Best Bug Sprays for Kids & Adults

Donna Freydkin

No, parents, DEET is not a dirty word. In fact, when it comes to bug sprays, it happens to be a highly effective ingredient in mosquito repellents, when used properly.

The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against using products with more than 30 percent DEET on children, period. And don’t use any insect repellents on kids younger than two months. A spray with 10 percent DEET provides about two hours’ of protection. And a product with 30 percent DEET gives you about five hours of protection. Choose the lowest concentration possible.

A few other common-sense and handy tips: Wear long-sleeved pants and shirts when you’re outdoors. Apply the bug spray to clothing or exposed skin only. Make sure you use any bug sprays outside so you don’t inhale them. More is not better, so use just enough to cover exposed skin. And once you’re done playing outdoors, wash your kid with soap and water to remove any repellent residue. And give yourself a rinse as well.

Here are some top bug spray and lotion options for you and your kid based on Consumer Reports data and user reviews — but remember, always check ingredients and do your own research based on your local bug population before determining what you’re most comfortable using. If you have any questions, talk to your pediatrician. And remember that yes, there are sprays that are billed as chemical-free, but none of them are as effective as those with DEET or other pesticides, and that’s a fact.

OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII Dry

Bottom line: This is outstanding at repelling mosquitos, which is what you want. It also got a stellar rating from Consumer Reports.

Buy Now $15.49

Be advised that the active ingredient in this product is a 25 percent formulation of DEET, which is effective against mosquitos. Make sure you spray this outside, in a well-ventilated area. It’s ideal especially if you’re camping, fishing, or hiking.

OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent IV

With seven percent DEET, this is a great bug spray for shorter periods spent outdoors.

Buy Now $9.99

If you’re going out for a quick jaunt to the park, then use this spray. It has a low concentration of DEET, at just seven percent, so it’s considered safe for kids. And yes, it’s technically unscented. But it still has that bug spray odor. And if you have to reapply if you stay outdoors longer.

Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent Pump Spray, 2/6-Ounce

Another bug spray that's seven percent DEET, it works, but isn't as effective as sprays with higher concentrations.

Buy Now $10.95

This non-greasy bug spray is another solid option for kids, given its lower DEET concentration. But if you’re going camping in a very buggy area, go with something stronger.

Avon SKIN-SO-SOFT Bug Guard PLUS IR3535® Insect Repellent Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30

This lotions protects against bugs, and is a sunscreen, so you get double benefits when using it.

Buy Now $10.00

This insect-repellent lotion repels mosquitoes, deer ticks, black flies, sand flies, gnats, and biting midges. It’s DEET-free, and instead has as its active ingredient IR3535. It’s basically a man-made amino acid which screws with an insect’s sense of smell. As for the sunscreen, its active ingredients are oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octisalate.

REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, Pump Spray, 2/4-Ounce

If you're not into DEET, try this spray, which is made from oil from lemon eucalyptus and protects for up to six hours.

Buy Now $13.99

This bug spray works by creating a barrier against mosquitoes, including those that may transmit the Zika, West Nile, Dengue, and Chikungunya viruses. It’s not greasy or sticky, but has a nice, refreshing scent. But some say that unlike its DEET brethren, this product is much less effective.

Ben's 30% DEET Mosquito, Tick and Insect Repellent, 3.4 Ounce Pump

This product offers the eight hours of protection against mosquitos, ticks, and biting insects.

Buy Now $5.75

The brand says its 30 percent DEET formula won’t absorb into your skin — the water-based formula stays on the skin’s surface rather than being sucked in. It’s also fragrance-free, which we love. Per customer feedback, the brand’s wipes seem to be far less effective than the spray.

Sawyer Products SP564 Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

This is made with 20 percent Picaridin, as opposed to DEET, and lasts up to 14 hours.

Buy Now $8.49

Pros: This bug spray is effective for 14 hours against mosquitoes and ticks, and for up to eight hours against biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and sand flies. It won’t ruin your clothes or bags, and is a lotion, as opposed to a spray. Some say putting this on results in a sticky mess on your hands.

Sawyer Products SP5432 Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

This is a fragrance-free bug spray with 20 percent Picaridin to repel biting flies, mosquitoes and ticks.

Buy Now $13.99

This bug spray lasts for up to 12 hours when up against mosquitos and ticks. It won’t ruin clothing or outdoor gear. But if you’re one of those unlucky folks who are catnip for mosquitoes, this may not be powerful enough for you.

EcoSmart Organic Insect Repellent

The reality is, DEET works best at repelling mosquitos. But if you're really not into using it, try this dry formula, made with rosemary oil, lemongrass oil and other plant oils.

Buy Now $12.30

This bug spray contains no pesticides, period. It’s made from plant oils and drys quickly. A lot of folks say it doesn’t really work all that well. Especially in very buggy areas.

OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent I Smooth & Dry

Because this product is formulated with 15 percent DEET, it's ideal for less-intense outdoors activities, like hanging at the beach or having a barbecue.

Buy Now $5.57

It’s neither smelly nor sticky, and it works at keeping the bugs away while using a lower DEET concentration. But it has a powdery texture that isn’t a hit with everyone.

Badger Balm Anti-Bug Balm Stick

Badger's anti-bug balm is DEET-free and formulated to be used on wrists, ankles, and behind the ears.

Buy Now $11.48

If you’re leery of using DEET near your face, try this balm. It contains citronella, cedar, and lemongrass, as well as virgin olive and castor oil. Because it’s DEET-free, it’s not as effective as other products that contain the chemical.

Coleman DEET Insect Repellent, 40% Deet Bug Repellent

If you're spending a ton of time outdoors or in the woods, spray on Coleman's insect repellent, which has 40 percent DEET as its active ingredient and provides eight hours of protection.

Buy Now $13.91

The high concentration of DEET makes it effective against bugs. That said, this is a very high concentration of DEET, so use with caution. It’s suitable for adults only (unless you spray it on kids’ clothing only) and it has a tendency to stain and damage clothes.

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