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Natural Mosquito Repellents & Mosquito Bite Remedies | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Mosquito Repellents and Bite Remedies

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Only female mosquitoes suck blood, but they sure can leave a mark! Learn how to treat bug bites with home remedies.

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Home Remedies for Repelling Mosquitoes and Soothing Bug Bites

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This August, the mosquitos are out in force. Biting insects and even pollinators are attracted to us humans because of our sweat! Find out why, how to avoid mosquitoes and cut back on the population in your yard naturally, and some mosquito bite remedies.

The summer heat really brought out the mosquitos. You’ll also see other biting or stinging insects as well.

Unfortunately, these insects often go for humans. No, it’s not just to bother us. Mainly, insects in late summer are attracted to our sweat! Why? They need the sodium in sweat to reproduce. Even the pollinators such as bees and butterflies need more than their daily diet of nectar and are attracted to sodium.

Most of us don’t mind the pollinators, but the mosquitos are another story. Keeping those little fiends away is not only a matter of comfort but can be a matter of disease prevention such as West Nile virus. Just keep in mind this virus is very rare and even those who get it usually have mild flu-like symptoms.

It’s the Females Who Bite

Interestingly, it’s not all mosquitoes that feed on blood, though: male mosquitoes only drink nectar. Why do the females bite? As well as taking in sodium, 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

  1. A higher body temperature and more sweat make you more likely to be bitten.  Since sweat attracts mosquitoes, a first step is to wash off any sweat and take more showers. Second, keep your body temperature down or try to go outside in the morning before it gets too hot and humid. 
  2. Place barrier between the skin and mosquitoes. Wear loose, light-colored pants and long-sleeved cotton shirts. If it’s a truly infested place, do a head net.
  3. Reduce the mosquito population in your yard. 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!

  4. Citronella candles are not proven to work in studies, however, citronella smoke repels mosquitoes. 

  5. 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? 
  6. If you are camping outside, use mosquito netting around bedding. Spraying the netting with insect repellent is a good idea.
  7. Mosquitoes hate basil (Ocimum sanctum), lime basil, thyme, lemon eucalyptus, catnip,  monarda and coriander. Grow in your yard. Crush their leaves and rub against your skin for added protection! Read more about plants that repel mosquitoes.
  8. Spray yourself with an effective, safe mosquito repellent. (See below.)

Effective Natural Mosquito Repellents

  1. Garlic oil rubbed onto the skin has proven to be effective in research. Just rub the garlic juice directly on the skin.  Eating garlic has not been shown to be effective at repelling mosquitoes.
  2. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) or catnip oil is more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes, according to laboratory research conducted by Chris Peterson, an entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and Joel R. Coats, former chair of the Department of Entomology at Iowa State University. 
  3. Oil of lemon eucalyptus (or PMD, the man-made version) can be very effective. Some repellents in the United States that contain it include Repel Lemon Eucalyptus and Off! Botanicals. 
  4. 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.
  5. Thyme essential oils (Thymus vulgaris) have been found to repel mosquitoes as well as or better than DEET, and that thyme volatiles lasted as long as DEET.
  6. Geraniol oil which comes from the monarda plant is highly repellent to mosquitoes. Geraniol is the active ingredient in some commercial natural mosquito repellents.
  7. Witch hazel is an excellent bug repellent. See 4 homemade natural bug spray recipes!

A Word on Synthetic Repellents

  1. DEET has around for more than 50 years, and the EPA claims it’s safe if “used as directed.” We prefer to avoid a neurotoxin but if you do use DEET, know this: There’s no justification for using DEET in high concentrations. Use no more than 25% DEET. Unlike the SPF rating in sunscreens, higher concentrations of DEET don’t mean more protection.
  2. 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. 
  3. Avon/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.

garlic-keep-mosquitoes-away.jpgThough it might not give you the most pleasing scent, garlic juice could help to keep mosquitoes away.

Best Way to Relieve Bites and Itching

  1. It helps to ice the area of the bite to constrict the capillaries near the skin’s surface and reduce swelling. 
  2. 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.
  3. Remember: Do not scratch the bite; this will only make it worse. For itchy bites, rub on meat tenderizer or lemon juice.
  4. A paste of mashed garlic can also help make bug bites stop itching.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Oatmeal can also help to provide itch relief—not only for bug bites.
  8. 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.

How do you best repel mosquitoes? Do you have any great bug bite solutions? We welcome your comments below so we can all learn together. 

2023 Almanac Club