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Updated Jun 14, 2022 3:36 PM

Summer is barbecues, fishing trips, and the distinct high-pitched hum of a mosquito zeroing in on your ear. The latter can ruin your summer fun with constant swatting and the eventual itching. But, mosquito repellent can save the day. To help you find the best mosquito repellent for your needs, I tested a bunch of them in my mosquito-infested woods to find repellents that are effective and user friendly. Here are my picks:

How to Choose Mosquito Repellent

Repel 100 comes in a convenient sized bottle
DEET is an effective ingredient for repelling mosquitoes. Scott Einsmann

Whether you need the best mosquito repellent for camping or for the backyard, there are two key factors to consider, the ingredients and application.

DEET vs. DEET Free Repellents
Mosquitoes find humans by detecting the carbon dioxide we exhale and our odor. Body heat guides them to a landing spot where they use their feet to taste our skin to find a bite location. Most mosquito repellents work by disrupting the mosquito’s ability to smell. The repellent evaporates off our skin and the vapor doesn’t allow them to pinpoint our location. The ingredient that does the best job at disrupting a mosquito’s sense of smell is DEET, and just 20 percent DEET is effective at deterring mosquito bites. Most commonly, you’ll see 70 or more percent DEET in mosquito repellents, which helps the repellent last 4 or more hours. While DEET is highly effective it can have side effects such as rash, irritation, as well as vomiting, nausea, and upset stomach if swallowed. DEET isn’t the only option though, and there are other natural and chemical ingredients that repel mosquitoes with less severe side effects. A 2015 study found products with Picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, or Permethrin effective at repelling mosquitoes. It’s important to note that the absence of DEET doesn’t make a product “safe.” For example, Lemon of Eucalyptus can cause skin irritation and it’s not something you want to get in your eyes. Read the manufacturer’s descriptions carefully, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Application

Once you’ve decided on the active ingredient you would like to use, you’ll next want to consider how you’ll apply the repellent and how it will be used. Let’s say you’re wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Then you’ll want a spray that can cover a wide surface area. Something like an aerosol or pump spray with plenty of coverage. But, if you’re wearing long pants and a long shirt, especially if they’ve been treated with Permethrin, you only need to cover a small area. In that instance a lotion or small pump bottle is ideal. 

Best Overall: Coleman Insect Repellent SkinSmart

Coleman

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Key Features 

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes 
  • Odor: 2
  • Application: Aerosol spray 
  • Size: 6 ounces
  • Active ingredients: 20 percent IR3535

Why It Made the Cut

If you’re opposed to DEET, this Coleman SkinSmart is a great alternative that’s effective at repelling mosquitoes.

Pros

  • Easy to apply
  • Low odor

Cons

  • Must shake before using 
  • Aerosol

Product Description

Coleman SkinSafe is the best overall mosquito repellent
Scott Einsmann

The active ingredient in Coleman SkinSafe is IR3535, which is very close to DEET in effectiveness, but with a lower odor and according to the WHO oral or skin exposure to IR3535 is less toxic than DEET. It’s still a chemical that will irritate your eyes and degrade plastics. I chose it as my best overall pick because, in my testing I found SkinSafe to be very effective for about three hours and then the effectiveness tapered off. The aerosol dispenser is easy to use for full-body application, but you do need to shake it well or you’ll have intermittent dry sprays where nothing but aerosol comes out. The odor was minimal, and it left no uncomfortable residue on my skin. The repellent also dries quickly, which makes it quick to go from application to having fun.

Best for Backyards: ThermaCell EX90

ThermaCell

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Key Features 

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes and gnats 
  • Odor: 1
  • Application: Turn on device
  • Size: 4.5 x 4 x 2.5 inches 
  • Active ingredients: Metofluthrin

Why It Made the Cut

The same protection as the classic Thermacell in a rechargeable device with an extended protection zone.  

Pros

  • 20-foot protection zone
  • No fuel required

Cons

  • Not ideal for hunting, makes beeping sounds
  • Doesn’t work in windy conditions

Product Description

If you’re looking for something more effective than citronella candles and less disruptive than bug zappers, the ThermaCell line of products are the answer to your mosquito free prayers. The EX90 uses a rechargeable battery and just one consumptive refill. While the EX90 isn’t ideal for taking on a backpacking trip or a hike due to its size, it is a great option for RVing, car camping, and the backyard. The device takes 15 minutes to create a protective bubble and will provide protection for nine hours on a single charge. To use the device, press and hold the button, the lights will flash, and then stop flashing. After the heat-up time you’ll have a 20 foot mosquito-free 20 zone. One thing to keep in mind is this device will not work as well when it’s windy.

Best for Hiking: Repel 100

Repel

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Key Features 

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and fleas
  • Odor: 5
  • Application: Pump 
  • Size: 1 fluid ounce
  • Active ingredient: DEET 98.11 percent 

Why It Made the Cut

These small bottles fit nicely in a side pocket or a hip belt pouch, and the 98 percent DEET formula is a proven mosquito repellent.

Pros

  • Easy to cary
  • Non-aerosol 
  • Effective

Cons

  • Strong odor

Product Description

When hiking into tick and mosquito country it’s nice to have small bottle of heavy protection so you can reapply as needed. That’s when I’d recommend bringing Repel 100. It’s a small bottle that uses a pump applicator to spray a 98 percent DEET formula. Just a few squirts onto your exposed will keep biting insects away for hours. There are two main drawbacks with Repel 100. Frist, the pump applicator shoots out a small amount of repellent, so it’s not great for covering your full body. Second, some campers simply don’t want to use DEET because it’s not a natural product, and it has an extremely strong odor. But, if you don’t mind a little DEET then this is one of the best mosquito repellents to store in your pack for keeping the little nasties away. 

