15 Natural Ways to Keep Bugs at Bay
Less itching and scratching will make everyone’s summer more fun, so stock up on these chemical-free insect repellents—you might even already have a few of them on hand.
The real reasons you don’t want to get bit
Let’s face it, they are called pests for a reason. Insects that bite and sting are an itchy nuisance—and they also happen to be blood-sucking disease-spreaders. Disease cases from mosquito, tick, and flea bites tripled in the United States from 2004-2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plus, nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks have been discovered or introduced since 2004. Sure, you could arm yourself with a full-body netted suit that covers your face, but that’s no way to spend the summer. You could also douse every square inch of yourself with chemical repellents, but the smell is awful, and who knows what the long-term health consequences might be? Instead, check out these 15 natural ways to protect yourself from the creepy-crawlies. Here are 12 mosquito-born illnesses you need to know about.
Wear long, loose, and light-colored clothing
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Everyone forgets this one, but it works: Creating a loose-fitting physical barrier between you and insects, especially mosquitoes, means they will have a harder time getting to your flesh. “The necessity of wearing light-colored clothing stems from the fact that since dark-colored clothing absorbs more heat, bugs that rely on their thermal sensory information detecting vision to find their targets can spot people wearing dark clothes more easily,” says Karen Thompson, lead editor of InsectCop.net, an insect and pest control advice blog. Essentially, mosquitoes are military-grade thermal scopes that can target body heat.
Remove standing water
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“Since three of the four mosquito life stages are in standing water, I would recommend that people target those areas to get the mosquitoes before they really become a problem,” says Wizzie Brown, an entomologist and extension program specialist in integrated pest management with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, out of Texas A&M University. She suggests draining any standing water around the landscape that will last longer than three days, refreshing pet water dishes or birdbaths every three days, and filling ponds with mosquito-feeding fish to help reduce the populations. Here are some more steps you can take to avoid insect bites and stings.
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Love the fresh, citrusy scent of citronella? Keep it handy, because mosquitoes hate it. “Citronella candles, oil, or incense, which can be burned indoors and outdoors, prevent the arrival of bugs,” says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. In studies, citronella oil provided complete mosquito repellency for at least three hours. Here are some more surprising mosquito repellents you’ll actually want to use.
Want to amp up the effectiveness of that citronella? That same study found that a combination of citronella oil and vanillin—the primary component of the extract of the vanilla bean—demonstrated a comparable protection with DEET (diethyltoluamide, typically considered the gold standard of insect repellent), the usual chemical component in bug sprays. Morgan Statt, a health and safety investigator for ConsumerSafety.org, suggests making your own bug spray with vanilla extract and water. Simply mix one tablespoon of vanilla extract with one tablespoon of water, and use a cotton ball to apply to your skin.
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If you have a green thumb, plant eucalyptus around your home for a natural repellent. You can also apply it as an essential oil directly to your skin for portable protection. One study showed that a eucalyptus-based repellent containing 30 percent p-menthane-3,8-diol (the compound in eucalyptus mosquitoes loathe) provided 97 percent protection for four hours. By comparison, DEET only gave 85 percent protection. Learn about some more plants that repel mosquitoes naturally.
Tea tree oil
Also known as melaleuca oil, tea tree oil hails from Australia. “It has been shown to contain antiseptic, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Travis Utter, DC, owner and physician at Preferred Injury Physicians. “Whenever you are about to venture into a buggy area, simply apply a drop of oil to all of your body’s pulse points, including your wrists and behind the ears and knees.” A study published in the Australian Journal of Entomology Studies shows it’s an effective insect repellent, particularly for mosquitoes and certain fly species.
Never underestimate the power of a good old-fashioned floor fan. Nancy Troyano, Ph.D., BCE, entomologist and director of technical education and training at Rentokil North America, says to place one near you when sitting outdoors or sleeping with the windows open. “Mosquitoes are weak fliers and will not be able to fly against the air currents produced by the fans,” she explains. Here are some more surprising things mosquitoes absolutely hate.
If you spend a lot of time on your deck or outdoor patio in the summer months, plant marigolds in pots near open windows and doors, since they contain natural compounds found in insect repellent. In a study conducted by the University of Alabama, chemists found that compounds in marigolds had insecticidal properties, killing both larvae and adult mosquitoes.
Dr. Troyano says that mosquitoes are attracted to human scents, such as carbon dioxide, body odor, and lactic acid (emitted through your skin after eating certain foods or exercising). Obviously, bathe regularly—but don’t try to mask body odor with perfume or flowery scents, warns Dr. Troyano: This could actually increase your bug traffic. In general, heavily scented body fragrances, shampoos, hair spray, lotions, and soaps are known to attract mosquitoes. Stick with unscented skin care and hygiene products. Learn some more surprising factors that make you more (or less) attractive to mosquitoes.
Bugs and basil don’t get along, so plant this strong-smelling herb in your outdoor space to keep it much more enjoyable. The repellency of O. sanctum (holy basil) in a 20 percent-strength essential oil was comparable with that of DEET at 20 percent strength during a six-hour test.
Just like the vanilla mentioned earlier, cinnamon is for more than just baking. Its oil has the ability to kill mosquito larvae, according to a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Though the oil was only tested against the type of mosquito that carries yellow fever, researchers say it should prove similarly noxious to the larvae of other mosquito species. Mix 1/4 teaspoon of oil with four ounces of water and spray onto your skin/clothing and around your home.
Apple cider vinegar
Talk about a do-everything substance—apple cider vinegar is full of health benefits. Now it looks like downing one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar a day can also repel mosquitoes and other insects. The Institute for Natural Healing suggests that drinking apple cider vinegar will neutralize your skin and make it less appealing to mosquitoes. Be sure to dilute it in a glass of water, though. If you do get bitten, make sure you know these home remedies for mosquito bites.
Though it’s appealing to us humans, mosquitoes can’t bear the smell of this herb, says Amy Lawhorne, vice president of Mosquito Squad. Compared to DEET, one study found that lavender exhibited moderate to high repellency five minutes after application. Although the researchers stopped tracking repellency after 80 minutes, it was still warding off 45 percent of some insects. When you’re only going to be outdoors for a little while, try dabbing on some essential oil. You could also plant lavender in your garden.
Bring in the bats
This may seem a bit unconventional, but some species of bats are incredibly effective at pest control: They can consume 500 to 1,000 mosquitoes in a single hour, according to Bat Conservation International. Lawhorne says that bats can help lower pest populations and are also great for local ecosystems because they pollinate plants. Send out the “bat signal” by installing a bat house, which is similar to a birdhouse.
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Although pop culture touts garlic for warding off vampires, the bulb actually does an amazing job of repelling blood-sucking ticks and mosquitoes. Research shows that garlic can kill the larva of mosquitoes and ticks. Thompson recommends either crushing garlic and sprinkling it around your yard or home, or make a garlic spray to keep bugs at bay. Next, learn how to identify different types of bug bites you might encounter this summer.