There's no sure-fire way to completely get rid of mosquitoes in your yard, but you can keep biting insects away with several different kinds of repellents.

By Andrea Beck
August 09, 2016
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Mosquitoes are a real challenge in climates with frequent rainfalls. These insects are highly annoying because of their bites that itch and sting, but they also can carry West Nile virus and other dangerous diseases. One of the best ways to keep skeeters from snacking on you is to apply a repellent to your skin. There are several different products to choose from that provide effective protection, either with plant-based scents or synthetic chemicals. Here's what you need to know to choose the best mosquito repellents so you can enjoy your time outdoors even more.

skeeter syndrome mosquito on back of hand
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Best Insect Repellents

Most mosquito-repelling products rely on a particular active ingredient to ward off biting bugs. When shopping for a repellent, check the label to see which of the following chemicals are included. Always read and follow package directions to ensure you're using these products properly.

  • DEET: DEET is the common name for a type of diethyltoluamide. It has been used as an insect repellent since it was developed by the U.S. Army in 1946 to protect soldiers in insect-infested areas. While DEET is effective, it is toxic to freshwater fish and water insects. Some people have adverse reactions to having DEET on their skin, so it's best to try it on a small patch of skin before applying it everywhere.
  • Picaridin: Picaridin is a synthetic compound that was made in the 1980s. It is similar to piperine, which is a natural compound found in black pepper plants. When compared to DEET, picaridin is less toxic to fish and is less likely to cause skin irritation.
  • IR3535: This synthetic repellent was developed in the 1980s and is an amino acid that interferes with an insect's sense of smell. IR3535 can cause eye irritation, so it's best to avoid touching your eyes after applying this product.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE, PMD): Pure oil of lemon eucalyptus (an essential oil not formulated as a repellent) is not recommended as it has not undergone similar, validated testing for safety and efficacy. It is not registered with the EPA as an insect repellent.

Insect Repellents for Babies

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control recommend that DEET products not be used on children younger than 2 months old. A repellent containing 10% to 30% DEET that will be effective for two to five hours can be used for older children.

"Choose the lowest concentration that will provide the required length of coverage," advises the AAP. "The concentration of DEET varies significantly from product to product, so read the label of any product you purchase." Always wash off repellents when children return indoors.

close up of catmint blooms
Credit: Bob Stefko

Plants That Repel Mosquitoes

Plants growing in the ground won't repel mosquitoes. You can, however, rub the crushed leaves or flowers of some plants on your skin as an insect repellent. (Always test a small amount on your inner forearm first to make sure you don't have an allergic reaction.)

Citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus) and its cousin lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) contain ingredients often used in bug repellent oils and sprays. These grasses are intolerant of cold temperatures and grow year-round only in USDA Zone 10 and warmer. Grow them in full sun in containers that can be moved indoors over the winter, and also to keep them in bounds because they can spread rapidly.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) has strong insect repellent properties. It grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. It is a perennial that is hardy throughout most of the United States. It also spreads easily, so plant it where you can contain the spread.

The scent of other plants that may repel mosquito to varying degrees include eucalyptus, lavender, basil, and garlic.

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