If you, like me, are a mosquito magnet, summer weather brings with it a particular kind of dread. Though my Brooklyn neighborhood would hardly be confused with “nature,” our wee outdoor space can feel like the Everglades. Since I tend to obsess about spending summer as bugless as possible, I thought I’d share a few tips for fellow urbanites.
First, at risk of stating the obvious, fending off mosquitos needn’t require money. So before heading to the store, here are a few no-brainers:
• Remove any standing water around your place. Gutters, bird baths, and pots are breeding grounds for critters.
• Avoid wearing bright colors and fragrances, lest you be confused with vegetation. I’ve also read that you should avoid dark colors as well, but I’m not sure where that leaves you.
• The worst times of day for bites are dusk and dawn. The second worst time: the period inbetween. So take precautions when you’re outside then, particularly when the weather is hot or humid.
Inside: Bug repellent, clothing, and Skeeter Bag!
Ready to spend money? When you’re in serious mosquito hell, you’ll want to resort to bug repellent. If so, DEET is generally the most effective, and is relatively safe, so look for products containing it.
For kids and hippies, Slate found Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Spray to be the most effective alternative. Unlike chemical repellents, Eucalyptus Spray needs to be applied every hour — and it’s fairly smelly — so you know it’s natural.
If you want to avoid insecticides, protective clothing is your best option: wear loose-fitting, tightly woven material with (duh) long sleeves and pants.
Unfortunately, covering up also tends to be uncomfortably hot, so I investigated options to avoid the heat factor. I wrote a few companies and asked them to send samples of summer shirts that could help deter bites. The snobs at Patagonia turned me down, but I heard from a couple of others.
The North Face vaporwick long-sleeve tee ($34) is like magic: cool and crazy comfortable. On the downside, it made me look like a Star Trek crew member…. or like someone aspiring to athleticism, but not quite making it. I also hate having a logo — any logo — on my chest. I’d wear this out walking, jogging, or watering the plants, but not to an outdoor picnic.
Exofficio has a line called Buzz Off specifically designed to repel mosquitos. I tried a simple long-sleeve tee ($34) and a collared button-down, Baja ($85). Both were cool and comfortable, though not magic. The Buzz Off line contains Permethrin, an insect repellent that’ll last though 25 washes; unfortunately, it requires that you launder the stuff separately. And, oh yeah, it’s highly toxic to cats. So if you want to fend off cats as well as bugs, this is your product.
I bought a Skeeterbag for $11, cos it’s so beautifully lo-tech – a much cheaper and smarter option than fancy mosquito magnets or vacuums. You just attach this net to a large box fan, place in near a spot that you want bugless, and you’re set. Mosquitos get sucked into the net from the back of the fan and can’t get out as long as the fan’s on. Pros: Bugs don’t like fans on them. Cons: people don’t either. Propping up a box fan next to your patio table kind of zaps the ambiance. And it only helps in a small area. Really, this is only workable if your next door neighbors are breeding mosquito colonies, or if your home has several horses and dogs. (It was invented by a guy who raises both.)
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
• Citronella candles work, but they’re best in confined spaces when there’s not a lot of wind. The scent covers up the smell of your breath, which mosquitos are attracted to. Make sure to buy candles that have glass or other containers shielding them from wind; many candles don’t, rendering them all but useless in the real world.
• Considering replacing outdoor lighting with yellow “bug” lights, which attract fewer bugs. (Yellow lights are not repellent, though.) — CARRIE MCLAREN