a large amount of ethanol in this formula still make it a bit too harsh to be used safely on pets or children. Despite being natural, this product is still closely regulated and certified by the EPA for safety.
Consistently rated as one of the most effective options for non-DEET repellents including tests done by Consumer Reports. The EPA rates this product as effective for up to 6 hours for mosquitos. This is a great natural option but is still outperformed by DEET when it comes to efficacy.
This is an oil and although it can be sprayed on, it does need to be spread out using your hands for proper coverage.
Oil-based formula should stand up to water and sweat.
Very strong lemon scent. Better than chemicals but still a strong odor.
Fairly standard for insect repellents and cheaper than many other natural alternatives.
- Natural alternative to DEET
- Plant-based active ingredient
- Most effective natural option
- EPA certified
- Strong lemon scent
- Not quite as effective as chemical active ingredients
- Does not repel ticks, flies or other insects
5. Ben’s Mosquito Wipes
This product does have DEET as the active ingredient and is closely regulated by the EPA for safety. It is designed to sit on top of the skin rather than being absorbed.
30% DEET is at the upper end of recommended DEET concentrations and is effective for repelling mosquitoes. This has been tested by the EPA but they do not report how long you can expect it to remain effective.
Easy application that can be focused on exposed areas. Individually packaged wipes can easily be tucked away for reapplication. This non-liquid and effective option is perfect for travel. Some users complain they can be a bit greasy but overall find these wipes very convenient.
These wipes are not water-resistant but users do not feel a need to reapply throughout the course of vigorous activity.
Fragrance-free although some users do note a chemical odor with initial application.
The price will add up if you plan to use this as a daily repellent as the wipes do dry out after a day. However, this option is affordable and easy to justify for travel or stocking emergency kits with these convenient wipes.
- Lightweight and convenient
- Great for travel
- Effective against mosquitoes and ticks
- Pricey for daily use
6. Natrapel 8 Hour Repellent
Picaridin is a synthetic chemical that is an alternative to DEET. It is less likely to cause skin irritation but is still closely regulated by the EPA. Most users do not complain of skin irritation while using this product but there are a few who feel this chemical is still too harsh.
Proven effective for 8 hours for both mosquitoes and ticks.
This formula should be applied onto skin or hands and then rubbed in for full coverage. Most users report that the feel of this product on skin is much more comfortable than other chemical repellents. This bottle does come in a TSA-approved size, however some people note the pump has a tendency to break.
This spray does not claim to be waterproof but reviewers do not note concerns about the effects wearing off.
This does have an odor but many users report it smells good to them. Others will not go that far but still agree it is more pleasant than the scent associated with DEET sprays.
Affordable and long-lasting.
- Effective Non-DEET option
- Travel-size bottle
- Nozzle may break
7. Coleman Botanicals
30% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is a natural alternative to DEET. This formula is completely plant-based and is less irritating than the harsh chemical alternatives. However, this product is not cleared for use on infants under the age of 2.
Moderately effective when tested by Consumer Reports. It does not work as well as chemical repellents but will provide some protection for those seeking a natural alternative. The EPA approves this product for 6 hours of protection from mosquitoes.
This formula is an easy-to-apply oil that does not feel sticky or greasy on skin. Some people note the lid does leak and recommend not throwing it in your bag.
Strong lemon scent
Affordable option, particularly when compared with other natural formulations.
- 100% plant-based formula
- Non-irritating and good skin feel
- EPA certified for use against mosquitoes for 6 hours
- Strong lemon scent
- Not as effective
- Does not repel ticks
8. Avon Skin So Soft Plus
Active ingredient IR3535 is a synthetic compound considered to be very safe for use. It is widely used in Europe and was recommended for children and pregnant women in France during a recent Chikungunya outbreak.
Mixed reviews from users on the efficacy of this product. It seems to work great for most but there are still a few who did not find it to be effective for preventing bites. The EPA ranks this product as effective for 2 hours for both mosquitoes and ticks.
