9 Best Bug Sprays for Protecting Your Family

During the summer, having an affordable and effective insect repellent is essential because spending more time outdoors increases the risk of bug bites. Investing in quality repellent is crucial because bug bites can transmit diseases like Zika and West Nile virus.

To select the best bug sprays, we tested 20 options on the market before coming up with our top picks. We consider factors such as the concentration of active ingredients, cost, and duration of effectiveness to help you choose the most suitable product.

9 Best Bug Sprays

1. Off! Active Insect Repellent

OFF! Active Insect Repellent, Sweat Resistant, Repells Mosquitoes, 6 oz ( Pack of 12)

Off! Active Insect Repellent is a bug spray designed to protect against mosquitoes and other insects. It contains DEET as its active ingredient, which is effective in repelling insects. The spray is sweat-resistant and offers up to 5 hours of protection. It’s known for its light scent and doesn’t leave a white residue on the skin.


  • Sweat-resistant, suitable for active use.
  • Provides up to 5 hours of insect protection.
  • Has a light, non-overwhelming scent.
  • Leaves no white residue, making it versatile for all skin tones.
  • Tested and proven effective against bugs, especially mosquitoes.


  • The smallest size may not be sufficient for family use.
  • Primarily targets mosquitoes; may be less effective against a broader range of insects.
  • Contains DEET, which some may prefer to avoid in favor of natural alternatives.

2. Off! Family Care Insect Repellent with Picaridin

OFF! FamilyCare Insect & Mosquito Repellent Spritz, Bug Spray Made with Picaridin for Everyday Use, 4 oz.

Off! Family Care Insect Repellent with Picaridin is a mosquito repellent spray designed for families. It contains 5% picaridin, a safe alternative to DEET, and provides up to 8 hours of mosquito protection. It’s easy to apply with an aerosol spritz, doesn’t leave a greasy residue, and is unscented for a comfortable experience.


  • Safe for children.
  • Provides 8 hours of mosquito protection.
  • Easy and even application.
  • Non-greasy and unscented.
  • Targets mosquitoes effectively.


  • Limited to mosquitoes; not effective against all insects.
  • Some may prefer DEET-based repellents in certain situations.

3. EarthKind Stay Away Mosquitoes Insect Repellent

Stay Away Picaridin Mosquitoes Insect Repellent Unscented Spray - All Natural, Environmentally Friendly, No Mess, Standard Size 4-Ounce (1-Pack)

EarthKind Stay Away Mosquitoes Insect Repellent is a skin-friendly solution designed to keep mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, and chiggers at bay during outdoor activities. It provides long-lasting protection with up to 14 hours against mosquitoes and ticks, and up to 8 hours against other biting insects. The repellent is unscented, water-resistant, and easy to apply thanks to its spray nozzle.


  • Long-lasting protection for outdoor activities.
  • Safe for sensitive skin, including pregnant women and children.
  • Unscented, avoiding strong odors.
  • Water-resistant for use in moist conditions.
  • Even application with the spray nozzle.
  • Effective in various outdoor settings.


  • Not fully waterproof or sweat-proof, which may limit effectiveness during water activities or intense exercise.

4. Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII

OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent Aerosol, Dry, Non-Greasy Formula, Bug Spray with Long Lasting Protection from Mosquitoes, 2.5 oz (Pack of 12)

Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII is a powerful bug spray designed for maximum protection against biting insects in wooded areas. It contains 25% DEET and provides up to 8 hours of defense against mosquitoes and other bugs. Its non-greasy formula ensures comfortable wear.


  • Effective against mosquitoes and biting insects.
  • Offers up to 8 hours of protection.
  • Non-greasy and comfortable to wear.
  • Travel-sized for convenience.


  • Has a noticeable chemical scent.
  • Some users may need to reapply before 8 hours.
  • DEET concentration may be a concern for sensitive skin or children.
  • Environmental and health considerations with DEET use.

5. Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products SP5622 Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion, 20% Picaridin, 2-Ounce, Twin Pack

Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent is a lotion-like solution that keeps insects away. It contains 20% Picaridin, which protects against mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, and chiggers for up to 14 hours against mosquitoes and ticks, and 8 hours against other pests.


  • Effective against a wide range of insects.
  • DEET-free, suitable for those avoiding DEET.
  • Easy to apply and covers well.
  • Absorbs into the skin without leaving residue.


  • Can feel a bit greasy.
  • Has a noticeable scent upon application.

6. Natrapel 12-Hour Tick & Insect Repellent

Natrapel Insect Repellent Spray, 6 oz (Pack of 2)

Natrapel 12-Hour Tick & Insect Repellent is a bug spray designed for outdoor adventures. It uses a 20% picaridin formula to provide up to 12 hours of protection against mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting bugs.


  • Long-lasting 12-hour protection.
  • Suitable for outdoor activities like hiking and camping.
  • Twist-cap lock prevents spills during storage.
  • Safe for children and pregnant individuals.


  • Sprays a significant amount at once, potentially wasteful.
  • Some users find it has a strong chemical odor.

7. OFF! Sportsmen Deep Woods Insect Repellent 3 (30% DEET)

RaidOFF Off Deep Woods Insect Repellent 6oz (Pack of 3)

OFF! Sportsmen Deep Woods Insect Repellent 3 contains 30% DEET, making it a highly effective bug spray for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s designed to offer up to 8 hours of protection against a variety of insects including mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and flies. The aerosol spray ensures easy application, though it needs to be rubbed in for even coverage.


  • Strong protection against a wide range of insects.
  • Long-lasting, with up to 8 hours of effectiveness.
  • Easy to apply thanks to aerosol spray.


  • Strong chemical scent, which may be unpleasant for some users.
  • No cap on the aerosol, leading to potential leakage.
  • Requires hand rubbing for even coverage.

8. Sawyer Controlled Release Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products 20% DEET Premium Family Insect Repellent Controlled Release , White, 4-Ounce

Sawyer Controlled Release Insect Repellent is a lotion-based bug spray containing 20% DEET, designed to offer up to 11 hours of protection against mosquitoes and ticks. Ideal for extended outdoor use, it is applied similarly to sunscreen.


  • Long-lasting protection (up to 11 hours).
  • Effective against mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Non-transferring formula prevents stains on clothing.
  • Suitable for various outdoor activities like hiking and camping.


  • May leave a greasy residue on the skin.
  • Contains a strong chemical odor, which can be bothersome.
  • DEET as an ingredient may not be preferred by all.

9. Zevo Bug Spray

Zevo Bug Spray

Zevo Bug Spray is a safe and effective pest control solution designed to eliminate common household bugs without harming humans or pets. It works by using a unique formula made from essential oils and natural ingredients, targeting bugs’ nerve receptors to render them incapacitated over time. The spray comes in various products tailored to specific pests, such as ants, roaches, flies, and stinging insects, and it’s easy to use by simply identifying the pest, preparing the area, shaking the bottle, and applying directly.


  • Safe for humans and pets.
  • Effective against common household pests.
  • No need to evacuate during application.
  • Transparent ingredients list instills trust.


  • Limited product range may not cover all pest types.
  • Not effective against certain pests like bedbugs or fleas.
  • Limited international availability for shipping.

To learn more, read the full review of Zevo Bug Spray.

How to Choose the Right Bug Spray

When it comes to picking the perfect bug spray, there are a few important factors to consider. Let’s break it down:

1. Scent Matters

Think about the scent of your bug spray. It might not affect how well it works, but it can impact your experience. You have two options: scented and unscented. Some natural bug sprays use scents like lemon, peppermint, or cedarwood (from essential oils).

If you don’t like strong smells, go for unscented bug spray. Also, if you’re going hunting, unscented is smart because some scents can repel not just insects but also other animals.

2. Targeted Insect Protection

Not all bug sprays protect against the same insects. Pay attention to what a spray is good at repelling. Some, like Ranger Ready Insect Repellent with Scent Zero, work against many insects—mosquitoes, ticks, flies, gnats, and more.

