Mosquito Repellents
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Mosquito Repellents


Mosquito Repellents1

C. Roxanne Rutledge and Jonathan F. Day2

Female mosquitoes feed on blood to help their eggs develop into offspring (Figure 1). When she bites, she releases her saliva into the area where she is biting. Her saliva contains proteins that may cause some people to have an allergic reaction such as itchy red bumps and swollen hives. For those with increased sensitivity to bites, a blister, bruise, or large inflammatory reaction can occur. If a mosquito is harboring a virus, it is possible that she can transmit the virus to humans through her saliva. In Florida, the viruses that mosquitoes transmit can cause encephalitis. The most important mosquito-borne diseases in Florida are St. Louis encephalitis , eastern equine encephalitis , and West Nile virus encephalitis.

The best ways to avoid mosquito bites are to avoid infested areas, wear protective clothing, and wear insect repellent.


Figure 1. Female mosquito taking a blood meal

How Do Mosquito Repellents Work?

Repellents make humans unattractive to a mosquito so that it will avoid areas of the body that have been treated with the product. Repellents do not kill mosquitoes. The best repellents will provide protection from bites for a long period of time from just one application. The University of Florida mosquito researchers test and evaluate the effectiveness of mosquito repellents based on the amount of time the product will continue to repel mosquitoes after one application to the skin. This is known as Complete Protection Time (CPT).

What Kind Of Mosquito Repellents Are Available?

Repellents that are currently available are either synthetic chemicals, such as DEET, or plant derived chemicals such as Citronella. Various formulations of these repellents are available that differ in the amount of active ingredient, which is the substance that actually repels the mosquito. These products are available as sprays, wipe-on's, sticks, foams, and lotions.

Product Labels

It is very important to read the label before using any mosquito repellent and remember the following:

What About Products That Combine Repellents And Sunscreen?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend using products that combine DEET with sunscreen. Sunscreens are intended for generous and frequent use while DEET is intended for less frequent use. The concern is that use of a repellent that combines the two compounds may promote increased and unnecessary use of DEET. Additionally, blending DEET with a sunscreen decreases the efficacy of both compounds. The CDC recommendation is to apply suncreen first, then the insect repellent containing DEET, to be sure that each product works as specified.

What About Devices That Emit Sound To Repel Mosquitoes?

There is no evidence that wearing devices that emit sound will repel mosquitoes.

Will Garlic, Bananas, Or Vitamin-B Repel Mosquitoes?

There is no scientific evidence that eating garlic, vitamins, onions, or any other food will make a person repellent to mosquitoes. The attractant level of each individual to biting arthropods is based on a complex interaction of many chemical and visual signals. Certain foods in certain individuals may effect their individual attractiveness to biting arthropods, for better or for worse.

How To Decide Which Repellent Is Best

Read the label to determine what the active ingredient is and what percentage of the active ingredient is in the container. Use Table 1 , based on University of Florida research, as a guideline to compare products. Some provide protection for a long period of time and some have very short protection times.

In 2005, the CDC revised their recommendations on mosquito repellents and added two repellents, in addition to DEET: Picaridin [1-Piperidinecarboxylic acid, 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-, 1-methylpropylester] and Oil of Lemon-Eucalyptus [p-menthane 3,8-diol (PMD)]. The oil of lemon eucalyptus has not been tested against mosquitoes that spread malaria and some other diseases which occur internationally. The label for oil of lemon eucalyptus specifies that it should not be used on children under 3 years of age.

Keep in mind that repellents do not protect all users equally. The effectiveness of a repellent depends on the mosquito species that is biting as well as the age, sex, level of activity, and attractivness of the human using the repellent. Consider the following when choosing a repellent:

Table 1. Protection Times of Tested Mosquito Repellents


Active Ingredient

Average Complete Protection Time

OFF! Deep Woods

23.8% DEET

5 hours

Sawyer Controlled Release

20% DEET

4 hours

OFF! Skintastic

6.65% DEET

2 hours

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus

Insect Repellent

Oil of lemon eucalyptus; p-menthane 3,8-diol (PMD)

2 hours

Bite Blocker for Kids

2% Soybean Oil

1.5 hours

OFF! Skintastic for Kids

4.75% DEET

1.5 hours

Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus

7.5% IR3535

23 minutes


10% Citronella

20 minutes

Herbal Armor

12% Citronella; 2.5% peppermint oil; 2% cedar oil; 1% lemongrass oil; 0.05% geranium oil

19 minutes

Green Ban for People

10% Citronella; 2% peppermint oil

14 minutes

Buzz Away

5% Citronella

14 minutes

Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard

0.1% Citronella

10 minutes

Skin-So-Soft Bath Oil

Active Ingredient not known

10 minutes

Skin-So-Soft Moisturizing Suncare

0.05% Citronella

3 minutes

Gone Original Wristband

9.5% DEET


Repello Wristband

9.5% DEET


Gone Plus Repelling Wristband

25% Citronella


How To Apply Mosquito Repellents

Safety of Mosquito Repellents

The EPA has determined that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general U.S. population and is not classifiable as a human carcinogen. The American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendation for the use of DEET products on children (2005) to state that repellents containing DEET with a concentration of 10% appear to be as safe as products containing a 30% concentration when used according to the directions on the label. They suggest that it is acceptable to apply repellents with low concentrations of DEET to infants over 2 months old. Non-DEET repellents have not been as thoroughly studied as DEET, and may not be safe to use on children. There are no reported adverse events following use of repellents containing DEET in pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years of age. In the University of Florida research, summarized in Table 1 , it should be noted that one subject experienced a skin reaction when testing the efficacy of the oil of lemon eucalyptus; the subject discontinued that portion of the study.

"Natural" Products

"Natural" is a word that is sometimes used to promote "safe" products. Unfortunately, the wording can be misleading for the uninformed individual. "Natural" products are usually essential oils distilled from plants; oils that have evolved with plants to defend the plant from insect feeding. These oils can be toxic and irritating in high concentrations. "Natural" repellents are not necessarily safe repellents.

In some cases, use of any repellent product may cause skin reactions. Anyone who suspects they are having a reaction to the repellent should discontinue use, wash the treated area and call the National Poison Control Center to find the closest center: 1-800-222-1222.

Useful References

-How to use insect repellents safely

-Reregistration of the insect repellent DEET

-Updated information regarding mosquito repellents.

Fradin, M. S. and J. F. Day. 2002. Comparative efficacy of insect repellents against mosquito bites. N. Engl. J. Med. Vol. 347(1)13-18.


1. This document is ENY-671, one of a series of the Entomology and Nematology Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date July 2002. Revised May 2005. Reviewed May 2008. Visit the EDIS Web Site at

2. C. Roxanne Rutledge and Jonathan F. Day, associate professor and professor, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, Entomology and Nematology Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Vero Beach, FL 32962.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension service.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A. & M. University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Larry Arrington, Dean.

Copyright Information

This document is copyrighted by the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) for the people of the State of Florida. UF/IFAS retains all rights under all conventions, but permits free reproduction by all agents and offices of the Cooperative Extension Service and the people of the State of Florida. Permission is granted to others to use these materials in part or in full for educational purposes, provided that full credit is given to the UF/IFAS, citing the publication, its source, and date of publication.