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What is the best insect repellent?

Written by Chris Thomas

Comparing insect repellents

Bugs are annoying, their bites can be painful and itchy, and the diseases they sometimes carry can be life-changing. To prevent all those issues, make sure to use an effective insect repellent. Several powerful chemicals are registered as effective bug repellents, and they’re all safe. In addition to topical repellents, there are also some effective products that can deter pests from invading your campsite or outdoor dinner party.  

What to consider before choosing an insect repellent

Is DEET safe?

Despite its controversial reputation, no adverse health effects have ever been observed from topical application of DEET, according to the EPA and other research institutions. Poor reputation likely stems from a combination of the chemical’s greasy feel, intrusive smell and name, which is similar to DDT.

Either way, DEET remains the most effective, safe topical mosquito repellent. If you’re headed to a region with a malaria risk, don’t hesitate to pack 100% DEET bug spray. It could save your life and prevent permanent illness.

Natural mosquito repellents

Aside from the scientifically recognized options, there are quite a few “natural” sprays, ointments and other remedies that smell fantastic. Unfortunately, somewhere between few and none of the “natural” insect repellents are worth the plastic they’re packaged in.

Rest assured that there’s no conspiracy from “Big Chemical” to suppress natural mosquito repellents. In fact, essentially, no sprays that claim to be natural are actually natural. The reality is that researchers go to great lengths to test all sorts of novel compounds for bug-repelling properties. The ones that pass the test, such as DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus, are clinically proven effective.

Continue learning about the best insect repellents here.

LAST UPDATED

October 22, 2023

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Sawyer has an alternative [to DEET] made with Picaridin, which works just as well without spoiling your clothes.

James Wong
Freelance Writer

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Zinzi Edmundson, the founder of Treehouse newsletter, who gardens in Maine, suggests spraying your shoes, especially (she uses Sawyer’s permethrin).

Laura Fenton
Contributor

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I carry bottles of water, but I also have a Sawyer squeeze water filter. Also, if it’s cold, make sure you sleep with your water filter in your sleeping bag, so it doesn’t freeze.

Shilletha Curtis