Others are made for specific purposes. Some focus on mosquitoes, while others tackle pests like bed bugs, fleas, or head lice. Choose a spray that suits your needs.

3. Duration of Protection

How long a bug spray shields you matters, especially if you’re outside for a while. Bug sprays offer different protection times, depending on the bugs they repel.

Most last at least two hours, but some go up to 12 hours. If you’re camping or hiking, go for one with longer-lasting protection. Note that sprays with strong ingredients like DEET usually last longer than those with milder ingredients like essential oils.

By considering these factors, you can pick the best bug spray for your needs and enjoy a more bug-free outdoor experience.

Does bug spray expire?

Bug sprays generally last about three years. Natural sprays with essential oils expire faster than those with strong chemicals like DEET, which has an almost infinite shelf life but may lose effectiveness over time. Expired bug sprays aren’t harmful but could be less effective. Always check the best-by date on the label for optimal use. If you’re unsure of your bug spray’s age, consider replacing it.

How Does Bug Spray Work?

Bug spray or insect repellent works by deterring disease-spreading insects from biting. It disrupts their senses like smell and taste, which they use to locate humans. The CDC recommends using repellents with specific active ingredients for protection against disease-carrying bugs, including DEET, Picaridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus or PMD, IR3535, and 2-undecanone.

Higher concentrations of these active ingredients provide longer protection, while products with less than 10% offer limited coverage for 1-2 hours. DEET products with at least 20% concentration are recommended, with effectiveness plateauing around 50% concentration. Always choose repellents registered with the EPA for safety and effectiveness.

Is bug spray safe to use? 

Bug sprays are generally safe and effective. For sensitive skin, plant-based repellents with essential oils are recommended over DEET-based ones. Always use bug sprays according to instructions and avoid eye contact. DEET repellents (20-30%) are effective against various bugs but aren’t recommended for children under 2. People with sensitive skin may prefer DEET-free options. Natural ingredients like lemon eucalyptus, geranium, peppermint, or citronella are safe but may require more frequent application. Note that natural products can still irritate sensitive skin.

How often should you apply bug repellent?

Check the label for specific instructions on how often to apply bug repellent. Reapply if you start getting bug bites. Remember, sweat or water exposure might require more frequent application. However, don’t exceed the recommended frequency of use stated on the product.

Can I use sunscreen with bug repellent?

Yes, you can use sunscreen with bug repellent. Apply sunscreen first, followed by bug repellent on top. Alternatively, use a combination product that includes both sunscreen and insect repellent. Remember, never apply bug repellent under your clothes.

How Long Does Bug Spray Work?

The duration of bug spray protection varies. Some products shield against pests for up to 12 hours. Lotion-based options typically last longer, but factors like clothing rubbing, sweat, and water contact affect how long it works.

What Is DEET in Bug Spray?

DEET is a chemical developed by the U.S. Army in 1946. It’s a common and highly effective ingredient in insect repellents. While there are health concerns, when used correctly, DEET is generally safe.

Is Bug Spray Associated With Any Potential Health Risks?

Bug sprays, when EPA-registered, are generally safe, even for pregnant or breastfeeding individuals. Look for bug sprays free of skin-irritating ingredients like phthalates, parabens, alcohol, and synthetic fragrance. Natural ingredients like eucalyptus/citriodiol, lemongrass, and citronella are safe options.

Be cautious of potential allergic reactions, especially with DEET products, which can cause dermatitis in some cases. Allergic reaction signs include irritation, redness, itchiness, and small bumps. In rare instances, bug spray may lead to difficulty breathing and dizziness, so use it carefully and avoid inhalation.

How Effective is Organic Bug Spray?

Organic bug sprays use natural ingredients like essential oils, lemongrass, and citronella, avoiding DEET and harsh chemicals. They can be effective to some extent but may not match DEET-based products in effectiveness. The way you apply the spray, your location, and your specific situation also affect its effectiveness.

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