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Bug Repellent Guide for Families

Bug Repellent Guide for Families

By Wendi Aarons

After researching the pros and cons of various types of bug repellent, and coming to the conclusion that most experts recommend DEET as the most effective protection against mosquito and tick bites, I decided to test a few of the products myself to see what worked best. Or, more specifically, I decided that my husband Chris would test them for me. Lucky Chris!

The reason I chose my husband to be my test subject is because he holds the dubious distinction of being most bit person in our house. If there’s a mosquito even two miles away, it’ll somehow sniff out Chris and zoom right over to chomp on his leg. This isn’t because the mosquitoes don’t like who he voted for in the last election; it’s because of his body chemistry. Per WebMD, “scientists do know that genetics account for a whopping 85% of our susceptibility to mosquito bites” and “certain elements of our body chemistry that, when found in excess on the skin‘s surface, make mosquitoes swarm closer.” So when some people say, “I’m a mosquito magnet,” they’re probably right.

Insect Repellent Comparison Test

Keep in mind that I’m not even close to being a scientist, so this is not an exact study by any means. However, I did strive to maintain consistency in three things: 1) Time of day 2) Location and 3) Length of time outdoors. Because dawn and dusk are prime mosquito time, I sent Chris into our backyard at 6 p.m. each night armed with a different repellent. Please note that when he goes out without any bug repellent, he averages 5-6 bites. (And, for the record, he said he’s not helping me out again unless I’m reviewing beer.)

Avon Skin So Soft BUG GUARD Plus

Method: Pump Spray
Primary Active Ingredient: 10.0% Picaridin
Price: $20.00 for 8 oz.
Price per oz.: $2.50
Company claims: Protects against mosquitoes, deer ticks, gnats, no-seeums, sand flies and biting midges with DEET-free formula.
Feel/smell: Not unpleasant at all
Bites: Three

Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent

Method: Pump Spray
Primary Active Ingredient: 7.0% Picaridin
Price: $6.49 for 6 oz.
Price per oz.: $1.08
Company claims: Insect protection without the odor.  Not greasy or oily.  Won’t harm plastics, won’t damage synthetic materials. Protection for the entire family.
Feel/smell: I found this to be really gross smelling, even though it’s supposedly fragrance free. Feel was just okay.
Bites: Three

OFF!® FamilyCare Insect Repellent IV

Method: Pump Spray
Primary Active Ingredient: 7.0% DEET
Price: $7.49 for 6 oz.
Price per oz: $0.50
Company claims: Low DEET formula provides just the right level of protection for spending shorter amounts of time outdoors.
Feel/smell: Not bad, although it says it’s “unscented,” which isn’t entirely true. Don’t love the feel.
Bites: One

All Terrain Herbal Armor Natural Insect Repellent

Method: Pump Spray
Primary Active Ingredients: 11.5% Oil of Soybean, 10.0% Citronella
Price: $14.99 for 8 oz.
Price per oz.: $1.87
Company claims: Safe, natural, DEET-Free insect repellent that uses six natural-repelling oils at 25% total concentration. Awarded Best Gear by National Geographic Adventure.
Feel/smell: I hate the smell of this one because I hate the smell of citronella, but the feel isn’t bad.
Bites: Two

Dynatrap DT1100 Flying Insect Eliminator

Primary Active Ingredient: Um, electricity?
Price: $119.99
Company Claims: Two UV fluorescent bulbs attract insects, then an exclusive Ti02 titanium dioxide-coated surface produces carbon dioxide that’s irresistible to mosquitoes, then a powerful yet whisper-quiet vacuum fan sucks insects into a retaining cage where they will dehydrate and die (usually within 24 hours).
Feel/smell: Not applicable, but it does make a low noise while it runs.
Bites: One.
(It should be noted that if this works like it should, you will find dead mosquitoes in the trap. We ran it for at least 3 hours on different days and never found a single insect inside it. Very pricey for that level of result.)

Bug Band Insect Repellent Band Primary Active

Ingredient: Geraniol, which is derived from geraniums
Price: $4.95 per band
Company claims: Natural, no DEET, repels mosquitoes, flies, gnats, no-see-ums and fleas, waterproof
Feel/smell: I wasn’t a fan of the strong smell, but it didn’t bother my husband
Bites: None
(Note: The woman who sold this to me at Whole Foods loves this band and clips it to her toddler’s overalls, her dogs’ collars, etc.)

Finally, when my poor husband had almost had enough, I sent him out one night with dryer sheets in his pockets. The bad news is that he came back in with two bites, but the good news is he smelled like fresh laundry. So maybe don’t try this trick unless you’re in a pinch.

Favorite Insect Repellents

If you’re just going to be outside for a short while, any of these products will work and are safe to use on children. My kids don’t get bit very often in the backyard, so they’re usually okay wearing either nothing or wearing the wristband. Chris’ choice is also the wristband if he won’t be out very long because it’s easy to take on and off and doesn’t require a shower later to get the spray off your skin.

However if you’re somewhere with a lot of insects, like last summer when we found ourselves in a huge mosquito swarm in the Rocky Mountain National Park, you might want to go with the DEET. I had OFF! in my backpack that day and it saved us from getting even a single bite.

Even my mosquito magnet husband.

About the Author

Wendi Aarons

Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. You can usually find her at

Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. You can usually find her at Wendi Aarons, The Mouthy Housewives or starting fistfights near the 70% off rack at Target.

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Just wanted to say thanks for these types of reviews. So helpful! 

Isabel Kallman

Thank you for the positive feedback. It’s so great to hear. 🙂