One of the things we love most about the Cabo San Lucas area of Mexico is that there don’t seem to be that many mosquitos. We had hoped that we’d get the same mostly bug-free experience where we bought our vacation home in Pescadero, Mexico, but unfortunately, the mosquito population up there seems to be alive and well. Because we adore the outdoor living that Mexico’s warm weather affords us, we went on a hunt for the best mosquito repellents and devices to keep pesky mosquitoes away. Mexico is thankfully not an area where you can get yellow fever from mosquitoes, but dengue fever is a common illness and not one I want to get. We’ve known several people who have had dengue and it honestly sounds awful.
After a month of extensive testing, here’s our top picks for the best mosquito repellents and killers. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about citronella candles, essential oils, and different mosquito devices – including which ones are safe and effective. So get ready to enjoy your outdoor space without those pesky bites!
Disclaimer: while the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission if you buy something, I have personally purchased and used every one of these products. My opinions are my own.
Why mosquitoes are attracted to you and how to avoid being bitten in the first place
Mosquitoes are annoying pests that can ruin any outdoor experience. But why do they seem to be especially drawn to some people? It’s actually no coincidence – mosquitoes are attracted to standing water, natural scent (such as body heat and sweat), carbon dioxide, and even dark clothing.
Stagnant water is the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. We knew this, but it proved challenging to eliminate because we have a water feature in our patio area. We don’t run the pump when we aren’t at the house, and because it’s a vacation home, it sits empty sometimes. When we first bought the house, a lot of mosquito larvae had built up because no one had been in the house during the sale process. However, even in our Seattle house, we deal with mosquitos in our artificial stream, and the pump runs there continuously.
But it’s not just water features that attract mosquitoes. Even tiny amounts of water in a garden hose or a bird bath can give mosquitos a chance to multiply. We have a hose for rinsing off sand when we come back from the beach and have to be ruthless about making sure that the decorative pot it sits in does not collect water. The best option would be an outdoor shower so we don’t have to use a hose as much, but we’re not quite ready to put one in.
So, if you can’t completely eliminate mosquitoes, how do you decide between bug spray, mosquito dunks, essential oils, bug zappers, and the like to prevent mosquito bites? We tried just about everything, and there were a few key winners.
Best natural repellents for use in water
If you have standing water (or even moving water) like us, you need mosquito dunks. We have been using them at home in Seattle for several years and now in our water feature in Mexico. Our choice is nontoxic for all other wildlife, pets, fish, and humans, though they say not to touch them with your hands (honestly I do and I just wash my hands afterward but…you’ve been warned).
We like these mosquito dunks because they are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for organic gardening, and they kill mosquitoes before they’re old enough to bite. They work by releasing a bacteria called BTI, which is toxic only to mosquito larvae. These dunks say they last for 30 days and treat 100 square feet of surface water. I like to use more than the minimum, so I use 2 dunks in our pond at home, and it is probably 50 square feet. It’s possible that the small area doesn’t need that much, but I do it just in case.
Essential oils – what kind of oil is best for repelling mosquitoes, and how do you apply it effectively?
Essential oils provide a natural, chemical-free alternative to traditional mosquito repellents and can repel certain types of biting insects, including mosquitoes. The essential oils that are most effective at repelling mosquitoes are those such as citronella and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Citronella essential oil has a strong, grassy scent that is difficult for mosquitoes to tolerate and results in them staying away from the area. Similarly, oil of lemon eucalyptus possesses insect-repelling properties and provides good levels of protection against mosquitoes when used properly. When applying essential oils it is important to take precautions not to get bitten by the insects you are trying to keep away. The best way to apply essential oils is by spraying lightly or diffusing them with an essential oil diffuser. This will ensure that you enjoy the pleasant scent of essential oils while still deterring mosquitoes from invading your backyard or patio.
