The Best Mosquito Repellent

Protect yourself from mosquitos without irritating your skin

The 30-Second Review

The best mosquito repellent should protect you from bites without irritating your skin. DEET is regarded as the gold standard, but a handful of other ingredients also get the job done. To find our top picks, we consulted with mosquito experts, researched active ingredients, and tried 20 sprays, wipes and lotions on our own skin. The end result? Three active ingredients to choose from: DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Best DEET-Based Repellents

Off! Deep Woods contains 25 percent DEET, providing eight hours of protection. The spray smells pleasantly of pine, with minimal skin irritation. In addition to an aerosol spray, Off! Deep Woods is available as a wipe or a pump top

Repel Family Dry Insect Repellent
A gentle 10 percent formula that works for 2-4 hours. Good for children as young as 2 months.

Best Non-DEET Repellents

A picaridin-based repellent that’s less likely to cause skin irritation and offers a full eight hours of coverage.

Natrapel 8 Hour Insect Repellent Wipes
Picaridin repellent in wipe form.

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
A natural option that relies on oil of lemon eucalyptus. Provides 6-7 hours of protection.

The Best Mosquito Repellents

The best mosquito repellent includes enough active ingredient to repel mosquitoes for multiple hours. The key term is “active ingredient” — only a small number of ingredients are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). DEET is the most common, but picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus have also been proven safe and effective.

If you’re looking for a DEET repellent that provides a full day of protection, choose something from the Off! Deep Woods line. Off! is a known-and-trusted brand in the insect repellent world, and its Deep Woods repellents come in aerosols, pump sprays, and towelettes. The Deep Woods line contains 25 percent DEET, which provides up to eight hours of coverage. During testing, this 25 percent formula was less irritating on our skin than the 30 percent DEET formulas offered by companies like Ben’s and Sawyer. The Deep Woods line also came highly recommended. Tsippora Shainhouse, MD and FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles and a clinical instructor at the University of Southern California — and the voice behind Facebook.com/StaySkinSafe and @stayskinsafe. When we consulted her about mosquito repellents, she named Off! Deep Woods as one of her favorites.

What does “up to eight hours of protection” mean? As Joe Conlon, technical advisor at the American Mosquito Control Association explained, a repellent that advertises “up to eight hours” of protection means that you can expect eight hours of protection if you don’t wash — or sweat — your repellent off before the eight hours are up.

If you have kids, or if you’re looking for just enough repellent to cover an afternoon picnic, we recommend Repel Family Dry Insect Repellent. This 10 percent DEET repellent is designed to be safe for children, but its non-greasy, unscented spray will also be attractive to adults who are only looking for about four hours of mosquito protection.

Don’t like DEET? Don’t worry. Try Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray, which contains 20 percent picaridin and comes in an aerosol can. Picaridin is thought to be less of a skin irritant than DEET, and our testers reported no reaction at all when they tried it. If you like the sound of picaridin but want a different method of application, you can also try Natrapel 8 Hour Insect Repellent Wipes.

For those who want an all-natural active ingredient, Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent are two pump spray repellents that performed identically during testing. They’ll make you smell like you’ve been dipped in lemon eucalyptus (an herbal, menthol-tinged scent), but they should keep the bugs at bay for six or seven hours.

Our Picks for the Best Mosquito Repellent

Best DEET Repellent

Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent V Safe, effective, and protects for up to eight hours.

You’ve probably heard of Off! — in fact, you might already have a bottle somewhere in your medicine cabinet — and for good reason. The Off! brand is a major player in the bug repellent world, selling everything from mosquito lamps to backyard sprays to topical repellents.

Which brings us to Off! Deep Woods, a 25 percent DEET formula that is available in four different varieties:

Despite the baffling array of numbers (and no, we don’t know what happened to Off! Deep Woods VI), they all have the same active ingredient. The numbers just denote different methods of application.

What makes Off! Deep Woods so great? First, there’s smell. Nearly all of the DEET repellents we tested had some kind of chemical odor, and the higher the DEET percentage, the stronger the stench. Off! Deep Woods manages to cover the DEET with a more palatable fragrance — we’ll call it “hint of pine” — so you don’t feel like you need to hold your nose after spraying.

Second, application was pretty straightforward. Both the aerosol sprays put out a lot of product, ensuring quick coverage — but they never felt uncontrollable, like the heavy, drippy results we got from 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent 8 or Ben’s 30% DEET Tick & Insect Repellent Eco Spray. Be aware that a little spray will go a long way. We’d suggest spraying once and then using your hand to spread the repellent around, or opting for the pump top bottle, which has a smaller spray radius. We also couldn’t tell a real difference between the “dry” and the “regular” formulas — they both felt the same once applied.

