🦟Best Bug Repellents of 2024, per consumer experts

An effective insect repellent can help you fight off the annoyance of buzzing mosquitoes, prevent itchy bites, and reduce your risk of serious bug-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and West Nile virus. Consumer Reports’ testing—which involves brave volunteers putting their arms into cages of mosquitoes—can help you find one that works.

We have over 50 repellents in our ratings and more than 20 recommended ones, so it should be easy to find a way to beat the bugs that’s right for you. But not all bug sprays are effective. One factor that matters significantly: a product’s active ingredient.

“We expect that differences in formulation, and how the active ingredient is incorporated into a repellent, can make a large difference in how effectively it repels insects,” says Chris Regan, test project leader for insect repellents for CR. “However, among the products we’ve tested, we have found deet, at levels of 25 to 30 percent, to afford the most reliable protection against mosquitoes and ticks.”

Other active ingredients in our recommended products, if you prefer not to use deet, are picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus (more on those below).

Here are five of our top-rated repellents. (Digital and All Access members can see CR’s full insect repellent ratings.)

CR Top-Rated Repellents

The most effective repellents against mosquitoes and ticks contain 25 to 30 percent Deet as their active ingredient.

At the top of CR’s ratings are: Ben’s Tick & Insect Repellent Wipes, Ben’s Tick & Insect Repellent Wilderness Formula Pump, and 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent8. All excel in protection.

If you’re concerned about using Deet, CR found products with 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus as good alternatives, like Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Pump. CR’s ratings also have a few high scorers that contain 20 percent picaridin, like Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent Pump.

How CR Tests Insect Repellents

At our insect repellent testing lab, we begin by applying a standard dose of repellent to a measured area of skin on our test subjects’ arms. The standard dose is determined from the Environmental Protection Agency’s product testing guidelines.

After 30 minutes, these volunteers then place their arms into the first two of four cages of 200 disease-free mosquitoes for 5 minutes. Our testers watch closely to see what happens inside the cage, and they count every time a mosquito lands on a subject’s arm, uses its proboscis (its long mouth) to probe the skin in an attempt to find a capillary, or bites the subject’s arm and begins to feed—which the testers can tell by watching for the insect’s abdomen to turn from gray to red or brown.

After 5 minutes, the subjects withdraw their arms, then repeat the process by placing their arms into a second pair of cages of disease-free mosquitoes of a different species for another 5 minutes. The subjects then walk around for about 10 minutes to stimulate sweating. That’s to mimic a real-world situation in which users might exercise while wearing repellent.

Half an hour later, this procedure is repeated once, and then again once every hour after that until a repellent fails our test, or until 8 hours have passed since it was applied. We consider a failure to be two confirmed mosquito bites in one 5-minute session inside the cage, or one confirmed bite in each of two consecutive 5-minute sessions.

Our ratings are primarily based on how long a product protected test subjects against two species of mosquitoes. Our highest-rated repellents protected for 7 hours or longer; our lowest-rated ones lasted 2 hours or less.

We currently test repellents against only mosquitoes, but in past years we’ve found that repellents that worked well against mosquitoes also worked well against ticks. We also test whether repellents damage materials that repellents are likely to come into contact with, including the polycarbonate of eyeglass lenses, a leather belt, cotton, and polyester.

Comparing Deet, Picaridin, and OLE

Fourteen of our 22 recommended insect repellents use deet as their active ingredient. Three are made with 20 percent picaridin, one is made with 10 percent picaridin, and four contain 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE).

Most plant-oil-based products we’ve tested—including several containing citronella oil, peppermint oil, soybean oil, or others—have performed poorly.

OLE, although it occurs naturally in the lemon eucalyptus plant, is not an essential oil. It’s refined and concentrated (or sometimes synthesized chemically) for use in commercial bug repellents. However, OLE’s safety has not been well studied on young kids, and experts say it shouldn’t be used on kids under 3 years of age.

Our testing suggests that when it comes to effectiveness, what matters most is the type and concentration of active ingredient in the repellent.

For example, all deet products we’ve tested that contain 25 to 30 percent score very well in our ratings. Two 15 percent deet repellents are also strong performers, though two others with that same concentration earn unimpressive scores.

And with deet products, an effective repellent can come in many forms. For example, three wipes made our recommended list. One lotion didn’t score high enough to earn our recommendation but still performed satisfactorily.

Overall, about 3 out of every 4 deet-based repellents that we’ve tested have earned our recommendation. That’s not too surprising, because deet has a long track record as an effective bug repellent and is even often used as the standard by which scientists test the efficacy of other types of repellents.

The picture gets a bit murkier when it comes to other active ingredients. We’ve found some sprays that use the active ingredients picaridin or OLE that perform well, and others that don’t. And in a few instances, we’ve found that products containing 20 percent picaridin score well as a spray but not in another form, such as a wipe or lotion. “At the very least, we’re seeing OLE and picaridin fall short of deet,” Regan says.

Still, if you want to avoid deet, 20 percent picaridin or 30 percent OLE are your best bets. More importantly, in our testing, all of the so-called natural repellents—products whose active ingredients are essential oils—earn dismal scores.

Keep in mind that the safety of deet has been extensively researched by the EPA. When it’s used according to the directions on the label, it should not be harmful. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rare problems with rashes or skin irritation from deet usually arise from using too much or too high a concentration. Consumer Reports doesn’t test products with more than 30 percent deet for this reason—and our tests show it’s not necessary to expose yourself to higher concentrations in order to get top-notch protection. (Read our previous story comparing active ingredients in different insect repellents.)

How to Apply Insect Repellent Properly

For best results, follow the directions on the label and these five tips:

1. Apply a thin coat to all exposed skin but avoid eyes and mouth, and use sparingly around your ears. You can also spray repellent on top of your clothing, but don’t apply it under clothing.

2. Adults should dispense repellent on their hands to apply to children. Don’t spray repellent onto kids or apply it to their hands. That’s to avoid it getting into their eyes or mouth, and avoid applying it to cuts or irritated skin. (Insect repellents with deet should not be used on children younger than 2 months.)

3. Frequent reapplication isn’t necessary. Wash your hands after applying and wash off repellent at the end of the day.

4. Never spray directly onto the face. Spray on palms, then apply to the face.

5. When using towelettes, be sure to use enough of them to cover all exposed skin with repellent. Look for a clear shimmer of fluid on the skin after wiping, and avoid sharing the same wipe with someone else in order to get the best coverage.


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