DEET (Diethyltoluamide)

What is it?
First Aid

What is DEET?

DEET is a pesticide that is found in most types of bug spray and other topical insect repellents.

Insect repellents are used to avoid bites from mosquitos, ticks, fleas and similar pests. Most DEET insect repellents are sprayed on the skin or clothing, while some are applied as skin lotions.

The concentration of DEET is given on the product label as a percentage. A higher percentage will provide longer protection, up to about 50 percent.

Using insect repellent with DEET can help prevent diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes, such as Lyme disease, Powassan virus, EEE and West Nile virus.

DEET is very safe when used properly. It can cause some side effects when applied to the skin, and it can cause symptoms if you swallow it. Symptoms are more likely in children. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that you use repellents that are only 10% to 30% DEET on children, and avoid using DEET on those age 2 months and younger.

Getting DEET in your eyes can cause irritation.

USDA photo of insect repellents containing DEET. Creative Commons 2.0.


What happens if someone swallows DEET?

In most cases, a taste or lick of a low-percentage DEET product will not cause more than irritation in your mouth or throat or an upset stomach.

While it is not common, swallowing larger amounts or higher concentrations of DEET can be very harmful. Symptoms can include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Drowsiness
  • Seizures
  • Heart problems

What happens if someone gets DEET on their skin?

DEET is intended for use on the skin and is generally very safe when you follow the directions on the product label. In some cases, getting DEET on your skin can cause irritation or a rash.

While using DEET is safe when you follow the directions on the label, there is some evidence that in rare circumstances children may have seizures or other symptoms similar to swallowing DEET from excessive use on the skin—for example, using far more than recommended on the product label and not washing it off after, or using too much every day.

What happens if someone gets DEET in their eyes?

DEET products can cause pain and irritation in the eyes.

What should I do if someone is having symptoms related to DEET?

If someone has swallowed DEET or is having symptoms from getting too much on their skin, call the poison center right away at 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511. In most cases the poison center will be able to help you treat your symptoms at home.

If someone has gotten DEET in their eyes, rinse their eyes with warm water for 15 minutes. Contact the poison center for instructions on how to do this safely and effectively.

How can I prevent DEET poisonings?

Use DEET safely:

  • Carefully follow all the directions on the product label. Read the label each time you use the product.
  • Use products containing no more than 30% DEET on children and have an adult apply the product, avoiding children’s hands. Avoid using DEET products on children less than 2 months old.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using DEET products, especially before handling food.
  • Wash DEET off your body as soon as you return indoors and wash any clothing treated with DEET before wearing it again.

Store DEET safely:

  • Store DEET products in their original containers
  • Store DEET products up high, out of the reach of children.
  • Keep DEET products separate from food, drink and medications.

Dispose of DEET safely:

  • DEET is considered very stable and does not require an expiration date, but if you need to get rid of a DEET product, check the label for instructions, or contact your town office.

For more information:

Learn more about safe use of DEET and other pesticides in our post “How to use bug spray safely.”

Last Updated: Wednesday May 16th 2018