Discover natural mosquito repellents that work—and also safe. Plus, find out why mosquitoes bite (it’s only the females!), 5 tips to keep mosquitos to a minimum in your yard, and how to quickly and naturally provide relief from mosquito bites and soothe that itch!
We love summer, but staying away from mosquitoes is annoying. No one wants to wear long clothes in the heat just to prevent mosquito bites, but the bugs can be relentless. Keeping those little fiends away is not only a matter of comfort but can be a matter of disease prevention (West Nile, Zika, yellow fever, etc.) though disease is rare.
It’s the Females Who Bite
It’s not all mosquitoes that feed on blood, though: male mosquitoes only drink nectar. Why do the females bite? They are nourishing their developing eggs with protein-rich blood. To that end, the female mosquitoes prefer to bite ankles and wrists, where blood vessels are nearer to the skin’s surface. Ever noticed where you get bitten?
Why Do Mosquito Bites Itch?
When a mosquito bites you, it injects a small amount of saliva into the wound to stop your blood from clotting. Our bodies react to this foreign substance and, in defense, produce a protein called histamine. Histamine triggers the characteristic inflammation seen around mosquito bites, as well as the itching.
Avoid Bites in the First Place
- Sweat attracts mosquitoes! A higher body temperature and more sweat make you more likely to be bitten. A first step is to wash off any sweat and keep your body temperature down.
- Place barrier between the skin and mosquitoes—lightweight long sleeves and long pants.
- Spray yourself with an effective, safe mosquito repellent.
Effective Natural Mosquito Repellents
All of the below repellents are topical (rubbed on the skin).
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (or PMD, the man-made version) can be very effective and is safe. It shouldn’t be used on children under 3 years old, however — it’s not well-studied enough. Some repellents in the United States that contain it include Repel Lemon Eucalyptus and Off! Botanicals.
- Garlic oil rubbed onto the skin has proven to be effective in some studies. Some people swear garlic works and swallow slivered garlic to ward off these summer pests. Others take garlic tablets or rub garlic juice directly on their skin.
- Many readers claim that rubbing apple cider vinegar on your skin helps to repel insects. If you take in enough apple cider vinegar by putting it on foods you eat, you’ll develop a body odor that will repel insects, including black flies. One great and refreshing summer drink for this purpose is switchel, made from apple cider vinegar.
- Catnip oil was reported to repel mosquitoes by some studies.
Effective Synthetic Repellents
- DEET, which has a long track record, is safe with low risks but many people worry that it’s not. The big advantage of DEET is that it lasts — and you don’t have to use a super high concentration. If you are going to use a DEET repellent, do not use one with more than 25% DEET. Unlike the SPF rating in sunscreens, higher concentrations of DEET don’t mean more protection.
- Picaridin, a derivative of piperidine, a chemical related to black pepper, has been used in Europe since the late 1990s. In this country, Cutter Advanced was the first picaridin product to hit the market.
- IR-3535 is the active ingredient in Avon insect repellents (and some others as well). It lasts for about 2 hours. It can cause eye irritation if you spray it there by accident, but is otherwise very safe.
Though it might not give you the most pleasing scent, garlic juice could help to keep mosquitoes away.
How to Keep Mosquitoes to a Minimum
- Eliminate mosquito breeding sites on your property. They need standing water to breed, so empty those puddles, old cans, buckets, and plant pots. If you have a pond, don’t worry—dragonflies love ponds, and they are a big mosquito predator. Just don’t hang around standing water yourself!
- It is thought that certain plants repel a broad spectrum of insects. Marigolds, chrysanthemums, asters, and pyrethrum daisies, as well as herbs such as basil, anise, and coriander, are all thought to repel insects. See more plants that repel mosquitoes.
- Citronella candles are not proven to work in studies, however, cintronella smoke repels mosquitoes. Or, burn a little sage or rosemary over coals to repel mosquitoes.
- Add a bat house to your home! Did you know that one small brown bat can eat as many as 600 mosquitoes in one hour? Check this page for more information on bats and other creatures that eat annoying pests!
- If you are camping outside, use mosquito netting around bedding. Spraying the netting with insect repellent is a good idea.
Best Way to Relieve Bites and Itching
- It helps to ice the area of the bite to constrict the capillaries near the skin’s surface and reduce swelling.
- If you are going to use a topical cream, stay away from caladryl and calamine lotions for mosquito bites; it’s better to apply a low-potency hydrocortisone and simple patience.
- Remember: Do not scratch the bite; this will only make it worse. For itchy bites, rub on meat tenderizer or lemon juice. A paste of mashed garlic can also help make bug bites stop itching.
- White vinegar is another remedy for relieving the itch of insect bites. Apply it in full strength. Don’t use vinegar if the area is raw. See more household uses for vinegar.
- A paste of baking soda and water can provide much-needed relief to bug bites. Learn more about the countless household uses for baking soda.
- Oatmeal can also help to provide itch relief—not only for bug bites.
- Some people have luck with high doses of vitamin B1 (100 milligrams, two or three times a day), but it doesn’t work for everybody.
If you have an intense reaction to mosquito bites, consult your doctor.
We hope these natural mosquito repellents and bug bite remedies help you beat the bugs this season! Have some tips of your own? Please post in the comments below!