Natural Mosquito Repellent: 4 Tips Without DEET
I love the summer. It’s a great time to get outside, enjoy the fresh air, the renewed life, the pleasant temperatures.
However, for many of us, summertime also comes with an unwanted guest.
Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying—they’re dangerous. They carry all sorts of diseases, from malaria to West Nile to, recently, chikungunya.
Chikungunya causes extreme pain in joints—similar to arthritis—and can cause high fevers. It’s a very serious disease, and it finally entered the US last year, thanks to mosquitoes migrating north.
There are even studies that suggest mosquitoes can spread Lyme disease.
In some areas mosquitoes aren’t a problem. The insects either aren’t adapted to the climate, or species that transmit the worst diseases don’t thrive.
But for the rest of us, controlling mosquitoes isn’t just a matter of comfort. In some cases, it can be a matter of life and death.
Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to control the mosquito population around your house and body. And they don’t requite exposure to the dangerous chemicals, like DEET, found in mosquito repellents.
If you follow these four safe tips, you should be able to not only steer clear of the itchy, annoying mosquito bites, but also mosquito-borne diseases, without exposing yourself to a cure that’s potentially just as bad.
The long-term effects of DEET aren’t clear. But we are already aware of a few nasty side effects. DEET has been linked to rashes, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and a laundry list of other maladies.
While most of those clear up when use is discontinued, at least three people have died from ingesting DEET.
Taken as a whole, you’ll be much better off without bug spray and using these techniques instead.
Tip #1: Take away their breeding grounds.
Mosquitoes begin their life in water. Females deposit their larvae into standing pools, and the mosquitoes emerge from there.
The absolute best thing you can do to eliminate mosquitoes is to take away all standing water around your house.
That means cleaning gutters. It means emptying unused bird baths. But it also means a thorough inspection of your grounds. Mosquitoes can breed in puddles—you might want to fill in any divots in your ground. They can breed in old containers—better take care of your trash.
Speaking of—an uncovered trash can without holes in the bottom becomes a perfect breeding ground after a rain. An overturned lid is a mosquito mecca.
Even a large leaf can catch enough water to provide mosquito larvae a home.
Being truly vigilant takes some time. But it’s well worth it.
Tip #2: Make yourself invisible.
Mosquitoes find us when we breathe out—it’s carbon dioxide that attracts them.
Citronella masks the smell of carbon dioxide. That’s why burning citronella candles or coils is so effective.
It’s not perfect—a mosquito can still wander close enough to find you. But at least you aren’t sending a beacon out through the night.
While we’re thinking of light—yellow light is invisible to mosquitoes. If you use yellow lights outdoors, it won’t repel the insects—but at least it won’t attract them either.
White and blue lights, on the other hand, draw all manner of insects closer—including mosquitoes. You don’t want to gather these pests about you.
Tip#3: Make yourself impenetrable.
When weather turns warm, the first thing you want to do is put on the short sleeves and shorts.
That’s fine—to a point. During dusk and dawn—when mosquitoes are out in the greatest force—it’s worth it to cover up.
Generally speaking, the thicker the better. Mosquitoes are perfectly capable of biting through a cotton shirt. Denim jeans and flannel, on the other hand, are nearly impenetrable.
If the thought of all that weight is too much to bear, there are pieces of clothing laced with permethrin—a synthetic version of the natural insect-repellent found in chrysanthemums.
I avoid this myself—the EPA may approve, but I don’t trust these chemicals. However, if you can’t stand the heat of long sleeve thick shirts at dusk, it’s better to have the repellent inside the threads of your clothing, as opposed to on your skin.
Tip #4: Take the fight to them.
The familiar sound of a bug zapper isn’t just a reminder of summer. It’s also an effective way to take out a large number of insects.
The fluorescent lights in bug zappers truly are attractive to insects. Combine that with yellow lights elsewhere, and citronella to mask your carbon dioxide, and, most of the time, insects will go to the zapper.
And that’s the last time you have to worry about that mosquito.
It’s not the friendliest method of control. But, when it comes to the health of my family, I’m not above brutal tactics.
Combine these four tips, and you should avoid all but a couple bites this spring and summer.
And that could help you avoid a visit to see me.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: June 1, 2015