This is a lotion that combines insect repellent and SPF 30. Users note the lotion is thinner and more oily than most sunscreens but spreads on easily for effective coverage. The CDC typically recommends avoiding products that combine sunscreen with bug repellent because the sunscreen should be reapplied more frequently than the repellant. Therefore using these products for all day protection requires unnecessary repeated exposures to the insect repellent. However, if you are only needing the product for a 1-2 hour run why not kill two birds with one stone?
This product is waterproof but does need to be reapplied every few hours regardless of sweat or water.
Little to no scent
Affordable especially if you are using this as a 2-in-1.
- Convenient 2-in-1 option for both SPF and insect repellent
- Safe Non-DEET alternative
- Easily applied
- Inconsistent protection from person to person
- Only provides 2 hours of protection
9. Avon Skin So Soft Towelettes
This is a safe chemical alternative to DEET. It is not likely to cause irritation and has no known harmful side effects. Products using Picaridin are regulated by the EPA.
Effective DEET alternative, however, the EPA only reports 2 hours of protection while using this product.
Easy-to-use towelettes are a very convenient option. Users report this product is not greasy or sticky, dries quickly and may actually soften skin.
These are sweat-resistant but will need to be applied every 2 hours regardless.
This may have an odor with initial application but it dissipates with the quick-drying formula. Many users prefer the smell of these towelettes to any DEET alternatives.
These individually wrapped wipes are sold in packs of 8 for around the same price as many of the repellents on this list. It is not the most affordable option but you are paying for the convenience and cleanliness of these neat packets.
- Convenient Towelettes
- Great for travel
- More expensive
10. Burt’s Bees Natural
Castor Oil, Rosemary Oil, Lemongrass Oil, Cedar Oil, Peppermint Oil, Citronella Oil, Clove Oil and Geranium make up about 20% of this product
This product is unregistered with the EPA because the ingredients are considered very safe, making testing unwarranted. This oil-based, all-natural product is a low-risk option especially for those sensitive to harsher repellents.
Reviewers report this is very effective for a natural repellant but not quite as effective as DEET. Efficacy seems to vary from person to person but most users note some reduction in bites while using this product. This is an unregistered product that has not been tested by the EPA for efficacy.
This is an oil-based product that can be applied to skin or hands and then spread out. A little more time-consuming. The oily composition does leave a slightly greasy feel to skin.
Not specified but users do not complain of any issues with this running.
This all-natural repellent is a nice change from chemical alternatives. Most users are pleasantly surprised to note it smells more strongly of lemongrass than citronella oil.
This comes in a fairly small bottle making it slightly more expensive than some other options. However, the oil formula means a little goes a long way and it will last a while.
- All natural oils
- Very safe, low-risk ingredients
- Pleasant scent
- Questionable effectiveness
All Terrain Herbal Armor
The All Terrain Herbal Armor is made up of six essential oils: soybean, citronella, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass, and geranium. These active ingredients make up just under 25% of this repellent.
Although this repellent is made of natural ingredients you should avoid getting it in sensitive areas where it can still cause irritation, like the eyes or mouth. It is advertised as child-safe but is not okay for use on children 6 months or younger.
Because this product uses natural ingredients it is untested. That means we aren’t sure about it’s proven efficacy. Some users reported that it had no effect, while others said it was extremely effective at keeping mosquitoes away.
This stuff is easy enough to use and that you can rub on, but may not go exactly where you want it to. It is also a pump application, which can be more difficult and time-consuming than an aerosol application.
There is no specification on the resistance of this repellent to sweat, but there were no obvious complaints about it being particularly easy to sweat off.
Although it does not have the same harsh chemical smell as other repellents, the essential oils that make up the active ingredients do have a strong scent that may not be appealing to everyone.
This wanders into the high-cost range, especially when compared to some other options on our list. It does, however, have high customer review ratings and comes in different sizes and forms at different prices.
