How To Repel Mosquitos Without Bleeding Your Wallet

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!


BUG REPELLENT

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.

CLOTHING

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.

SKEETER BAG!

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

Comments

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  1. Pupator says:

    These are some good tips. My parents live on an island near south Georgia. When I visit them my only chance to avoid being eaten is to stay inside!

  2. timmus says:

    Speaking as a Texas native who’s had to deal with mosquitoes a lot, three things work: DEET, real Indian incense (enough to get a thin veil of smoke going through your area), or fans. A good stiff box fan set to high is often overlooked, as you get a nice cool breeze to boot, and no chemicals.

    Citronella is very hit or miss in my experience, and I’ve heard a lot of conflicting information about the Skin So Soft method.

  3. Elvisisdead says:

    Kevin Kelly just posted a review of a mosquito trap that is claimed to work well.

    The larger problem with mosquito abatement is neighbors. If you’re jerk of a neighbor doesn’t do their part and has standing water or ground cover that they don’t spray, they’ll still be a problem.

  4. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I live on the Texas Gulf Coast, and I am a mosquito magnet. I got bit five times this morning at 7 a.m. with all the doors and windows closed tight (where did that come from??!). I do have something I use when I go OUTSIDE that really works and is easy to get and apply.

    There are three natural essential oils that work well (lemon eucalyptus, neem, and catnip), and I can’t stand the first two. Catnip has a substance called nepetalactone that is a proven insect repellant. I use two teaspoons of it in a four-ounce spray bottle of fractionated coconut oil, which makes it spray well, has enough to do a good job (I could probably cut it in half), and smells pleasant (kind of vanilla minty).

    I have three cats who, though they love catnip, are not particularly interested in the catnip oil spray. My vet told me it was probably too concentrated for them. But it sure keeps the skeeters away.

  5. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Skin-So-Soft is how they originally found out about DEET, I heard. Someone (a hunter IIRC)noticed coincidentally that wearing it kept bugs off of him.

  6. joey1972 says:

    Folks, you need to understand what makes you a target to a mosquito. The mosquito sees you as one big carbon dioxide factory. The CO2 detectors can find you as soon as you exhale. What you need to do can be simply found and your neighborhood ice company. Dry ice. Dry ice is literally just frozen CO2. As it melts it turns straight from a solid to a gas. This gas is pure CO2 at MUCH higher concentrations then we exhale. The trick is to just get a brick or two of these and just put it in a bucket at the edge of your yard. Mosquitoes go to the source of the most CO2 and leave you alone. Been doing this for about 20 years and we never have to worry about zappers, chemicals, candles, etc.

  7. QuantumRiff says:

    Elvisisdead,

    The neighbors that don’t do their part to fight mosquitoes are usually the kind of neighbors that think a Bug Zapper light is pretty cool. Its a great gift idea to give them, because they get to hear all those mosquitoes get zapped, and don’t think about the fact that they are attracting all the bugs around. You’ll like it, because all the bugs than normally pester you are buzzing over to their porch!

  8. stifled says:

    Mosquitoes “hunt” by sensing carbon dioxide. So if you’re having a picnic or BBQ, you can buy a large block of dry ice and set it in a far-off corner near your gathering. The concentrated CO2 attracts the mosquitoes.

  9. Darren W. says:

    If you’re going the chemical route, check the package for the DEET concentration. Most kid friendly ones are 7% DEET, and nearly worthless. Deep Woods Off is 25% DEET, and works most of the time. Off Sportsman is 98% DEET, and has worked for me every time.

  10. bbbici says:

    I still love those blue-light bug zappers. and for all those naysayers who claim they kill beneficial bugs too: go out into the woods and tell me if there aren’t way too many damned bugs in the world. boo-hoo.

  11. virgilstar says:

    “DEET is relatively harmless”…. please! That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day.

    On the up-side, teraing a strip of tumble-drier sheet (Bounce) and tying it on your belt-loop is a good insect repellant, but on the down-side it’s a good people repellant too.

    Not drinking copious amounts of beer also makes your sweat less sweet, so the mosquitoes don’t want to bite you, but that kinda defeats the whole object of being outside in the first place!

