Mosquito repellents: Test-driving brands and natural spray

Manitobans may be in for a slap-happy summer — also known as mosquito season — so we're putting four bug repellents to the test, including an all-natural product made near Winnipeg.

Mosquito repellents: Test-driving brands and natural spray

9 years ago
Duration 2:44
Mosquito repellents: What keeps blood-sucking bugs at bay?

Manitobans may be in for a slap-happy summer — also known as mosquito season — so we put four bug repellents to the test, including an all-natural product made near Winnipeg.

We've asked a Winnipeg U-12 soccer team to test-drive four insect repellents: Off! Family Care, Muskol, Manitoba Mist and Off! Clip-On. (CBC)
Hot, wet and muggy weather in recent days are prime conditions for mosquitoes, but the seasonal blood-sucking buzzkills have already been pestering many Winnipeggers for weeks now.

So the CBC's Katie Nicholson asked the Riverview boys' under-12 soccer team, and the players' parents and grandparents, to test-drive four products:

  • Muskol, the top-selling repellent at Mountain Equipment Co-op in Winnipeg.
  • Off! Family Care spray, a top household seller.
  • Off! Clip-On, which consists of a repellent cartridge and a fan in a small clip-on case.
  • Manitoba Mist, a natural product made in St. Norbert, Man.

The non-scientific, anecdotal test took place at a soccer practice this past weekend at the Riverview Community Centre.

The products were tested not only on players, but also on spectators sitting — and swatting mosquitoes — on the sidelines.

"If you're sitting, they're a little bit more problematic," said Stephen Segal, a parent who tried the Off! Family Care spray.

"Sometimes they can get onto you and bug you. You'd have to sort of get up and get around, move around."

The results

After an hour on the field, the results were mostly positive for all four products.


"It just poisons the mosquitoes," Nico Distasio said of the Muskol spray, which contains a 30 per cent concentration of the chemical DEET.

Sam Segal, Stephen Segal, Sam Brown and Adam Kroft tried Off! Family Care spray during a soccer practice at the Riverview Community Centre over the weekend. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)
"It's got some good power there. Good old DEET; I guess you can never go wrong," said Nico's dad, Jino Distasio.

Staff at Mountain Equipment Co-Op say customers are generally looking for insect repellents that are effective and long-lasting.

"DEET's really effective and it works for keeping mosquitoes away and preventing things like West Nile," said Cory Funk, a product expert at MEC.

"A lot of people do go towards DEET because it is the one thing that's known and proven to work well to repel mosquitoes."

Off! Family Care and Clip-On

The Off! Family Care spray worked for Sam Segal, who reported "no bites" after practice, but it didn't work as well as father Stephen had hoped.

"They were kind of sitting on me and they were about to bite," Segal said. "I might go for something stronger."

Jino Distasio, left, and the soccer players who tried the Muskol spray: Nico Distasio, Ben Westmore and Dylan Descoteau. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)
Those who tried the Off! Clip-On said they like the fact that it's not sprayed on and therefore doesn't leave a residue on skin. Instead, the fan is clipped onto waistbands.

"I think it's better than the spray-ons," said team player Brennan Elphick. "I don't like the feeling [of repellent spray] on my skin, while I could just wear this."

Carol Polonski, a grandmother who also tried the clip-on repellent, said she liked it even though it costs a little more than sprays.

"I don't think price is an issue if it works," she said.

Polonski said the only concern she had was whether the repellent would keep mosquitoes from flying under people's hats, for example.

Manitoba Mist

There were also good reviews of Manitoba Mist, the spray containing citronella and other essential oils.

Brennan Elphick, left, and Carol Polonski tried the Off! Clip-On insect repellent. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)
"It just poisons them right away," said player Jon Stryker.

"I liked it. It was a bit sticky at the start but it went away after a few minutes," said Jakob McKenna.

Parent Danny Descoteau was initially skeptical about the natural spray, but after trying it said he would test it again.

"I'd like to try it when we're sitting around at the lake or something like that and see how it works, but it semed to be good," he said.

Farm owner wanted DEET-free alternative

Manitoba Mist was developed by Louise May of Aurora Farm. She said she wanted a DEET-free mosquito repellent for her family, employees and farm animals.

"I'm just not happy with the DEET-based chemical products and wanted to offer an alternative for people who want to go natural," she said.

When asked why she doesn't want to use DEET-based products, May replied, "Even Health Canada has said that DEET is a neurotoxin for kids under 12, so that should be enough to not be able to use it anymore."

Parent Danny Descoteau along with players Jakob Mckenna, Dante Distasio and Jon Slyker test-drove Manitoba Mist. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)
Health Canada's website advises against the prolonged use of DEET on children under the age of 12. As well, Muskol recommends against using its spray on children under 12.

The federal agency allows up to 30 per cent concentration of DEET in insect repellents to be used by adults and children over the age of 12.

Manitoba Mist's label does not indicate that it's a mosquito repellent, and May said there's a good reason for that.

"We have a little dilemma with Health Canada right now that they won't recognize natural bug sprays," she explained.
Louise May sprays Manitoba Mist on her goats at Aurora Farm in St. Norbert, Man. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)

"We and many other companies, small companies, across the country have been complaining about this, trying to make this change. But until then, I don't want to take the chance of having my products pulled."

According to Health Canada, "Pesticides, including personal insect repellents and outdoor insecticides, must be registered in Canada under the Pest Control Products Act."

The agency says it evaluates pesticides before they are registered to make sure they are effective for their intended use and they meet current health and safety standards.

With files from the CBC's Katie Nicholson


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