There are few moments more enjoyable than sipping a cup of coffee outside in the morning sun or relaxing under the stars at night, but flies, mosquitoes, gnats, midges, and other flying insects can ruin the fun. Fly repellents are specifically designed for warding off a wide variety of these pests, allowing you to take back control of your yard, deck, and patio.
The best fly repellent depends on how you will be using it. Some fly repellents can be directly applied to your body or clothing in the form of a spray, wipe, or lotion. Others function as an area repellent to protect any outdoor space around your home via candles, incense sticks, or ultrasonic sound waves.
Ahead, learn the factors to consider when choosing the best fly repellent for your outdoor space—and don’t miss our roundup of top-favorite options below.
- BEST OVERALL: OFF! Deep Woods Insect & Mosquito Repellent VIII
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Mos-Repel Ultrasonic Pest Repellent (2 Pack)
- BEST NATURAL: Buggins Natural Insect Repellent, DEET-Free
- BEST CANDLE: Cutter 95783 Citronella Candle
- BEST LOTION: Repel Insect Repellent Sportsmen Max Formula Lotion
- BEST WIPES: Repel Insect Repellent Mosquito Wipes 30% DEET
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Fly Repellent
Whether you’re looking for a personal fly repellent or a solution for the entire backyard, there are several factors to keep in mind when choosing the best fly repellent for a specific purpose. Considerations include the form and active ingredients of the repellent, the insect species it combats, the length of protection, and several other important aspects. Read on to learn more.
Fly repellent is available in a variety of forms, including sprays, lotions, wipes, candles, incense sticks, and ultrasonic vibration.
- Sprays are the most common form of fly repellent. A can or bottle can quickly and effectively coat an individual from head to toe, but the drawback is that sprays can be difficult to control and may result in the user spraying repellent in the eyes or mouth.
- Lotions can be messy to apply but can also allow for a more targeted application of the repellent. This type of personalized protection is great for camping, hiking, or climbing, since lotions are typically sweat resistant and water resistant and will continue working for hours as you enjoy the outdoors.
- Wipes are the best option for a controlled application. Instead of dealing with a spray that can get in your eyes or a messy lotion, wipes allow you to moderate the amount of repellent applied to the body and clothing.
- Candles are commonly placed on the front porch, back deck, or patio for repelling flying insects like mosquitoes and flies. While they are easy to use, candles should never be left unattended.
- Incense sticks can be straight or coiled and typically sit on an outdoor coffee table, dining table, or picnic table at the center of a campsite to keep away pests. Remember to always keep an eye on lit incense sticks to prevent accidental fires.
- Ultrasonic vibration repellents use ultrasonic sound waves to repel insects from a general area, either indoors and outdoors, and can be left alone with no risk of causing a fire. These devices typically operate on batteries, though some products may plug into an electrical outlet.
The active ingredients found in fly repellents fall into five categories, including essential oils, picaridin, DEET, permethrin, and IR3535.
- Essential oils are natural and have plant-based origins. Natural fly repellents often include citronella, rosemary, lemongrass, and peppermint, but there is a wide variety of essential oils that repel flying pests. While these ingredients are not as effective as DEET or picaridin, they are less dangerous to people. However, if ingested, inhaled, or applied to the skin in large enough quantities, some essential oils can still be harmful. Some people might also be allergic to one or more essential oils, so be sure to check the warnings and directions on the packaging before use.
- Picaridin and DEET are the most commonly used chemical fly repellents, but picaridin is more popular across the international community. This chemical is a comparable alternative to DEET in just about every category and even seems to last for a longer time. Picaridin also isn’t as toxic to marine life as DEET, but it is still considered moderately toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO). Use fly repellents with picaridin with caution and never in excess.
