June 24, 2008

Mosquitoes? Yikes! DEET vs Alternatives

[By Crabby]

Photo by trebol-a

I Have Nothing Against Most Bugs

I generally have a "no-kill" policy when it comes to insects. When I'm outside and they annoy me, I shoo them away or go inside. When they manage to get inside, I try to relocate them to the great outdoors. (Or sometimes I'm too lazy and I just leave them, knowing that Someone Else will probably come by and kill them later--but at least I'm not the personal agent of their destruction).

But mosquitoes? Whole different story! I hate mosquitoes. No gentle shooing, no Insect Relocation program. It's all kill, kill, kill, buh-bye.

Yet for someone who hates mosquitoes, I do practically nothing to keep them away from me. I spent most of my life in areas where they're not a huge problem, only an occasional nuisance, so it's taken me a while to "get it."

But now I live somewhere they like to hang out, and I finally understand: Sometimes one really, truly needs to spray on some sort of foul substance to keep from being eaten alive.

But it's so icky! It's worse than even than evil sunscreen.

Is DEET the answer? Wait, what was the question?

I've always heard DEET was the only thing that really worked. And despite years of experts reassuring me that there was nothing to worry about unless one was particularly chemically sensitive (nope--just emotionally) I've never really trusted the stuff.

It burns through synthetic fabrics and plastics, right? How scary is that?

Well, Scientific American recently ran an article on DEET that mentioned annoying side effects like skin irritation, numb or burning lips, nausea, headaches, dizziness and difficulty concentrating, blah blah blah... but then went on to say something about "diffuse brain cell death," and that managed to get my attention.

Brain cell death? Um, no thanks. I'd like to hang on to the precious few brain cells I have. Or if I'm gonna kill them, I'd at least like to use something more fun, like tequila. I'm not wasting brain cells on DEET.

But thankfully, the article also challenged the "DEET is the only effective insect-killer" notion I'd heard so often. They said that in recent years, the alternatives have gotten much better. They recommended two in particular: picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. To quote:

"Picaridin, long used to repel mosquitoes in other parts of the world, is now available in the U.S. under the Cutter Advanced brand name. Oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is derived from eucalyptus leaves and is the only plant-based active ingredient for insect repellents approved by the CDC, is available in several different forms, including Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, OFF! Botanicals, and Fight Bite Plant-Based Insect Repellent."

Cool! Oil of lemon eucalyptus sounds kinda pleasant, doesn't it? Almost like something you'd pay to be dunked in at the spa. Or the manicurist...

"But Madge, Mosquito Repellent???"
"Relax, You're Soaking In It."

Other Botanical Alternatives

The Scientific American article mentions a couple other places to get safer mosquito repellent recommendations, (here too), but Google had different ideas.

Google thought we should all be using Catnip to repel mosquitoes.

Turns out, previous research suggested catnip oil might have promise, but alas, even people who sell catnip for a living said: Nope; it doesn't work very well.

Plus, it can actually attract pests.

Photo by donnjmck

Yeah, those too, but they specifically mention bees and fire ants.

Anyway, does anyone else dislike both mosquitoes and the methods used to repel them? Any thoughts or suggestions? Anyone tried the Picaridin or the Oil of lemon eucalyptus?


  1. I know DEET is the devil but I used it for a few years (back in the 90's. I was young and impulsive then) on bandannas (NEVER NEAR THE SKIN) when I back country camped.

    it the devil but it all kind of work.

    now? I pretty much just get bitten.


  2. I have tried deet in the past, and it does work but would like to keep what few brain cells I actually have! Have you tried Avon's Skin So Soft bug repellent? Just tried it this year and it does work pretty well.
    Best inspect repellent - my ex-husband. I swear when we went to the beach, the little black flies would swarm to him, leaving me untouched. hehe
    Bad Cat would like everyone to send their unused catnip his way, please!

  3. I've had to use DEET on occasion and don't care for it. Usually I don't bother with anything, but if I have to I use essential oil of lavendar. It works fine and it is also good for breathing when one's asthma is kicking up a minor fuss. I speak anecdotally of course.

  4. The Bag Lady is well-acquainted with mosquitoes (we grows 'em REALLY big out here), and unfortunately, also has a slight allergy to their sting, so her reaction to the first few bites of the season is usually to swell to the size of peanuts. Sigh. She has tried all manner of things, and hates the smell of bug spray containing DEET. BUT, it is effective, and when you are trying to get any work done in the bush, like fencing, you need something. (If the little video posted on my blog this morning had provided scent, you'd have gotten a whiff of "eau de bug spray".
    There was an email going around touting using Listerine as a mosquito repellent, but it doesn't last very long, and really doesn't smell great, although better than bug spray.
    Lavender oil works for some, but doesn't seem to work for me. The Cutter brand works, but I didn't realize it didn't have DEET in it (thought they were all the same), so next time I need it, I'll grab that one instead. (The Bag Lady has a huge supply of bug spray, simply because she can't stand the itching. And doesn't really want to catch any of the diseases the little bastards can spread!)
    Sorry for the long comment...

