Everything you need to know about DEET insect repellent
DEET (Diethyltoluamide) was developed in the 1940s as an insect protection measure for the U.S. Army. Today, it is estimated that around a third of Americans uses one or more products containing DEET every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. DEET has become commonplace within households across the world. It's been used billions of times over the decades and DEET also comes recommended by major health-based organisations around the world to prevent insect bites. The CDC has reported that the number of people sickened by mosquito and tick bites has more than tripled since 2004, which makes your choice of personal insect repellent increasingly important for general health and wellbeing. If you are doing your research, keep reading for facts and fiction on DEET insect repellent - along with some quick facts and stats for you to look through. We also give you a checklist of what to look for in DEET insect repellent and go through some frequently asked questions about DEET insect repellent. Finally, we go through our comprehensive insect protection advice, including DEET repellent reviews and our top-rated insect protection shopping guide. If you are looking for insect protection at home, for outdoor work, or for outdoor activities and travel, read up on DEET and shop our insect protection range to prevent the bites, disease, and irritation that comes with bugs.
Go straight to insect repellent, anti-bug clothes for men, anti-bug clothes for women, and anti-bug clothes for children
Shop Insect Protection >
DEET Insect Repellent: Quick Facts (and Fiction)
Shop DEET Insect Repellents >
- Not all DEET-based insect repellents are made equal: If you are unsure about products with DEET, it is worth noting that not all DEET-based insect repellents are made equal as not all DEET is made to the same standard - and not all DEET is included in a formula in the same way. Some manufacturers in the UK put way too much DEET in without using a well-thought-out formula - and then it becomes a really inefficient insect repellent which plasticises everything you touch. We had that experience with a DEET 100% product from a well-known UK supplier - which we dropped as a product - before switching to lower-DEET, higher-efficacy Australian-made insect repellents (Bushman and RID). As with baking it is both about the quality of the ingredients you use, and the formula you use to mix them together. Bushman uses only the highest quality DEET and their formula - which features Bushman Benefits such as their time-release technology - has been tested time and again each season by Australians for decades, and it works incredibly well and it is safe to use.
- DEET is well-used and trusted around the world: DEET has been applied more than 8 billion times since 1957 (the year it entered the market for civilian use). It is estimated that 200 million people apply DEET-based products every year. It is also registered in all markets around the world. DEET has also been the subject of many years of study and analysis - and continues to set the benchmark for effectiveness.
- DEET repels more than mosquitoes: DEET is effective against a range of insects - offering protection from more species of biting insect than any other repellent.
- What does DEET do?: A common myth is that DEET kills mosquitoes and insects when, actually, it repels and deters them. Current research has shown that the efficacy of DEET bug spray is simply that mosquitoes intensely dislike the smell of it. Other studies have suggested that it works by interfering with insects' receptors and obscuring the odours that make us attractive to bugs or creates a vapour barrier that means they cannot land.
- DEET percentage: If you are shopping for DEET insect repellent, you will likely come across different formulae with DEET percentages ranging from 5% all the way up to 100%. A common misconception is that DEET in higher percentages offers increased protection. The effectiveness of DEET does not increase beyond 20% and the World Health Organisation recommends a DEET percentage of 50%. A standard 20% DEET product can be expected to work for four to five hours. With this in mind - and if you are worried about the effect of DEET on skin - it makes sense to use a bug spray with a lower DEET percentage and re-apply as needed.
- Children: Is DEET safe?: The general consensus between regulatory bodies is that DEET is safe for use by everyone - including children. That said, we recommend our DEET-based insect repellents for children aged three and over - simply because they are able to communicate better around whether they get some of the product in their eyes, etc.
- DEET repellent and plastic: You need to exercise extra caution around plastics and some synthetic materials when using DEET-based products. As a solvent in the tolune chemical category, it can react and discolour certain materials. Always read the warnings on packaging and be as mindful as possible about overspray and contact with glasses frames, binoculars, mobile phones, plastics and painted surfaces, and other items.
What to look for when shopping for DEET bug spray
Choose a bug spray with a DEET percentage of 50% or lower
Choose leading Australian-made brands
Select DEET repellent with slow-release actives and comfortable wearer characteristics
Look for DEET spray that has been expedition tested for summer, safari, travel, and the outdoors
DEET Insect Repellent: A Bug-By-Bug Overview
Shop the Best Insect Repellent >
- DEET mosquito repellent: Mosquitoes are associated with malaria, West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, and Zika - and there are more of this deadly insect on the planet than humans. This demands special vigilance - particularly if you are travelling to warm-weather climates. DEET has a well-earned reputation as a top mosquito repellent. Without question, the best way to avoid mosquito-borne diseases is to avoid being bitten in the first place, which makes your choice of bug spray important. We have recommended our selection of DEET insect repellents to safari-goers for more than ten years - and successfully expedition tested them ourselves throughout Africa. If you are concerned about mosquito-borne diseases, be sure to consult your healthcare practitioner for medical advice and prophylactic options before you travel.
