Mosquitoes are notorious for making their presence known at the most inopportune moments.
Who hasn't found themselves comfortably settled into bed, peacefully drifting off to dreamland, only to be rudely yanked back to reality by the dreaded buzz of a mosquito?
Relentless in their quest for fresh blood - your blood! - mosquitos won't stop til they've had their fill... and reduced you to an itchy, bleary eyed mess.
Quite apart from the all-round irritation caused by these pests, many people also experience painful allergic reactions to the anticoagulant proteins delivered through their bites. In my experience, it's usually children who suffer the most from these allergic reactions and when faced with a child covered in painful, hot and swollen mosquito bites, I'm ready to wage war!
In this article I'll be covering the best mosquito repellents and how to use them effectively.
Our Top Mosquito Repellents (2018)
Short on time? Check out below our top Mosquito Repellents of 2018. Continue reading if you want to learn more!
What are mosquito repellents and how do they work?
Mosquito repellents come in many forms, both natural and chemical. Some common forms of mosquito repellents include sprays, candles, creams and wipes.
Before we get into how mosquito repellents work, let's first take a look at how mosquitos find their targets.
Mosquitos rely on a combination of three factors when searching for a potential target:
First they smell us.
Mosquitos are attracted to the carbon dioxide we emit every time we exhale, as well as other bodily odors. This also explains why mosquitos seem to be attracted to some people more than others - we all have different odors, and varying strengths of scent.
Once they've been alerted by their sense of smell that there might be a meal nearby, they search for visual confirmation. After locking onto their human target, they rely on thermal signals (body heat) to find the perfect landing spot.
Why are repellents important?
Mosquito repellents are one of your only defenses against mosquito bites and diseases such as west nile virus or yellow fever.
So how on earth do they still manage to find us in the dark?
While they usually use the above methods to find their food source, they don't always rely on sight, and a hungry mosquito will find you through a combination of scent and thermal cues, even without visual confirmation.
How do mosquito repellents work?
Most repellents don't actually kill mosquitos, or even actively "repel" them - not in the true sense of the word, anyway -but rather, they deter them from finding and landing on treated surfaces.
Mosquito repellents essentially mask the odors known to attract these pests and many repellents (e.g. DEET) have been shown to confuse their odor receptors, making it harder for mosquitos to find (and feed!) on us in the first place.
What to look for when buying mosquito repellents:
With so many options out there, choosing the right mosquito repellent can be confusing. I always look for repellents containing one of the following:
Originally manufactured for the military, DEET has been proven to work by confusing the mosquito's odor receptors, and is regarded by many as the most effective mosquito repellent. One of DEET'S most appealing factors is that a single application provides up to 11 hours of protection, making it one of the best mosquito repellents for Zika.
Unfortunately, as with most good things, there's downside. Reports of DEET melting sunglasses and mobile phones have, understandably, caused a worldwide scare and for this reason many are choosing to use other mosquito repellent options. Despite these unsettling chemical reactions, DEET remains one of the best mosquito repellents and lab controlled studies show that possible health risks are greatly reduced with the right concentrations.
Need more reassurance? The EPA states that no toxic effects have been identified when applied dermally, and also notes that DEET is safe to use in children, with no age restrictions.
Choosing the best DEET mosquito repellents
When choosing a DEET Mosquito repellent, it's important to always read the label.
I always choose DEET mosquito repellents with concentrations between 15-20%, although higher concentrations (up to a 100%) have been deemed safe and provide longer lasting protection. Can't find DEET on the packaging? Check the ingredients for its chemical name: N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide.
- Picaridin (Icaridin)
Still wary of DEET? Try Picaridan. Considered slightly safer than DEET, Picaridan is another effective chemical mosquito repellent. The fact that Picaridan has fewer reported side effects (and doesn't melt plastic!), earns it the thumbs up from me. I also love the fact that Picaridan provides protection for up to 8 hours and is free from unpleasant odors.
- Essential oils: citronella, geranium, lemon eucalyptus, etc.
Essential oils do provide some protection from mosquitos, but their repellent properties generally last for a maximum of 2-4 hours. Requiring frequent re-application and, taking into consideration the fact that even natural products like these can cause skin irritation, essential oils (for topical application) are my least favorite form of mosquito repellent. They do smell great, though, and I love them for outdoor use in the form of a candle, or in conjunction with DEET or Picaridan. As a pet owner, I also consider essential oils to be the best mosquito repellent for dogs and haven’t experienced any adverse side effects. Cat's on the other hand tend to not like essential oils as much do to their self cleaning tendencies.
Which mosquito repellents actually work?
Candles containing essential oils are proven to repel mosquitos – citronella, lemon eucalyptus, geranium, etc—do work to some degree. In my opinion, they are the best mosquito repellents for patios and outdoors, but shouldn’t be relied on as your sole mosquito repellent.
Sprays can be an effective method of mosquito protection, but only when used topically. Bug sprays will work to kill mosquitos immediately, but won’t prevent more from showing up. In my experience, the best mosquito repellent sprays contain DEET, Picaridin, essential oils or a combination of these.
Plant oils used in candles, diffusers and topical applications work. Even burning or crushing the leaves may have some effect, but just the plant itself? Unlikely. While it certainly is a novel thought that a regular pot plant could provide mosquito protection, while doubling as an aesthetically pleasing addition to your home; without first extracting its mosquito repellent properties, it’s not going to do you much good. If you’re considering a natural option, Citronella, Lemon Eucalyptus and Geranium oil are among the best mosquito repellent essential oils.
Mosquito repellents are a must, especially throughout the summer months and in areas with high instances of mosquito-borne diseases (malaria, dengue, zika). These are my top mosquito repellent picks:
At 98%, this product is high in DEET concentrations and, although it still falls under the “safe umbrella” as far DEET levels go, I would probably dilute it. I love that it’s low-odor, as repellents containing DEET can often be overpowering.
The small packaging is a huge plus for me and makes it easy to keep on hand while travelling. Because it contains DEET, I can rest assured in the fact that I’ll be mosquito bite free for up to 10 hours.
- Up to 10 hours of mosquito protection
- Contains DEET – the most effective mosquito repellent
- No overpowering DEET odor
- High DEET concentrations can be a worrisome factor
- Damages plastics and nail polish
A mosquito repellent that doubles as a beauty product and a SPF 30 sunscreen? I say, bring it on! Free from harmful chemicals, hypo-allergenic and sun protection to boot, makes this a product I’d feel good about using on my family.
It’s so good to finally find a non-greasy mosquito repellent – and it’s effective against other bugs too!
- Free of harmful chemicals
- Doubles as a moisturizer and sunscreen
- More of a beauty brand, as opposed to a pest control brand
- No known mosquito repellent chemicals may reduce efficacy
This product gets my vote because it’s DEET-free and still provides up to 12 hours of mosquito protection. I also love that it provides protection from other bugs, including ticks, biting flies, stable flies, gnats, chiggers and sand flies.
This is one mosquito repellent that would definitely make it into my camping backpack.
That being said, check out the pros and cons down below to see if it'll work for you!
- Picaridan is safe an effective.
- Long lasting protection.
- Works to repell other bugs, too.
- Container is prone to rust spots
- Chemical mosquito repellents may exacerbate existing skin conditions
I like that this product comes with 2 bracelets for extra protection – 1 to wear on your wrist and 1 for your ankle. It contains two of my favorite essential oils known to be effective mosquito repellents (geranium and citronella), as well as lavender and peppermint.
I would use this product as an extra safety measure to keep myself mosquito bite free.
- Comes with 2 mosquito repellent bands for extra protection
- All natural ingredients = no harmful side effects
- Pleasant odor
- Essential oils often aren’t the most effective mosquito repellents
- You’ll probably have to combine it with another product
I love keeping mosquito repellent wipes on hand and find them especially useful for applying to exposed skin in unforeseen mosquito bite-risk situations like staying outdoors later than expected.
With a DEET concentration level of 30%, I can use this product with peace of mind that my family and I are highly unlikely to experience any harmful DEET-related side effects.
- Contains DEET, the most effective mosquito repellent across the board.
- DEET levels are relatively low, making it a safer option.
- Non-sticky formulation makes it comfortable to apply.
- Wipes are packaged in one unit and all of them will dry out if not sealed correctly.
- Slightly unpleasant smell, common to most products containing DEET.
- May cause damage to plastics.
The Bottom Line:
Whilst DEET has been proven safe and most experts regard it as the most effective mosquito repellent, I'd rather not deal with the nervous voice in the back of my mind, whispering "what if?", everytime I use it. Essential oils are great, and I will continue to use them - alongside other products. But for an all-round, stress free product?My first choice is definitely Picaridan.
My top pick:
Out of the options listed, my favorite is Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridan. In my opinion, this product is the best mosquito repellent, overall, for the following reasons:
- The fact that it uses Picaridan, rather than DEET, gives me peace of mind.
- No need to put up with strong, unpleasant odors.
- Picaridan is a well-known mosquito repellent, with proven results.