We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
Mosquitos can make even the most-looked-forward-to outdoor activities unbearable, both for their annoying bites and their propensity to transmit diseases such as dengue, West Nile, and Zika. An effective insect repellent can help you better enjoy the outdoors, especially in humid areas, where the pests proliferate.
After evaluating dozens of products for their effectiveness, longevity of protection, and ease of use, we determined that the best overall product is the Picaridin Insect Repellent from Sawyer Products.
Here are our choices for the best mosquito repellents to keep the outdoor pests at bay.
Best Overall: Sawyer Products Picaridin Continuous Spray Insect Repellent
Easy to apply
Available as a lotion or spray
No strong fragrance
Spray doesn't last as long as the lotion
Derived from the black pepper family, picaridin has been used since the 1980s as a topical repellent for flying pests such as mosquitos, as well as ticks, biting flies, and chiggers. The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has determined that picaridin shows little adverse environmental effect and, if used as directed, is safe around children and pets.
We determined that Sawyer's product, which uses 20 percent picaridin, is the best overall mosquito repellent because it is easy to apply, available in a lotion or spray, and has no strong fragrance. While the manufacturer asserts on the container that the product offers 12-hour protection, we noted that using it before attending an evening outdoor beer garden gave us effective relief in a setting with visible mosquitoes for more than 6 hours.
Sawyer also features smaller sizes, creating a great option for campers, those traveling without luggage, or consumers wanting to try before purchasing a larger quantity.
Best Natural Repellent: Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
No synthetic chemicals
Protects against flies and ticks
Leaves no sticky residue
Need to apply every 2 hours
For those seeking a natural repellent, Repel makes a plant-based spray, utilizing oil of lemon eucalyptus to keep mosquitos at bay. Unlike many plant-based repellents we tested, Repel was neither sticky nor oily once applied and provided the protection in the 6-hour window, as promised. The option to purchase a 6-ounce spray also makes it ideal for carrying in your pack or traveling.
However, the lemon packs a serious odiferous punch, resembling dishwashing detergent. Also, although this is a natural alternative to products containing DEET, it is not advised for use on pets.
Best Incense: Neem Aura Naturals Outdoor Citronella Sticks
No synthetic chemicals
Protects up to 3 hours
Not recommended on windy days
Smoke can irritate eyes
Incense offers a key advantage for outdoor repellent needs. Essential oils can deter a wide variety of insects, but adding smoke can create game-changing results. Flying insects have difficulty getting off the ground during rain showers, windy conditions, and in smoky areas.
These citronella scented incense sticks burn for an hour apiece, so an ideal use would be to add mosquito-repellent potted plants to your deck or patio, and stick three of these into them for up to 3 hours of relief. The scent is lighter than that of most citronella candles, and you can easily place them out of view. However, avoid locating them directly in line of seated guests, as the smoke can be irritating.
Best Candle: Cutter Citro Guard Candle
No synthetic chemicals
Long burning time
Multiple wicks keep candle lit longer
Difficult for wind to tip over
Overpowering citronella scent
Outdoor party hosts can keep guests comfortable long into the evening with this candle, which mixes citronella oil with its traditional wax base. This makes the CitroGuard candle ideal for table settings. Listening to customer complaints, Cutter updated its model with tall sides and a heavier base, making it less likely to tip over or blow out when the wind picks up. The candle also has three wicks, giving it 30 hours of burn time, according to the manufacturer.
Note that the closer you are, the more you're protected, so you need several for a large deck or garden space. Consider it a way to combine comfort with illumination.
Best for Patios: Thermacell Patio Shield Mosquito Repeller
Outdistances candle, stick, or coil
Protects up to 4 hours
Comes in multiple colors
Filters must be refilled
May need many
Not OK'd by CDC and EPA
This product is aimed at those seeking more discreet and aesthetic control than candles or sticks. Resembling a lantern, the Thermacell Patio Shield features a fuel cartridge, which removes the need for batteries or outlets. Each of the three included mats is designed to give you roughly 4 hours of protection, within 15 feet. It comes in a variety of colors, so you can match it to your seasonal decor or party theme.
The active ingredient is allethrin, which is derived from the chrysanthemum and used as a broad-spectrum pesticide. At one time this and its parent chemicals, called pyrethroids, were suspected to cause asthma and allergies. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined in 2009 that there were no clear indications of this.
Best Splurge: Remington Solar SolaMist Mosquito and Insect Misting System
No synthetic chemicals
Must be refilled
Too small for extra-large yards
Relatively new to the market, mosquito misting is the ultimate splurge for those wishing to control pests without hiring an exterminator. While not the cheapest option, the 12-gallon, 20-nozzle system is a great investment for those looking for environmentally friendly large-area control.
The easy-to-install SolaMist, including a solar panel for charging, rides on wheels, making it easy to move to where you need it. It switches on and off via Wi-Fi. Also, the SolaMist is aptly named, as it is 100 percent powered by solar energy, which qualifies for a 30 percent federal tax solar rebate. It should be noted that the herbal scent can be noticeable.
Best Outdoor Spray: Wondercide EcoTreat Ready-to-Use Outdoor Pest Control Spray
Ready to use
Offers several days of protection
No need to let dry before entering sprayed area
Needs regular application
In addition to being a repellent, Wondercide also kills pests, including ants, mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks. Relying on cedarwood and sesame oils, it can be applied in areas pets and children frequent. You can enter treated areas before the product dries, and it can cover up to 5,000 square feet (about the size of a basketball court).
Wondercide is sold in a ready-to-use format, making it easy to apply in little time. As with most natural repellents and pest control, it is most effective the more consistently it is applied. So if you miss a month, you might see ticks and mosquitoes return.
