The Best Mosquito Repellent & Bug Sprays in Canada

The best summer memories, picnics, sunsets at the lake, hiking, camping and outdoor games can be ruined by a swarm of mosquitoes buzzing above your head. Even if we put irritation from bug bites aside, the list of insect-borne diseases is not that little for us to ignore. In that case, a good insect repellent is a necessity whether you travel to a tropical island or host a bonfire with hot dogs in your backyard. A single unfortunate mosquito bite can cause serious health issues. While lethal cases are rare, those that leave a person sick for a lifetime are widely common. If you have heard of such diseases as Lyme, West Nile and Zika, it is more likely you want to protect yourself and your family while enjoying summer days.   

The idea and attempt to prevent mosquito bites are not new. For example, Native Americans used to rub a mix of mud and plants to their skin. Egyptians preferred to sleep under the protection of a thin net. And, some others used a natural plant oil, citronella, as a repellent. While all those methods were and still are effective, the progress of modern science took a great step ahead, and since in 1946 first DEET-based insect repellent was invented, it became one of the most efficient and convenient protection from bugs.   

For this guide, we selected the best mosquito repellents available in Canada. We included mosquito sprays that were top-rated and suitable for any outdoor adventure, safe for kids and pets and do not have harmful elements in them.   

Our top picks

What to look for in insect repellents

Ingredients – Ingredients that bug repellents contain directly affect the efficacy and safety of the product. To name a few active elements you want to make sure to find in your mosquito spray are DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), picaridin (icaridin), and lemon eucalyptus oil. But, before you choose the right spray for your outdoor activity, here is a little information on each ingredient that at the end helps to identify the most effective repellent.

  • DEET is one of the most efficient ingredients that provides long-lasting protection against mosquitoes and ticks. However, a spray should not include more than 15 to 30% DEET. That amount is more than enough for safe, active protection, yet higher concentration can cause rashes and even seizures.  
  • Picaridin is another synthetic repellent that dermatologists recommend using in concentrations between 20 to 30%. It has not been studied as much as DEET, yet there were no records of it causing any skin irritation. More than that, we noticed reviewing insect repellents that picaridin-based sprays cause no issues when they come in contact with synthetic fabrics and plastic sunglasses which DEET-based products can do. To compare picaridin in effectiveness to DEET, the former one with 20 percent picaridin can provide protection for up to 12 hours, while the latter one with 25 percent provides protection for up to 10 hours.  
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)based bug sprays the ingredient is an extract of the eucalyptus tree that differs from essential oils like citronella, clove, geranium, lemongrass, rosemary, and peppermint. OLE has a better protection effect than essential oils, but not as effective in time as DEET or picaridin-based sprays. (In fact, essential oil-based insect repellents are ineffective and do not last longer than half an hour.)  
  • Sunscreen – The main reason we did not include any mosquito sprays that contain sunscreen in them is that it is recommended by dermatologists to apply sunscreen at least every second hour when you spend a long time under the sun. Meanwhile, a good bug spray can protect your skin from bites for up to 10 hours and is not recommended to use too often.   

Precautions! 

Most questions arise based on whether a product can be used on a baby’s delicate skin. With that in mind, if you planning to travel and play outdoors with children, consider DEET or picaridin-based repellents: they were approved safe to use for children from two months old age. Meanwhile, OLE-based sprays are not suggested to use on any child younger than three years old. Besides the age, OLE-based repellents have a rather intense smell; thus, if you are sensitive to scents that might not be the best option for you.   

How to apply:   

It might seem simple enough to apply bug repellent lotion or spray-on skin and clothes; however, improper usage can cause possible side effects, including skin or eye irritation. Thus, a few steps to remember to follow are:  

  • Spray should be applied on exposed skin and clothing. Never under clothing. Make sure to avoid spraying on cuts, wounds and irritated skin.   
  • Do not spray near food.  
  • When applying insect repellent on the face, put it on your hands first and then tap on cheeks and forehead avoiding eyes and mouth.   
  • Finally, at the end of the day wash treated skin with soap and warm water, and laundry clothes you wore in a separate load.   

Best bug repellent for camping

OFF! mosquito repellent

You will find this bug spray on many store shelves that confirm it is the best bug repellent overall and for a fair reason. OFF! spray is formulated with 25% DEET which means it provides effective, long-lasting protection from mosquitoes and other insects. While DEET-based products are known to be greasy, this updated formula is powder-dry and does not leave an oily residue on skin and clothes. After all, who wants to add extra oily coverage on the skin when the day is hot, or when you are sweating climbing up a mountain? 

Another advantage is that you can buy this particular item as a set of sprays, thus if you travel with kids or companions you can always spread bottles through a few backpacks. The spray is ideal for fishing, camping, hiking and outdoor picnics.  

While this spray is known to protect from mosquito bites mainly, it is also effective and one of the best tick repellents on the market.   

Pros
  • Eight hour protection.   
  • Powder-dry formula.   
  • 25% DEET based.   
Cons
  • Strong odor.

Best bug repellent for sensitive skin

Care Plus 20% Icaridin insect repellent

Care Plus is an ideal insect repellent for kids and people with sensitive skin. It is a DEET-free, fragrance-free spray and can be used on children six months of age and older. The repellent also is a non-greasy, non-scented product that does not damage synthetic fabrics and plastic. It promises to protect your skin from mosquito bites for up to 12 hours and flies for up to 10.   

As one customer observed, they used this protection recently while they travelled in South Africa, Zambia, Madagascar, Reunion, Maldives, and many other countries. They never had an insect bitewore it with sunscreen every day and felt very comfortable using it.

Pros
  • DEET-free. 
  • Non-scented, non-greasy picaridin based. 
  • Ideal for kids and people with sensitive skin.   
  • 10-12 hours protection.
Cons
  • Per some customers, the bottle is too small for the price. 

