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Best Insect Repellents

Summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors, but dealing with the bugs is an annoyance we could do without! That’s why having a quality insect repellent is essential.

Pesky flies, mosquitoes, and other bugs are annoying, dirty, and some – like ticks – can be downright dangerous. Keeping them away from you and your family members makes the warm weather so much more enjoyable!

What are the best insect repellents, though? There are so many options! First, we should talk about which bugs repellents work against. Then we’ll discuss some of the different chemicals used, how effective they are, and whether they’re safe.

Flies and Mosquitoes and Gnats, Oh My!

Mosquitoes are one of the most irritating bugs you may encounter in most parts of North America. They also can carry several deadly diseases, although infection rates in this part of the world are extremely low. Still, we want to avoid them even if it’s just to avoid the itching and swelling their “regular” bite causes.

When we buy insect repellent, mosquitoes are likely the first enemy we’re thinking of. But almost every repellent – and all of those on our list of top choices – are repelled by the same products. Fortunately, we don’t have to look for multiple products! 

Of course, the effectiveness of a repellent depends on its active ingredient. How well you apply it, how much you sweat, and whether you get wet matter can limit its function, too.

Skin or Clothes?

Some products can be applied to your skin. This may make you feel more confident, but it can also seem greasy. 

Others, though, are designed to be sprayed on your clothing. They’re not harmful if they contact your skin (after all, your clothes will be in contact with your body!). But that contact shouldn’t be direct. However, they are more effective (and less slimy) on cloth. These can also be applied to your tent to keep the pests away!

We’ve included both types in our recommendations. Be sure to read the can carefully to see which way works best!

What’s DEET?

The most common ingredient in insect repellent is DEET. This chemical is effective at keeping bugs away!

The full name of this chemical is N-diethyl-meta-toluamide – so we’ll just stick with DEET. In repeated tests, including from Consumer Reports, it’s proven to keep mosquitoes and other bugs away.

DEET-based products list the percentage of DEET in them. Don’t be confused, though. Higher levels are not more effective. However, they do last longer.

A repellent with 10% DEET provides about two or three hours of protection. Twenty to thirty percent levels will last 5 to 8 hours. So if you plan to be outside for a longer period of time, it’s worth the upgrade.

In the 1990s, there was a panic about the safety of DEET. However, no link was established that this chemical was harmful. It remains an approved product by the EPA  They do recommend not using it on infants less than two months old, though.

Other Chemicals That Keep Bugs Away

Some other products work as well as DEET. They aren’t quite as popular and may be slightly less effective, but there’s no reason to shy away from them, either.

Picaridin is another artificial ingredient, but it’s based on something found in pepper plants. It seems to be growing in popularity, too. However, a higher concentration compared to DEET might be necessary to get similar results. Also, sometimes it causes skin and eye irritation, especially for pregnant women.

You’ll also see IR3535 and 2-Undecanone listed as active ingredients on some insect repellents. The EPA does approve them for this use. But they’re not nearly as effective – you’ll likely still end up with some bug bites!

Oil of lemon eucalyptus may be a natural product but it can also be copied artificially. Both offer some positives, but you’ll want to shop for the type with at least 30% OLE. Don’t use it on children under 3, either.

Permethrin also offers great, long-lasting protection. However, it’s only for use on clothes. But when applied, it can keep those tiny, annoying creatures away for weeks!

Our Picks for the Best Insect Repellants

There are a good number of quality insect repellents available to help keep you safe from bugs all summer long. We’ve looked at some of the top choices to make recommendations for you. Some of these deals even let you stock up so you can get enough for the whole family with just one purchase!

Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent for Clothing, Gear & Tents (Pack of 2, 24 ounces each)

sawyer long-lasting permethrin based insect repellent for clothes, camping gear, and tens

This permethrin spray promises a lot, and it seems to come through! Sawyer claims that it keeps 55 species of bugs and other pests away.

