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Best Insect Repellents for Mosquitoes, Ticks, and Gnats

There are so many brands of insect repellent* (bug spray) on the market that it’s difficult to know which one is the best, or if there is even a difference. Answer: “Yes, there is!”

In fact, some bug repellents are very good and others are just a bite in the wallet!

When you are trying to protect yourself from insect-borne diseases such as Zika, Lyme disease, and West Nile Virus, you want to make sure you use the most effective repellent available.

Mosquito Bites

Mosquito bites on boy's neck
Mosquito bites on boy’s neck







What to Look For when Buying Bug Repellents

The Three Most Important Things to Look For When Choosing a Bug Repellent are:

  1. The Active Ingredient

The Active Ingredient is the part of the bug spray that keeps insects away from you.

  1. The Concentration of the Active Ingredient

The concentration is the percentage of the Active Ingredient in the bug repellent. The Active Ingredient and the Concentration are printed on the container.

  1. How Long the Bug Repellent Will Last

Most of the time the container will show an amount of time that the repellant will last. But, that can vary based on the weather and your level of activity. For the most part, we just reapply when we start getting bitten.

MosquitoThree Best Active Ingredients for Insect Repellents


Deet is the gold standard of insect repellents and it is used by more people than any other insect repellent.

Deet hit the consumer market in 1957 and it is considered safe WHEN THE LABEL INSTRUCTIONS ARE FOLLOWED. It is an effective insect repellent against mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and biting flies. However, it is a chemical and it needs to be used according to the label instructions.

Deet works by masking the smells that attract insects, making them less likely to come into contact with your skin. It is recommended to use at least 25 percent Deet and no more than 40%.


Each of the insect repellents above use Deet as the active ingredient. The Repel Insect Repellent Sportsman has 40% Deet which is the highest concentration of the three. The Cutter Backwoods has 25% and the Repel in the middle can has 15%. That’s a big range but, generally, we find the the 25% concentration of Deet works very well.

Insect Repellent Warnings

All insect repellents must show the percentage of the active ingredients.

While the can above, on the right, does not show the percentage in bold – as part of the advertisement – they all show the percentage at the bottom of the can with the warning label shown below.



Picaridin is also a chemical synthetic compound derived from a plant-based chemical. It is odorless, non-greasy, and provides similar protection to Deet as long as there is at least 20 percent picaridin. It is also effective against mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, gnats and biting flies.

Picaridin offers a lower risk of skin irritation compared to Deet and it is safe to use on clothing as well. It has a long-lasting effect, with up to 8 hours of protection from mosquitoes.


Is there a Good Natural Insect Repellent?

You Bet There Is!

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is a naturally occurring insect repellent and it does a very good job keeping mosquitoes and ticks away. It is derived from the lemon eucalyptus tree and it has similar efficacy to Deet and Picaridin when used with the proper concentration. However, the hours of protection may be less.

This can of Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus has a 30% concentration of the active ingredient – which should do a good job. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is the only naturally occurring insect repellent that worked well for us. Look for the hours of protection. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus may not last as long as the other products.


  • The label states that Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus should not be used on children under three years old and be careful to keep it out of your eyes.
  • All chemicals, including Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, have a degree of toxicity. Always read the label instructions.

Summary of Repellents with Recommended Percentage of Active Ingredients

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is an effective insect repellent with a concentration of 30% to 40%. Going below 30% will reduce its ability to get rid of mosquitoes, ticks, including deer ticks that carry Lyme disease and gnats.
  • It has a pleasant smell that can be used for up to 6 hours and it is recommended for both adults and children over 3 years old.

Using Tick Repellent Will Reduce the Likelihood that you will get Lyme Disease.

Tick embedded in a person's skin
Tick embedded in a person’s skin

Insect Repellents with Deet

  • When buying an insect repellant that uses Deet as the active ingredient, make sure the concentration is at least 25% (and no more than 30% concentration for children*). Maximum of 50% (there is no additional benefit over 50% concentration).
  • Some studies show no additional benefit over a 30% concentration of Deet.
  • Deet insect repellant is available in a variety of forms, including sprays, lotions, and wipes.
  • The hours of protection for Deet range from 3 to 8 hours depending on the percentage of Deet.
  • Go to for more information about Deet and it’s safety.

Insect Repellents With Picaridin

  • 20% concentration of picaridin is recommended.
  • Works about the same as Deet but does a better job with files.

When using a Deet-based product Read the Label Carefully Before Use.

Common Mistake When Buying Insect Repellents!

I recently saw a bottle of bug spray containing Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus that claimed to work well against mosquitoes. However, when I looked at the label, the percentage of the Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus was only 3%!

For Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus to be effective against mosquitoes, ticks, and gnats, it should have at least a 30% concentration. Relying on a product with only a 3% concentration will provide disappointing results.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is a very good product, but like all insect repellents, the active ingredient needs to be used with the right concentration.

When you are looking for the best insect repellents, look for the ones with Deet, Lemon Eucalyptus Oil or Picardin for best results.

*Check with a doctor before using any insect repellent on a child.

Never use these products at all on babies younger than 3 months old. 

Check with your veterinarian to find out what products are safe for your pets. Remember to follow all product label instructions.


For more information, go to:

If you are suffering from Lyme Disease, or think you may be, reach out to Anne Desjardins.
Anne founded and runs the Berks County Lyme Support Group and can be reached here:
For additional information, go to



You may also be interested in these blogs:

How to Keep Ticks from Biting you?

How to Remove a Tick?


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