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Do 'Natural' Insect Repellents Work?

Not all products are created equal. Here's what you need to know.

Many consumers love the idea of “natural” products. About 2 out of 3 people surveyed by market research firm Mintel in June 2020 said they prefer to use natural pest control and insect repellent products whenever possible.

At the same time, 66 percent of those surveyed also said that the performance or reliability in a pest-control product or bug repellent was more important than it having natural ingredients.

It’s not always easy to achieve both of those objectives—a high-performing insect repellent that also uses what people think of as natural ingredients—in one bug spray. In CR’s insect repellent testing, one active ingredient derived from a plant (oil of lemon eucalyptus) and one active ingredient synthesized to mimic a chemical in a plant (picaridin) show up in our recommended repellents.

But several other plant-based ingredients, including lemongrass and soybean oil, typically end up at the very bottom of our ratings.

The Natural Products Association, a trade group, has defended those low-scoring insect repellents by pointing out that there’s variation in the effectiveness of all repellents, natural and synthetic.

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October 22, 2023

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