- Non-toxic and environmentally friendly
- No DEET or GMO’s
- Won’t damage clothing
- Questionably efficacy
The Metrics We Used to Find the Best Mosquito Repellents
There are a ton of options when it comes to insect repellent. Not only are there brand names to consider but there are also a multitude of active ingredients that all claim to keep the creepy crawlies at bay. With each active ingredient comes a confusing mix of facts and rumors concerning the efficacy and safety of each. To help sort through the madness, we have used the following metrics to determine the top 10 best mosquito repellents available to runners.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes and regulates 4 active ingredients for use in insect repellents: DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. Products containing these active ingredients need to be registered by the EPA, meaning they have been tested for safety and efficacy. Any products using these active ingredients that have not been registered are considered illegal and are not safe for use. The EPA recognizes alternative and more natural ingredients such as Citronella Oil and many other essential oils for use in unregistered products. This means the products are made with ingredients deemed safe enough to not require further testing. Unfortunately, this also means these low-risk, natural products are not tested for efficacy.
It is also important to note the concentration of each of these active ingredients. Repellents on the market range widely and while you can find repellents with 90-100% DEET, going above the 10-30% range doesn’t make it more effective. It may increase the amount of time that the repellent will last, but if you can just reapply there’s not much point in worrying about the concentration level of your mosquito repellent.
Many people show concern about the harsh chemicals used in insect repellents, particularly the best-known active ingredient, DEET. DEET does have the capacity to strip paints and melt plastics which is concerning for something we are putting on our skin. An additional cause for concern arises from the results of one study showing brain cell death with long exposure to the chemical. This study is largely outnumbered by extensive research done by the EPA showing no ill-effects with normal use. Insect repellents should be used only during select months of the year and select locations and this inconsistent use drastically reduces any risk associated. Unless you plan to bathe in high concentrations of DEET every day of the year, the only risk associated with normal use is skin irritation.
In 2005 the EPA recognized additional active ingredients such as Picaridin, IR3535 and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus for use in insect repellents. Picaridin and IR3535 are both synthetic chemicals that are easier on the skin than DEET. While initial reports suggest they are safer than DEET, these are still newer chemicals that have not been around long enough to be researched as thoroughly.
How well does it repel insects and how long will the protection last? This is obviously of great importance when choosing a repellent. DEET and Picaridin are most consistently recommended for effectiveness when tested both by the EPA and independent groups like Consumer Reports. However, efficacy does vary based on a variety of other factors as well and can vary from individual to individual, especially when it comes to the more natural options so we took user reviews into account as well.
If you’re planning on using DEET in places where mosquitoes pose a high-risk for disease, think twice. Although DEET is extremely effective at deterring mosquitos on your first encounter, the more that these insects are exposed to this chemical the less likely they are to be repelled. This makes it a great option for those who need hefty short-term or one-time protection, but if you’re backpacking, traveling, or hanging out with a lot of these bloodsuckers on a regular basis or frequenting the same places consider an alternative.
When most people think of insect repellent they think of a pump bottle or aerosol can but there is actually a wider variety of formulas including wipes, oils, and lotions. The ease of application is important to note, especially for runners who may need a repellent on the go. Skin-feel is also an important factor for many people. Some repellents leave skin feeling greasy or sticky so we looked for options that provide protection without getting in the way.
Most repellents are designed to be worn outside and in hot or humid weather. The best repellents should not be affected by sweat or water during a long run.
If you think back to the days of summer camp or evening barbecues, you can probably evoke memories of the chemical smell of DEET. While this may bring back happy memories for some, most people prefer to avoid this strong chemical scent. Smell has long been a complaint of many repellent users and some modern companies have addressed this issue. This may not be a big deal if you’re running alone or aren’t planning on going to any public places, but products with a strong odor can affect those with medical conditions or sensitive airways. We looked for formulas that repel insects, not people.
Fortunately, insect repellent is not too costly across the board. However, the differences between the type and frequency of application will affect how quickly you run through your stores.
Other Things to Consider When Choosing Mosquito Repellent
Where are you running?
