The Best Ways to Repel Mosquitoes from Your Yard

There's no sure-fire way to completely rid your yard of mosquitoes, but you can keep insect bites away with several varieties of repellents.

Mosquitoes are a real challenge in climates with frequent rainfall. These insects are highly annoying, since their bites sting and itch, but they also can carry dangerous diseases, like West Nile virus. One of the best ways to keep them away from you is to apply a repellent to your skin. There are several different products to choose from that provide effective personal protection, either through plant-based scents or synthetic chemicals. Here's what you need to know so you can choose the best mosquito repellent and enjoy your time outdoors.

skeeter syndrome mosquito on back of hand
Marty Baldwin

Best Insect Repellents

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

  • DEET: DEET is the common name for a type of diethyl toluamide. It 's been used as an insect repellent since it was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1946 to protect soldiers in insect-infested areas. While it's effective, it's toxic to freshwater fish and water insects. Some people have adverse reactions to DEET, 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's similar to piperine, which is a natural compound found in black pepper plants. 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 important 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 hasn't undergone similar, validated testing for safety and efficacy. It's not registered with the EPA as an insect repellent.

Insect Repellents for Babies

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that DEET products not be used on children younger than two months. Older children can use a repellent containing 10 to 30 percent DEET that will be effective for two to five hours.

"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 your children return indoors.

close up of catmint blooms
Bob Stefko

Plants That Repel Mosquitoes

Plants 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 keep them under control, because they can spread rapidly.

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

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

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