Every year, we seem to be adding to the ever-growing list of insect-borne diseases. It’s gotten so scary that your own backyard in the summertime has become a danger zone. Since we all aren’t built to live as hermits, enjoying yourself outdoors or going camping or just traveling means getting the best protection you can find against biting bugs. But with so many to choose from, how do you find out which one is the most effective? Well, experts do recommend checking the ingredients used. However, not all of us have the time or patience to do that. Fortunately, we’ve done all the checking and even some testing for you. Below are the best insect and mosquito repellent sprays that will prevent you from ever getting bitten.
Top 10 Insect Repellent Sprays of 2018 Reviewed
- Top 10 Insect Repellent Sprays of 2018 Reviewed
- 1. Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent Spray
- 2. Ben’s 30% Deet Insect Repellent Spray
- 3. Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin
- 4. REPEL Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent Pump
- 5. Natrapel 12-Hour Mosquito, Tick and Insect Repellent
- 6. Cutter All Family Mosquito Wipes
- 7. REPEL Sportsmen Mosquito Repellent Wipes
- 8. Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
- 9. 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Cream
- 10. Sawyer Products Premium Controlled Release Insect Repellent
- Insect Repellent Buying Guide
1. Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent SprayBest Mosquito Repellent Spray
The Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent Spray is our number one pick for several reasons. It contains 25% DEET that can protect you from mosquitoes, ticks, and other small bugs for about 4 hours before requiring reapplication. Even better, it dries faster than other bug sprays and doesn’t leave a sticky residue on your skin. The spray has a locking cap so you don’t have to worry about accidentally getting repellent all over your things. However, it is slightly more expensive than its competitors. Also, the concentration may be too low for areas with a higher risk.
- 25% DEET
- Locking cap
- No sticky residue
- Requires reapplication after 4 hours
- Slightly expensive
- Not for areas with high risk
2. Ben’s 30% Deet Insect Repellent Spray
This is a water-based spray which means that it evaporates much slower compared to our first pick, making it last longer. It’s very effective in repelling mosquitoes for up to 8 hours as long as you don’t sweat. In addition, the formula was specifically designed to stay on the skin’s surface and not be absorbed. However, it is oily and does have a very strong chemical smell that some have found really off-putting.
- Effective for up to 8 hours
- Does not get absorbed by the skin
- Strong chemical smell
- Oily residue
3. Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% PicaridinBest Insect Repellent for Sensitive Skin
If DEET makes you uncomfortable, then Picardin may be more your style. This bug spray from Sawyer Products contains 20% Picardin making it effective against mosquitoes and ticks for up to 1w hours and up to 8 hours for chiggers, sandflies, biting flies, and gnats. This is a non-greasy spray with a citrusy scent. However, it isn’t as effective as DEET when it comes to mosquitoes. Unlike DEET where parts of you can remain uncovered, Picardin requires you to make sure that you are covered 100%. Any weak spots will get bitten. The cans tend to leak and are difficult to use.
- Wards off biting flies
- Low, citrusy smell
- Lasts long
- Container tends to leak
- Spray is difficult to use
- Requires 100% coverage to be effective
4. REPEL Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent PumpBest Natural Insect Repellent
For those who prefer something plant-based, this insect repellent from REPEL is an excellent option. It contains 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus derived from the leaves of the Eucalyptus citriodora tree. It is effective up to 6 or 7 hours. However, you’ll need to apply a lot AND ensure 100% coverage. While the scent of lemon eucalyptus isn’t off-putting, this spray makes you think you got dipped into a vat of it; it’s that strong. Moreover, the smell will not dissipate until you wash the spray off your skin. Also, this bug spray is not effective for other types of insects such as ticks, black flies, and chiggers. Take note that some people are allergic to this spray.
- Effective up to 7 hours
- Very strong smell
- May cause rashes on some
- Not for warding off ticks, chiggers, and black flies
5. Natrapel 12-Hour Mosquito, Tick and Insect RepellentBest Insect Repellent With Picaridin
The Natrapel 12-Hour Mosquito, Tick and Insect Repellent contains 20% Picardin which is effective for 8 to 14 hours, according to the EPA. What we love about this product is that it is offered in a continuous spray bottle, slightly similar to an aerosol, so applying this on your skin is a lot easier compared to a pump spray. It also features a locking sprayer nozzle. However, it doesn’t spray evenly (what spray does?!) so you’ll have to rub it around a bit to get 100% coverage. The formula is a bit oily/sticky but we love that it doesn’t smell chemical at all. The scent is sort of sweet and perfume-y which may be good or not-so-good, depending on the user.