If you’re looking for a spray alternative, the Off! Deep Woods Towelettes worked well. All you have to do is unwrap the package and lightly rub the towelette over your exposed skin. They’re a good option if you want to avoid the inhalation risk that comes with spray, or if you want an easy way to apply repellent to spots like your ears or neck. But note that the spray is significantly cheaper (about $5 for a 6-ounce bottle versus $7 for 12 towelettes). One of our testers also reported that the towelettes made her skin feel slightly itchy.

Best DEET Spray for Families

Repel Dry Family Insect Repellent A milder DEET formula that's good for up to four hours.

If you’ve got young kids, you want a mosquito repellent that is easy to apply, doesn’t irritate the skin or the nose, and is absolutely guaranteed to work. We recommend Repel Insect Repellent Family Dry, an aerosol spray that contains 10 percent DEET for up to four hours of protection. “Physicians recommend that a formulation of no more than 10 percent DEET be used on children,” Conlin told us.

How young is too young to apply repellent? DEET should not be applied to infants younger than 2 months old. If you opt for a non-DEET product, the age limits are slightly higher: Picaridin shouldn’t be applied to infants younger than 6 months. Oil of lemon eucalyptus shouldn’t be applied to children under 3 years.

Here’s why we love Repel Family: First, the spray is child-sized. Some of the aerosols we tried blasted out enough repellent to cover two adult arms simultaneously. But Repel provides a smaller, more controlled stream, making it easier to avoid overapplication. (On that note, be aware some experts recommend applying mosquito repellent to your own hands and rubbing them on your child’s skin rather than spraying directly.)

Second, there’s almost no odor. We were only able to catch a hint of that acrid DEET aroma, and that was after putting our noses right up to our skin. If your kids — or you — are sensitive to smell, this repellent should pass the sniff test.

Third, the repellent feels great. It’s a “dry” repellent, which means it’s designed to avoid the slick, greasy feel many people associate with bug spray. We found that the repellent did in fact dry quickly on the skin. It also didn’t itch or cause pain like some of the higher-percentage DEET repellents that we tried.

We’re such fans of the Repel Insect Repellent Family Dry that we would happily use it ourselves, even though we’re full-grown adults. If you have kids and want a low-percentage DEET repellent that’s easy to apply, grab yourself a bottle. If you’re an adult who finds 30 percent DEET repellents too irritating, Repel Insect Repellent Family Dry might also be the right choice. The “family” label just means it’s appropriate for everyone. A 4-ounce bottle runs about $6.

Best Non-DEET Repellent for Sensitive Skin

Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray Good for sensitive skin, with protection up to eight hours.

If you have sensitive skin, a sensitive nose, or just want to try a picaridin repellent, we’d suggest Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent, an aerosol spray that contains 20 percent picaridin. Shainhouse specifically recommended Sawyer to us, and after testing, we agree; we loved the way the spray felt on our skin, especially after testing a bunch of slightly more irritating DEET repellents.

We also loved that Sawyer was essentially unscented. Unlike the Natraprel picaridin repellents we tested, which smelled like drugstore perfume, Sawyer had almost no odor. You can get a faint whiff of that sweet picaridin smell if you put your nose right up to your skin, but that’s it. A 6-ounce bottle retails for around $8.

Sawyer’s picaridin repellent also comes in the form of a lotion, but we honestly weren’t wild about it. The product felt similar to a hand lotion, absorbing easily into our skin. But that quick absorption made us a little nervous. “You want the chemical on your skin, not in your skin,” Shainhouse pointed out. Conlon also told us that “lotions may take up to 20 minutes to exert their repellent effect,” unlike the instant protection offered by sprays.

If you don’t like sprays and are looking for an alternative, we’d recommend Natrapel 8 Hour Insect Repellent Wipes instead. They do have a more perfumey odor than Sawyer’s line of picaridin repellents. But wipes let you apply repellent exactly where you want it, with no drips, gloops, or 20-minute waiting period. Plus, you don’t need to worry about your box of individually wrapped wipes leaking into the rest of your backpack. 12 wipes for $7.

Best Natural Non-DEET Repellent

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent A natural option with protection up to seven hours.

Here’s where the world of mosquito repellents gets interesting: We tested two oil of lemon eucalyptus repellents that appear to be identical. Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent and Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Repellent both contain 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus. They come in nearly identical 4-ounce non-aerosol pump bottles. They’ll both cost you about $5. The bottles even look the same.

So we’re recommending both. If you’re looking for a repellent that’s as natural as possible, either fits the bill. Both pump sprays were easy to use, and both repellents felt comfortable on the skin. Even though they rely on an essential oil as their active ingredient, they weren’t noticeably oilier than picaridin or DEET repellents.