  12. amsmith.dmycm says:

    For a long-term mosquito-abatement method, try taking a garlic supplement every day. You can purchase tablets with no smell so you won’t knock your friends and loved ones over with stink breath, and will start to work in about a week. And then, you won’t have to worry about those nasty mosquitos (also known to repell vampire swarms, Congress, the IRS, and other nasty bloodsuckers!)

  13. Sam says:

    That’s interesting what is said about the Repel — that it needs to be reapplied every hour. In a recent issue of Backpacker magazine, they determined that the Repel Lemon Eucalyptus repellent was effective for up to 240 minutes — that’s 4 hours with no reapplication. Backpacker‘s method also sounded a bit more scientific than that used in the Slate article.

    And the smell is a small penalty — DEET has quite the scent itself, and it’s definitely NOT preferable to smelling like lemon.

    Also, the Slate article didn’t mention either of the top repellents in the Backpacker review. I forget the tippy top scorer (it w… (~30% DEET).

  14. Sam says:

    Huh… Gotta love Gawker Media’s constantly quirky comment system. Here’s what the rest of that post said:

    I forget the tippy top scorer (it was 98% DEET) but right up there with repelling action lasting longer than 6 hours was 3M Ultrathon (~31% DEET).

  15. smallestmills says:

    hahahaa, I am one of the lucky few who doesn’t get itched by mosquito bites. I don’t test fate and I still wear bug repellent, but in the times that I’ve been out with friends and they get bit to shreds, I am always itch-free.

  16. anatak says:
  17. incndnz says:

    I had a friend from grad school who’s entire family was severely allergic to mosquitos – and she, and her entire family swore by a simple Vitamin B everyday. Makes you smell icky to them or some such. There are a few articles around that say it doesn’t work, but everyone I know who’s tried it has had good results! Just another reason to take those vitamins!

  18. Re: the clothing — a tight-woven, light-weight linen makes a non-sweat-tastic coverup. I have to cover up head to toe to garden because there frankly isn’t enough sunblock on the planet to protect my skin, and light-weight linen is the best in terms of not making you sweat to death. And yes, it does keep the bugs off.

    For many people, if you get bit often enough, your body eventually gives up on the itch reaction. Takes a lot of pain to get there, but there’s NO ITCH once you are!

    Too bad it only lasts a season. :P

  19. anatak says:

    Stupid comment system hates anchor tags…

    try garlic
    [www.mosquitobarrier.co]

  20. anatak says:

    ??

    i give up

  21. banned says:

    As a Canadian, we get a ton of mosquitos. The best repellants umentioned are a) do not eat bananas. They are attracted to the potassium for some strange reason, b)smoke – cigarettes, candles, camp fire, they hate smoke, c) mesh hats to cover the whole face when camping, maybe $10 but only ever pay once, d) use anti-perspirant over deodarant as sweat attracts them, e) non-scented everything like shampoo, deodarants, no perfume. These remedies are geared more for camping in the woods.

  22. mogambo says:

    Good trick..umm..I will try the spray. Will it really make them (mosquitos) ‘Mass Quit O’? If so, then that’s a really really soft solution for removing the ‘MOSware’. What about bugs?

  23. pestie says:

    I live in Florida and like to do outdoorsy things like go hiking in the summer on occasion. Nothing beats Deep Woods OFF. That stuff, with its 30%+ DEET content, works like a champ! I’m ordinarily a magnet for mosquitoes and no-see-ums (note: hundreds of times worse than mosquitoes) and they completely leave me alone if I’m wearing Deep Woods OFF.

    I’d rather be bitten by a swarm of mosquitoes than smell Skin-So-Soft. That stuff smells like pure, liquid ass.

  24. a_m_m_b says:

    @incndnz: we grew up using 1 vitamin B1 supplement per day during mosquito season in MI & GA. Works great, no smell & cheap :)

  25. jurgis says:

    @speedwell: Uh… no. DEET was developed by the army during WW2.

    It melts plastic, but remember that plastic is a petroleum product and DEET is only a solvent in regards to synthetics: it does nothing to natural fibers. I’m not saying it’s not toxic, but a lack of understanding of chemistry is no reason to quit using it. Petroleum jelly (vaseline) eats latex…

  26. jurgis says:

    I would add that putting a 100% DEET (like this variety of REI jungle juice) on a bandanna or your jeans works, and it’s not on your skin.