- Effective in warding off mosquitoes
- No chemical smell
- Continuous spray makes it easier to apply than a pump spray
- Doesn’t spray evenly
- A bit oily/sticky
- The perfume-y scent may not be to everyone’s liking
6. Cutter All Family Mosquito WipesBest Insect Repellent for Babies
While you may want something natural for your baby, the CDC and EPA only recommend DEET for children as young as 2 months old. Of course, the concentration of DEET should be fairly low to limit your baby’s exposure to the chemical. Well, the Cutter All Family Wipes only has 7.15% DEET in its formula! Not only that, the wipe does not leave a greasy or oily residue. It’s easy to apply.
And the DEET doesn’t leave a chemical smell. In fact, it actually has a pleasant smell that is not overpowering. The pouch is resealable so you don’t have to worry about the wipes drying out. However, there are only 15 wipes in a pouch so you will be going through several packs in a day. Remember, a low concentration of DEET means that its effectivity is only for a short period of time. In this case, you can expect to reapply every 2 hours or so.
- Easy to apply on little kids
- Low DEET concentration
- Pleasant smell
- Only 15 wipes per pack
- Requires frequent reapplication
7. REPEL Sportsmen Mosquito Repellent WipesBest Mosquito Repellent Wipes
For some of us, a spray or a lotion is just a big inconvenience to use. So, it’s very fortunate that there are insect repellent wipes in the market for us to choose from. One of the best is REPEL’s Sportsmen Mosquito Repellent Wipes. One pack contains 15 wipes with a 30% DEET concentration. No need to worry about uneven coverage because now you just have to wipe it on all of your exposed skin. One big disadvantage to wipes is that you can’t apply it to your clothes which means you’ll have to apply a spray on whatever you’re wearing to keep those areas protected. Also, the wipe does leave a greasy residue on your skin, especially your hands.
- Very effective
- Resealable pouch
- Very easy to apply
- Strong smell
- Can’t apply to clothes
- Greasy residue
8. Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
Similar to REPEL’s Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, this one from Cutter also contains 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus that will ward off mosquitoes for up to 6 hours. The smell is good though it can be strong at first. Just wait a few minutes and it will dissipate. The formula is non-greasy and all natural. Compared to other DEET products, this seems to be pretty effective. Keep in mind that the FDA, CDC, and EPA do not recommend oil of lemon eucalyptus for use on children younger than 3 years of age. Also, this may not be ideal for sensitive skin.
- Good for up to 6 hours
- Not for kids younger than 3 years old
- Not for sensitive skin
- Strong eucalyptus smell
9. 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent CreamBest Insect Repellent With Deet
This insect repellent is one of only two lotions on our list. The 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent Cream is unique because it uses a time-released protection formula. What does that mean? Well, it means that the 34.34% DEET in the formula is slowly released over time so it provides protection longer. In this case, you can enjoy 100% coverage up to 12 hours. The cream is Splash and Sweat resistant so this means that you don’t have to worry about sweat and water washing away the formula on your skin.
The product was initially designed for the US military to be used in the Central American Jungles. Today, it’s still being used in the military but has become available to the public as well. Naturally, this costs more than other DEET products with the same or even higher concentration. Also, the cream does tend to stain light-colored clothes. And since this is a cream, expect the repellent to be greasy.
- Time released protection
- Splash and Sweat resistant
- Effective even in Central American Jungles like the Amazon
- More expensive
- Can stain clothes
10. Sawyer Products Premium Controlled Release Insect RepellentBest Smelling Insect Repellent With Deet
This insect repellent lotion from Sawyer Products also makes use of time released protection technology. However, the concentration of DEET in the formula in this one is only 20%. The DEET dissolves slowly, making the repellent’s effectivity last up to 11 hours. This is also a sweat-proof formula and was specifically designed to be compatible with a sunscreen. Because it is a lotion, it is still greasy but not as greasy as some other products. Also, it’s not completely odor-free but the smell isn’t strong either. It’s actually very faint.