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Another oil of lemon eucalyptus formula that's identical to Cutter in every way.

You will have to make peace with smelling like oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is not remotely citrus-y, despite the “lemon” in the name. It’s a strong herbal smell with a hint of menthol that you — and everyone else around you — will definitely be aware of. We didn’t find it unpleasant, just more noticeable.

We would advise staying away from the Coleman Botanicals Insect Repellent, however; it also relies on oil of lemon eucalyptus, but we found the smell almost unbearable, like a Vicks VapoRub truck crashed into a Bath and Body Works. The bottle also had a wide spray radius that exceeded the width of our arms and left us feeling like we were wasting product.

Did You Know?

Avoid mosquito repellents that contain sunscreen.

Yes, you want to protect your skin from both mosquitoes and harmful UV rays. But sunscreen protection usually wears off before mosquito repellent does. If you only apply the product once over an eight-hour span, you risk getting sunburned. But if you reapply every few hours — especially if you’re using a DEET-based product — you run the risk of overexposure to your repellent.

“Apply your sunscreen and makeup first, and then spray or rub on your insect repellant,” Shainhouse advised. “You can still reapply sunscreen throughout the day, over the repellant.”

If you’re looking for a good sunscreen, check out our favorites.

Remember to replace your repellent regularly.

The active ingredient in mosquito repellent won’t expire, but the inactive ingredients — like the fragrance components — will. Shainhouse told us that you can expect your mosquito repellent to last for about three years, and explained how to tell if it’s gone bad: “If you spray it into the air and it smells wrong, throw it out. If you have a cream or gel formulation, and it has changed color or separated (yellow, brown, oily, watery) or the texture is off, throw it out. If the bottle is rusted over, throw it out.”

A reputable active ingredient should be effective across the globe.

Many mosquito repellents will advertise protection against Zika or West Nile virus on their packaging, but any repellent that uses a CDC-recommended active ingredient should be effective on the majority of mosquitoes, regardless of strain or location.

You will want to up your active ingredient percentage if you’re traveling to a high-risk area, though. “If you are going to a tropical location, it is recommended to use at least a 20 percent product,” Shainhouse told us. “A 15 percent concentration can put you at risk for mosquito bites, in turn putting you at risk for diseases like malaria, dengue fever and Zika virus.”

Repellents can be harsh on some specialty fabrics.

You aren’t supposed to apply topical mosquito repellent to clothing (just skin), but bug sprays are unlikely to damage common fabrics, like denim, cotton, or nylon. Mosquito repellent users sometimes complain about damage to Lycra and Gore-Tex, however — fabrics that can show up in athleisure and hiking gear. So we tested all 20 of our contenders against both fabrics. We were hoping to find a pick that would be totally safe for both.

The Gore-Tex fared pretty well: we noticed a little staining from the DEET-based repellents, but our picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus sprays just pooled on top of the fabric without soaking in. When we tested our repellents on Lycra (Spandex) swatches, however, every single product damaged the fabric, leaving behind both dark stains and puckered fabric. DEET, picaridin, and OLE were all equally harmful.

Our scientific analysis? If you’re worried about ruining expensive fabrics, try a wipe rather than a spray. This makes it a little easier to control your application. And unless you really need it, consider leaving the Spandex at home. Shainhouse pointed out that when it comes to avoiding bites, “Looser garments are best. Mosquitos will bite right through spandex yoga pants.”

Avoid attracting mosquitoes to your home.

Don’t make your backyard a mosquito haven. “Removing standing water from property is one of the most important actions people can take, as it eliminates breeding sites of mosquitoes,” Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and senior associate at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told us. Amy Lawhorne, vice president of Mosquito Squad, suggests eliminating yard trash (think twigs, leaves, grass clippings) because they also make popular mosquito breeding areas. She advises homeowners to clean out their gutters; make sure downspouts are aligned properly; and position items like tarps, trash cans, or children’s toys so they don’t collect standing water.

The Best Mosquito Repellents: Summed-Up

Take Action

Choose the minimum amount of active ingredient you need — especially with DEET. Taking your kids on a picnic by the lake? A repellent with 10 percent DEET should be fine. Going on an all-day hike, or camping in a mosquito-prone area? Look for repellents with 30 percent DEET.

Pick the right application method. Do you need a repellent that can fit in a pocket, or one that can fit in a purse? What about a larger bottle to keep at home? Will your kids handle a wipe better than a spray?

Choose the mosquito repellent you’re most likely to wear often. We’ll end with this advice from Joe Conlon: “The best repellent is the one you’ll actually use, so personal preference is key.” DEET is safe, but if you have an aversion to it, choose an oil of lemon eucalyptus or picaridin repellent instead.