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7 nice-smelling, non-sticky bug repellents that actually work

Scare away skeeters without smelling like a chemical factory
Bug Spray
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/ Source: TODAY

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If anything can ruin a good time in the backyard, it’s ticks and mosquitoes. And with fears of West Nile and Lyme, you might want a good bug spray.

But here’s the rub: it can be hard to find one that does its job without making you smell terrible and inadvertently repel family members. After all, you will basically bathe in it all summer.

What ingredients should you look for?

While there are many options for bug sprays, the two best ingredients to look for are DEET and oil of lemon eucalyptus, said Immo Hansen, PhD, the principal researcher of The Hansen Lab at New Mexico State University — which does experiments analyzing the effectiveness of different repellents. “These ingredients mask our own body odors so that the mosquito can’t smell us,” he said.

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent, $5, Amazon

Essential oils in other products may work, but they do not last very long, he added. And, there’s always the risk that they can cause irritation or allergies.

Kids should stay away from some sprays

Kids should use a DEET product. Hansen noted that oil of lemon eucalyptus shouldn’t be used on kids under age 3.

Ben’s Adventure Insect Repellent Wipes, $7, Amazon

Also available at Walmart.

Ben's adventure insect repellent wipes contain 30 percent DEET for 8 hours of protection. Plus, they’re fragrance-free, and wipes are super easy and convenient to apply on kids.

Is DEET safe?

Worried about the safety DEET? “It’s been around since the 50s, and it’s actually pretty safe. I use it on myself: it’s my repellant of choice,” Hansen said. Look for insect repellents with DEET concentrations of at least 20 percent. This provides protection for up to 8 hours — ideal for the backyard. For hiking in a wooded area or camping, you’ll want to go for a higher percentage.

Top insect repellent picks

So, what bug sprays and insect repellents fit the bill? We found seven sweet-smelling (or fragrance free) options to wear all day. These go on smooth — not tacky. And, most importantly, they work.

Need more? The EPA has a great tool to help you find the repellent that best suits your needs. These are the bug sprays you need this summer:

BugX Insect Repellent Towelettes, $14, Amazon

Amazon reviewers give these 30 percent DEET wipes high marks for their pleasant, non-chemical smell. They’re also non-greasy, so you’ll actually feel fresh after applying.

Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, $5, Walmart

Fair warning: oil of lemon eucalyptus naturally smells herbaceous (kind of like a citronella candle). So, it’s a scent people either love or hate. But, the absorbent formula won’t leave skin sticky. Win!

Also available at Target.

OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent, Smooth & Dry, $6, Walmart

Also available at Target, CVS and Walgreens.

This one contains 15 percent DEET (so it just falls short of the 20 percent goal), which only means it lasts six hours, not eight. So, don’t forget to reapply. But this gets a mention on our list because it’s a powder dry spray, meaning it feels good on the skin, and it smells pretty good, to boot.

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent, $5, Amazon

Also available at Walmart and Target.

Again, it’s oil of lemon eucalyptus, so it does have a forward scent — but, as reviewers point out, it’s more lemon than chemical. The trade off may be worth it if you prefer to stay DEET-free.

Coleman Botanicals DEET-Free Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Naturally-Based Insect Repellent, $9, Amazon

Also available at Walmart.

This spray keeps skeeters for six hours, and reviewers say that it’s a lighter scent than other similar products.

Off! Clip-On Fan Circulated Mosquito Repellent, $8, Walgreens

Also available at Walmart.

If you don’t want to spray anything on, Hansen’s lab also recommends the Off clip-on as an option, which relies on metofluthrin to keep the biters away. It’s completely odorless.


Victoria’s Secret Bombshell, $32, Amazon

Also available at Victoria's Secret.

Yes, we’re serious. Hansen’s lab (surprisingly) discovered that this fragrance actually repelled mosquitoes for two hours, per research published in the Journal of Insect Science in 2015. But, while it certainly fits the bill for sweet-smelling, you’re probably not going to spray yourself down from head-to-toe (and continually reapply). If you’re looking for a fragrance to wear that has the added bonus of helping keep you bite-free, this is it.