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The whine of a mosquito may be the most annoying sound on earth — and if you’re in a zone where mosquitoes transmit disease, it can also be a dangerous one. If you’re planning to camp, kayak, hike, or garden, you can prevent mosquito bites before you’re attacked by the bloodthirsty arthropods.
Here’s a list to help you in the fight against the bite.
1. DEET products
This chemical repellent has been studied for over 40 years. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed that when used properly, DEET works and poses no health risk, even to kids. Marketed as Repel, Off! Deep Woods, Cutter Skinsations, and other brands.
Shop for mosquito repellents with DEET.
Picaridin (also labeled KBR 3023 or icaridin), a chemical related to the black pepper plant, is the most broadly used repellent outside the U.S. The Zika Foundation says it works for 6-8 hours. Safe for use on babies 2 months or older, it’s marketed as Natrapel and Sawyer.
Shop for mosquito repellents with picaridin
Don’t handle birds, fish, or reptiles after using DEET or Picaridin products. The chemicals are known to harm these species.
3. Oil of lemon eucalyptus
Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE or PMD-para-menthane-3,8-diol). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says this plant-based product protects as well as repellents containing DEET. Marketed as Repel, BugShield, and Cutter.
Don’t be confused. The essential oil called “pure oil of lemon eucalyptus” is not a repellent and did not perform well in consumer tests.
How to safely apply insect repellent:
- Put on sunscreen first.
- Don’t apply repellents under your clothes.
- Don’t spray directly onto face; instead, spray your hands and rub repellent on your face.
- Avoid your eyes and mouth.
- Don’t apply on injured or irritated skin.
- Don’t allow children to apply repellent themselves.
- Wash your hands after you apply repellent.
4. IR3535 (3-[N-butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester)
Used in Europe for about 20 years, this repellent is also effective for keeping deer ticks away. Marketed by Merck.
Shop for mosquito repellents with IR3535.
5. 2-undecanone (methyl nonyl ketone)
Originally formulated to deter dogs and cats, this repellent is found naturally in cloves. Marketed as Bite Blocker BioUD.
Still not sure? The EPA offers a search tool to help you decide which insect repellent is the right one for you.
6. Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil
This is a popular option for people who want to avoid chemicals, and in 2015, researchers confirmed that Avon’s Skin So Soft does in fact, repel mosquitos. However, the effects last only for about two hours, so you need to reapply very often if you choose this product.
Shop for Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil
7. Victoria Secret Bombshell perfume
Much to the surprise of researchers, Victoria Secret Bombshell perfume actually repelled mosquitos quite effectively for up to two hours. So, if you like this perfume, it might help you avoid mosquito bites while smelling good. You may need to reapply to keep the mosquitos away longer.
Shop for Victoria Secret Bombshell perfume
8. Permethrin fabric spray
You can buy spray-on pesticides made especially for use on clothing, tents, nets, and shoes. Make sure the label says it’s meant for fabrics and gear, not skin. Marketed as Sawyer’s and Ben’s brand products.
Note: Never apply permethrin products directly to your skin.
9. Pre-treated fabrics
Clothing brands like L.L. Bean’s No Fly Zone, Insect Shield, and ExOfficio are treated with permethrin at the factory, and protection is advertised to last up to 70 washings.
10. Cover up!
When you’re outdoors in mosquito territory, wear long pants, long sleeves, socks, and shoes (not sandals). Loose-fitting garments may be better than snug spandex.
11. Not under 2 months
12. No oil of lemon eucalyptus or PMD10
Oil of lemon eucalyptus and its active ingredient, PMD, are not safe for use on children under three years old.
In the United States, the EPA says DEET is safe for kids over the age of 2 months. In Canada, it’s recommended in concentrations up to 10 percent, applied up to 3 times a day on kids between 2 and 12. On kids ages 6 months to 2 years, Canadian officials recommend using DEET just once daily.
14. Hang mosquito netting
Shop for mosquito netting.
15. Use oscillating fans
The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) recommends using a large oscillating fan to keep your deck mosquito-free.
Shop for outdoor fans.
16. Trim green space
Keeping your grass cut and your yard free of leaf litter and other debris gives mosquitos fewer places to hide and thrive.
17. Remove standing water
Mosquitoes can breed in tiny amounts of water. Once a week, dump or drain tires, gutters, birdbaths, wheelbarrows, toys, pots, and planters.
18. Employ spatial repellents
Newer products like clip-on devices (metofluthrin) and mosquito coils (allethrin) may be effective in getting rid of mosquitoes in localized zones. But the CDC recommends that you still use skin repellents until more studies show that these zone defenses work are safe and effective. Marketed as Off! Clip-on fans and Thermacell products.
19. Spread coffee and tea waste
Protect your plastics! DEET and IR3535 can dissolve plastics including synthetic fabrics, glasses, and even the paint job on your car. Apply carefully to avoid damage.
20. Check the CDC website
Visit the CDC’s Travelers’ Health website. Is your destination an outbreak site? If you’re traveling outside the United States, you may want to see your doctor about anti-malarial drugs or immunizations before you go.
21. Ask the National Park Service
The National Park Service’s event calendar lets you know if bug spray is recommended for an outing you’ve scheduled. If you’re worried about a stateside outbreak, check with the NPS Disease Prevention and Response team.
Save your time and money
According to Consumer Reports, these products did not test well and haven’t been shown to be effective mosquito repellents.
- Vitamin B1 skin patches. They didn’t repel mosquitoes in at least one study published in the Journal of Insect Science.
- Sunscreen/repellent combinations. According to the Environmental Working Group, you could overdose on repellent if you re-apply sunscreen as often as directed.
- Bug zappers. The AMCA confirms that these devices are not effective on mosquitoes and can instead harm many beneficial insect populations.
- Phone apps. Ditto for iPhone and Android apps that purport to deter mosquitoes by emitting high-frequency sounds.
- Citronella candles. Unless you’re going to stand directly over one, the smoke isn’t likely to protect you.
- Natural bracelets. These wristbands flunked tests by leading consumer magazines.
- Essential oils. Though there is some support for using natural remedies against mosquitoes, the EPA does not evaluate them for their effectiveness as repellents.
If you want protection against mosquitoes that can cause malaria, dengue, Zika, West Nile, and chikungunya, the best products have DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus as their active ingredients. Permethrin-treated clothing can also be an effective deterrent.
Most products considered “natural” aren’t approved as insect repellents, and most devices and apps don’t work as well as insect repellents. You can keep mosquito populations down by maintaining your yard and eliminating standing water.