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Best Mosquito Repellent

By: Amy Livingston on March 20, 2018

When the bugs won't stop biting, OFF! Deep Woods VIII Dry sends them packing

Although DEET is no longer the only reliable way to fight mosquitoes, it's still a top choice when the insects seem relentless. In two separate professional tests, products with at least 15 percent DEET are among the top performers for repelling mosquitoes and ticks. In addition, several users on retail sites claim that DEET-based mosquito repellents are the only ones that work reliably for them. Health experts say DEET-based insect repellents are safe for adults and children over two months old, but you should still take some precautions to limit your exposure to the chemical, such as washing it off promptly after you come inside.

The mosquito repellant that does best in professional tests is OFF! Deep Woods VIII Dry (Est. $6 for 4 oz.), an aerosol spray with 25 percent DEET. In one study published in the Journal of Insect Science, this spray did better than any other bug repellent at keeping mosquitoes at bay when it was first applied. Only 6 percent of the mosquitoes in the test chamber approached the hand sprayed with OFF! Deep Woods VIII Dry, while 61 percent were drawn to an untreated hand. However, after 4 hours, the product was much less effective, attracting nearly 30 percent of the available mosquitoes (compared to 68 percent for the untreated hand). This product also fares very well in tests at Consumer Reports, earning a rating of "Excellent" for repelling mosquitoes and ticks.

Ashley Weatherford of New York Magazine’s The Cut rates OFF! Deep Woods Dry as one of the best bug sprays she tried. She says it kept mosquitoes at bay for "the better part of an outdoor concert," and it doesn't feel sticky or greasy on the skin. However, reviewer Leigh Krietsch Boerner at Wirecutter was somewhat less impressed, saying this spray felt slightly oilier than other "dry" spray formulas. Also, the spray can lacks a locking cap, increasing the risk of accidents.

The roughly 30 reviews we found for OFF! Deep Woods Dry at Amazon are largely positive. Users say the product is very effective against mosquitoes, and the aerosol spray is easy to apply. Most users also say its odor isn't too bad, but a few say it has an unpleasant chemical smell. (The reviewers at Consumer Reports, by contrast, describe it as mild and vaguely floral, while Weatherford calls it "powdery.") Some users also note that it can leave a white residue or stains on clothing and gear. Consumer Reports rates this bug spray only "fair" for resisting damage to common materials.

If you're looking for even longer-lasting protection, there's Ben's 100 Tick and Insect Repellent (Est. $10 for 3.4 ounces). In another study at the Journal of Insect Sciences (not the same one that tested OFF! Deep Woods VIII), this product was more effective than any other type of mosquito control. A person sitting in a wind tunnel while sprayed with Ben's 100 attracted between 23 and 34 percent of mosquitoes one to three meters away, while a person with no repellent of any kind attracted around 90 percent.

Ben's 100 contains far more DEET than most other insect repellents – a whopping 98.11 percent. If that seems like overkill, it might be. Past expert testing has found that DEET concentrations higher than 30 percent did little to boost a product's effectiveness, but could increase the risk of serious side effects, such as rashes, disorientation, and seizures. Reviews at Amazon and REI indicate that the high DEET levels in Ben's 100 have other downsides as well. For starters, there are complaints that it can damage a wide variety of materials, including plastic, rubber, nail polish, and all kinds of synthetic fabrics. Several users also object to the product's oily feel and strong chemical smell, and a couple complain of skin irritation.

Yet despite these drawbacks, users are overwhelmingly positive about this bug spray. It earns ratings of 4.6 to 4.7 stars out of 5 at Amazon, REI and Cabella's. The simple reason is that Ben's 100 works. Users who dislike the smell, feel, and what it can do to plastics still often grant it 4-star and even 5-star ratings for its effectiveness.

For those who prefer insect repellent in lotion form, Sawyer Ultra 30 (Est. $15 for 4 oz.) is a good choice. This 30% DEET lotion is touted as "non-greasy, non-staining, sweat-proof, and virtually odorless," and reviews suggest that's largely, if not entirely, true. Consumer Reports gives it top marks for effectiveness and says it has only a "slight bandaid/medicinal aroma" when first applied, which fades quickly. Reviews at Amazon are especially pleased with this product's smooth, non-greasy feel on skin, and they say its smell is mild and inoffensive – though not completely undetectable. They also find it effective on mosquitoes and ticks, with some saying it keeps the bugs off for as long as 11 hours with one application. However, they warn that the lotion will come off in water or with heavy perspiration.

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