- DEET: Ticks: A huge variety of tick species exist around the world - and only a few of these transmit disease, with certain species being associated with particular diseases. Ticks are prevalent all year round - especially in warmer weather. As tick populations grow, so too do concerns around tick-borne disease such as Lyme Disease, which is on the rise. When it comes to tick safety, DEET insect repellent is one of the leading recommendations to avoid tick bites.
- DEET repellent for biting flies: There are about a million different species of fly in the world. Apart from the disease-carrying varieties, buzzing, biting flies are also a nuisance. Most fly bites are harmless, but taking preventative measures by wearing DEET insect repellent prevents itchy, swollen bites.
- Other bugs you can beat with DEET: One of the great benefits of DEET is that it offers protection from a range of insects, which is convenient for light packing and simplicity. DEET is well-known to repel mosquitoes, ticks, sand flies, ticks, leeches, sand fleas, no-see-ums, march flies, horse flies, bird lice, and other insects.
- Tsetse flies: We have tested both RID and Bushman DEET insect repellents in many parts of Africa and we've found that the RID Roll-On is the most effective against tsetse flies. We also tested Bushman Ultra and RID Tropical Strength in Zambia and found that the performance was close to that of the roll-on.
DEET Insect Repellent
We provide answers to questions we are frequently asked about DEET Insect Repellent
What is the most effective insect repellent?
DEET is one of the most effective and long-standing insect repellent ingredients. When it comes to bug spray that actually works, DEET insect repellent is the gold standard and works to deter and repel a range of different insects.
What percentage of DEET is best?
DEET in higher percentages doesn't offer more protection, but affects how long the repellent works. The effectiveness of DEET doesn't increase beyond 20% and the World Health Organisation recommends a DEET percentage of 50% or less.
What do I need to know about DEET and pregnancy?
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is safe to use DEET for insect protection. However, this should be done with caution and not with DEET percentages of more than 50%. This information shouldn't take the place of medical advice and it's always a good idea to consult a medical practitioner.
What is DEET in bug spray?
Diethyltoluamide or DEET is one of the most common active ingredients in insect repellents. It is made for direct application to the skin and is well-known to repel mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects.
Is DEET bad for you?
The use of DEET in an insect repellent is not bad for you and the claim that it is, is unsubstantiated. Why do we say this? Simply as DEET has been the subject of decades of study and analysis, has extremely widespread usage (hundreds of millions of people around the world each year), and has been approved by regulatory health bodies worldwide.
Some people have experienced irritated skin and eyes can become irritated if sprayed too close. People have also experienced adverse reactions to ingesting DEET. As always, we recommend closely following the instructions on the label and consulting a medical practitioner with any concerns.
Shop Our Selection of DEET Insect Repellents >
DEET repellent and other insect protection advice
The best things in life happen outdoors. The Safari Store is committed to improving the outdoor and safari experience of all our clients. Bugs can be a real buzz kill so, in our pursuit of the best insect repellent for your adventures, we looked to the continent that's become synonymous with insect protection excellence: Australia. Our Australian-made insect repellents are premium brands in Australia and are a staple across many Australian households to protect families from insects every day. We have also safari and expedition tested our products to ensure they perform and these DEET repellents have proven their reliability over and over again over the years. Shop Bushman Insect Repellent (worldwide) and RID (available to clients outside the UK)
Insect repellent & clothing: While DEET repellent is at the core of your insect protection toolkit, there are a few other ways to prevent insect bites on outdoor adventures. Covering up is another effective measure. Our BUGTech™ clothing range provides extra defence against biting insects and has also been extensively developed and tested across Africa and outdoors.
Ankle protection: These vulnerable spots are an easy target for mosquitoes - or to collect ticks when walking through grass. Ankle gaiters are a simple anti-insect measure to keep bugs off your ankles and prevent bites.
Find out more about The Safari Store >
Reviews of our DEET repellents
Reviews are a great way to find out more about our DEET repellents off the back of real consumer experiences.
RID DEET Spray
Review by Augusta: "No other spray keeps the bugs away quite as well as RID. I take it on every trip without fail. It’s easy to apply, the bottle is a handy size to throw into a day pack, and it holds the perfect amount for one person on a two week trip. The mosquitoes in the areas where we travel can often carry some very dangerous diseases, so as well as preventing painful and itchy stings, it protects my health as well."
Shop for RID Insect Repellent
Insect Protection and DEET Insect Repellent Shopping Guide:
Make memories without the hum of insects in the background or the burning recollection of red and painful welts. Our products are some of the key items you need for a comprehensive anti-bug strategy. Shop our insect protection range from the combinations below.
DEET Insect Repellent
Shop All Insect Repellent >
Women's Anti-Bug Clothing
Shop All Women's BUGTech™ Clothing >
Men's Anti-Bug Clothing
Shop All Men's BUGTech™ Clothing >
Children's Anti-Bug Clothing
Shop All Children's Anti-Bug Clothing >
Shop DEET insect repellent or use these links below to explore more insect protection products & advice:
Other ways to avoid getting bitten