  5. My house is a bug annihilation zone. The little critters are free to live and let live outside but if they come in my house (or touch my babies) they die. And living here in the land of Lyme disease and west Nile, we use DEET. Hope I'm not doing more harm than good... sigh.

  6. I heard a seminar once by a scientist who studied viruses delivered by mosquitoes. They have this really technical thing they do to look at the virus in the bug's salivary glands. It's called the "head squash" and it is exactly like it sounds. Everyone in the audience was thinking the same thing: it's what those awful critters deserve!

    Anyway, I'm going to check out these alternatives. Particularly the lemon eucalyptus, because I love eucalyptus.

  7. It's true! Mosquitoes are the only bug I haven't been able to make peace with. I guess because they are hunting us.

    People rule the day, mosquitoes rule the night!

    Have you noticed how they seem to get smarter as the season goes on? Survival of the fittest :-)

    Dr. J

  8. I have used Burt's Bees Citronella oil. I don't know how well it works, but it makes me feel better anyway.

    A friend of mine was living up north for a while and the mosquitos are really bad up there. She was using a locally made repellent that did have catnip in it, and she said it worked, but I'm not sure what else it had it in. I did find this link for something similar:


    and I notice it does have a number of other ingredients, including eucalyptus and citronella.

  9. Ok...that link got cut off, but if you google Skeet-Addle, that's what I was looking at.

  10. Mosquitoes never, ever leave me alone. I'm actually shocked that I haven't gotten a bite yet, as they usually start getting me in April *knock on wood*. When I've gone away on vacation, specifically Maine or Prince Edward Island in the summer, I have to sleep with mosquito repellent on, because if there is one place where mosquitoes can get through into wherever I am sleeping, and bite me into a red bumpy mess. And I could just suck it up and let them bite me, but my bites tend to stick around for a while, usually two or three weeks, so that's a pain, and itching like crazy during that time probably isn't doing much for my mental health either.

    The only non-Deet mosquito repellent that I've found that might work is dryer sheets. You take one and rub it all over yourself. Granted, this does not work on Maine or PEI mosquitoes, but for your basic backyard barbecue mosquitoes, I do tend to notice fewer bites than when I don't use anything at all. It could very likely just be coincidence, though.

    Mostly I rely on Cutter or Off! Deep Woods, Off! Botaicals also works surprisingly well, and has a lower percentage of Deet.

  11. The mosquitoes in my yard laugh at lemon eucalyptus. I've had to go back to DEET or have hive-like spots all over my legs (I'm allergic to the bites more than the average person).

  12. Citronella oil works for me, on mosquitoes and on gnats, which I find MUCH more annoying. (I'll have to try lavender--I have lavender growing by the walk.) Avon Skin So Soft is reported to work, but since it also repels me--rapidly--I can't use it.

    I don't react badly to mosquitoes, so I'm not too bothered about getting bitten every now and then, but I'd really like to find something I'm not allergic to that keeps ticks off.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky, far from the anopheles mosquito

  13. I live in Minnesota. We have over 10,000 lakes, and therefore over 10,000,000,000,000,000 (NB: figure may be completely made up) mosquitoes. I too have been told that Deet is the only thing that works, and yet everyone hates it because it smells aweful, tastes worse, and is poison. And yes, I always manage to get some on my mouth, one way or another. I haev tried a variety of alternatives over the years. Avon's Skin-So-Soft- doesn't work. I think the mosquitoes around here LIKE it. Citronella oil- seems to work, but requires you to cover yourself in oil, which is icky. I have tried not eating bananas and eating oranges regularly- this was a fun plan, but I don't think the results were very noticeable. When camping, I try to make sure to have shampooed with a less scented shampoo, and this helps, but is not a solution. Eucalyptus works! It is great! I bought some when a friend and I were camping in the superior national forest, and didnt even bring Deet for back-up, and it was awesome! However, still not a good idea to get it in your mouth. The stuff I have says it lasts for 6 hours, but I regret to say that this is a total lie. It kept the mosquitoes off us wonderfully for about an hour at a stretch, and then needed to be re-applied. I have only used it once in the city, as I still hate putting stuff on me, and it seemed to work better, so maybe it just depends on whether there is easier prey around. It smelled pretty good though! be careful putting it on your neck and face, because the smell is strong if close to your nose.

  14. I live in Texas, where I swear there has to be mosquito farms with the amount of the little boogers that swarm around here.

    Burt's Bees has a decent natural spray. I also use Repel's natural oil spray on the family: http://www.repel.com/ProductCategories/Insectrepellents/LemonEucalyptus/

  15. HATE the mosquitoes. I think I'd try just about anything to get rid of them... except I'm too lazy:)

  16. I've been using the Burt's Bees insect repellent and I am pleasantly surprised. It has lemongrass and citronella and all sorts of other oils. It definitely works on smaller bugs and gnats and keeps *most* mosquitoes away. Plus it smells delicious (it reminds me of gingersnaps)! I really hate bugs swarming around my face so I rub some on my hairline and -poof! - the bugs are gone!

  17. When I was a child, we would spend some time in Southern France, close to the sea. Some places had quite a bit of standing water, and therefore, plenty of mosquitoes. We used lemongrass oil (Citronella). It kept them at bay. Nothing is more annoying, than trying to get to sleep and hear the high pitched buzz of the beast. Grrr!

