The mosquitoes are active. I hate this, because they love me. Mosquitoes have been bothering mankind (and animals) for millennia and vectoring diseases like Zika virus, West Nile virus, malaria, dengue fever and others. The exact thing that attracts mosquitoes to humans still eludes science but studies show they might smell several things: the carbon dioxide we emit, or lactic acid, or uric acid or the by-products of cholesterol that are in our skin.
We do know that certain scents repel mosquitoes. The most effective mosquito repellent in the world is DEET – a synthetically derived scent that repels mosquitoes for long periods of time. But DEET is not the only scent that repels mosquitoes. Early North American explorers used bear grease and skunk fat to repel mosquitoes. If that’s not an option for you, here are some others.
There are a number of plants that seem to repel mosquitoes. There’s lemon balm, lemon grass, rosemary, scented geranium, mints, lavender. Here’s the catch: in order to repel mosquitoes with your garden plants you’ll need to grab a handful of leaves, crush them and rub them all over your face, your arms, your legs, any skin that is exposed. It’s only by crushing the leaves that enough compounds are released to repel a mosquito. And because these compounds are volatile their actual repellent time is very short. You’ll need to crush handfuls of leaves and rub them all over your body every 5 minutes. I hope your garden is very, very big.
Fortunately, we’ve found ways to “capture” these volatile compounds in plants. Take, for example, the above mentioned lemongrass, or Cymbopogon, from which we get citronella. There are citronella candles and there is a spray-on product called Natrapel, which is 10% citronella. Unfortunately, my research shows that citronella effectively repels mosquitoes for only about 10 minutes.
There is a another product that combines essential oils from some of the above plants and combines them with a carrier solution (never apply essential oils directly to the skin!). This product is called Herbal Armor and it contains 12% citronella, 2.5% peppermint oil, 2% cedar oil, 1% lemongrass oil, and .05% geranium oil. The problem with Herbal Armor is that it is only effective at repelling mosquitoes for about 19 minutes.
I went to the CDC’s website to understand what products have been thoroughly tested and proven effective at repelling mosquitoes for longer periods of time than the above products. The CDC said,
Of the products registered with the EPA, those containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide long-lasting protection.
PMD, or para-menthane-diol and the related oil of lemon eucalyptus compounds, are both plant derived. They come from the leaves of the Australian lemon scented gum tree, Corymbia citriodora ssp. citriodora. This product can be purchased as Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent and it repels mosquitoes for up to 2 hours.
The other 3 products registered with the EPA are synthetically derived. The first, Picaridin, aka Icaridin, has been registered for use in the U.S. since 2004 and can be found in Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus (labelled “with Picaridin”). I could not find a study that suggested the effective time for this product.
The 2nd synthetic compound, IR3535, has been registered for use since 1999 and is in Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus. It is effective for up to 23 minutes at a concentration of 7.5%
Finally, there is DEET, the gold standard of mosquito repellents. And it’s gold standard for a reason. It has been in use since the 1940’s, has been rigorously tested over and over and is deemed safe and effective. Indeed, it is the most effective product at repelling mosquitoes. OFF Deep Woods repels mosquitoes for about 5 hours.
All of the above products must be used according to directions or their safety and effectiveness diminishes. Does the bottle say “Keep away from mucous membranes”? Then don’t rub it in your eyes or spray it in your mouth. Likewise, don’t spray it on open wounds, don’t inhale it, don’t bathe your baby in it.
There is another way to repel mosquitoes: remove all standing water, which is where mosquitoes breed. If you live around hardwood trees consider mowing fallen leaves into small pieces. Brown, dry leaves curl up into a “bowl” that collects water. Clear out your gutters. Mosquito prevention is one of the greatest mosquito controls.
Finally, a standard practice in IPM (Integrated Pest Management) is to switch up your controls. Are you going on a long hike? Use a product with DEET. Are you going to hang out by the grill for about 30 minutes to cook dinner? Then use another product with a shorter effectiveness – but one that will do the job while you’re grilling those burgers.
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