Best Outdoor Coil: PIC Mosquito Repelling Coils
Protects up to 6 hours
Smoke may irritate eyes
Many needed for large spaces
Mosquito coils, like candles and incense sticks, are quick fixes for small areas. Pic offers its coils in several formats, ranging from just the coil to metal and terra cotta burners. Each coil lasts up to 6 hours and works best on non-windy days. As with incense sticks, the coils emit smoke, mixed with a pyrethroid-based chemical.
While pyrethroids are derived from plants, it is best to avoid inhaling the smoke; spacing the coils about 10 feet apart provides an optimal coverage range. You also can hang the coils, placing them farther out of view. This may be helpful if the smell is off-putting.
After evaluating personal mosquito repellents for effectiveness, longevity of protection, safety around children and pets, and kindness to the environment, our top pick is Sawyer's Picaridin Insect Repellent. For the best natural-ingredient repellent, we liked Repel's Lemon Eucalyptus 4-ounce Pump Spray. If you're looking to splurge on an all-encompassing solution, you won't go wrong with the Remington SolaMist misting system.
What to Look For in a Mosquito Repellent
Repellents employ a variety of natural and artificial chemicals, and dispense them as sprays, candles, or mists.
Natural repellents derive from plant-based oils a variety of insects, especially biting flies, find unappealing. Oils may include rosemary, lemongrass, lemon balm, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and citronella. Natural insect repellents work great for those with sensitive skin and who are concerned about synthetic chemicals' environmental effects. Keep in mind that those aren't as long-lasting as their chemical-based counterparts.
Generally, chemical mosquito repellents are synthetic versions of plant compounds, such as picaridin and permethrin, or DEET based. Chemicals, which mask your scent from mosquitoes, typically offer longer protection from bites than natural ingredients. However, the chemicals can be more dangerous if inhaled, ingested, or used in large quantities. Carefully read the label to ensure the optimal dosage.
Candles, coils, and incense sticks work under the same principle as skin-applied products and often contain the same chemicals. The combination of scent and smoke is helpful in keeping biting insects at bay. Candles are ideal for small spaces; coils and incense sticks can cover longer distances. Be sure to read manufacturers' recommendations for spacing to ensure you have enough for your location.
Misters, shields, and barrier sprays use the same chemicals as skin-applied repellents but cover a larger area. Misters create a fog that covers substantial square footage and offers lasting protection. They can contain natural or synthetic chemicals and usually need reapplying between uses. Resembling lanterns, shields have disposable cartridges, best used in small spaces. You apply barrier sprays directly around the perimeter of the targeted space. Like misters, sprays can be plant- or synthetic-based.
Mosquito repellent ingredients can be split into several groups, including DEET, permethrin, natural oils, and picaridin.
DEET, permethrin, and picaridin are synthetic chemicals and are generally more effective than essential oils. However, they also may pose environmental risks and are not meant to be applied excessively. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends caution when pets and children are nearby.
Although safe, essential oils may trigger allergic reactions, so always read through the warnings and directions on the packaging.
Picaridin and DEET are the most commonly used chemical insect repellents and generally have longer windows of effectiveness. Picaridin is rising in popularity due to its apparent greater effectiveness at keeping mosquitos away from you.
Generally, permethrin has been found safe when used to treat clothing since it is poorly absorbed through the skin. However, when contacted with permethrin that is sprayed or fogged, some animals, especially cats, may become anxious and develop more serious systems.
Ideally, a mosquito repellent should protect you as long as you are outdoors. All repellents should always cite longevity, as well as how many times you can apply them.
Ease of use
With so many repellents to choose from, picking one that is easy to use is essential. Personal repellents are the easiest: You just spray or roll it onto potentially exposed skin. They should leave no residue or make your skin sticky. Candles, incense sticks, shields, and coils are equally easy to deploy, performing well atop tables, spaced several feet from guests. Barrier sprays may require mixing with other ingredients such as water and oils. They also require optimum time and weather conditions for the highest effectiveness. Misters, which involve coils and nozzles, may be difficult to put together. In addition, they may require setup through your cell phone Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
How do mosquito repellents for yards work?
Your options for repellents change depending on your reasons for being outside and the duration. Generally, repellents don't control or eradicate pests but rather lessen their presence in your yard. Coils, incense, and candles are most effective when placed near people, whereas misting systems and barrier sprays can offer full-yard coverage. When applied to the skin, personal repellents and lotions employ scents and chemicals to ward off mosquitoes.
Where should you place a mosquito repellent in your yard?
For best results, place one candle, coil, and incense stick every 10 feet, their maximum coverage range. For small deck gatherings and barbecuing, one may suffice. All these produce smoke, so place them away from where people are sitting, and keep wind direction in mind. To allow time for effective coverage, deploy barrier sprays and misting before using a space.
How often should you use a mosquito repellent for yards?
Anytime you plan on enjoying your outside space on a warm evening is appropriate for using a candle, coil, or stick. Employ barrier sprays and misting prior to an event. Personal repellents are great options when you are unsure of mosquito intensity. You can apply most personal repellents safely throughout the day. Always read labels thoroughly to ensure you use the product as intended and as safely as possible.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was written by Amanda Rose Newton, an entomologist who contributes to The Spruce as a freelance writer and garden reviewer. She personally tested the products to advise those with different needs, yards, and values on pest control.
To compile her recommendations, Amanda Rose tested each product three times, on different evenings. She also considered the difficulty in application/setup, positioning, and tested the claimed ranges. In addition, she wore or took repellents to various locations and outings to test feasibility of use and storage.