Best Insect Repellent – Spray On
We have tried all kinds of spray-on bug repellent, from natural sprays to ones that I was questioning whether they might cause us to grow an extra arm or two. There are a lot of good solutions for keeping mosquitoes out of your general area, but sometimes the most effective solution is to keep them off your body itself. Here’s what we found to be the most effective mosquito repellent.
Best Natural Insecticide
Our pick for the best natural spray-on bug spray is Murphy’s Naturals. It’s main ingredient is oil of lemon eucalyptus, which means it has a fairly strong smell, but we do find that it works not just for mosquitoes but also for sand flies and other biting insects we sometimes get on the beach. This one will make your nose and eyes water, so be careful when applying it and make sure to help children. Just because it’s a natural product doesn’t mean that there aren’t risks in using it. Overall, we found that it was effective for outdoor activities and held up well at the beach.
Another natural spray we tried but didn’t love as much but still use is the Off! Botanicals plant-based repellent. It smells a lot better but doesn’t seem to be as effective at preventing bug bites.
Best DEET-based Bug Spray
The DEET spray that we have used for years is Repel 100, which is 98.11 percent DEET. While we’ve never had an issue with our skin (and no 3rd arm sprouting yet!), it is one of the strongest chemical insecticides available and we avoid using it on our kids unless we are out of other options. It does provide the best results of any of the mosquito repellants we have used, but it just makes us a little wary to use it with the frequency we need. However, if your conditions are such that you need a spray to prevent West Nile virus, Zika, dengue, or chikungunya, Repel 100 is a great option.
Mosquito traps – do they work, and which type is most effective (ultrasonic, light-based, or CO2 traps)?
A mosquito trap can be a great way to reduce the population of these pesky bugs in your backyard or patio without having to use bug sprays or other pest control methods. Think bug zappers — but with more precision! Ultrasonic, light-based, and CO2 traps are the most popular varieties of mosquito traps that are currently on the market today. Each type aims to lure mosquitos into a device and trap them based on their particular flying patterns. While bug zappers might attract insects with ultraviolet light, newer models like CO2 traps are designed to imitate humans by emitting carbon dioxide (which is what draws in mosquitoes). Of course, these traps come with varying levels of success depending on factors like size and proximity to water sources, but overall they’re still an effective and safe solution for outdoor mosquito control.
We bought a bug zapper with a UV light sensor. I liked that it could sit or be hung up. I also liked that the opening was so small that my kids couldn’t get their fingers inside and zap themselves. But I didn’t love that it made such a loud “zap” sound when it got an insect, and I didn’t think that it was very effective when there were other light sources present. We first tried it on our palapa while we were outside eating dinner and later watching tv, but we had the overhead lights on as well and the blue light attracted very few mosquitoes. I later put it on our courtyard patio near the water feature, where there are admittedly more mosquitoes. I kept the patio lights off, and we heard lots of zaps. So I would say this is a good option for an area without a lot of light, and where the noise won’t bother you. These can be used inside as well as outside, but the sound is loud enough that I personally think it’s best for outdoor areas.
The Best Mosquito Repellent Solution, Period
Our favorite of all the mosquito repellent solutions we have tried is what I guess you would consider to be a mosquito fogger. I thought of this type of device like we’d be walking through a cloud of chemicals, but the one we have is completely different.
We have been using and loving the Thermacell E-Series Rechargeable Mosquito Repeller. There is a liquid cartridge inside the Thermacell MR that emits an odorless vapor into the air that repels mosquitos. It is an excellent choice for scent-sensitive people, as I truly can’t smell anything when it is on. I love that I’m not using chemical sprays on my body and I’m not hearing a loud zap every few seconds, but I’m still keeping mosquitoes away. I also love that it works for about 5 hours on a single charge, and that it doesn’t need to be plugged in while it’s working.
