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Mosquitoes are annoying and their bites itch something fierce. But, there are some easy steps you can take at home and in the great outdoors to minimize your exposure to the pests. There’s a variety of safe and effective topical mosquito repellents to choose from. There are also several good-to-great methods of keeping mosquitoes out of areas such as your entire patio. If you can’t repel them all, consider treating your yard to kill as many as possible and prevent their recolonization. Finally, if you do get bitten, there’s a host of topical creams and other products that can offer substantial relief.

Concerning DEET

Diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) is among the most well-known ingredients in repellents. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), scientists have yet to see any negative health outcomes associated with topical DEET use. It does smell harsh and feels greasy and pore-clogging. It’s also not outlandish to confuse DEET with DDT, a dangerous pesticide that’s no longer in use in the United States. However, an expanding body of research illustrates that other chemicals are about as effective and, in some cases, more so than DEET.

DEET alternatives

If you can’t stand DEET’s smell or texture, there are other options. Some use the extract of lemon eucalyptus since it smells fantastic and is comfortable to apply. Inside that extract, a chemical called PMD works to repel mosquitoes with roughly the same effectiveness as DEET. Some PMD formulations also show longer-lasting effects.

There’s also an ingredient called picaridin. It displays the same effectiveness as PMD or better. Some studies also indicate it repels mosquitoes farther from you and lasts longer than alternatives. There’s a wide variety of ways to apply picaridin, including creams, sprays, and lotions. Experts recommend picaridin as part of your protection when traveling in malaria-ridden regions.

If you’re not worried about mosquito-borne illness but might be at risk of tick-borne disease, consider a bug repellent that uses IR3535. It’s less effective than others against mosquitoes but does an impressive job of keeping ticks from biting.

Sawyer Products SP657 Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent

Apply the Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent to clothing and furniture, not skin, to keep pests away.

Area-of-effect mosquito repellents

It’s hard to enjoy a night on the patio with friends if you spend the whole time feeding flying parasites. There are precious few products that can help. Contrary to popular belief, studies suggest that citronella candles aren’t among them. However, researchers have found that clip-on devices that contain metofluthrin can repel and kill mosquitos for up to 12 hours.

Mosquito repellent FAQ

What is permethrin?

A. Permethrin is an effective insecticide that begins to kill mosquitoes once they touch it, and before they have a chance to bite. It isn’t used for casual hiking but it’s recommended if you’re heading anywhere there’s a risk of mosquito-borne illness such as malaria or Zika virus. It’s intended as a clothing treatment. Never apply it on the skin. It’s also toxic to many pets, especially cats.

Which natural mosquito repellents work?

A. To be blunt, few. Limited research suggests essential oils from plants such as lemon grass and rosemary are effective. However, essential oils don’t usually work against all mosquito breeds at once, and any effects they do show tends to wear off quickly. Essential oils are also partially unnatural — steam distillation and CO2 extraction don’t exactly occur in nature. Additionally, many insect repellents claiming to be natural include chemicals such as geraniol. If you’re serious about protection from mosquitoes, stick to EPA-registered insect repellents.

DoTerra Family Essential Oils Kit

The DoTerra Family Essential Oils Kit contains 10 scents, including lemon, lavender and peppermint.

Are mosquito-repellent wristbands worth it?

A. They are generally not worth the plastic they’re made with. Some use ineffective oils such as citronella extract. Others use common repellents including DEET. No matter the active ingredient, a wristband can’t protect your entire body from bug bites.

Do ultrasound waves repel mosquitoes?

A. No scientific evidence supports the idea that ultrasound generators can repel mosquitoes.

Do mosquito traps work?

A. Studies indicate that insect traps using various types of bait can lessen mosquito activity. Like any area-of-effect bite prevention, you shouldn’t rely solely on traps if there’s any risk of insect-borne disease.

DynaTrap Insect Trap XL

The DynaTrap Insect Trap XL uses fluorescent ultraviolet light to attract pests and covers up to a full acre. 

