Best DEET-Free Bug Sprays 2023

DEET is the abbreviation for N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, an active ingredient in many insect repellents, according to Dr. Krupa Playforth, a pediatrician and founder of The Pediatrician Mom. DEET-free means that instead of this chemical, a bug spray contains an alternative ingredient to keep bugs away.

“DEET-free products vary widely in their ingredients, both in terms of how effective they are and in terms of how well-studied (and safe) they are considered,” she says.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the frequent application of insect repellents to safeguard against bug bites and diseases including Zika, West Nile and malaria (among others).

Why is DEET-free bug spray a better choice?

“DEET is one of the most effective, well-studied and safe options out there to help prevent bites from pests like mosquitoes and ticks,” Dr. Playforth says. But some parents might want alternatives due to lifestyle, health or other factors.

She says that as both a medical professional and mother that if you’re going to choose a DEET-free alternative, it’s worth picking an ingredient that has been studied and is known to be effective. That’s because “pests like mosquitoes and ticks are known to cause serious diseases.”

She likes picaridin, an ingredient widely used in other countries as an insect repellent. “It’s generally considered effective and safe,” she says, although she notes it’s not well-studied.

She also says to read the labels, because some of the natural products out there are not necessarily effective and haven’t been studied, such as clove oil or citronella, and some can even be harmful, like the oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is not the same thing as lemon eucalyptus essential oils. “It can cause eye injury and should never be used in children under 3 years old,” she says.

“Other things to keep in mind, regardless of the bug repellent you choose, include wearing clothing that covers exposed skin, checking regularly for ticks, and applying the product to exposed skin but avoiding hands in young children to minimize the risk of ingestion,” she says.

The best DEET-free bug sprays 2023

Best overall

Ranger Ready Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray

Ranger Ready Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray, best DEET-free bug spray Merchant


  • Active ingredients: picaridin concentration of 20%
  • Quick-drying and non-greasy formula
  • Pregnancy-safe
  • Bottle contains 70 full-body adult applications


  • Some find the mist erratic

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