DEET Chemical Composition

DEET, or N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, is a chemical compound that falls under the category of insect repellents. Its chemical structure consists of three main components: diethyl, toluene, and amide. The "diethyl" part refers to two ethyl (C2H5) groups, "toluene" represents a methylbenzene ring (C7H8), and "amide" indicates the presence of a carbonyl group attached to a nitrogen atom. The complete formula for DEET is C12H17NO.

This chemical composition is designed to interfere with the sensory mechanisms of insects, making them less likely to land on or bite individuals who have applied DEET.

Chemical structure of DEET

DEET Development History

DEET was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the 1940s. Its origins can be traced back to efforts during World War II to find effective insect repellents for military personnel deployed to areas with high mosquito populations. The development of DEET as an insect repellent was a significant breakthrough, as it provided long-lasting protection against a variety of biting insects.

After its initial discovery, DEET underwent further refinement and testing to optimize its effectiveness and safety for widespread civilian use. It was eventually registered for public use in 1957 and has since become one of the most widely used and studied insect repellents globally.

How DEET Works to Repel Insects

DEET's mode of action involves disrupting the insects' ability to locate their human targets. Here's a step-by-step explanation of how DEET works:

  1. Olfactory Interference

    • Insects, particularly mosquitoes, locate their hosts by detecting the carbon dioxide, body odors, and heat that humans emit. DEET interferes with this process by masking the cues that attract insects. It confuses their olfactory receptors, making it challenging for them to detect the presence of a potential host.
  2. Disruption of Sensory Receptors

    • DEET is believed to affect the insect's sensory receptors, particularly those related to taste and smell. This interference makes it difficult for insects to recognize humans as a food source. Insects that come into contact with DEET are less likely to land on treated skin or bite.
  3. Repellency and Evaporation

    • DEET evaporates slowly, creating a long-lasting barrier on the skin. This slow evaporation contributes to the sustained repellency effect, providing protection over an extended period.
  4. Broad-Spectrum Protection

    • DEET is effective against a wide range of insects, including mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, and biting flies. Its broad-spectrum protection has contributed to its popularity as a reliable insect repellent.

While DEET insect repellents are highly effective, it's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding application frequency, concentration, and compatibility with other products to ensure safe and optimal use. Additionally, DEET is generally considered safe for use on clothing and exposed skin, but individuals with specific sensitivities or concerns should consult with healthcare professionals before use. 

If you still have doubts about using DEET, then please read our Debunking Deet Myths: Separating Fact From Fiction