Area-based insecticides

In regions with a risk of disease or especially humid places with armies of flying insects, topical repellents don’t always get the job done. Sometimes, you have to be ready to kill. Treating your entire yard at once is the most effective way to combat exploding mosquito populations. This is especially important in humid regions, including the southeastern US. Whenever you mix, spray or store harsh chemicals such as insecticides, make sure to wear personal protective equipment. This includes goggles and disposable gloves.


Bifenthrin, also known as the brand-name Bifen IT, is a wide-spectrum insecticide. It’s effective against red fire ants, earwigs, termites and mosquitoes, among other pests. It kills any adult mosquitoes, although it isn’t 100% effective against eggs and larvae.

Insect growth regulators

To stop mosquito development, you need an insect growth regulator. These disrupt the growth cycle, beginning in the egg and larval stages. A chemical called pyriproxyfen is the most common for landowners in the US. It’s found under brand names such as Pivot 10 and Nygard.

How to get relief from mosquito bites

A cold compress is the simplest way to treat the pain and itching of mosquito bites. It’s not a reasonable treatment if you spent all night outdoors, though, acting as a bug buffet. But, there’s a variety of creams and other topical treatments that can help.

Start by washing the affected area with soap and water. A little moisturizer can go a long way in relieving minor itching. There are some safe chemicals that can also help. Calamine lotion, for example, relieves pain and itching from poison ivy and similar irritants and also works well on bug bites. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can reduce swelling and itching. A topical antihistamine such as Benadryl can also help.

Benadryl Extra-Strength Anti-Itch Topical Analgesic Gel

Benadryl Extra-Strength Anti-Itch Topical Analgesic Gel gives almost instant relief.

 Tips for avoiding mosquito bites

  • Eliminate standing water: Mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water and it doesn’t take long for the larvae to grow into bloodsucking adults. This is one of the most effective and overlooked ways to minimize local mosquito populations.
  • Wear light-colored clothing: Most breeds are drawn more to dark colors than light ones. Dressing in light colors also helps to keep cool during the hot summer months.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes and short sleeves: It’s easy for mosquitoes to bite through form-fitting fabrics, whether you’re wearing spandex, nylon, or cotton. A quality pair of loose-fitting hiking pants helps on wilderness adventures.
  • Don’t drink too much: For the most part, what foods and drinks you ingest don’t make a difference when it comes to mosquito attraction. Alcohol is the exception. Drinking results in the body releasing carbon dioxide and heat, which attracts mosquitoes.
  • Stay inside: Many breeds are most active during the midmorning and early evening. If you have the option, consider relaxing indoors during those times.
  • Keep the air moving: A moderate amount of airflow does a good job at keeping mosquitoes and other flying insects at bay. A small fan is all you need to avoid bug bites in some small spaces.
  • Use netting: Quality mosquito netting goes a long way toward keeping all kinds of bugs out. Consider some if you’re setting up a personal tent for sleeping or a party tent for entertaining.

Zonon Insect Netting

The Zonon Insect Netting comes in many sizes so you can protect what’s necessary.

A novel way to kill thousands of mosquitoes

If you live in a muggy climate and have to deal with significant numbers of mosquitoes, one method is effective when used over a couple of weeks. Remember that carbon dioxide and heat attract mosquitoes? Charcoal creates more carbon dioxide when burned than a person breathes out in an entire day.

First, get an industrial fan. A 24-inch model works great and costs upward of $100. Secondly, set up a simple charcoal grill a few feet behind the fan so the fan blows away from the grill. Thirdly, light some charcoal and line the intake side of the fan with mosquito netting. Lastly, let the fan blow until the charcoal is fully burned.

The charcoal attracts mosquitoes for a few hours. Hundreds to thousands of them can end up caught in the netting. Fold the netting over to capture the mosquitoes, then dispose of them in a sealed garbage can and spray them with insecticide.

To get the most out of this method, use it every day for at least a week. If you notice declining numbers of mosquitoes on the netting each day, that means it’s working. If you continue for long enough, eventually, you’ll capture almost no mosquitoes. Since mosquitoes don’t travel far during their adult life, persistent use of this method massively cuts down on the breeding population. This cuts down numbers before you have to worry about repellents.

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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