Best natural bug repellent

Naturapel 6-Hour mosquito, tick & insect repellent pump spray

While this Natrapel insect repellent might work for fewer hours than DEET-based products, it is based on a natural active ingredient, Lemon Eucalyptus. Because the active ingredient comes from a natural source many customers reviewed it as the best bug repellent for dogs. It prevents mosquitoes, tick and other bugs from both humans and animals.   

Speaking of the number of hours the spray works, one of the customers noted that it worked for about five hours for her before needing to reapply, and lemony smell was not bothersome at all. It does have a bit of a residue, but nothing close to DEET products, observed another reviewer.  

Besides that, the Natrapel spray comes at a very low price and in a convenient travel size package.   

Pros
  • DEET-free natural-based product.   
  • Airplane friendly size.  
  • Six hours protection.  
Cons
  • Not as effective as DEET-based sprays.   
  • Not recommended for children younger than three years old.

Other mosquito repellents we liked

Avon Skin so soft bug guard plus

Avon is a company that offers affordable, yet quality beauty and household items. While they are known for their cosmetic selection, the mosquito spray we found also has an aesthetically pleasing appearance and provides soft-touch protection. Avon Skin So Soft Bug repellent is a picaridin-based spray that repels mosquitos for up to five hours and deer ticks for up to seven hours. The spray features a non-greasy formula that does not leave any oily marks on clothes and does not create a mess of oil and sweat on the skin. Unlike DEET-based repellents, this one has a pleasant scent and does not ruin synthetic fabrics and plastic items.   

You can also use it on kids as young as six months and older.   

Pros
  • DEET-free. 
  • Five to seven hours protection.  
  • Non-greasy formula.  
Cons
  • Fairly small bottle for a high price.

PIACTIVE DEET-free bug spray

This PIACTIVE spray is a DEET-free product that is ideal for whole family use. It is safe for children as young as six months and older. As one customer noted, this spray was recommended to her by someone who has Lyme disease. Her specialist told her that this was the only spray on the market good enough to keep ticks away without the use of DEET. Meanwhile, another customer who is an avid hiker and hiked in all sorts of terrain, tried other DEET-free mosquito repellents, but found this one the best. It does not have the harsh smell some other brands he tried had, and keeps the mosquitoes away for three-five hours. However, he noted that it does not seem to keep black flies away. 

Pros
  • DEET-free formul. 
  • Not oily or sticky on skin.  
  • Three to five hour protection.  
Cons
  • Not as long-lasting as DEET based spray. 

Thermacell mosquito repellent

While this unit is not a bug spray, we thought about including it on the list, as it could make a great gift for any committed fisherman or camper in your life. It is also a useful item to take along camping and reduce the usage of mosquito spray. The way Thermacell repellent works is by providing 15×15 feet bug-free area so you can keep it in a summer kitchen, besides a bonfire and enjoy time without constant buzzing sound.   

The set comes with Green Holster, Clip & Electronic Mosquito Repellant, four cartridges and 12 repellent mats. As one customer noted, they were able to sit outside for several hours without being attacked and drained of their blood. It can take 20-30 minutes to kick in, but when it does, being outside becomes pleasant. When the blue pad is completely white, and mosquitoes start buzzing around again (about four hours), it is time to change it. Another satisfied reviewer observed that he used it in the Canadian north, where the bugs are crazy, and this device worked to keep them away. 

Our methodology

We created this guide based on thorough research of best-rated bug repellents. All presented items have at least four Amazon stars and were approved by many customers, travellers and other buying guides. We also considered the shipping factor, thus selected mosquito sprays that are available to Canadian customers right away.   

Frequently asked questions

What is a bug repellent?  

An insect repellent or a bug spray is a substance that includes components that discourage mosquitoes and other bugs to land on the sprayed surface.   

How does a bug repellent work?  

A bug repellent substance that includes such components as DEET or picaridin works by blocking mosquitoes’ sense of smell and prevents them from finding the target.   

Are there any DIY bug repellents?  

While homemade bug repellents will never be as effective as those that include DEET or picaridin, you can always use the natural DIY product if you need protection for a short period of time. One of the most famous recipes is to mix one part oil of lemon eucalyptus or lavender essential oil with 10 parts witch hazel in the bottle. Then shake it well and spray it on skin, clothes or any other surface.   

Is a bug repellent worth it?  

Mosquito bites are itchy; they can cause skin irritation or contribute to developing a disease. Thus, purchasing a bug repellent before you head to a park, camping trip or tropical vacation, is worth every penny. A mosquito spray not only protects you from bites but allows to prevents a buzzing flock of bugs around you, so you can engage in outdoor activities without distractions.   

Picaridin vs. DEET: Which one is the best?  

While both components have a fairly similar time of effectiveness, one of the biggest differences, and the reason why many people prefer picaridin-based sprays is that DEET-based products feel oily on the skin, can leave marks on synthetic materials and have a strong odor.   

What is DEET in bug spray?   

DEET is an N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide chemical ingredient that is widely used in sprays to repel bugs. While it has been proven safe in certain doses, make sure your bug repellent does not include more than 30% DEET per bottle.    

Where can I find mosquito repellents and bug sprays?  

You can find mosquito repellents and bug sprays at any store that carries outdoor gear as Cabella’s or Canadian Tire, and also general supermarkets as Walmart, and Superstore. Most bug sprays presented in this guide are also available on Amazon.   

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About the author

Maria Kossman

Maria Kossman is an essayist, and content specialist at Rant-it.ca. Her writing appeared in a variety of fashion magazines. When she is not focused on reviewing and writing, she spends time exploring coffee shops, English literature and antique malls.
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