Posted in Beach, Camping, Health, Outdoors, Travel

Advising on best mosquito repellent for outdoor lovers

The best mosquito repellent includes enough active ingredient to repel mosquitoes for multiple hours.  The key term is “active ingredient” — only a small number of ingredients are recommended.  DEET is the most thoroughly researched and widely available — and the most commonly recommended by experts.  But picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are good alternatives if you have sensitive skin or want a natural pick.

If you just want a general-use mosquito repellent that provides a full day of protection, choose something from the Off! Deep Woods line.  Off! is a known-and-trusted brand in the insect repellent world, and its Deep Woods repellents come in aerosols, pump sprays, and towelettes.  The Deep Woods line contains 25 percent DEET, which provides up to eight hours of coverage.  And unlike some DEET formulas, the Deep Woods line didn’t irritate your skin at all.

If you have kids, or if you’re looking for just enough repellent to cover an afternoon picnic, we recommend Repel Family Dry Insect Repellent.  This 10 percent DEET repellent is designed to be safe for children, but its non-greasy, unscented spray will also be attractive to adults who are only looking for about four hours of mosquito protection.

For those with especially sensitive skin, try Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray. Picaridin less likely to be a skin irritant than DEET, and testers barely noticed the repellent was on their skin once it dried. Sawyer contains 20 percent picaridin and comes in an aerosol spray.  If you like the sound of picaridin but want a different method of application, you can also try Natrapel 8 Hour Insect Repellent Wipes.

For those who want an all-natural, plant-based ingredient, Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent are two pump spray repellents that performed identically during testing.  They’ll make you smell like you’ve been dipped in lemon eucalyptus (an herbal, menthol-tinged scent), but they should keep the bugs at bay for six or seven hours.

Active Ingredient


Hours of Protection



2-4 hours



6 hours



Up to 8 hours



Up to 8 hours

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus


6-7 hours

Sort of. As your DEET percentage increases, you get diminishing returns: 30 percent DEET provides coverage for up to eight hours, while 98 percent covers for 10-12. But if you’re outdoors and sweating, you’ll probably have to reapply your repellent before the 10-hour mark anyway. In other words, you’re exposing yourself to a much higher dose of chemicals for very little extra protection. None of our sources or experts recommended it.

Did You Know?

Avoid mosquito repellents that contain sunscreen.

Yes, you want to protect your skin from both mosquitoes and harmful UV rays. But sunscreen protection usually wears off before mosquito repellent does. If you only apply the product once over an eight-hour span, you risk getting sunburned. But if you reapply every few hours — especially if you’re using a DEET-based product — you run the risk of overexposure to your repellent.

Apply your sunscreen and makeup first, and then spray or rub on your insect repellant, you can still reapply sunscreen throughout the day, over the repellant.

Remember to replace your repellent regularly.

The active ingredient in mosquito repellent won’t expire, but the inactive ingredients — like the fragrance components — will.  You can expect your mosquito repellent to last for about three years, and explained how to tell if it’s gone bad: If you spray it into the air and it smells wrong, throw it out. If you have a cream or gel formulation, and it has changed color or separated (yellow, brown, oily, watery) or the texture is off, throw it out. If the bottle is rusted over, throw it out.

A reputable active ingredient should be effective across the globe.

Many mosquito repellents will advertise protection against Zika or West Nile virus on their packaging, but any repellent that uses a CDC-recommended active ingredient should be effective on the majority of mosquitoes, regardless of strain or location.

You will want to up your active ingredient percentage if you’re traveling to a high-risk area, though. If you are going to a tropical location, it is recommended to use at least a 20 percent product.  A 15 percent concentration can put you at risk for mosquito bites, in turn putting you at risk for diseases like malaria, dengue fever and Zika virus.

Repellents can be harsh on some specialty fabrics.

You aren’t supposed to apply topical mosquito repellent to clothing (just skin), but bug sprays are unlikely to damage common fabrics, like denim, cotton, or nylon. Mosquito repellent users sometimes complain about damage to Lycra and Gore-Tex, however — fabrics that can show up in athleisure and hiking gear.

If you’re worried about ruining expensive fabrics, try a wipe rather than a spray. This makes it a little easier to control your application. And unless you really need it, consider leaving the Spandex at home. Looser garments are best; mosquitos will bite right through spandex yoga pants.

Avoid attracting mosquitoes to your home.

Don’t make your backyard a mosquito haven. Removing standing water from property is one of the most important actions people can take, as it eliminates breeding sites of mosquitoes. Mosquito Squad suggests eliminating yard trash (think twigs, leaves, grass clippings) because they also make popular mosquito breeding areas. She advises homeowners to clean out their gutters; make sure downspouts are aligned properly; and position items like tarps, trash cans, or children’s toys so they don’t collect standing water.

The Best Mosquito Repellents: Summed-Up

Mosquito Repellent Best For…
Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent V Aerosol DEET Spray
Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VII Pump Top DEET Spray
Off! Deep Woods Towelettes DEET Wipes
Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray Picaridin Spray
Natrapel 8 Hour Insect Repellent Wipes Picaridin Wipes
Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Spray