7 Types of Mosquito Repellents Compared: What Works and What’s Snake Oil?

Mosquitoes are everywhere, but those itchy bites are harmless, right? Although these annoying creatures are widespread across the United States, a bite isn’t always benign. In fact, mosquitoes are the deadliest insects in the world. They carry disease, and all it takes is a single bit to fall victim. Preventing bites is a must. However, with so many mosquito repellents out there, choosing the best one may feel overwhelming. Here’s a breakdown of the most popular repellents:

1. Allethrin

Allethrin is a synthetic compound derived from the chrysanthemum plant that’s commonly used as a mosquito repellent. It deters mosquitoes and creates a zone of protection that lasts for several hours. Special devices heat and disperse allethrin into the air. It’s preferred by those who don’t want to apply chemicals to their skin. Allethrin has a relatively low toxicity level and is safe for outdoor use

Many people wonder if allethrin actually works, and the answer is yes. It keeps mosquitoes far away from social gatherings for up to 12 hours, and it’s a great choice for those with young kids. However, since allethrin is not applied topically, it only works as long as you stay in the protection zone. It’s also not as effective on windy days.


Perhaps the most popular repellent is DEET; however, it’s also the most controversial. The United States Army first developed DEET in 1946 to protect soldiers from mosquitoes. It became available to the public a decade later. DEET comes in many topical forms, including creams, lotions, and sprays. Users apply DEET directly to their skin and clothes, and it lasts for several hours after application.

There’s a reason why DEET remains so widely recommended; it really works. In addition to repelling mosquitoes, DEET also helps to keep away gnats, ticks, fleas, chiggers, and flies. Scientists don’t fully understand how DEET works, but many believe it masks the scent of humans so that mosquitoes can’t find their next victim. You may not realize it, but mosquitoes have poor eyesight and rely on their sense of smell to navigate their environment.

Although DEET works, many people avoid it altogether. The chemical can cause skin irritation, and it also stinks. Doctors also recommend keeping it away from young children, and pregnant women should also avoid DEET-containing products. Furthermore, DEET can stain fabrics and damage plastic items.

3. Repellent Bracelets

Not everyone likes to slather their bodies with creams or sprays. These people prefer something less bothersome, so a repellent bracelet seems like the ideal option. Bracelets are low-cost and promise to provide full protection from mosquitoes. Most repellent bracelets rely on natural oils to keep insects away. Mosquitoes hate the smell of certain essential oils, such as lavender, tea tree, and lemon eucalyptus.

Before you run out and stock up on repellent bracelets, you need to know they don’t as well as other options. Most bracelets only offer protection on a very small part of your body. Some people may also develop an allergic reaction to the oils. Don’t let the non-greasy promise fool you. These products don’t always work as advertised.

4. Citronella Candles

Lighting a candle outdoors creates a relaxing, romantic ambiance. The right candle can even keep mosquitoes away. Citronella candles are popular with people who like to entertain outdoors. Manufacturers claim burning a candle will keep your outdoor gathering mosquito-free for hours. Many people also find the smell of citronella pleasant, which only increases the popularity of this natural repellent.

Unfortunately, citronella candles aren’t always effective. Mosquitoes don’t like the smell of citronella oil, but candles only contain a very small percentage of the active ingredient. As long as you sit right next to the candle, you may get some protection. However, if you plan on walking around the vicinity, you’ll probably end up with a few bites. Furthermore, unattended citronella candles are a leading cause of outdoor fires.

5. Picaridin Products

Picaridin has grown in popularity as an insect repellant since it first became available in the early 2000s. However, it’s been around since 1980 when Bayer, a pharmaceutical giant in the U.S., synthesized it from pepper compounds. Although it’s derived from a natural source, picaridin is anything but natural. Picaridin is non-greasy when applied to the skin, and users can also spray it on their clothes. It can trigger an allergic reaction, but it’s less likely to cause skin irritation when compared to DEET.

Those looking for a DEET-free alternative often choose picaridin, and they aren’t disappointed. This relatively new repellent works well at keeping away mosquitoes and a variety of other insects. A single application can last for 7-9 hours; however, it isn’t water-resistant. Long-term side effects of picaridin are still unknown, but current data seem promising.

6. Ultrasonic Buzzing

What if you could keep mosquitoes away with sonic vibrations? That’s the theory behind ultrasonic repellents. These devices promise to deter insects using only a high-frequency buzz. Supposedly, ultrasonic buzzing mimics the sonar signals produced by bats and dragonflies, which are natural mosquito predators. People like these devices because they are completely chemical-free.

The science behind ultrasonic repellents seems legit, but does it work? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no. The American Mosquito Control Association performed several studies on the effectiveness of ultrasonic devices, and every study determined they don’t affect mosquito behavior. While sonic vibrations sound cool and futuristic, you’ll still need to apply a proven repellent.

7. Clip-On Fans

What if you could simply blow mosquitoes away? That’s the idea behind clip-on fans. Some fans are chemical-free, while others release a small burst of chemical repellent. Users attach the fan to their belt or bag, and it circulated enough air to keep mosquitoes at bay. Makers claim these fans provide hours of safe protection.

Clip-on fans, however, don’t do much other than creating a gentle breeze. While a small fan may help deter a single insect, it’s highly ineffective against an entire swarm. Until more studies become available, most doctors recommend using clip-on fans as a secondary form of mosquito protection only.

Stay Bite-Free for Good

After weeding through all the ineffective insect repellents, only a few proven products remain standing. Scientifically studied chemicals work exceptionally well at preventing mosquito bites, and they are usually safe. If you still want to try an unproven product, be sure to pack an extra bottle of repellent for added protection.

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