The Top 5 Best Insect Repellents to Keep Bugs at Bay

It is advisable for individuals to steer clear of insect bites, as they can be bothersome at their mildest and cause serious harm or even death at their worst. To prevent such incidents, it’s recommended to use a bug repellent that is both effective and safe to use, without leaving any unpleasant odors or oily residue on the skin. For this purpose, it is suggested to opt for a picaridin-based formula, such as the Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent, which has been rated as the top bug spray among the 23 repellents tested and endorsed by experts ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to the American Mosquito Control Association.

Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent

The Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent is a reliable and safe option that has earned the endorsement of the Environmental Protection Agency. It is formulated with a 20% concentration of picaridin, a chemical that is as potent as DEET but without any negative side effects. While other brands may offer a similar concentration, we recommend Sawyer because of its superior bottle design that enables accurate and even application. Its compact size and pump spray mechanism reduce the likelihood of overspray or messy residue, making it a practical choice for outdoor activities. Additionally, its two-capped design ensures secure storage and prevents leaks. This repellent is widely available in various sizes, including smaller ones for convenient backpack storage and larger sizes for home use.

OFF! Active Insect Repellent I

According to the manufacturer, this insect repellent provides up to six hours of protection against a range of outdoor pests, including mosquitoes, biting flies, gnats, ticks, chiggers, and fleas. Its active ingredient is 15% DEET, which has been proven to be highly effective. The spray is sweat-resistant and designed for outdoor activities such as hiking and running. It has received an impressive 4.5-star rating on Walmart’s website, based on feedback from more than 850 customers.

Proven Insect Repellent Spray

The Proven Insect Repellent Spray is an excellent option for those who are always on the go. Its small size and slim bottle design make it highly portable and perfect for hiking or stashing in a bag for everyday use. Despite its compact size, the spray nozzle is consistent and applies evenly. While it’s not an aerosol can, the long pump makes it easy to use, although it can be more challenging when spraying upside down. Nonetheless, it only took us a little over 21 seconds to apply, making it the fastest pump spray we tested.

One of the standout features of this insect repellent is its almost nonexistent scent. During our testing, both of our reviewers could barely smell anything, which is a rarity among bug sprays. The Proven formula is also non-greasy and received high marks for its comfortable feel on the skin. It’s easy to forget that you’ve even applied the spray, except for the fact that it keeps bugs at bay.

In addition to its effectiveness and convenience, the Proven repellent is also highly portable, and its bottle design ensures that it won’t get lost easily. It comes with a simple cap to prevent leaks, which held up well in stress testing. While it’s not entirely secure due to its lack of perfect protection against falling off, one of our testers found it to stay entirely secure during a bike ride.

Overall, the Proven Insect Repellent Spray is an excellent option for those who value convenience, effectiveness, and a nearly odorless formula. It’s easy to use and easy to forget, making it an ideal choice for anyone seeking a hassle-free insect repellent.

Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Pros: Affordable Made with natural ingredients Long-lasting protection

Cons: Strong odor Slightly oily texture

If you prefer plant-based insect repellents, we suggest Repel’s DEET-free formula. Its active ingredient is lemon eucalyptus oil, the only natural repellent that has EPA registration and is recommended by the CDC. While it may have a strong scent and be a bit greasy, it is effective in keeping mosquitoes away. A thorough application provides up to six hours of protection from these pesky bloodsuckers.

Coleman Insect Repellent SkinSmart

Product Details:

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


  • Easy to apply
  • Low odor


  • Requires shaking before using
  • Aerosol spray

Coleman SkinSafe insect repellent contains 20 percent IR3535, a highly effective ingredient similar to DEET but with a lower odor and less toxicity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), skin or oral exposure to IR3535 is less harmful than DEET. However, it can still cause irritation to the eyes and degrade plastics. During testing, SkinSafe provided strong protection against mosquitoes for approximately three hours before its effectiveness declined. The aerosol dispenser makes it easy to apply the repellent all over the body, but you must shake the can well before use to avoid intermittent dry sprays. The scent is minimal, and the repellent does not leave any unpleasant residue on the skin.

What to Consider When Choosing a Bug Spray 

When it comes to bug sprays, personal preferences play a crucial role in choosing the right product. Users must consider factors such as the safety of the ingredients, how long the spray will be effective, and how it smells and feels when applied. This section explores each of these factors in detail.

