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Mosquito Spray

Monday, August 9, 2021

How Does Bug Spray Actually Work?

Ah, summer. It’s a time for fun in the sun, family vacations, and outdoor adventures — but it’s also a time for insects. It’s unfortunate, but by spending more time outdoors, you’ll naturally be exposed to more bugs. This is why bug spray is considered a summer must-have. Insect repellent is a great item to have on hand if you think you’ll be in an area with a high population of summer bugs like mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, and biting flies. It may seem like bug spray is a miracle in a bottle, but there is a science to why and how it works.

First off, what is insect repellant?

Insect repellent can come in a few forms: sprays, creams, and even oils. It’s a topical product that can be applied onto skin and clothes. It is usually formulated to keep bugs away from you to prevent insect stings and bites, but some of them can also soothe and hydrate skin. It’s important to know that insect repellant is not an insecticide and doesn’t kill bugs.

How does bug spray repel insects?

To start, it’d be helpful to know what attracts bugs to us — carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide we produce from our pores, breath, and sweat is what lures hunting insects like mosquitoes to humans. The active ingredients in bug spray are designed to mask or hide the scent of carbon dioxide so insects can’t find you. For additional repellant power, bug sprays also include scents that bugs find repulsive to keep them even further away.

What are the active ingredients in insect repellent?

There are a handful of ingredients that make bug spray effective by disguising our carbon dioxide, and these all have been EPA-approved as Skin-Applied Repellent Ingredients.

  • Catnip oil, or Nepeta cataria, also known as catmint
  • Oil of citronella, which you might recognize as the active ingredient found in popular citronella candles
  • DEET, which is a​​colorless, oily liquid that was developed by the US military to protect soldiers from insects in the jungle
  • IR 3535, short for Ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate, is a colorless and almost odorless oil
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is an extract of the lemon eucalyptus tree
  • Picaridin, which can be used directly on skin or clothing
  • 2-undecanone, or methyl nonyl ketone, is usually produced synthetically, but can also be extracted from various plant sources, including from rue essential oil


Different insect repellents use these active ingredients in concentrated amounts to keep bugs away. Some ingredients are natural, some are synthetic, but these all have been EPA-approved, so they are considered safe to use. Which repellant you go with is entirely up to you. One thing to make sure of is that you use these outdoors and not in your home, and as always, avoid the eyes, nostrils, mouth, and any open wounds while applying.

Need a Helping Hand with Pests?

Summer pests got you down? Don’t let biting bugs ruin your summer! Call Nader's Pest Raiders today — we’ll take care of the rest.