Which Tick Repellents to Use And How to Use Them

by - Monday, April 11, 2016

It's tick season which means we need to take precautions and be aware of the risks. You may remember my story from this time last year on 5 myths about ticks and my top 10 tick safety tips, but I have just learned some new information about tick repellents and wanted to share it with you.

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. I earn a tiny commission off items purchased through these links at no extra cost to you.

Effective Tick Repellents & Application

  1. For the best protection against ticks, you need to do two things: a) spray exposed skin with insect repellent containing 20-30% DEET and b) spray your clothing and footwear with tick repellent containing 0.5% permethrin1

  2. If you cannot find gear sprays containing permethrin, your best option is insect repellent containing 20-30% DEET. Be sure to reapply as needed for maximum benefit, and reapply sooner if ticks are not being repelled.
    • OFF! Deep Woods Sportsmen II, Ben's 30% DEET, and 3M Ultrathon are a few insect repellents that contain 30% DEET.
      30% DEET Insect Repellents
  3. Tick repellents containing permethrin kill ticks on contact and last for a few weeks and a few washings (varies by manufacturer) if applied properly. Take care to apply to clothes only; permethrin is not meant to be sprayed directly on skin!

  4. Spray your shoes and socks with tick repellent! Research shows that spraying your shoes and socks with tick repellent containing permethrin reduces the chance of ticks on footwear by 73.6 times (77.4% of ticks found were dead vs. only 2.4% on unsprayed footwear)2. DEET insect repellents are also effective (but don't kill on contact like permethrin). Since ticks live near the ground, make it a habit to spray your footwear!

  5. Best practice is to spray the outside and inside of your pants legs  with tick repellent3 (from the knee down), but if you are trying to reduce chemical exposure, wear gaiters (sprayed with tick repellent) or pull your socks up over your pant legs, then apply tick repellent. 
  6. Coleman Permethrin Insect Repellent
  7. For more information on treating your own clothes to make them repel ticks, see this page: www.tickencounter.org/prevention/clothing_only_repellent_videos

  8. If applying sunscreen and tick repellent, put sunscreen on first and let it sink into your skin for 20 minutes, then apply insect repellent4. This reduces the amount of insect repellent absorbed by your skin.
  • >10% DEET is not recommended for use by children less than 12 years old5. Consider using icaridin insect repellents for young children instead.
  • Do not put insect repellent near your eyes, mouth, nose, or cuts/abrasions.
  • Insect repellents should only be sprayed outdoors on a calm day, away from pets and children. 
  • Permethrin is extremely toxic when wet, so do not use on areas that will get sweaty (like the soles of your socks). Fortunately it has very low toxicity when dry.

Natural Remedies?

The EPA has not tested most natural products for effectiveness, so it's hard to know which work well against ticks. One product that has been EPA approved and shown to be effective (see study abstract here), is BioUD, which contains the active ingredient 2-undecanone from wild tomato plants. Unfortunately it only repels ticks for 2 hours, so you will need to reapply frequently. Available online here.

What About Icaridin?

There is a lot of promising information (see below) about Icaridin - also know as Picaridin or Saltidin - but to date, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Tick Encounter Organization only recommend DEET and permethrin tick repellents (more info here: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/avoid-bug-bites). 
  • According to Consumer Reports, the top performing insect repellent was Sawyers Picaridin with 20% Picaridin (Icaridin).  Other brands containing 20% icaridin include: Mosquito Shield Piactive (available at MEC), Natrapel 8-hour, and Autan Tropical (ships from Europe). Pump types work better than aerosols.
  • Icardin may be safer for children - it is recommended "by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Canadian Advisory Committee on Tropical Medicine and Travel for travellers six months to 12 years of age"whereas DEET sprays in concentrations >10% are not advised for children under 12 years old.
  • Icaridin isn't smelly, is less greasy than DEET and doesn't damage synthetic materials.
PiActive Insect Repellent containing picaridin

Bottom Line

The most effective method is a combination of DEET insect repellent on skin and clothing, and permethrin tick repellent for footwear. If you can't find permethrin sprays, 30% DEET insect repellent is your best option.

More Tick Safety Tips

Even in town, you should cover up, use tick repellent, and do a tick check after spending time outside. "Lyme disease is present in most of Canada. Although Lyme infection is more common in rural areas, residents that live in urban areas are also at risk for infection. It is the migratory birds, robins and song sparrows etc. that bring this disease in each season.7"

Finally, be aware of the symptoms of Lyme disease and other illnesses carried by ticks. In the case of Lyme disease, it is very treatable if caught early (typical treatment is a few rounds of antibiotics)! For more information on Lyme disease, please see CanLyme.com.

If you find a tick on you or near you in Alberta, submit it to the Submit A Tick program. Details here: http://www.health.alberta.ca/health-info/lyme-disease.html. Ticks found on pets can be submitted to your veterinarian.


1. www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html
2, 3. www.tickencounter.org/prevention/protect_yourself 
4, 5, 6. www.cps.ca/documents/position/preventing-mosquito-and-tick-bites
7. CanLyme.com

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  1. Thanks for posting useful information about ticks, repellent and Lyme disease that allows us to continue to explore the great outdoors.

  2. Hope it helps, Suzi! I want people to keep adventuring and stay safe!


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