Nothing shuts down a balmy summer BBQ or ruins the romance of an exotic tropical holiday quicker than an army of mosquitos out for blood. And then there's the dreaded experience of waking up in the middle of the night because the buzzing from a blood-sucking bug has roused you - it's somewhere out there, just waiting for you to fall asleep before it resumes its feeding frenzy.
A good mosquito repellent often means the difference between an enjoyable summer of outdoor fun and three nightmarish months in mozzie hell. But which one will do the best job of keeping you bite free?
Which active ingredient should you look for in a mosquito repellent?
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. The concentration of the active ingredient in mosquito repellents determines how long it will protect you.
- The most common active ingredients used are diethyltoluamide (DEET) and picaridin.
- Both DEET and picaridin are effective at preventing bites, but picaridin is odourless and so considered to be more pleasant to use.
- Plant-derived ingredients like melaleuca oil and citronella are also sometimes used.
Are natural repellents effective?
Natural repellent sprays and roll-ons are considered a safer alternative to other mosquito repellents, but while they provide some protection, in most cases they're not as effective as chemical products that use DEET or picaridin.
Some companies also make wrist band mosquito repellents, which are a different story. When CHOICE tested mosquito repellents in the past, the wrist band we looked at was relatively useless.
Are mosquito repellents safe?
Generally, mosquito repellents are safe for adults and children over three months of age. For bubs older than three months, look for child-specific insect repellent or those that have a low concentration of DEET or picaridin (less than 10%).
Top tips for using mosquito repellents
- Apply it evenly to all areas of exposed skin. A spray here and there or applying repellent to your clothes or belongings isn't effective.
- Don't apply aerosols or pump sprays directly to your face – spray them onto your hands first and rub on evenly, avoiding contact with your eyes and mouth.
- Reapply frequently if you go swimming or sweat heavily.
- Don't use repellents on children under three months old. Stick to using netting on prams, cots and play areas to avoid bites.
- 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.
- Perfumes and dark clothes attract mosquitoes, so avoid them if possible.