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Consumer Reports tests 25 bug repellents, finds 2 protect best

Top picks protect against mosquitoes, ticks for 6 1/2 hours or more

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thanks to Hurricane Irma, the mosquitoes are horrible and you're going to need protection. Summer tests by Consumer Reports found four that work best. The best insect repellents can help protect against bites from mosquitoes and ticks -- both which can spread diseases like West Nile and Lyme. 

25 repellents put to the test

To test repellents, Consumer Reports enlisted brave panelists to stick their arms cages filled with swarming disease-free mosquitoes. 

Consumer Reports looked at repellents with synthetic chemicals like DEET. As well as ones that contain picaridin and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus which mimic chemicals found in nature. And there were also plant based repellents labeled, “natural” with ingredients like citronella, lemongrass and cedar oils.

"Your best protection against mosquito and tick-borne diseases like West Nile or Lyme is to avoid getting bitten in the first place; that’s why an effective insect repellent is so important," said Consumer Reports Health Editor Jeneen Interlandi. "The good news is that you should only need one product to protect you against both insects. Our testing indicates that anything that protects you from mosquitoes should also protect you from ticks."

READ: Tick-proof your yard without chemicals

The best repellents protected for six and a half hours or more while the lowest scoring ones only lasted for two hours or less.

Consumer Reports says it’s best to avoid the plant based, natural products. 

"The thing about “natural repellents” is that these products are not registered with the EPA. Because the agency deems the chemicals they contain to be of minimal safety risk, they don’t bother to evaluate them for safety or effectiveness. What that means is that the companies that make these products dare not required to prove to federal regulators that they work," explained Interlandi.

What did make a difference in Consumer Reports' tests were the active chemical ingredients. Out of a total of 25 products tested, all of the ones that earned its recommendation contained one of just three different active ingredients - and each one at a limited range of concentrations: so 20% Picaridin, between 15 and 30% DEET, or 30% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.

Top-rated repellents with DEET

After testing, two products with DEET earned top scores from Consumer Reports. 

  • Total Home Woodland Scent Insect Repellent with 30% DEET from CVS for about $7
  • OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent with 25% DEET for about $8
  • Consumer Reports says DEET products are safe for everyone including children. It recommends choosing a repellent with 30-percent DEET or less. 

    Repellent options without DEET

    If you want to skip the DEET, Consumer Reports says there are options to try.

  • Repel Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus formula -- a product without DEET - performed almost as well in Consumer Reports' tests. It contains 30% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and costs about $5.
  • Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin is another option. It costs about $7.

  • Lowest-rated repellents tested

    Of the 25 products tested, the two repellents that received the lowest scores from Consumer Reports include up&up DEET-free Insect Repellent from Target for $5 and HOMS Organic Bite Blocker Insect Repellent that costs about $9.

    Consumer Reports is sharing its ratings of all 25 products for free. You can see the full list here