  27. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    Can we lose the Digg buttons? They add excessive clutter and have no place on a website that wants to be taken seriously.

  28. jeffc666 says:

    Bats, bats are the answer. Bats eat hoards of mosquitos every night and are quite dashing to boot. You can buy pre-built bat houses at most places that sell bird houses or you can build one out of scrap lumber on the cheap.

  29. krazydonutboy says:

    led lights don’t attract any bugs, and dont make your house look like it belongs in a trailer park like the yellow ones to boot

  30. mike13241 says:

    While I’ve yet to try this, I recently read that if you put a dryer sheet in your pocket that keeps them away. Why? I have no idea. Anyone have more information on this?

  31. kc-guy says:

    And if none of the repellents do the job, ammonia works very well for relieving the itch. A gallon costs about a buck. Cleans floors, doesn’t melt plastic.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t help much in the event that you contract malaria.

  32. BobbyBoy says:

    Based on my experience in the field…

    “Avoid wearing bright colors and fragrances, lest you be confused with vegetation.” Mosquitoes are color-blind dude. That’s why entomologists who study them paint the inside of their ‘landing traps’ red (the ‘traps’ are boxes or large plastic trashcans, usually. Interestingly, the painted trashcans are referred to as ‘Arkansas Red Boxes’…); the mosquitoes think the red is black/dark and thus landing there renders them invisible, but the clever PhD, hah! He or she knows better, baby, and can collect specimens in the preferred manner. The people who mentioned dry ice are dead on: that’s what entomologists use inside of mosquito traps (dry ice on top, then a light, then a fan, then a ‘cage’). And the people who mention DEET are also spot on: single most effective means of keeping off mosquitoes. There are many alternatives, but none that works as consistently well. Yes, it does melt plastic but then, so does my Uncle Bob’s breath, with or without added garlic.

  33. vergabaths says:

    …or, if you really really really hate the things, move to an arid locale. Yes, it may get insanely hot or cold, but you are much less likely to see bugs of any kind in such a climate. I’ve spent lots of evenings outdoors in Arizona, and I rarely get bit. Those standing water puddles usually dry out/freeze before they can become a mosquito’s love shack.
    If you have a neighbor that has turned their property into a mosquito nursery, using kind words, go to them and let them know what is going on, and offer to help them get rid of it. Most people will appreciate the help, and you may have a new friend.

  34. croakingtoad says:

    We use a product from a company in Australia that works great if you’re just sitting around outside- [www.newmountain.com.au]

  35. Qwertinsky says:

    Brewers Yeast tablets and Garlic tablets keep the mosqitos away.

    The Non-oderless garlic wors best and a vitamin B complex works too if you can not take brewers yeast for some reaon.

    I mountain bike and find that taking four brewers years and two garlic tablets about an hour befor hitting the mountain keeps them off me.

  36. AcidReign says:

    …..I haven’t SEEN a mosquito this year. With the parching drought, I don’t think the usual puddles have been there for them to breed in. However, we’ve gotten a couple of inches of rain between last night and a shower just an hour ago, and I figure the little monsters will be out in force by next week or so.

    …..I’ve had good luck in prior years, with Bullfrog Mosquito Coast. It seems to keep the bugs off ok, and it’s also a 30 SPF sunblock. And Deet-free, too. Bullfrog products are water-proof, too, and won’t sweat off..

  37. FLConsumer says:

    Being in a breezy area / using a strong fan has always been how I’ve coped with the skeeters in FL. The dry ice method sounds interesting and logical — does anyone know if this trick works with the no see-ums typically found along Florida beaches?

  38. Dave_Surfs says:

    I thought Gina and the Lifehacker crew had a pretty good idea with the DIY Mosquito trap a while back. I can’t find it searching LH, but found it here: [www.diyhappy.com]

    It works off the same CO2 principle mentioned above and might offer a project for the kids who have just recently or will shortly begin Summer break.

  39. RomildaPlancus says:

    @speedwell:

    ONE OF THESE EMAILS RECOMMENDS B-1. SOME SAY 100 MG A DAY. SOME SAY 100
    MG 3X A DAY DURING MOSQUITO SEASON.
    IT WORKS !

    Best Wishes,
    Anne