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Top Choices

EWG's Guide to Bug Repellents: Top Choices

July 17, 2013

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EWG Repellent Guide: Top Choices

Repellent Chemical

General Effectiveness*

Pros*

Cons*

Picaridin

A 5-10% concentration can provide short protection time of 1-2 and up to 4 hours against ticks and mosquitoes. A 20% concentration product provides all-day protection from mosquitoes and ticks.

* Safer risk profile than DEET
* Odorless
* Non-irritating
* Does not melt plastic

*  Approved by EPA in 2005, less surveillance of rare adverse effects

* Shorter protection time against DEET in some studies

IR3535

A 20% concentration    can provide 8 hours of mosquito protection and 6 to 12 hours of tick protection.

* Structurally similar to amino acid alanine
* Long experience in Europe
* Good safety profile

* Concentrations weaker than 10% may not be effective
* Avoid brands with added sunscreen 
* Serious eye irritant
* Melts some plastic and damages some fabrics

 

DEET

DEET at less than 10% concentration can provide 1-2 hours of protection against ticks and mosquitoes. A 20-30% concentration product provides all-day protection from mosquitoes and ticks.

* Effective against wide range of pests
* Widely used with few serious adverse reactions
* Concentrations of 10 to 30% provide lasting protection against many species.

* Limit concentration used on children
* Strong eye irritant
* Melts some plastic and damages some fabrics
* In a few cases neurological symptoms have been reported
* Avoid products with more than 30% DEET, try time-release products when you need multi-hour protection

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus with enhanced PMD concentration

30% concentration (19% PMD)  provides up to 6 hours of protection against mosquitoes and ticks

* Most effective botanical ingredient

* Not for use on children 3 and younger
* Can irritate lungs
* Possible allergens

PMD

10% provides 2  hours of protection against mosquitoes and ticks

* Lower allergen concern than botanical based product

* Not for use on children 3 and younger
* Can irritate lungs
* No higher concentration on the market

* The general effectiveness, pros and cons columns in the table refer generically to products formulated with the ingredient listed and do not make explicit claims on the quality or performance of any specific product. Effectiveness estimates are drawn from peer- reviewed literature and EPA registration approvals for labeling at http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/. Actual protection time varies in field tests. Experiment to see which products work for you to repel bugs in your area.

Other options

Repellent Chemical

General Effectiveness*

Pros*

Cons*

2-undecanone (Methyl Nonyl Ketone)

7.5% concentration    offers 4 hours of mosquito and 2 hours of tick protection

* Effective as DEET in some tests

* Hard to find

Citronella

4.2% concentration  provides 1 hour of mosquito and tick protection

* Botanical ingredient

* Less effective than other repellent ingredients
* Frequent application may be necessary
* May cause allergic skin reactions
* Ineffective against Asian tiger mosquitoes

Catnip oil

7% and 15% concentrations offer 7 hours of mosquito protection, no tick protection

* Botanical ingredient

* Hard to find

Botanical blends

Little testing data; many tested do not repel Asian tiger mosquito and other aggressive species

* Botanical ingredient
* Some geranium oil and soybean oil mixtures shown to provide lasting bug protection

* Exempt from EPA registration and testing   
* Effectiveness varies depending on mosquito species
* Frequent reapplication necessary
* May cause allergic skin reactions

* The general effectiveness, pros and cons columns in the table refer generically to products formulated with the ingredient listed and do not make explicit claims on the quality or performance of any specific product. Effectiveness estimates are drawn from peer-reviewed literature and the EPA registration approvals for labeling at http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/. Actual protection time varies in field tests. Experiment to see which products work for you for the bugs in your area.

Use with Caution

Permethrin-treated clothing

* Doesn't require direct application to skin
* Useful in areas infested with mosquito and ticks, high disease risks and where other repellents are ineffective

* Chemical is more toxic than skin-applied repellents
* Safe handling necessary for treated clothing
* Home application of permethrin can lead to overexposure

Avoid Toxic or Ineffective Options

Product

Why?

Try instead

Bug zappers

Are ineffective and expensive, may attract more mosquitos to the area and kill beneficial bugs

Drain standing water, check window screens, stay indoors when insects swarm. Use repellent as needed on exposed skin

Yard bug treatments

Don’t provide lasting protection, require more pesticides than skin repellents

Clip-on repellents, Insecticide fans

Inhalation hazard, ingredients metofluthrin and allethrin more toxic than skin products  

Ceiling or standing fans can keep mosquitoes from landing on people

Repellent candles

Inhalation hazard, less effective than skin or clothing treatments

Cover up with light colored clothes. Use repellent as needed on exposed skin

Pure essential oils

Can cause serious irritation and allergy

Use products formulated for skin use. Test on small area before applying widely