Request A Free Estimate
how does bug spray work

Spending time outside this summer? You’re going to need bug spray, plain and simple. Without it, a camping trip, picnic, or even a walk through the park becomes a harrowing, painful, and itchy experience.

But what exactly makes bug spray a summer essential? What is in bug spray? How does bug spray work? Is there a way to make mosquito repellent more effective? By knowing how your bug spray works, you’ll be able to better avoid an itchy summer! Here’s everything you should know about what bug spray is, why we use it, and how to use it correctly.

How Does Bug Spray Work?

Most bug sprays you apply to your body are insect repellents, not insecticides. So, if you’re wondering, how does bug spray kill bugs? It doesn’t—it just keeps them away from you. Most bug sprays accomplish this goal primarily by disguising your scent.


Your body naturally produces carbon dioxide through your breath, pores, and sweat. Mosquitoes and other insects evolved to sense and track that carbon dioxide in order to find food. The chemicals in bug spray cover up the “scent” of carbon dioxide, so hunting insects can’t find you. Along with covering your scent, most bug sprays smell repulsive to bugs, which further dissuades them from coming near you. But what is in bug spray that makes it work like this?

What’s in Bug Spray?

There are a number of synthetic and naturally-occurring chemicals commonly used as the active ingredient in bug spray. So, what is mosquito repellent made of? Bug sprays primarily consist of a pressurized, concentrated dose of their active ingredient. The active ingredient in the bug spray is the chemical that masks carbon dioxide’s scent and repulses insects.

The EPA has tested and approved the following chemicals as safe and effective active ingredients for bug spray:

  • DEET is the most common active ingredient in bug spray. It’s a colorless, water-resistant synthetic chemical.
  • Oil isolated from the Nepeta cataria or “catnip” plant.
  • Citronella oil extracted from the leaves and stems of various Cymbopogon (lemongrass) plants.
  • IR3535 (or ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate--now you know why it has a number for a name) is another common synthetic chemical ingredient.
  • Picaridin is a synthetic chemical ingredient. The chemicals resemble the natural compound piperine, which is found in plants that produce black pepper.
  • Oil derived from the leaves of lemon eucalyptus trees.
  • 2-undecanone is an oily liquid that can be manufactured synthetically or extracted from rue.

However, some bug sprays may use ingredients that the EPA has not officially evaluated. Some of these ingredients (minimum risk pesticides) are proven to be safe but have not been confirmed to be effective.

How to Apply Bug Spray Safely and Effectively

Now that you know what’s in bug spray, it’s important to know how to use it. Here’s how:

  1. Always look for an EPA registration number whenever you buy bug spray
  2. Follow the directions on your spray carefully—do not apply the spray more frequently or liberally than directed
  3. Don’t spray bug spray beneath your clothing. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to apply bug spray directly to the skin for it to work. You can apply bug spray to skin that’s naturally exposed.
  4. Don’t apply bug spray to the face, eyes, hands, ears, inner ear, or mouth.
  5. Avoid applying bug spray to any wounds or damaged skin. If you do accidentally apply bug spray to an open wound, wash it out immediately.
  6. Only apply bug spray when you’re outdoors—don’t breathe in the spray during or after its application.
  7. Wash off bug spray as soon as you no longer need it.
  8. Don’t use bug spray when and where you don’t have to. Bug spray should protect you when you’re out and about, but you should never have to apply it in your own home. Although, if you have a bug problem that has you reaching for the spray constantly, get help from the pest control experts at Plunkett’s!

How Much Bug Spray is Harmful?

It’s easy to understand why so many people are wary of bug spray. It’s a chemical product that you often apply directly to your skin. DEET, in particular, has been the subject of considerable controversy for its potential toxicity.

In fact, the EPA evaluates DEET as a “category 3” toxic chemical, meaning it’s “slightly toxic.” Excessive or prolonged use of DEET may cause skin rashes, blisters, and skin and mucous membrane irritation. However, a 2014 study concluded that DEET does not present a health concern so long as it’s used properly.

If you follow the directions on the container and wash off when you don’t need it, you shouldn’t have problems when using bug spray.

Do Pest Control Companies Spray for Mosquitoes?

If you have a mosquito problem around your home or business, Plunkett’s mosquito prevention services are the way to go. To rid your space of mosquitoes, we apply an insecticide to lawns, shrubs, and all other low foliage. Our mosquito control services include:

  • Identifying and removing breeding sites
  • Treating harborage sites

Learn more about our mosquito control and prevention services!

When Bug Spray Isn’t Enough There’s Plunkett’s Professional Mosquito Control!

Now that you’re no longer wondering, how does insect spray work? It’s time to get rid of pests once and for all! Unlike any DIY methods, we address the reasons why mosquitoes keep coming back. If you have pests in your home and bug spray isn’t doing the trick, contact Plunkett’s to get pest control for mosquitoes right away!

Schedule Now