- DEET was developed by the U.S. Army to protect soldiers from tropical insects and has been the most popular mosquito repellent in America since 1957. It is highly effective at warding off flies, mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects, but DEET is highly toxic to aquatic creatures. Although DEET is the most effective chemical ingredient available, it isn’t advisable for children and can even be harmful to adults. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for use and application to avoid harmful effects from ingestion, absorption, or inhalation.
- Permethrin is the least toxic of all the chemically based repellent ingredients, but it wears off very quickly when applied directly to the skin. Instead, apply permethrin to clothing, where it provides long-lasting, odorless protection for weeks, even after several wash cycles. This makes permethrin a good choice for individuals who require the element of stealth while they are outside, like hunters, anglers, and wildlife photographers.
- IR3535 is a simple way to write “Insect Repellent 3535.” It was introduced to the market in 1999 as an alternative to picaridin and DEET. However, while IR3535 is typically useful for flies, gnats, and mosquitoes, this is the least effective of the four chemically based repellent ingredients.
Fly repellent is effective for a wide assortment of flying insects. This is because the term “flies” covers a large group of insects that includes more than 110,000 different species. For this reason, it’s important to look at the product information and the manufacturer’s directions for use if you need repellent for a specific species of fly.
Typically, fly repellent is designed to repel common flying insects, like houseflies, blackflies, horseflies, mosquitoes, gnats, and midges. Depending on the active ingredient, the repellent may also prevent ticks, spiders, and several other insect species that don’t belong to the fly family, which makes these products ideal for a campsite where versatility is necessary.
Length of Protection
The length of time that a spray, candle, or another form of fly repellent will remain effective can vary greatly between individual products. Even a repellent made by the same company and using the same ingredients can vary in the amount of time it is effective due to the variation in the number of active ingredients.
For economy and convenience, look for a fly repellent that will protect with only one application for the entire time you are outside. Fly repellents indicate their longevity and directions for reapplication in the product information and on the manufacturer’s directions for use.
Fly repellents include harmful ingredients, like DEET, permethrin, and even concentrated essential oils, so it’s important to take the time to properly apply the repellent.
- Wipes are easy to use. Just rub the repellent from the wipe onto your skin as indicated by the directions.
- Lotions can be rubbed into your skin just like sunscreen. Some lotions and balms actually come in a formula that includes a sunscreen to provide protection from flies and the sun in one helpful product.
- Sprays involve simply covering your eyes and mouth, then pumping the spray bottle to properly apply the repellent to any exposed areas.
Safety needs to be a priority whenever you are dealing with dangerous ingredients that can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. With this in mind, it’s important to always read and follow the directions for use that are listed in the product information, on the product container, and on the manufacturer’s website to mitigate the risks of using a fly repellent.
Chemical repellents can cause adverse symptoms, including eye irritation, skin rashes, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, shortness of breath, and vomiting. If you or someone in your home shows signs of having ingested or inhaled a chemical repellent, call 911. You can also call the poison control center for information.
Our Top Picks
Check out this list to discover some of the best fly repellents on the market to increase outdoor safety from bug bites and rid outdoor space of those irritating pests. These top picks were chosen with all of the abovementioned considerations in mind, in addition to overall quality, efficacy, and value.
Due to their overall effectiveness, DEET repellents like this one remain popular for keeping flying and biting insects at bay. This fly repellent is available in two 4-ounce spray cans that are ideal for a fishing, hiking, or camping trip or for simply using in the backyard. The aerosol spray is easy to apply, though users should remember to cover their eyes, nose, and mouth to reduce the chance of eye irritation, ingestion, or inhalation.
This fly repellent is made with 25 percent DEET, allowing it to repel several fly species, including mosquitoes, gnats, and biting flies. It can also ward off chiggers and ticks. The fly repellent boasts a powder-dry formula that won’t leave an oily or greasy residue after application, and it remains effective for up to 8 hours, at which point it can be reapplied.