Best Lotion: Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion

Sawyer

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Key Features 

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes
  • Odor: 2
  • Application: Rubs into skin
  • Size: 4 fluid ounces
  • Active ingredients: 20 percent Picaridin, 1-Methylpropyl-2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidine carboxylate 

Why It Made the Cut

The Sawyer Mosquito Repellent Lotion lasts much longer than sprays and won’t leave a greasy residue on your skin. 

Pros

  • Good for areas that are difficult to spray like hands, ears, and around the face. 
  • Lasts up to 14 hours

Cons

  • Doesn’t easily apply to your whole body

Product Description

We typically think of mosquito repellent as something that comes in a bottle, usually aerosol, and is fogged onto our clothes and skin. But, repellent lotions are an effective alternative, which I found ideal for applying to my ears and neck. You apply the Sawyer Picaridin Lotion like sunscreen, and it doesn’t leave a film on your skin. It’s also fairly odorless and lasts a long time. So long, in fact, that my eight hour test day wasn’t long enough to hit its max protection window. However, it’s not easy to apply to your whole body. And while this repellent lotion isn’t a complete solution, it does fill a niche in your mosquito protection arsenal. 

Best for Treating Clothing: Sawyer Permethrin 

Sawyer

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Key Features 

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and fleas
  • Odor: 1
  • Application: Spray on clothing 
  • Size: 24 ounces 
  • Active ingredients: Permethrin 

Why It Made the Cut

Permethrin is the best tick repellent, but it also keeps mosquitoes away. 

Pros

  • Repels more than mosquitoes 
  • Lasts multiple washes 

Cons

  • Not for applying to skin
  • Must be applied to clothing in advance

Product Description

If you spend time outdoors in an area with ticks or chiggers, there’s no better solution for keeping them off your skin than treating your clothing with Permethrin. But, it’s also an effective mosquito repellent. The caveats are that Permethrin only goes onto clothing, so you must be wearing long pants and sleeves treated with this repellent for it to work. And you’ll still need to hit spots not covered by clothing like your hands, neck, and ears with a skin safe repellent. 

Sawyer Permethrin Spray
As long as your spray your gear well before heading out, Sawyer’s Permethrin has you covered for most situations. Scott Einsmann

Permethrin isn’t like a standard insect repellent because you don’t apply right before you head outdoors. You have to apply it to clothing in advance and allow it to dry. Sawyer claims that once treated, it lasts for six weeks or six washes. If you treat your best hiking shoes, hiking shirt, hiking pants, and even your tent before you leave for the trip, you’ll be covered for tick and mosquito protection all week. 

Best Portable Device: Thermacell MR450 Armored Mosquito Repeller 

ThermaCell

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Key Features 

  • Protects Against: Mosquitoes and gnats 
  • Odor: 2
  • Application: Turn on device
  • Size: 7.8 x 2.9 x 1.8 inches
  • Active ingredients: D-cis/trans allethrin

Why It Made the Cut

I’ve spent hours in some of the buggiest swamps in the country, and the Thermacell MR450 made those visits enjoyable rather than horrific. 

Pros

  • Works well on flying biting insects
  • Lasts for 12 hours 
  • Easy to use 

Cons

  • Doesn’t work in high winds
  • Doesn’t work well while actively hiking 

Product Description

ThermaCells require zero spraying or application of repellent to your skin or clothing. It’s a device with a heating element and a repellent mat warms over the element. The concept is similar to a citronella candle, but the ThermaCell is far more effective. They are so effective that I won’t hunt or camp in the presence of mosquitoes without one of these devices. You do have to refill the fuel and repellent mats, which adds up over time. And It also doesn’t work when there’s a strong breeze because the fumes it creates are pushed away from you. There are several models to choose from, but the MR450 is the best mosquito repellent device for taking with you on the go. It’s easy to cary in backpack or attached to your hip. Mine goes with me on every hunt, picnic, fishing trip, and backyard bonfire. I especially like it for early spring when annoying gnats terrorize me and no sprays will keep them away. But, the ThermaCell keeps gnats and mosquitoes from getting close.

Products that Didn’t Make the Cut

Natural mosquito repellent that didn't make the cut
I could not independently verify the effectiveness of some natural repellents. Scott Einsmann

I tested two natural mosquito repellents and a repellent wrist band that didn’t make the cut. They were cut from my best mosquito repellents list because they did not effectively repel mosquitoes. The wristband only protected the area around the band and did not offer full protection without using a lot of the product. And the natural repellents simply didn’t prevent bites. However, I am continuing my test on natural products and will update this review once I find alternatives that work.

FAQ

Q: What is the most effective mosquito repellent?

The most effective mosquito repellent spray is DEET and the most effective device is a ThermaCell.

Q:What can I put in my room to keep mosquitoes away?

A ThermaCell will keep mosquitoes away without the use of sprays.

Q: How long does a mosquito live?

The common mosquito, culex pipiens, lives seven days.

Final Thoughts

The best mosquito repellents on my list are proven to be effective and will keep your bites down to a minimum this summer so you can enjoy the outdoors.