- Time released protection
- Sweat-proof formula
- Faint scent
- Slightly greasy
- Cannot be used on clothes
Insect Repellent Buying Guide
Getting bitten by bugs wasn’t always a scary thing. However, with so many insect-borne diseases in the world today, it’s time for us to get serious about bug protection. Unfortunately, stocking up on any insect repellent you see in your local grocery store isn’t going to cut it. There are several factors to be taken into account if you want the best of the best. We’ve constructed this guide to help you navigate the world of bug sprays to find which one is the most effective one for you.
What type of protection are you looking for?
Some insect repellents specifically target mosquitoes which means they won’t be as effective on other bugs. Others target a wider range including ticks, flies, chiggers, and biting gnats.
The importance of EPA registration
The CDC recommends that only insect repellents registered with the EPA should be used. This is because the safety and effectiveness of the product are tested and validated by the organization. Unfortunately, not all of the bug repellents you’ll see are registered, including those made with natural oils. This is because the EPA does not consider these as harmful to human health. What does this mean? Well, the efficacy of “natural” repellents haven’t been tested and validated by the EPA so it could all be a marketing claim. The only botanically-derived ingredient that has been tested by the EPA and recommended by the CDC is oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Another reason why EPA registration is important is because of the Repellency Awareness Graphic. This is a graphic placed on the label of a product that visually shows consumers the type of pest it repels and the length of time it is effective. Only products with this graphic have undergone an extra review by the EPA. This means that all scientific data used by the company to support their claims must be submitted to the EPA and verified.
What ingredients are used in bug repellents?
According to a study published in the Journal of Insect Science in 2015, not all commercially available repellents are effective which means that some of what you’ll find in your local grocery store would just be a total waste of money. So, what are the ingredients you should look out for?
DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide): just because it’s synthetic, it’s already bad. In fact, it’s the most effective and long-lasting ingredient there is according to the experts. Even the CDC recommends DEET for protection against ticks. Not to mention, DEET has been okayed by the EPA as safe for use on babies as young as 2 months old as long as the directions for use are followed.
Here’s another fact: DEET has been around for approximately 60 years or so and is the most tested product in this category. To be on the safe side, however, you can choose insect repellents that use no more than 30% DEET in their formula. According to some, higher concentrations may pose risks and do not necessarily increase effectivity and longevity of the product.
In addition, high concentrations can damage plastic and leather materials. However, those with very low concentrations (7% and below) were deemed not effective at all. The CDC also believes that at least a 20% concentration is required to effectively ward off ticks.
Picardin: this is a synthetic repellent that is recommended by the World Health Organization for protection against disease-carrying mosquitoes. Testing by the EPA has shown that a 20% concentration is effective for 8 to 14 hours against ticks and mosquitoes. While Picardin does not pose the same risks as DEET, it is still a relatively new product in the market and has not undergone the same amount of testing as DEET. One main advantage to using Picardin is that it won’t damage leather and plastic materials. In addition, Picardin is better for sensitive skin.
IR3535 (3-[N-Butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester): this chemical has actually been around since the 70s but only in Europe. It was only in 1999 that it was registered for use in the US. Aside from being irritating to the eyes, IR3535 poses no health risks. However, it may cause damage to plastics just like DEET. The recommended concentration is 10 to 30 percent.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus: this is the only botanical ingredient that has been tested and approved by the EPA. However, it is not as effective as DEET and is not suitable for use on children younger than three according to the EPA.
Spray, lotion, or wipe?
Insect repellents come in different forms. Sprays are easier to apply, especially on clothes. However, the application can be uneven. You cannot spray your face directly because you may breathe it in or irritate your eyes. Also, prays may evaporate faster.
Lotions/creams and wipes can leave a greasy residue on your skin. Plus, it’s hard to apply on clothes. However, the biggest advantage of these two forms is the control you get on the application.
What about candles, ultrasonic devices, and bracelets? Well, unless the repellent is on your skin, then the effectivity is almost zero.
Do smells bother you?
DEET may be the most effective but it has a strong smell that some consumers dislike. The same goes for oil of lemon eucalyptus. Some find the scent pleasant while others feel like gagging. If you’re sensitive to smells, experts recommend Picardin as it has no scent at all.
One last thing
Avoid products that combine insect repellent and sunscreen. For one, sunscreen needs to be applied frequently which could lead to overexposure to the bug repellent. Second, rubbing it constantly on your skin increases the likelihood that the chemical will be absorbed by the skin – something that we all know isn’t safe.