The best bug sprays of 2021
Nothing ruins a sojourn outdoors quite like an entourage of pesky mosquitoes chowing down on your arms and legs. Sure, bug spray is great and all. But between the various active ingredients and concentrations, it’s hard to know what actually works, let alone find a spray that doesn’t smell like a chemistry class or make you feel like you took a dip in a vat of oil.
That’s why we went hands-on with bug repellents to test how they feel, how they smell and everything else you’d want to know about a bug spray before you use one. All this after consulting with multiple experts to ensure we included repellents that are actually effective at, well, repelling bugs. We tested only bug sprays that have an active ingredient approved by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, p-Menthane-3,8-diol (which is in oil of lemon eucalyptus), IR3535 and 2-Undecanone. DEET was the resounding favorite among the experts we interviewed, but they all praised the effectiveness of the other ingredients as well, especially picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.
To be clear, we didn’t test each spray for its efficacy at repelling bugs, since there are so many external variables that go into that. Instead, we used our extensive research and the opinions of experts to choose a pool of sprays that science has proven to be effective.
After multiple weeks of testing, we found three bug sprays that stood above the rest:
- Best overall bug spray and best DEET-free bug spray: Proven Insect Repellent Spray
- Runner-up: Coleman SkinSmart DEET-Free Insect Repellent Spray
- Best DEET bug spray: Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent
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Sawyer Insect Repellent is a versatile picaridin spray recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as safe and effective for most people. Our testers liked the evaporating smell and how the spray feels once it dries.
Insects and arachnids that bite in self-defense instead of to feed -- such as yellow jackets, bees, wasps, hornets, certain ants or spiders -- cannot be repelled with insect repellents.
The number of bug-borne diseases is increasing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the number of places they're spreading to is also on the rise.
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