A good mosquito repellent often means the difference between an enjoyable camping trip to the bush and a nightmarish week in mozzie hell. We put 15 repellents to the test to see how effective they are at protecting against mozzie bites over their claimed (or estimated) period of resistance.
Unfortunately, mozzies thrive in Australia’s warm climate and are generally most active at dawn and dusk. And sunset is often the time we most want to be relaxing on our decks with a drink or sitting down to dinner at an outdoor restaurant.
We all vary in our attractiveness to mosquitoes and sensitivity to their bite, so avoiding mosquito habitats (especially when they are most active), wearing protective clothing and using an insect repellent are the first protective steps to take. You should also consider how long you need to be protected. For a short trip outdoors a low concentration repellent will do, but if you’re off on a bushwalk or fishing trip you’ll need a higher-concentration repellent.
Insect repellents sold in Australia must be registered with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). This government authority assesses products for their effectiveness and safety, and the APVMA number must be labelled on the product along with the active ingredients and their concentration.
Repellents can be produced using synthetic chemicals or natural products and are available as aerosols, creams, pump sprays, wipes and wearable devices such as wrist bands.
- Mosquitoes are blood-sucking insects that are attracted to the smell of our skin, and when they bite inject saliva into it.
- A bite from a mosquito that has developed a virus has the potential to transmit diseases. Our bodies react by causing the “itchy bite”.
- Only female mosquitoes bite – the blood from humans or animals gives them the protein they need for egg development.
- There are more than 300 species of mosquito in Australia, but only about 20 are of particular concern to human health.
- In Australia, the Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses are the most widespread mosquito-borne diseases, with more than 5000 cases of illness reported every year. Both cause joint pain and swelling, fatigue, muscle aches, rash and fever. Murray Valley encephalitis virus is potentially fatal and is generally reported in the north-west of the country, while dengue only occurs in Far North Queensland.
- Aerogard Odourless Low Irritant
- Aerogard Tropical Strength Insect Repellent
- Bushman Personal Insect Repellent 40% DEET Heavy Duty
- Bushman Plus Personal Insect Repellent 20% DEET With Sunscreen
- Buzz Wipes Insect Repellent Wipes Low Scent
- Coles Personal Insect Repellent Spray Tropical Strength
- Ego Naturals MOOV Insect Repellent Spray
- Rid Medicated Kids Repellent Mosquito Protection for Sensitive Skin
- Rid Medicated Repellent Plus Antiseptic Spray
- Mosquito Band Anti-insect Band
- Off! Skintastic Familycare Insect Repellent Spray
- Off! Tropical Strength Insect Repellent Spray
- Repellex Personal Insect Repellent Spray Tropical Strength
- Thursday Plantation Walkabout Insect Repellent
- Woolworths Homebrand Insect Repellent Personal Spray
How we test
Independent external testers select a group of men and women aged between 18 and 70 for the test. A measured amount of the pump spray or aerosol is sprayed onto the arm, while the roll-on is applied using the applicator and spread over the arm using two fingers to ensure even coverage. The mosquito band is attached to the arm; this product is only applied to one arm of each test subject, and the untreated arm acts as the control.
Each arm is exposed to about 50 mosquitoes (the hand is gloved to prevent landing on the untreated skin) and the number of landings over one minute is taken. Once they land or start to probe the skin they’re disturbed by moving the limb to prevent biting. This reading is taken at 15, 120, 180, 240 and 360 minutes post-treatment, depending on the product claims or expected period of efficacy based on the product's formulation. Each test is repeated four times on different subjects.