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The History of DEET Bug Spray

In times past, various methods were used to ward off mosquitos, but none were particularly effective. The real game-changer in the world of mosquito repellents arrived with the introduction of DEET, a synthetic repellent invented by the United States Army. (If you’re wondering, DEET bug spray works because mosquitos hate the smell of DEET and avoid areas that smell like it.) It was originally created for use by military personnel in areas with large insect populations. Inventor Samuel Gertler of the US Department of Agriculture received a patent in 1946 for using DEET as an insect repellent in the form of a cream, lotion, or powder. However, DEET products were not approved for use by the general public until 1957. Over the years, many companies have created insect repellent products containing DEET, most notably in the spray form we often refer to as “bug spray” today. (Notably, sunscreens, wipes, and solid sticks containing DEET are also available.) While DEET bug spray is generally considered the best mosquito repellent available today and is used globally, it is classified as “slightly toxic” by the EPA and is often quite expensive in the areas of the world where mosquito protection is needed most, so research into mosquito-repellant products is ongoing.

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