Since this is permethrin, it has to be applied to your clothes and shoes. It could even be applied right to your tent. It can, according to the company, last up to 6 weeks and through 6 washings of the clothes. We don’t have the resources to test all that, but we did notice that it held up without being reapplied for a couple of uses of the same clothing.

It doesn’t have any annoying odor once it dries, unlike some products. It smells strong when initially applied, but this quickly fades.

It’s available as a pump spray or as an aerosol and in various pack sizes. The 24-ounce pump pictured should treat about 4-5 sets of clothes.

Customers have overwhelmingly positive experiences with this product. We aren’t hesitant to recommend it as a top choice if you want to avoid bug bites!

OFF! Deep Woods V Insect Repellent 6 oz (Pack of 2, 11 ounces each) 

deep woods off repellant for mosquitoes, ticks, flies, chiggers, and gnats

OFF! is one of the most recognized brands of insect repellents in the USA, and deservedly so.

Their Deep Woods Insect Repellent is a DEET-based product. Deep Woods V, listed here, has 25% DEET, which will give you about 5 hours of insect-free peace in the yard or the woods.

We’ve linked to a 2-pack, but you can even find 9-packs on Amazon! If you’re just going to be in the yard once in a while, the 2-pack may get you through the summer. But if you have a large family and are planning a camping trip, you might consider the bigger pack.

This product does a great job of keeping insects and other pests away. The biggest drawback is that the odor is a bit strong. You’ll definitely remember you’re wearing it! However, it may be worth tolerating this in return for not scratching all those bites later on.

Cutter Dry Insect Repellent (Pack of 3)

cutter deet based insect repellant

Cutter offers another high-quality product for keeping the bugs from sucking your blood!

This insect repellent sprays on dry, unlike many others that feel wet (and sometimes a bit slimy). It’s also odorless, a welcome relief for many!

Most importantly, it effectively deters chiggers, mosquitoes, and other pests from landing on you. 

The DEET level in this product is 10%, so it should last you two to three hours before fading. That’s good for a short hike in the woods or some time sitting out on the patio. After that, you’ll need to reapply it. But during this time, it gets the job done!

Each can contains 4 ounces, and this is a pack of 3. That’s not a lot, but it will do the job for a few uses or outings.

OFF!® FamilyCare Insect Repellent lll, Tropical Fresh, 6 fl oz

off family care insect repellent

Another product from OFF!, this spray is good for short times outdoors. Its active ingredient is DEET, but it’s only 5%, so it doesn’t last more than an hour or two.

During this time, though, it effectively protects you from mosquitoes. It seems a bit less effective against flies, at least where we tried it. Still, we didn’t end the evening nearly as bitten as we would without this quality repellent.

It sprays on and doesn’t have a greasy feel. It also has a nice smell, rather than the annoying chemical scent you get with many products.

Overall, it gets the job done for the most part. And the smell and feel are definite positives. It deserves a top spot.

Repel Permethrin Clothing & Gear Insect Repellent, Aerosol, 6.5-Ounce

repel permethrin insect repellent

We end our list with another permethrin-based product. This one is from Repel, another brand with a great reputation. And this product won’t hurt the name they’ve built for themselves!

Apply this to your clothes or tent and you’ll enjoy your time outdoors in peace! Of course, you should apply it before putting the clothes on. One can should cover about two sets of clothes.

Like other permethrin products, this fixes itself to your clothes or gear. It will maintain its usefulness even when you do the wash (or presumably, through rainstorms, too).

It’s effective and you’ll enjoy your time outdoors so much more!

Conclusion

No one wants to get eaten alive by mosquitoes, horseflies, ticks, or other bugs! Insect repellents do work, though, and can help keep you safe from bites from a wide variety of annoying creepy crawlies. 

Be sure to use as recommended – some products are for the skin and others can only be applied to clothes or gear. 

Enjoy your time more – protect yourself from bug bites and the diseases they could carry!