Which Mosquito Repellent Should I Use?
By Chris Williams on August 10, 2016.
There are lots of different insect repellent products out there, no doubt even more now that Zika virus is becoming a concern. How do you know which ones work? The best answer is to trust government testing. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has tested personal repellents for safety, longevity, and effectiveness and they have made recommendations based on science.
DEET is Available and Effective
You’ve probably heard of DEET, that’s an abbreviation for the very long chemical name of the active ingredient in these repellents. DEET-based repellents have been around since 1946 and, according to CDC, they are still your very best choice…as long as your product is at least 20% DEET (use less than 30% for children). DEET repellents are available from many different manufacturers including Off!, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon. DEET still does the best job of repelling mosquitoes, no-see-ums (punkies or biting midges), black flies, ticks, chiggers, and even fleas.
Product Alternatives to DEET
Because earlier DEET products tended to be oily with a strong smell, many people wanted an alternative. Recently, CDC has given its seal of approval to several other repellents:
Picaridin (Bayrepel, KBR3023) – Very effective against mosquitoes, biting midges, and chiggers but less effective against ticks at lower concentrations. Most of the producers of DEET-based repellents also offer picaridin products.
IR535 (ethyl butyl acetyl aminoproprionate and other names) – Works moderately well against mosquitoes and blacklegged ticks. Includes Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus and SkinSmart.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE or PMD) – A biopesticide repellent derived from natural materials. Manufacturers include Repel and Off! Botanicals.
Permethrin – For use on clothing only, not skin, and especially effective against ticks. Manufacturers include Permanone, Sawyer, Repel, and Ultrathon Permethrin Clothing Treatment.
Make Sure There’s Enough Repellent in the Product
Maybe even more important than which active ingredient you choose is the amount of that active ingredient in the product. Make sure you check the ingredients box on the container for the percentage of active ingredient. You may end up with what looks like a good repellent until you see that it only contains 8% of the actual repellent by volume. Experts say that’s not enough to be effective for long. In general, the higher the percentage of active ingredient, the longer the repellent will remain effective without reapplication. If the product contains less than 10% active ingredient, you would have to reapply it every 1-2 hours for full protection. Most of us don’t or won’t do that so buy the right stuff in the first place.
DEET products can contain from 4% up to 100% DEET but experts say that anything above 50% DEET does not give significant extra protection. A repellent containing 20-50% DEET should protect you from mosquitoes for 5 to 8 hours with one application. DEET products used on children should not contain more than 30% DEET (see Using Insect Repellents on Children).
A wealth of information on insect repellents is available online at the National Pesticide Information Center in Choosing and Using Insect Repellents.