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 pests proliferate.
Here are our choices for the best mosquito repellents to keep the outdoor pests at bay.
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
To protect yourself from mosquitoes, we recommend the Sawyer Products Picaridin Insect Repellent because it is effective, comes in a lotion or spray form, and has no overpowering scent. We found that applying it an hour before going to an outdoor beer garden at night provided us with effective relief for well over 6 hours. According to the manufacturer, a single application of the repellent can protect you from mosquitoes and ticks for up to 12 hours and from flies, gnats, and chiggers for up to eight hours. While other products can leave behind a greasy film, this one doesn't. It dries quickly and won't damage plastics or synthetic coatings, making it suitable for use on clothing, backpacks, sunglasses, fishing line, and other items.
Derived from the black pepper family, picaridin has been used since the 1980s as a topical repellent for flying pests. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that picaridin shows little adverse environmental effect and, if used as directed, is safe around children and pets.
Price at time of publish: $14
Type: Spray or lotion︱Key Repellent: Picaridin︱Size/Quantity: 6 fluid ounces
Best Natural Repellent
Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
No synthetic chemicals
Leaves no sticky residue
Repels for 6 hours
Scent is strong
For those seeking a natural repellent, Repel makes a plant-based spray utilizing the 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 protection in the six-hour window, as promised. This repellent will keep the bugs away for hours, allowing you and your loved ones to continue having fun.
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.
Price at time of publish: $11
Type: Natural repellent︱Key Repellent: Oil of lemon eucalyptus︱Size/Quantity: 4 ounces
Neem Aura Naturals Outdoor Citronella Sticks
No synthetic chemicals
Protects up to 3 hours
Not recommended on windy days
Smoke can irritate eyes
Among all the options for repellents, incense has a distinct advantage when used in the open air. While using essential oils alone can be effective at keeping insects at bay, combining them with smoke can have dramatic effects.
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. It's best to keep them away from guests who are sitting down, as the smoke can be a nuisance.
Price at time of publish: $8
Type: Incense stick︱Key Repellent: Citronella oil︱Size/Quantity: 10 sticks
Cutter Citro Guard Triple Wick Copper Candle
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. Ideal for use on decks and patios, this product drives away mosquitoes and other flying pests. The candle also has three wicks, giving it 40 hours of burn time. The sturdy, wide base of the chic, rustic container keeps it upright, even in gusty conditions.
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. Make sure the candles are at least 18 inches apart and on a heat-resistant surface far from anything that could catch fire.
Price at time of publish: $19
Type: Candle︱Key Repellent: Citronella oil︱Size/Quantity: One candle
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
This product is aimed at those seeking more discreet and aesthetic control than candles or sticks. There will be no fire, smoke, or overpowering smells like citronella. 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. Mosquitoes are kept at bay by the odorless repellent it emits.
Price at time of publish: $20
Type: Filter-based shield︱Key Repellent: Allethrin︱Size/Quantity: 1 fuel cartridge, 3 repellent mats
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 cedar 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. Simply attach it to your garden hose, turn the water on, and spray it onto your backyard. As with most natural repellents and pest control, it is most effective when applied more consistently. So if you miss a month, you might see ticks and mosquitoes return.
Price at time of publish: $38
Type: Spray︱Key Repellent: Cedar and sesame oil︱Size/Quantity: 32 ounces
Best Outdoor Coil
PIC Mosquito Repelling Coils
Protects up to 7 hours
Provides protection in a 10 feet radius
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 seven hours and works best on non-windy days. As with incense sticks, the coils emit smoke mixed with a pyrethroid-based chemical that protects a 10 feet radius from pesky mosquitos.
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.
Price at time of publish: $18
Type: Coil︱Key Repellent: Pyrethrin (permethrin)︱Size/Quantity: Up to 12-pack, 10 coils per pack
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. It offers up to 6 hours of protection and relies on the oil of lemon eucalyptus.
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. While the oil of lemon eucalyptus in the Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent provides protection for up to 6 hours, our top pick, made with picaridin, protects for up to 12 hours.
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 in the Neem Aura Naturals Outdoor Citronella Sticks helps keep 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, or incense stick every 10 feet, their maximum coverage range. For small deck gatherings and barbecuing, one may suffice. All of 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?
Any time 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, Newton 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.