Deet Insect Repellents - Safety Tips

Tips for safe use of bug spray and other insect repellents

Insect repellents are available in various forms and concentrations. Aerosol and pump-spray products are intended for skin applications as well as for treating clothing. Liquid, cream, lotion, wipes and stick products enable direct skin application.

Insect repellents with a low concentration of active ingredient may be appropriate for situations where exposure to insects is minimal. Higher concentration of active ingredient may be useful in highly infested areas, or with insect species which are more difficult to repel. Where appropriate, consider non-chemical ways to deter biting insects; such as screens, long sleeves, and slacks.

DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide) based insect repellents provide reliable protection against both mosquitoes and ticks.  DEET was developed by the U.S. Army in 1946 and initially registered by EPA in 1957 for general public use. It is estimated by EPA that approximately 30% of the U.S. population uses DEET products annually, (an average of 4 million pounds of active ingredient per year) and it is one of the few registered pesticides applied directly to human skin.

DEET Insect Repellent safetyDEET based insect repellents must be used carefully, and always in accordance with label directions. Overuse is potentially unsafe. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that the use of any product containing more than 10% DEET is dangerous to children. 

The EPA recommends the following precautions when using insect repellents:

  • Apply only to exposed skin - Do not use under clothing.
  • Use sparingly - Apply just enough insect repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. Heavy application and saturation is unnecessary for effectiveness.  If biting insects do not respond to a thin film of repellent, apply a bit more.
  • Wash off - After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water. This is particularly important when insect repellents are used repeatedly in a day or on consecutive days. Also, wash treated clothing before wearing it again. Never use repellents in areas where the skin is broken; i.e., near cuts, wounds, or blisters.
  • Keep Kids Away - Do not allow children to handle insect repellents, inlcuding DEET insect repellents, and do not apply to children's hands. When using on children, apply to your own hands and then put it on the child.