The following article is a paid collaboration with ThermaCELL®, an effective mosquito repellent for the outdoors.
Unless you’ve been living for months in a mountainside tent and cut off from civilization, news of the latest scary disease carried far and wide by mosquitoes has been unavoidable. Zika virus has become a very real threat in many subtropical areas around the world, and it’s even made a number of appearances in the United States. Warding off these biting bugs has become a serious issue and worth some careful consideration. With all the noise out there about how best to do so, sometimes it’s tough to know the right steps to take. So without further ado, here are some tried and tested methods for repelling mosquitoes without dousing yourself in chemical sprays and lotions.
First, you should know what kind of bug you’re dealing with. Mosquitoes will swarm your campsite just as readily as the outdoor patio, so clearing the air of them is a seasonal priority. In fact, the species of mosquito now spreading the Zika virus is more likely to breed in flower pots than large bodies of water. For that reason, health officials advise homeowners to diligently rid their property of any amount of standing water .
While the most effective insect repellent is a spray or lotion containing DEET, that common chemical can itself be the cause of skin irritation and other temporary health problems. Developed first as a pesticide and then used by the U.S. Army starting in 1944, DEET (short for N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide or diethyltoluamide) has been found to impair cognitive function and even cause seizures in a very small percentage of cases of prolonged exposure. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, products containing 30 percent or less DEET are safe for children but not recommended for use on infants less than two months old.
For some parents, the effectiveness of DEET—even though it protects against Lyme Disease-spreading ticks, too—is not worth the possibility of a toxic reaction when absorbed through the skin.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also considers low concentrations of DEET to be safe when used correctly and sparingly. But the same federal agency has approved alternatives, namely picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535, for protection from mosquitoes. The jury is still out on the usefulness of other ingredients like geraniol, citronella, herbal extracts, and essential oils preferred by proponents of homeopathy, but many out there who swear by them.
There are also other options. Wearing long sleeve shirts and pants at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active, can work. And purchasing clothing treated with the insecticide permethrin is another great idea . But again, care should be taken when using products with DEET: The stuff can have a dissolving effect on synthetic fabrics , such as the nylon in your sleeping bag and tent, or the spandex in your running tights. (DEET should also not be applied under clothing , advises most insect repellent manufacturers.)
Strategies for keeping bugs at bay outdoors include everything from oscillating fans, mosquito netting, and lights. The CDC recommends mosquito-repelling lanterns that vaporize metofluthrin and allethrin as repellents. Thermacell lanterns use allethrin, a synthetic copy of active ingredient in chrysanthemum flowers that repels mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums.
When all else fails, bug zappers can be installed—that is if you don’t mind the sound of sizzling mosquitos drowning out the more soothing calls of crickets in the evening.