It is important to familiarize yourself with the areas you run in or plan to run in to know what bugs you’re dealing with and what they may be carrying. If you are traveling in a high-risk area where insects may be carrying Malaria, Zika, Chikungunya or West Nile Virus you want to find the most effective repellent period. If you are running in lower risk areas and are just hoping to reduce the number of bites, you may opt for a repellent with less harsh ingredients and subsequently, lower efficacy. Similarly, you may want to note the other insects that are in your area. If you have concerns about ticks, DEET may be more attractive. Whereas if biting flies are an issue, Picaridin may be more beneficial.
How often do you need insect repellent?
It is difficult to determine how long mosquito season will last as mosquito activity correlates more with the temperature than the time of the year. However, you may have a good idea of how often the critters are out and how much you will need to be applying a repellent. If you have a feeling you will be applying repellent daily for longer than a few weeks, you may want to avoid high concentrations of DEET as the risk of skin irritation may increase the more consistently you use it.
What is your pre-run routine?
If you are trying to squeeze in a quick run before or after work, you may need something more quick and convenient that can be thrown in a gym bag or glove box, like towelettes. Also if you are applying sunscreen before a run as well, it’s a better idea to pass on the repellent or find a one that has sun protection as well. Applying repellent and sunscreen at the same time can lessen the efficacy of both. You could also consider clothes that have UV/UB protection.
Q: How do I use insect repellent safely?
A: Make sure you read and follow the instructions on the bottle. Each repellent will vary but typically it is not necessary to apply repellent under clothing. Many also recommend showering or rinsing off skin after you have come inside. Make sure to read the instructions on the label to ensure you are using it properly.
Q: Does insect repellent expire?
A: As long as they are stored reasonably well, mosquito repellents should not spoil or go bad. However, they do begin to lose effectiveness, usually after several years. If you are noticing your favorite repellent is not working as well as it used to, it may be time for a replacement. Remember to check for expiration dates before you buy and before you use any repellent that has been stored away for a while.
Q: Can I use repellents on my dog?
A: Most mosquito repellents humans use are not suited for dogs and Picaridin hasn’t been tested for long-term effects, so it should just be avoided. Many flea and tick products will also repel mosquitos so talk to your vet and they can make a recommendation, although you should avoid excessive use of these types of medications. There are also natural options like essential oils that will repel mosquitos and can be used on your pets if you dilute it, but you’ll need to apply it more often than other mosquito repellents and always consult your vet before using a solution like this because some oils are toxic to animals.
Q: Should I use 90-100% DEET?
A: Any product certified by the EPA is safe for use. However, studies have shown a diminished return on increasing DEET concentration over 30%. Really the concentration of DEET has more to do with how long protection will last rather than effectiveness. So, 10% DEET will work just as effectively as 30% for the first 1-2 hours. After you reach 20-30% the length protection only marginally increases with the concentration. So, while 30% DEET may protect you for 7-8 hours, increasing the concentration above 90% only buys you an extra 2 hours for 9-10 hours of protection.
Q: Are there any natural options for repelling mosquitoes?
A: There are some mosquito repellents that can be found in nature, but if you’re looking to avoid bites from mosquitoes altogether–especially in places where mosquito-borne diseases are a risk–you should probably opt for a chemical repellent. Otherwise, you can try things like lemon eucalyptus oil, lavender, Greek catnip oil, or tea tree oil. There are some repellents that use these as ingredients already and advertise as a “natural” products. You can even do things like throw thyme in your campfire to repel mosquitoes without having to apply anything directly to your skin. Be aware that essential oils aren’t regulated and that if you haven’t used them before you could be at risk for an allergic reaction. Try spot-testing any oils you intend on using and always buy from reputable providers.
- Kareem Yasin, Adam Wenger, and Kathryn Watson, 10 Natural Ingredients That Repel Mosquitos, Health Website, 24 January 2017
- Maureen O’Connor, The Non-Smelly Mosquito Repellents I Use to Prevent Quasimodo-like Reactions, May 23, 2018
- Rebecca Morelle, Mosquitoes ignore repellent Deet after first exposure, News Website, 21 February 2013