These two ultrasonic pest repellers from Mos-Repel are designed to be plugged directly into a power outlet. The blue light indicates the device is working, though it should be noted that sound waves have a difficult time traveling through solid objects, like a wall or door, so these affordable devices are only effective within a single room or an open area.
When used in an open space, the ultrasonic sound waves are capable of repelling a range of pests within a 1,600-square-foot space. While this product repels flies and other common flying insects, like mosquitoes and gnats, it can also keep cockroaches, mice, spiders, ants, and fleas away from the home. The repeller continues working as long as it is plugged in, and users don’t need to worry about harmful chemicals, making this product a great choice for homes with small kids and pets.
The Buggins fly repellent is a natural option that is completely DEET-free. It’s also free of any other chemically based active ingredients; instead, this repellent uses plant-based active ingredients, including geraniol, peppermint, lemongrass, and clove. Incorporating the scents of vanilla, mint, and roses, this repellent smells pleasant but repels gnats, buffalo gnats, turkey gnats, flies, and no-see-ums.
This natural fly repellent comes in a small 4-ounce spray bottle, so it can be conveniently carried in a pocket, bag, or purse. After application, this repellent will remain effective for up to 2 hours before requiring reapplication. The natural ingredients make it a safe alternative to DEET- and permethrin-based repellents, so parents and pet owners can feel comfortable using this product around the home.
The candle fly repellent from Cutter is designed for outdoor use on a patio, deck, or at a campsite where the citronella-scented smoke can ward off a variety of flying pests in a 100-square-foot range. While the candle is made with natural citronella essential oils and doesn’t contain harmful chemical active ingredients, like DEET or permethrin, it still isn’t recommended for indoor use as concentrated amounts of essential oils in an enclosed space can cause eye irritation.
This fly repellent candle is just over 1 pound and comes in a large metal bucket with a lid and a carrying handle, making it easy to transport. It can burn for up to 30 hours, though this time may be shorter if the candle is exposed to elements that increase the burn rate, like medium to high winds.
This Repel fly repellent is a good option for those who prefer the targeted application that lotion can provide, instead of having to deal with a spray. Just pour out a small amount of lotion, then rub it into any exposed skin, similar to using sunscreen lotion. However, users will still want to apply lotion sparingly to the face and avoid the eyes, mouth, and other sensitive areas.
This fly repellent contains 40 percent DEET, ensuring protection from mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, biting flies, chiggers, and fleas for up to 10 hours before reapplication is needed. It’s suitable for campers, golfers, bikers, joggers, and hikers because the lotion is resistant to water and excessive sweating.
These 15 individual fly repellent wipes from Repel come in a travel-size pouch for repelling pests at home or on the go. While easy to use, adults should still apply the wipe to children to avoid accidents. You can pull one wipe from the pouch to apply repellent to all exposed skin, using it sparingly on the face while avoiding the eyes and mouth. After application, the repellent will remain effective for up to 10 hours before reapplication is necessary.
These fly repellent wipes have a peppermint and citronella scent that naturally repels flying insects, but they also contain 30 percent DEET for lasting outdoor protection from mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, biting flies, no-see-ums, gnats, and fleas. The pouch is resealable, so you won’t have to worry about unused wipes drying out between camping trips.
FAQs About Fly Repellents
Some users may still have safety concerns about how to apply and use fly repellent. The following answers to some of the most frequently asked questions may help.
Q. Are fly repellents toxic to people and pets?
Most fly repellents contain chemicals that can be toxic to people and pets in high enough concentrations.
Q. Are there any risks associated with insect repellents?
If the insect repellent contains strong chemicals, like DEET, then large doses are often associated with skin blisters, headaches, shortness of breath, seizures, memory loss, and skin irritation. EPA-registered repellents are safe when used as directed, but if you prefer to be more careful, avoid repellents with harsh chemicals to negate these dangers.
Q. How often can I use a fly repellent?
A fly repellent can be used about once every 6 hours, though you should always refer to the manufacturer’s directions for use before reapplication.