  18. I'm not TOO bothered by them. I do get bitten.. I do itch.. but I think I'd rather endure that than add those nasty chemicals to my system. I'd have to be someplace where the bug life is particularly annoying before I'll resort to it.

    I too, would rather destroy my brain cells with alcohol. Hold the mosquitoes.. pass the Mojitos!

  19. You might also google the benefits of upping your dose of vitamin B1 a few days before and during your trip, if the buggers are a trip issue. It's pretty chemistry-specific; ie, it works for some people and not at all for others. Alas, I fall in the "not at all" category, but for my husband it works very well and he uses very little DEET spray to supplement on occasion. I have not tried lemon eucalyptus or picaridin yet.

  20. Cat on my head!
    Cat on my head!


    I've tried them all and they work OK, but unfortunately when you camp in the Saskatchewan wilderness you have to resort to the deep woods DEET stuff sometimes to keep from being eaten.
    I just wash it off as soon as I can.

    It's why we have a screened in deck - so worth it. Bug free yardy paradise :).

  21. i bought the repel lemon eucalyptus one for our trip to alaska in july as we've heard their state bird is the mosquito (eep!)...haven't tried it yet but i'll let you know!

  22. mrspaj - if you're going to Alaska, you're going practically right past my house! And if I were you, I'd bring some Deep Woods Off! as a supplement, just in case! Because the mosquitoes around here could suckle a cow moose, and I've heard they are bigger in Alaska!! (you aren't taking a small dog with you, are you....?!)

  23. You guys are seriously scaring me! Great comments, and lots of awesome advice.

    Actually, I did go on an extended camping trip to Alaska fresh out of college. We took some sort of B vitamin (must have been b-1) but ended up relying on DEET, which at the time you could only get in Canada.

    Still got bit a ton of bites, because we were sloppy about applying it often enough, but discovered that after a while we stopped reacting to them.

    Haven't had to deal with the problem much since then--glad there are finally some new alternatives.

  24. I am pretty much ALWAYS a mosquito sandwich. I've used DEET, I've used Avon, I've used dryer sheets, nothing - not even DEET - has ever worked very well (if at all). (Although in all fairness, I haven't tried that lemon-eucalyptus oil.)

    The ONLY thing I've ever found that worked, and worked all the time (!) was tea tree oil, diluted in water. I put 2 or 3 drops in a little spray bottle, and fill the rest with water. It smells really strong when I spray it on, but when it dries there's no detectable fragrance at all (which is nice if you like to wear perfume).

    And it works! Woo-hoo! ::::happy dance, happy dance::::

  25. I don't like DEET or mosquitoes! Hate that buzzing sound mosquitoes make in your ear!

    Strangely enough, though; they don't bite me! Either I'm not allergic to their bites or they can't smell me (or I taste bad to them)... and that's fine with me! :)

    I've heard that mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing, perfumes, hair products, and even candles. Maybe trying to reduce one's attractiveness to mosquitoes will help keep more of them away.

  26. Lets try this again.

    I am so allergic to the little blood suckers, it actually hurts. Unfortunately I am also allergic to citronella, lavender and eucalyptus.

    I grow a citronella geranium in a pot on my patio, and as long as I don't brush against it, I can live with it there and it helps. Otherwise, if I am camping or out in the evening it is DEET for me. Which amazingly I am not allergic too.

  27. I mixed up a spray with tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and citronella with some water and that really helped. I found I had to reapply frequently, but that it worked. I hate DEET as it irritates my skin and smells awful, plus I'm not a huge fan of toxic chemicals.

  28. Tea tree oil? Great, another thing that works that I'm allergic to. (It's the flavor-of-the-month in dog shampoo, so I have to read the label of shampoos I've used for years to see if they've added any.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  29. When I was a young teen going to summer camp, my dad had me take garlic supplements. It seems to help a lot (I'm really sensitive to mosquitos) but I always thought it gave me a distinctive odor :( With West Nile seeming to become more prevalent, we've been using DEET -- Here in Iowa the Mosquitos are AWFUL after the flooding.

  30. We've tried a combo of lemongrass e. oil/citronella oil/eucalyptus eo., cedarwood eo. and peppermint e. So far so good!

  31. I cannot stand mosquitoes! The MN bird is the mosquito, ya know?

  32. I've tried deet in the past. i've used it on hats, golf shirts etc. I hate mosquitoes!!

  33. Kind of late in the game here, not sure if anyone is still reading this post! But I bought a product called the family buzz patch from an online store called Nayla Natural Care. The patch works good even though mosquitos love me. You just break the beads inside the patch and the smell is released. It has citronella in it. Here is a link to the store I got it from:


  34. Thanks MissMatch--
    Suggestions about things that work are always welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

  35. I'm excited about this Mosquito Cognito thing by BioSensory that has the Conceal Inhibitor in it, but I can't seem to find a way to buy it.

  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. I hate mosquitoes.This bugs and mosquitoes bites killing me.I always prefer to wear long -sleeved cloths outside the home.


Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)