I don’t love that it only covers smaller areas – the vapor doesn’t travel very far, so we have to place the device pretty close to the center of our group to make sure everyone is covered. You may need more than one if you are protecting large areas. I also don’t love that the cartridges are expensive. It makes me think twice about turning on the Thermacell, which is not what you want to be considering when you’re trying to stay bite-free. The good news is that the cartridges do last a long time, so you don’t have to replace them very often.
Overall, though, it is silent, odorless, safe for the family, small, and highly effective. It’s our go-to!
Other Mosquito Repellent Options
We have tried the Murphy’s incense sticks, and I’m so-so on them. They are cone-shaped and come with a little ceramic ash tray. To activate them, you light the cone and then gently blow it out so that it starts to smoke. Then you put it on the ash tray and the scent from the incense repels annoying mosquitoes. It also repels me, as the smell is very strong. I like that they are non-toxic, but I don’t like that they create a bunch of ash I need to dump somewhere, and that they don’t last long. A single cone burns out in 15-20 minutes. If you’re looking for long-lasting protection, you will need to use multiple cones.
At our old house in Seattle, we needed a mosquito spray for the yard. The best choice I found was Mosquito Barrier, which you dilute and spray on grass, shrubs, and trees. It repels all kinds of pests, not just mosquitoes, but it will also kill adult mosquitoes on contact as well as their larvae. It does not harm good insects like bees. I did find this product to be effective at keeping the mosquitoes down in tall grass and ornamental plants, although you need to use it repeatedly and it won’t completely eliminate mosquitoes.
However, the downside to all of this is that it smells, intensely, of garlic. Your entire treated area will smell of garlic for at least a day after you apply it. I like garlic, I really do, but it was almost embarrassing how strong the smell was. I kept wondering if the neighbors would come over asking what was up. So, just know that you might get some looks if you’re using this in dense residential areas. It’s a solid option if you have some time on your hands and are looking for a way to prevent mosquitoes for days or weeks, rather than just protecting yourself in the moment.
Citronella candles – do they work and are they safe to use around kids and pets?
Citronella candles are a popular mosquito repellent solution for outdoor spaces; however, it’s important to understand how they work and if they are safe to use around kids and pets. Citronella candles typically contain an active ingredient – citronella essential oil which has the active component, citronellal – to repel insects. While they may provide relief from pesky mosquitos, their efficacy is limited as the active ingredient needs to be inhaled by the mosquitoes in order for it to be effective. It’s also important to keep in mind that when using citronella candles, care must be taken when using them around children or pets as some components may be flammable or hazardous. I personally just don’t find them to be very effective, and I don’t use them myself.
How to choose the right mosquito repellent for your needs
Choosing the right mosquito repellent for your needs can help to ensure that you enjoy your outdoor spaces year-round. When selecting a solution, it is important to consider the square footage coverage you need in order to best address your mosquito problem. Citronella torches and essential oils are both popular solutions as they provide up to a 200 square foot area of protection with natural ingredients, but require more regular application if you have a larger space. Mosquito killer devices may be the most effective option for larger areas; however, it is important to consider how regularly they must be emptied or refilled depending on the size of your patio or backyard. With some research, you should be able to select the best mosquito repellent for your needs and maximize your outdoor enjoyment this season!
Mosquito repellents can be an effective way to keep mosquitoes at bay during your outdoor gatherings. Carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each solution, from sprays to essential oils and traps, in order to make an informed decision about which one will be most effective for you. Citronella candles can be cost-effective, but their scent may not truly deter mosquitoes away from your property. Essential oils like tea tree and lavender can be long-lasting solutions, however require careful application to avoid getting bitten yourself. For those who do not want anything on their skin or in their space, mosquito traps and foggers can prove invaluable. Mosquito foggers like our top choice are a great solution because they work silently; however they are significantly pricier than some other recommendations. You’ll have to decide which option is right for your needs as well as your budget – but no matter what you choose, take extra precautions such as wearing loose clothing when outdoors and investing in physical barriers like mosquito nets or screen doors if possible.
Which device will you choose for your next outdoor gathering?