Insects have developed highly sophisticated and sensitive olfactory systems to find animal or plant hosts for feeding. Some insects vector pathogens that cause diseases in hundreds of millions of people and destroy billions of dollars of food products every year. There is great interest, therefore, in understanding how the insect olfactory system can be manipulated to reduce their contact with hosts. Here, we review recent advances in our understanding of insect olfactory detection mechanisms, which may serve as a foundation for designing insect control programs based on manipulation of their behaviors by using odorants. Because every insect species has a unique set of olfactory receptors and olfactory-mediated behaviors, we focus primarily on general principles of odor detection that potentially apply to most insects. While these mechanisms have emerged from studies on model systems for study of insect olfaction, such as Drosophila melanogaster, they provide a foundation for discovery of odorants to repel vector insects or reduce their host-seeking behavior.