How to Use Bug Spray

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 25, 2020

Bug spray, or insect repellent, uses a variety of ingredients that can make you invisible to insects looking for someone to bite. Keep in mind, though, that it won't do much to keep away stinging insects like bees, wasps, and hornets.

Follow label directions carefully. And try these tips:

  • Go with a low concentration of DEET. One that’s 30% will work as well as a stronger product.
  • Look for a graphic created by the Environmental Protection Agency that shows how long the product will protect you from tick and mosquito bites.
  • Apply just enough to cover exposed skin and clothing. Don’t use it under your clothes.
  • Don’t put it directly on your face. Spray it on your hands and pat your face.
  • Don’t apply it near your eyes or mouth. Use just a little around your ears.
  • Don’t use on skin with cuts, sores, or irritation.
  • Use bug spray only in well-ventilated areas. Don’t spray near food.
  • When you come back inside, wash treated skin with soap and water.
  • Skip products that combine DEET and sunscreen, because the instructions for using the two products are different.
  • If you get bug spray in your eyes, flush them with water and call your doctor or poison control center. If you go to the doctor, take the spray with you.

For children:

  • Don't use products with lemon eucalyptus oil on children under the age of 3.
  • Don’t let a small child put on bug spray on their own. Put some on your hands, then use your hands to put it on the child.
  • Don't apply bug spray to a young child’s hands -- they might put their hands in their mouth.

It’s rare, but bug spray can cause irritation or allergic reactions. If you think you’re having one, stop using the product. Wash your skin well with soap and water, and call a poison control center.

WebMD Medical Reference



CDC: "Insect Repellent Use and Safety."

Healthy Child Care Iowa: "Insect Repellent Fact Sheet."

University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension: "Insect Repellents."

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Using Insect Repellents Safely."

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: "Insect Repellents."

Environmental Protection Agency: "EPA Introduces New Graphic to Help Consumers Make Informed Choices about Insect Repellents."

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