Does anyone like DEET anymore? I mean, I know people who swear by it, and it’s certainly proven effective, but nobody likes it, right? By now, we all know that it dissolves plastic (and rayon and spandex…). And frankly, anything that does that to synthetics, I’m not too keen to inhale and spread all over my largest organ (that’s skin, for those of you who have forgotten 7th-grade science class), even if the EPA has cleared it as a safe and effective insect repellent. But what are the alternatives? And do they work as well? We’ll break them down in this round-up of the 5 best DEET free bug spray brands for those of us who would prefer to skip the harmful chemicals.
And as always, yes, these products are all vegan, and no, none of them are tested on animals (though you can probably assume they’ve been tested in the presence of actual mosquitos…).
What is DEET?
First of all, if you’re wondering what DEET even is and why so many folks adamantly avoid it, let us break it down.
Developed by the U.S. Army in 1946, DEET is a synthetic chemical that effectively repels mosquitos, ticks, and other biting insects. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it’s not harmful when used correctly, but skin rashes aren’t uncommon, and studies have shown that using it improperly or in excess can cause birth defects and even seizures and death.
Even when used correctly, it can literally dissolve plastic and other synthetics including fishing line, sunglasses, some synthetic clothing, and vinyl.
It also leaves a greasy feeling on your skin and has an unpleasantly pungent chemical smell. And even though DEET is available in concentrations of up to 100% (yikes!), studies suggest that anything over 50% is not likely any more effective.
The 5 Best Deet Free Bug Spray Brands
1. Thermacell EX90 Radius
Technically not a DEET free bug spray, this little contraption banishes mosquitoes within a 20-foot radius! It works via a little cartridge filled with an insect repellent concoction that you plug into the rechargeable battery-powered tabletop device. When turned on, the Radius heats up, sends the insect repellent fluid (metofluthrin) through a wick to be dispersed into the air, and repels mosquitoes. Kinda like that plug-in air freshener in your bathroom. It’s especially handy for camping and evening picnics where you’ll be fairly stationary for a while. Bonus: it’s scent-free! Plus it did an admirable job of keeping mosquitos at bay in our excessively buggy backyard. Find the EX90 Radius on REI, here.
- Pros: No sprays or lotions necessary with the Thermacell Radius Insect Repellent.
- Cons: The EPA has categorized the main ingredient as a neurotoxin, but unless you consistently inhale directly from the diffuser or swallow fluid, it shouldn’t cause any health issues.
Again, not a spray, but who really likes bug spray anyway? Wouldn’t you rather wear your insect repellent? Well, you can with Para’kito. They are bracelets that have little mesh pockets for replaceable cartridges that slide right in and diffuse insect repellent into the air. They’re made of essential oils, so there’s no wondering what the ingredients are and what they’ll do to you or your gear. Plus, the wearables are available in fun colors and patterns (also roll-on and clip-on forms)! Check them out on Amazon.
- Pros: No sprays or lotions necessary with Parakito products.
- Cons: The effectiveness of most essential oils as an insect repellent is dubious, so maybe save these things for less insect-infested days.
For a DEET free bug spray that repels mosquitos and ticks, try a spray like Natrapel which comes in two concoctions: lemon eucalyptus and picaridin. It comes in spray or wet-wipe form and the 20% picaridin option says it repels insects for up to 12 hours. The Environmental Working Group even gives it a passing grade, stating that, though it’s a bit newer compound and hasn’t been tested as extensively as DEET, it is just as effective without the neurotoxicity and gear destruction concerns. Find all the options on Amazon.
- Pros: Comes in spray and wipe form, no greasy feeling or odor, fewer disadvantages than deet.
- Cons: Picaridin hasn’t been studied as extensively as DEET so there’s less long-term side effect info available.
5. Badger Anti-Bug Shake & Spray
Citronella and geranium are two of the essential oils found in this spray. And while neither have been tested to the extent of DEET as far as efficacy is concerned, plenty of studies have been done suggesting that some oils are better than others, including the ones in this concoction. So spray away, because it’s all-natural, kid-friendly stuff, here. Find this DEET-free bug spray on Amazon.
- Pros: Smells great, safe for kids of all ages.
- Cons: May feel a bit oily on first application.
4. JĀSÖN Quit Bugging Me! Spray
This brand is known for its natural skin and beauty products, so it makes sense that they’d offer a natural insect repellent. This one contains coconut oil, which is good for your skin, and geranium oil, which is one of the more effective essential oils when it comes to repelling pests. Order a bottle on the Jason website.
- Pros: Non-greasy and safe for kids.
- Cons: Must reapply every two hours.
Maybe this list of DEET free bug spray was exactly what you were looking for this summer. And maybe you’ll decide to stick with your tried and true DEET. That’s totally up to you. But if you’re looking for an alternative, we hope this post was at least a little helpful. And if you’ve tried these DEET-free insect repellent solutions and swear by them (or, I dunno, swear against them), let us know in the comments! Protect yourself and wander on!
This post contains affiliate links. That means when you buy bug spray via a link on this page, we can also get ourselves a fresh bottle of insect repellent (also, you help support Terradrift, which is cool, too). Thanks for that!
Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. alishamcdarris.com