Help selecting mosquito repellents

Every Texas gardener knows that the best time to be outdoors during the summer is in the cool hours of the morning and evening.  Unfortunately this is also the favorite time of day for mosquitoes.  So how do you do your outdoor activities without getting eaten alive, or worse, running the risk of West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne viruses?

The floodwater mosquito is a common pest species following spring rains.

The floodwater mosquito is a common pest species following spring rains.

The answer is a good mosquito repellent.  Mosquito repellents are without question one of the marvels of technology.  Gone are the days of slathering smelly bear grease on your body to ward off the hungry hoardes.  Using modern technology, a quick spray or small dab of cream and you can be protected effectively from the bites of mosquitoes, ticks and biting flies for hours.

There are literally hundreds of repellent products on the market.  Choosing the best repellent can be confusing.  For many years the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and most entomologists have recommended DEET as the one reliable repellent for most pests.  But these days DEET has company, with several other active ingredients demonstrating comparable–if shorter-lived–repellency.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently posted a handy online tool to help you choose a repellent.  The core of the calculator is a database that cross-references registered repellents against their expected hourly protection times against ticks and mosquitoes.  Simply enter the pest you are concerned about, how long you need protection for, and (if you have one in mind) the active ingredient you are interested in.  It then produces a download-able list of commercial repellents that meet your needs.

The calculator is relatively simple and, unfortunately, does not cover biting flies other than mosquitoes.  I was also a little disappointed that it doesn’t give a reliability rating or provide references to the research on which the data is based (OK, I’m a skeptical scientist…you may not feel the need for this feature).  What you will find if you use the calculator  is that there are a number of acceptable alternatives to DEET that you may not be aware of–especially if you don’t need 10 hours of protection.  To visit the calculator, go to

Also, for lots more information about mosquitoes and mosquito control, don’t forget the Mosquito Safari website.  This site is permanently featured on the links section of this site because–well–I developed it; but also because it has lots of information about dealing with mosquitoes.

So next time you go out in the evening to mow the lawn or water the flowers, don’t forget the repellent.  And be thankful for the many alternatives to bear grease.

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