Bugs are part of summer, and so is bug spray. But how does bug spray work, and is it safe? Today you will learn all you need to know about everything bug spray. 

Summer is the best time of the year. There’s nothing quite like getting together with your friends and family, basking in the sun, and enjoying your backyard. 

There are endless opportunities for day trips, including going to the lake or a park. Unfortunately, a day outside often ends with the family covered in bug bites, and that itching can last for weeks. 

Environmental Pest Management provides bug control services in the Metro Twin Cities area and surrounding suburbs. We use safe products to protect the planet and your family. 

When bug spray isn’t enough for your yard, give us a call! 

What Is Bug Spray Made Of?

A backpacker spraying their legs with bug spray made with DEET.

Bug spray is excellent for making sure you’re not covered in itchy dots at the end of the day. 

Over the years, you’ve probably noticed the weird smell of many sprays, which has to do with the various ingredients. The main ingredient you will find in most bug sprays is DEET (also known as N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide.) 

DEET was first produced in 1944 as a pesticide in farm crops. DEET has been found to be slightly poisonous to some freshwater fish, but it is EPA-approved.

A study was released in 2014 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) It stated that “The Agency has not identified any risks of concern to human health.”

Many common sprays contain lemon eucalyptus oil. It serves as both an insect repellent and a remedy for killing certain types of fungus. 

Researchers say that the oil is as effective and long-lasting as products containing DEET and is a better natural alternative. 

Another ingredient that you are likely familiar with is citronella oil, which you can also find in candle form. 

Citronella is derived from an Asian grass plant known as the Cymbopogon genus. The plant produces a citrus-like aroma.

It is less protective than DEET, often only lasting for around 3 hours before you need to reapply.

Bug repellents work by irritating insects, so they don’t land on you. Natural alternatives also encourage bugs to leave the area.

How Does Bug Spray Work?

A small blonde child being swarmed by mosquitos.

You apply bug spray on a regular basis, but do you know exactly how it works?

The average bug spray isn’t designed to kill bugs but instead fights them off. 

Bug spray works by disguising the scent of your body from bugs. 

Bugs, like mosquitos and ticks, are attracted to the carbon dioxide that the human body produces. 

Carbon dioxide is released from the body through your sweat glands, pores, and even your breath. Pests associate this smell with a food source. 

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Pests find the smell of bug sprays repulsive, which helps to keep them away. Try to stay away from lavender and basil as they are highly attracted to these scents. 


A pest control worker using insecticides in a client's kitchen. Clients often ask pest control specialists how does bug spray work?

While bug spray is a repellent, insecticides are used to kill bugs such as ants, cockroaches, and hornets. There are so many different kinds of insecticides because the goal of these sprays is to administer a quick death. 

The chemicals do this by causing paralysis and attacking their central nervous systems.

There is a flower called Pyrethrins, which produces natural insecticides. The flowers look similar to daisies and have been used for hundreds of years to kill bugs and head lice. 

Pyrethroids are synthetic chemicals in Insecticides that mimic the effects of the flower. This chemical is most commonly used in wasp and hornet sprays. 

Insecticides are best used late at night. A hive tends to be less lively at night, and they are less likely to attack you when you spray. 

While bug spray works by getting insects out of the area, insecticides work by killing the pests.

Are Bug Sprays Safe?

Someone spraying a can of blue bug spray into the air.

DEET, the most common active ingredient found in household bug sprays, is a pretty controversial topic. Although the EPA registered DEET without any expected health concerns, DEET is an irritant that can often cause rashes. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns parents not to use DEET on children under two months of age. But other than that, there are no age restrictions. 

Surprisingly, the only repellent with an active age restriction is the oil of the lemon eucalyptus plant. They state that it should not be used for children under three years old. 

Natural Alternatives

Two class amber-colored bottles filled with eucalyptus oil.

As mentioned above, lemon eucalyptus oil is a widely used natural alternative to most repellent sprays. There are also alternatives to harsh chemicals that kill bugs on the spot, though they may not be as effective. 

Soap sprays have been found useful for killing pests like mites, psyllids (plant lice), and whiteflies. The sprays work by covering the bugs in soap which cuts off their oxygen supply, essentially suffocating them. 

You can make your own soap spray simply by putting some mild liquid soap in a spray bottle. While less effective than a commercial spray, it is completely non-toxic. 

Diatomaceous Earth is a powder you can find in most gardening aisles, which acts as miniature shards of glass. The powder works best against bugs that crawl, like ants, maggots, spiders, and worms. 

Apply it around vulnerable plants, and pests will be torn up when they crawl through it. Diatomaceous Earth only works when dry, so if it storms, you must sprinkle more. 

There are also various species of plants that can be put in your yard that act as a natural repellent. To find out more information, visit our article on 7 Plants that Help to Keep Mosquitos Away.

Are you sick of researching ways to deal with bugs? 

A woman using bug spray to keep mosquitos away.

Whether you’re looking for management at home or at your business, Environmental Pest Management is here to help. We are located in Burnsville, MN. We serve the Twin Cities area and surrounding suburbs. Head over to our website to get a free quote today!