What is the most common term for a substance that discourages insects from landing on you?

I tried Ngram and the results favored insect repellent. However, bug spray yields more results in a Google search. Another popular term is bug repellent.

Which term is most commonly used in casual AmE?

  • 1
    "Off" would be the word you are seeking.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 13, 2022 at 22:12
  • off.com/en/product
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 13, 2022 at 23:55
  • 1
    I would imagine there are regional differences in this as well. In the Midwest, we would almost exclusively use 'bug spray'.
    – Balaz2ta
    Jun 14, 2022 at 2:39

2 Answers 2


Note: I'm an avid outdoorsman (hiking, camping, etc.) and am basing this on my personal experience in the New York-area outdoors community.

I understand "insect repellent" to be a hypernym that includes "bug spray" as well as permethrin (which should never be sprayed directly on someone), citronella candles, gels, etc. (Note that it is common to say "insect repellent" for substances that also repel ticks and other small pests.)

Thus, if we're talking about something that we spray on ourselves, we usually say "bug spray". Otherwise we often say "insect repellent" or (less frequently) "bug repellent".


Insect repellent and bug spray are not the same thing in American English.

Insect repellent is what you use to keep bugs from biting you outdoors. Mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, whatever. You put it on your body.

Bug spray or insecticide are what you use to kill bugs indoors. Usually this means ants or cockroaches. You don't spray it on yourself.

  • 9
    In common parlance, bug spray covers both meanings. Context usually sorts things out. "Best bug spray for babies" is not really ambiguous, is it?
    – Phil Sweet
    Aug 30, 2020 at 4:27
  • 1
    I agree with @PhilSweet in that "Pass the bug-spray!" definitely and unambiguously asks for a 'personal' insect-repellent rather than evoking some sort of "let's cover my house in a circus tent and douse it in chemicals" scenario.
    – DotCounter
    Jun 14, 2022 at 5:27
  • @LetEpsilonBeLessThanZero Sure, context can change meaning. But context isn't always present. If you ask someone in a store where to find the bug spray, you're likely to get insecticide. It's at the very least ambiguous.
    – Robusto
    Jun 14, 2022 at 12:55

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