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Mosquito Repellents are Not All Equal

Comparing mosquito repellents

With West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (Triple E) becoming more prevalent in the United States, consumers want and need to become more familiar with reading mosquito repellent labels. What is the active ingredient that makes one repellent more effective than another and when should a specific repellent be used? There are dozens of insect repellent formulations and hundreds of products today. When in doubt, it is best to look to the experts for advice.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the use of products containing active ingredients that have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These products have brand names that consumers recognize such as OFF, Cutter, and ThermaCELL — an area repellent that is up to 98 percent effective and is quickly gaining popularity. Area repellents are a good solution for parents who do not want to put harmful repellents on their child’s skin. When the EPA registers a repellent, it evaluates the product for efficacy as well as potential effects on human beings and the environment. Repellents registered with the EPA have demonstrated a high degree of efficacy and contain active ingredients.

How do mosquito repellent options compare?

Direct contact repellents: sprays, lotions, and wrist bands need to be applied regularly. Chemicals applied to the skin can be harmful, especially on young children. Be sure to follow directions.

Large scale area repellents: mosquito magnets can be expensive, follow guidelines to ensure they work properly as they take weeks to get up and running.

Electronic devices: zappers can be very noisy and kill insects without discriminating so mosquitoes are not the only bugs eliminated.

Portable area repellents can be highly effective. ThermaCELL has both hand-held units and lanterns that create a 15×15 protection zone. US Army has tested for efficacy with favorable results.

What repellent should be used when? Mosquito repellents of various types should be used for a multiple of activities. The table below can help guide your choice of product based on your susceptibility to being bitten.


Activity Best Type of Repellent

Hiking, biking or walking in cooler weather – Applying permethrin to your clothing ahead of time will provide protection.

Deck or patio, at a campsite or spectator sport; gardening at dusk or dawn – Area repellents, such as ThermaCELL products that use allethrin, provide hours of protection, are highly portable and create a 15 x 15 ft zone of protection. The hand-held units and lanterns are up to 98% effective in fighting biting insects and are affordable. ThermaCELL lantern was voted #1 Tabletop Mosquito Repellent by the Good Housekeeping Institute.

Playing a sport at dusk or dawn – For many hours outside (over 3-4 hours) and/or where biting is very intense—look for a repellent containing more than 20% DEET.


Helpful Tips

Even if you’re going outside for only 10 minutes use a repellent —that’s long enough to get bitten.

Products with more than 50% DEET DO NOT offer additional protection.

For shorter periods of time, repellents containing less than 20% DEET, a repellent with 7% picaridin, or a product containing oil of lemon eucalyptus may provide adequate protection.




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