Protect Your Skin, Hurt Your Car
If you Google the phrase “bug spray car paint,” you might be surprised to see a list of top posts that proclaim “Just ruined paint with bug spray! Unbelievable!”; “Just messed up my paint, Help!”; and even “Bug Spray ate my car!”
It may sound melodramatic, but it seems to be true. That insect repellant you put directly on your skin to protect yourself from bug bites is no friend to your automotive coating.
Protects Skin, Melts Paint
On Sept. 4, Yahoo! Autos editor-at-large (and race car driver) Alex Lloyd shared a personal experience of what happened to his neighbor when the protective spray met his Jeep’s paintwork.
A bug spray containing just 15 percent DEET, according to Lloyd, was sprayed on children near the vehicle. Where the liquid made contact with the vehicle and dried, white marks resembling paint were evident on the body the next day.
After the marks were wiped off, it became evident that the clear coat had been removed, leaving behind “tiny bumps” on the surface that could not be buffed out.
Clarity or Distraction?
Digging deeper into the story, Lloyd found that it was the DEET in the product that was responsible for the damage—and that some people even promote using it to restore headlights.
Videos abound on YouTube of folks who rub insect repellant onto their plastic headlamp coverings and marvel at the clarity.
While Lloyd’s neighbor indicated the repellant used in his house contained only 15 percent DEET, some of the YouTube videos show products in use containing 40 percent DEET.
However, Lloyd cites one YouTube user, ChrisFix, who demonstrates the solvent properties of DEET, showing how the product actually melts the plastic when left on and, if not removed properly, can wash down and destroy the surrounding paint job and plastic bumpers.
Although a popular application for cleaning hazy headlights, one YouTuber points out the ways DEET acts as a solvent, melting plastic and threatening the car's paint job.
He told Lloyd that the DEET can be compared to the acetone used to remove nail polish, but that it isn’t easily removed and will continue to dissolve the object it touches.
“It’s very difficult to neutralize using normal household products—soapy water doesn’t work, alcohol doesn’t work, nothing really works,” he said in the article.
Despite the damage people are seeing to their paint jobs, DEET is still safe to use on human skin and, according to Popular Science, “The chemical is the best insect repellent people have ever invented. Nothing else has the same history of efficacy.”
Just maybe step away from the car before use.