Buy It and Try It: Insect repellent

(Columbia) April 23, 2003 - One bite from a single mosquito can pass on the potentially fatal West Nile Virus. Consumer Reports testers made sure to use disease-free mosquitoes to test the effectiveness of insect repellents.

Tester Geoff Martin looked at nine of the repellents that promise to protect against mosquitoes and most also promise protection against ticks that carry Lyme Disease, "Most of these insect repellents have deet as their active ingredient. It doesn't kill the insects, but it just repels them from your skin."

Testers exposed their treated arms to 200 mosquitoes to see how long the repellents are effective. The process was repeated every half hour to see how long it took before the mosquitoes started biting. Other testers put deer ticks on their wrists because ticks normally climb upward against gravity.

They walked right up the arm without any repellent. Then an insect repellent was spread on a marked off section of the arm. This time as the ticks got close to the treated area, they made a u-turn. The test was repeated every hour to see how long the repellents worked. Martin says both tests found big differences, "We found some repellents worked on mosquitoes, for example, as long as 13 hours in a normal application and some worked as little as one hour."

Top ratings went to Ultrathon, an insect repellent from 3M. It costs $9. It kept mosquitoes away for 13 hours and ticks for 10 hours. Another plus is although it's 33% deet, it's as effective as some that are 100% deet.

Consumer Reports says deet is generally considered safe, but over the years there have been some reports about negative effects on children.

  • Do not use deet on infants under two months of age and don't apply deet near your eyes or mouth or on a cut or scrape.
  • Don't let a young child apply or handle the product, and don't apply repellent on a child's hands.
  • Don't use a stronger product than you need. If you're going out for an hour stroll in the evening, you don't need a product that keeps mosquitoes away for 13 hours.
  • Spray the product on your hands and then rub it on your face.
  • Spray over your clothes, and be sure to wash them before wearing again to avoid spreading the chemical.
  • Use any insect repellent with care.

By Troubleshooter Judi Gatson
Posted 6:00pm by

All Consumer Reports Material Copyright @ 2003 Consumers Union of U. S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED