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Do Insect Repellents Work?

Posted on: September 1, 2022 in Pest Control

The warm summer evenings are a pleasure to enjoy. Sitting on your porch enjoying the air, you hear a pesky buzzing around your ears. Great. The mosquitoes are out.

Summer brings the bugs, and they’re relentless. As you feel the first mosquito land on the back of your neck, you swat it away and head indoors, hoping to escape the insects.

Unfortunately, they’re ahead of you, and you can see them resting on the ceiling, waiting to dive bomb you as you turn on the TV. It’s time to reach for the insect repellent.

As you spray some repellent on your skin, you wonder if it even works. Is there any point in slathering these products on your skin? Maybe you should invest in an electronic device or set up a bug zapper?

Let’s unpack everything you need to know about effective and ineffective insect repellents. Do insect repellents work? Really?

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Effective Insect Repellents

Some insect repellents and strategies are more effective than others. The last thing you want is to spend money on repellent that doesn’t work. Let’s review the top products and strategies for keeping insects away.

DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide)

DEET is the undisputed king of mosquito repellents and is effective on many other species of insects. You’ll need a topical product with a minimum concentration of 20% DEET to offer lasting, effective protection against mosquitoes and fly species like black flies.


Also known as ‘BioUD,’ this chemical derives from tomatoes. It’s available in several pest repellent formulations, and experts think it’s as effective as using a repellent with a 30% concentration of DEET.


According to the EPA, this non-toxic repellent is safe for children and pregnant women. It’s highly effective and lasts for hours.

Picaridin (KBR 3023)

Typically available in wipes, lotions, and sprays, picaridin is an EPA-approved chemical that’s effective as a topical application for keeping mosquitoes and flying insects away. This plant-based compound is safe for kids and pregnant women.

Yard Treatments

If mosquitos are breeding in your yard, the topical sprays and treatments won’t do much to keep them away. Spray systems and foggers release insecticides into the air around your property, terminating any mosquitoes or flying pests in the air.

These applications can last several hours or days, depending on the strategy and the area treated. However, the chemical insecticides used in these processes can harm pets and people.

You’ll need to keep your family and pets indoors during the treatment and seal the doors and windows. These pest control systems may also cause harm to bees and other beneficial insects, like butterflies.

Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

If you’re not a fan of chemical insect repellents, you have natural options to keeping the bugs away. Lemon eucalyptus essential oil contains the active ingredient ‘PMD’ (para-menthane-3,8-diol). It’s somewhat less effective than DEET, but it works to a degree.

The EPA approves OLE products as safe and effective for keeping mosquitoes away, but it might not affect other flying insects, like black flies and horse flies. Avoid using ‘pure’ OLE products directly on your skin, as it may cause irritation.

Blend it with a carrier oil like coconut or olive oil at a 1:1 ratio and apply it to your skin every few hours to maintain a repellent effect.

Maximizing Efficacy of Insect Repellents

You’ll need to pay attention to the application instructions on the product label to optimize your use of any insect repellent. 

The efficacy of insect repellents varies depending on several conditions. You’ll need to apply the product more frequently if you’re doing physical activity, causing you to sweat.

If you take a swim or shower, you’ll need to reapply the repellent after you towel off. The air temperature also plays a role, requiring you to apply it more in warm weather where you sweat more than normal.

Mosquitoes are more attracted to some people than others. For instance, people that drink a lot of tonic water (containing the repellent’ quinine’) are less likely to experience mosquito bites than those that don’t.

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Are Insect Repellents Safe for Children?

If you’re looking for insect repellents online, choose a product with an EPA registration number on the label. If the product has an EPA registration number, it means the EPA has the product’s safety data and technical information from the manufacturer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states Americans should only use insect repellents registered with the EPA. You’ll find most product labels have warnings against internal ingestion of the repellent.

Small kids place their hands, and even their feet, in their mouths from time to time. Therefore, adults need to avoid applying the repellent to these areas.

While DEET is safe for kids of any age, including infants, the EPA recommends that OLE-based repellents not be used on children under three years old.

Counter to the rumors circulating on the internet, DEET products are not toxic and are safe to use on children. Typically, kid’s repellents have DEET concentrations of 10% to 20%. DEET is also safe for pregnant and nursing women and children older than two months.

Ineffective Insect Repellent Strategies

Some insect repellents don’t work or offer minimal protection against bug bites. Let’s look at insect repellents and strategies to avoid them.


Citronella is one of the biggest repellent fads available. Originally marketed as a ‘safe’ alternative for other products containing DEET, it offers very little protection against mosquitoes and bugs.

Citronella candles are a common choice for people to keep the bugs away outdoors. However, they’re largely ineffective and only provide temporary results.

Repellent Wristbands

Wristband repellent systems are a fad with no proven efficacy for eliminating insects or preventing bites. Even if you soak the wristband in repellent, you’re only going to protect your wrist, and the mosquitoes will have a field day with the rest of your skin.

Vitamin B and Garlic

Contrary to popular belief, eating garlic cloves won’t keep the bugs away. Garlic contains the sulfurous compound ‘alliin,’ which has a repellent effect.

However, you’ll need to eat huge amounts of garlic to see any benefit, and rubbing garlic essential oils on your skin will make you smell too high heaven. Likewise, vitamin B doesn’t show any promise in repelling insects.

Essential Oil treatments

As mentioned, Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil is an effective insect repellent. However, all other essential oils have little effect on insects deciding to snack on you.

Oils like cedar, lemongrass, soybean, peppermint, geranium, and lavender are useless at keeping the bugs away. It’s also important to note that direct application of these essential oils, like OLE, will inflame your skin.

Ultrasonic Devices and Bug Zappers

Bug zappers and ultrasonic devices are a hot trend in pest elimination. According to the tech, plugging in an ultrasonic device to an outlet in your home chases the bugs away. However, the reality is they don’t make much difference at all.

Studies show that the high-frequency sounds emitted by ultrasonic devices do not impact mosquitoes. They might be effective on crickets, but they won’t do anything to deter the mosquitoes from taking a bite out of you.

Bug zappers you hang on the porch attract some insects, but mosquitoes don’t pay attention to them.

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The Real Solution – Call the Professionals to Eliminate the Insects

Insect repellents are useful, but they’re not the best solution. Using repellent is like placing a band-aid on an open wound. It might help a little, but it’s not stopping the problem at the source.

If you want to eliminate the insects on your property, you need the assistance of a professional pest control service. The pest control pros will treat your property for insect infestations, eradicating the insects at the source.

Call the experts and enjoy your summer evenings bug-free. You’ll get a proven insect elimination strategy with lasting results for your property.

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