It’s summer! Hopefully you are loaded up on sunscreen and bug spray because the sun and bugs are also celebrating vacation season.

More than 40 million Americans will have gone camping at least once by the end of 2019. With summer here, mosquitoes and ticks are camping alongside them. In other words, if you live in an area where these pests are known to carry diseases, then it’s essential to use a commercial bug spray to best protect yourself. However, if you are just hoping to keep the bugs to a minimum without commercial sprays, there are many natural options available – options that are even used in commercial sprays themselves!

With society placing more importance on understanding the ingredients in everyday application sprays, lotions and more – we wanted to take the time to explore natural bug repellent options as well as preventive methods to stay clear of disease-carrying bugs this summer.

Is bug spray safe?

Bug sprays are safe but only when you apply them in accordance with their labels. Do not use any bug repellent that has not been approved by the EPA.

Are there natural bug repellents?

“Natural” is often used to promote “safe” products. If you are in any other area not known for disease-carrying bugs, you may be more inclined to look at “natural” bug repellent options. However, there are a few plant-derived active ingredients you can use in making your own bug repellent. Whether you make a DIY spray yourself with essential oils or use prevention methods like mosquito nets, keeping bugs away while you’re having your outdoor summer fun can be done without overusing commercial bug sprays.

How does bug spray work?

Bug spray is bug repellent. Do not confuse this with insecticide because it does not kill bugs but rather it keeps them away from you. Mosquitoes track carbon dioxide in order to find sources for food. Therefore, these sprays not only mask this smell, but makes it repulsive to these biting bugs.

What’s in bug spray?

There are several active ingredients in bug spray. The EPA has approved a variety of different active ingredients for repellents including synthetic chemicals such as DEET, IR3535, Picaridin, and 2-undecanone.

Natural active ingredients in bug spray include citronella oil (from lemongrass), oil from the leaves of lemon eucalyptus trees, and oil derived from the “catnip” plant. Please note, oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years of age.

How can I keep mosquitoes away when outside this summer?

There are many ways to keep mosquitoes away this summer, including hiring a mosquito service for your home, eliminating standing water sources where mosquitoes are known to breed, and avoiding being outside during peak mosquito times like dawn and dusk. If you are camping and want to keep mosquitoes away, smoke from a campfire is a natural bug repellent! However, according to UF/IFAS/FMEL, the best way to avoid mosquito bites is to avoid infested areas, wear protective clothing, and wear insect repellent.

What diseases do mosquitoes carry?

The most common mosquito carrying viruses in the USA are West Nile, dengue and Zika.

What commercial bug spray is the best?

There are several bug sprays that are deemed “the best”. The following table, provided by the UF/IFAS Extension, shows commercial bug spray options with their active ingredient and average complete protection time.

ProductsActive IngredientAverage Complete Protection Time
OFF! Deep Woods
23.8% DEET
5 hours
Sawyer Controlled Release20% DEET4 hours
OFF! Skintastic 6.65% DEET2 hours
Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect RepellentOil of lemon eucalyptus; p-menthane 3,8-diol (PMD)2 hours
Bite Blocker for Kids4.75% DEET1.5 hours
Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus7.5% IR353523 minutes
Natrapel10% Citronella20 minutes
Herbal Armor12% Citronella; 2.5% peppermint oil; 2% cedar oil; lemongrass oil; 0.05% geranium oil19 minutes
Green Ban for People10% Citronella; 2% peppermint oil14 minutes

Buzz Away5% Citronella14 minutes
Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard0.1% Citronella10 minutes
Skin-So-Soft Bug GuardActive Ingredient not known10 minutes
Skin-So-Soft Moisturizing Suncare0.05% Citronella3 minutes
Gone Original Wristband9.5% DEET0
Repello Wristband9.5% DEET0
Gone Plus Repelling Wristband25% Citronella0

*C. Roxanne Rutledge and Jonathan F. Day, professors at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, Entomology and Nematology Department, UF/IFAS Extension (2002) Revised July 2014. Visit the EDIS website at Mosquito Repellents1(ENY-671). Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved June 5th, 2019, from

DEET is the most effective active ingredient. However, there are plant-derived active ingredients that have shown effectiveness as well. There fore, you should ask yourself the following questions when choosing a bug repellent:
  1. Are you in an area where you know that mosquito-borne diseases are present?
  2. What is the mosquito population like? (Are you expecting a lot of bites, or occasional bites?)
  3. Will I spend more more than an hour outside at night?
  4. Am I going to be around heavily vegetated, humid areas during the day?
  5. What type of activity are you engaged in: exercising, gardening, yard work, etc.?
  6. Is the humidity and temperature high and wind speed low?

Massey’s Mosquito Services target mosquitoes where they live and breed. If you’re looking for control services, we offer both annual/seasonal programs in addition to one-time treatments perfect for parties, weddings and other outdoor events.

Massey’s Mosquito Services