Ingredients and Safety

DEET, picaridin, and IR3535 are the three most common synthetic chemicals found in bug sprays. The CDC and EPA have declared them safe and biodegradable. However, DEET can be toxic to cats and dogs, birds, fish, and aquatic life, and it can also damage plastics and materials such as spandex.

All-natural bug sprays are becoming increasingly popular, with many based on oil of lemon eucalyptus. These sprays are safe for both skin and fabrics and often contain distilled water and a small amount of ethanol derived from corn or other plants. While they are generally not toxic, they can be irritating if sprayed in eyes or airways. Some natural bug sprays come with a warning label advising users to keep them out of reach of children.

It’s important to note that both synthetic and natural bug sprays may be flammable, so users should read the instructions for use carefully.

EPA Approval

Although the EPA does not endorse any particular product, the agency maintains a register of skin-applied repellent ingredients and a list of over 600 products whose manufacturers have provided technical information regarding the safety and effectiveness of their bug sprays against mosquitoes and ticks. The following ingredients are considered safe when used as directed:

  • Catnip oil (Nepeta cataria, or catmint)
  • Oil of citronella
  • DEET
  • IR3535
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • Picaridin
  • 2-Undecanone (methyl nonyl ketone)


The concentration of active ingredients in even the strongest bug sprays does not exceed 30 percent. Although stronger formulas exist, experts from the University of Florida have found that concentrations above this level do not necessarily improve how long a bug spray remains effective. Often, the concentrations are less than 30 percent, and the bulk of the ingredients may or may not be listed but can include carrier oils, distilled water, and alcohol.

While minimizing the level of active ingredients may be important for some users, it’s also a good idea to check the manufacturer’s rating for time of effectiveness. An outdoor bug spray that is rated as effective for four hours may have a lower percentage of active ingredient than one rated for eight hours, but this is not always the case. Effectiveness can be shorter for ticks than for mosquitoes in many cases.

Scent and Feel

Scent and feel are highly personal considerations. While some people enjoy the smell of lemon eucalyptus, others may not. The same is true of citronella, lavender, cloves, and other natural ingredients. Synthetic bug sprays are often unscented, but not always.

Some organic bug sprays use distilled water as a carrier, while others may use ethanol or oils. Ethanol generally provides a cooling sensation as it evaporates quickly, while oils can feel luxurious and are generally gentle on the skin. However, some oils can leave a residue that not everyone finds pleasant.


  • How do mosquito repellents work?
  • Mosquito repellents release targeted chemicals that mask the scents that attract mosquitoes. These chemicals — typically DEET, picaridin, or a natural alternative like citronella or oil of lemon eucalyptus — create a barrier to repel the insects. They confuse and interfere with mosquitos and other bugs like ticks, flies, and gnats, and deter them from landing on your skin. Some products may also contain compounds that interfere with the mosquitoes’ sense of smell or that have a taste they find unpleasant.
  • Where should you place mosquito repellent in your yard or on your patio?
  • A mosquito repellent should be placed in areas where mosquitoes are likely to be present, such as by standing water, near plants and bushes, in shaded areas (like under patio umbrellas), or around tables of people. The key is to place it where it will have the maximum exposure to the area you want to protect.
  • How often should you use mosquito repellent for yards?
  • Many mosquito repellents like sprays, clip-on units, and candles can be used as needed. However, it’s best to follow the repellent’s instructions as options like dunks and coils may have distinct frequency recommendations.

Hello, everyone! I'm David Henry, a dedicated customer and enthusiastic reviewer of Tractor Supply Company. As a farmer and agriculture enthusiast, I frequently visit Tractor Supply Company to explore and purchase a wide range of agricultural supplies, tools, and equipment. Over the years, I have accumulated extensive experience and knowledge in shopping at Tractor Supply Company, and I aim to help others make wiser choices through my sharing. I understand the importance of selecting the right products for farmers, ranchers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. That's why I enjoy sharing my insights and recommendations to assist individuals in finding the best-suited products for their needs. Join me as we embark on a journey of discovering quality products and making informed decisions at Tractor Supply Company. Together, let's enhance our farming and outdoor experiences through valuable insights and practical advice.