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The Complete Guide to Insect Repellent

How to Choose an Insect Repellent

If you need to protect yourself from bug bites and the vector-borne illnesses that they can transmit, you’ll naturally want to use the best repellent for the situation. Insect repellent comes with a variety of active ingredients, concentrations, and methods of application. While most repellents used among outdoors enthusiasts offer solid defense against wide variety of insects, some are better at protecting against certain species than others.

What You Should Know About Each Repellent


DEET is the go-to for most people who want serious protection from bug-bites. Our understanding of how this synthesized ingredient repels insects has changed over the years. First believed to blind mosquitoes and ticks by binding to their receptor neurons, it turns out that DEET is actually a true repellent because these bugs simply find it too unpleasant to bite a host that has been treated. For effective protection, use a formula of about 30 percent concentration on exposed skin and directly on clothing, following the product instructions.

According to the EPA, DEET is safe for adults and young children when applied following the product instructions, but should be avoided on infants less than two months old. Wash skin and clothing soon after you’re inside. DEET may damage a range of materials including rubber, leather, and vinyl. It is safe for use on cotton, wool, and nylon.



Picaridin works by binding to the receptor neurons of mosquitoes and ticks, making it more difficult for the insects to locate a host. It has proven to be as effective as DEET when applied as a spray at 20 percent concentration on exposed skin and clothing, following product instructions. This product is nearly colorless and odorless and safe for all ages, offering protection from mosquitoes carrying dengue fever and West Nile Virus. While Picaridin may be just as effective as DEET at repelling mosquitoes, DEET may still have the upper hand in repelling ticks. Wash treated areas and clothing after use. Picaridin does not dissolve plastic and is safe on a wide majority of fabrics.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus


Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (p-Menthane-3,8-diol or PMD) may be the best answer for people who want to use a more “natural” insect repellent. It’s important to note that this product is not the same as the essential oil derived from this plant – it’s a by-product of distillation. Lemon eucalyptus essential oil does contain many of the same chemical compounds as PMD, but it evaporates too quickly to provide lasting protection from insects. The efficacy of Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus at 30 percent concentration is roughly equivalent to DEET at about 10 to 15 percent, meaning you will need more applications for the same period of time (following product directions). While Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus appears to have solid protection from mosquitoes and ticks after application, it is not recommended for use when in areas with an increased risk of West Nile Virus transmission.


Permethrin is not so much a repellent as it is an insecticide, yet mosquitoes and ticks may avoid the chemical if they encounter it. This product is applied only to clothing, requiring about 2 hours to dry before use. Mosquitoes and ticks that land on treated clothing die quickly, leaving the user protected from bites. Clothing treated with permethrin is typically considered “treated” for several washes, but it recommended to use this product alongside a repellent such as DEET or Picaridin. Wash clothing treated with permethrin immediately after use, and follow the product instructions to know when and how to re-treat clothing. NOTE: while this product is safe for use around dogs (in fact, many veterinary treatments for flea and tick protection use permethrin), cats are extremely sensitive to this chemical and may suffer lasting health consequences, including death, if exposed to the chemical.

Which Repellent is Right for You?

DEET Picaridin Permethrin Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
Effective Against Broadly effective, esp.

Mosquitoes and Ticks

Broadly effective, esp. Mosquitoes and Biting flies Kills most insects on contact Mosquitoes,




30% 20% 0.5% 30%
Best applied as Aerosol, Pump Spray, Wipes Aerosol, Pump Spray Aerosol, Pump Spray Aerosol, Pump Spray
Effective up to* 8+ hours 8 hours 6 weeks/washes 6 hours


*Always follow product instructions for use.


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