In the summer, your backyard should, ideally, feel like a place of refuge—somewhere you can lounge in the shade, kick back for a barbecue, and, most importantly, relax.
But then—smack!—there's the biggest summer buzzkill: a fresh, itchy, welt of a mosquito bite. “Mosquitoes don’t bite out of self-defense. When they bite, they are looking for their next blood meal,” says Jim Fredericks, Ph.D., chief entomologist for the National Pest Management Association. As it turns out, mosquitoes are more than a mere nuisance—they can also carry serious diseases, such as Zika virus, West Nile virus, Chikungya virus, dengue, and malaria according to the CDC.
Fortunately, you don’t have to surrender your backyard—or your skin—to those six-legged fliers, just because they (and their limbs) outnumber you. Experts share the best solutions to deter mosquitoes from invading your backyard this summer.
How to get rid of mosquitoes that have made your home their home
It’s almost as if they’ve decided yours is their favorite yard on the block. And they very well might have, if you’ve inadvertently provided them with a place to breed.
The solution: Eliminate sources of standing water. The CDC recommends emptying and scrubbing vessels that collect water at least once a week. And these water collectors can be smaller than you think. “Mosquitoes only need a half inch of water to breed, meaning they can lay their eggs in something as small as a bottle cap,” Fredericks says.
Examine obvious places like bird baths (unless you have a water wiggler, which agitates water in bird baths and disrupts the mosquito breeding process), baby pools, flower pots, pet water bowls, buckets, rain barrels, and gutters, as well as smaller, less noticeable ones like discarded tires or forgotten water bottles and, yes, caps. You may also have standing water issues in your yard, which you’ll notice as puddles that don’t drain or dry quickly after it rains—if that’s the case, you may need a professional to come in and grade your land.
What else to consider: Mosquito dunks. If standing water has been left unattended for a while or is difficult to drain, these small, brick-like pellets kill off mosquito larvae. Made of Bacillus thuringiensis strain israelensis, a naturally-derived kind of soil bacteria, they’re toxic to mosquito larvae but safe for humans and pets. That said, depending on the brand you use, it may end up killing other non-pest insects like honeybees and butterflies in addition to mosquitoes. According to Pests.org, some mosquito dunks worth using are Pre-Strike Mosquito Torpedo and Summit Mosquito Dunks
Even if you’ve done your best to prevent mosquito-breeding in your backyard, it is inevitable that some mosquitoes—hatched elsewhere, of course—will find their way to your backyard.
How to keep mosquitoes away from your porch, patio, or deck
You just want to dine al fresco, and then you’re inundated—and itchy.
The solution: Block them out … or blow them away. To prevent their entry, invest in some screens for your porch, and, if you already have a screens, ensure they fit securely and have no holes. Another good preventative measure is outfitting your backyard dining area with a fan or two, because mosquitoes are “weak” flyers and often have difficulty navigating against an airstream, according to Joe Conlon, Technical Advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association.
What doesn’t work: Bug-"repelling" candles and torches. You can also light some citronella and/or geraniol (a naturally-derived compound that is often a part of the citronella blend) candles, though you shouldn’t use them as your sole barrier between you and the bugs. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, citronella candles are supposed to work by covering up scents that are attractive to pests, but “no studies could be located” that prove this. Conlon says citronella has a “mild repellent effect,” but it doesn’t offer significantly more protection than regular candles—smoke can have a slight repellent effect on mosquitoes, according to the American Mosquito Control Association.
What to skip: Metofluthrin lanterns and fans. If pure bug-repelling power is what you’re after, there are effective products that contain metofluthrin, a pesticide approved by the EPA for use as a non-topical insect repellent. That said, metofluthrin is classified by the EPA as a “likely” carcinogen, based on increased liver tumors experienced by female rats during testing. It may not be your best (or safest) bet.
How to keep mosquitoes from swarming your house at dusk
It’s like the sun sets and a switch is flipped (almost literally). Suddenly, you’re being eaten alive.
The solution: Use bug-resistant light bulbs in your outdoor light fixtures. “These lights [like this General Electric yellow light bulb] are not repellant, per se, but they do not attract mosquitoes like incandescent white lights do,” Conlon says. Setting out fans, as described above, is also a great idea, both for mosquito-deterring and a cooling breeze.
What doesn’t work: Bug-zapping lamps and ultrasonic devices. Zapping lamps lure bugs to a bright light (which, as already mentioned, is a poor plan) and electrocute them when they are within range. But, according to the American Mosquito Control Association, they cannot differentiate non-pest bugs from mosquitoes, which can have a damaging ecological effect. Plus, two studies done at the University of Notre Dame found there was no significant difference in mosquito presences between yards with bug zappers and yards without them. Ultrasonic lamps purportedly emit an ultrasound frequency that is imperceptible to humans and repels bugs. But according to the American Mosquito Control Association, at least 10 studies have determined that such lamps are ineffective.
If you’ve taken these steps and you’re still getting bitten
One way to protect your skin from bites is by wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that covers the skin, creating a barrier between you and the bugs. But you still may have some exposed skin that looks tasty to mosquitoes—in which case, you’ll probably want to add an extra layer of protection.
The solution: Apply a topical insect repellent to your skin. Four chemicals have been proven effective in repelling biting insects: DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), and IR3535. Of those active ingredients, you can pick the one that’s best for you. According to Conlon, DEET “remains the standard by which all other repellents are judged,” but “picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are remarkably close in effectiveness to DEET.”
Some popular DEET products include OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent and 3M UltraThon Insect Repellent Lotion. If you don’t love the feel or smell of DEET, Conlon said the Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent with 20 percent Picaridin is an effective repellent for ticks and mosquitoes. If you want to try oil of lemon eucalyptus, Conlon mentioned Repel, which has a 40 percent formulation of oil of lemon eucalyptus and a “pleasant scent and feel without any plasticizing properties.”
What doesn’t work: Natural essential oils. Though tempting as an all-natural alternative to synthetic sprays, essential oil-based insect repellents—which often contain lemongrass, peppermint, and lemon eucalyptus essential oils—were determined by Consumer Reports to be largely ineffective for keeping bugs away.
This can be confusing, because “oil of lemon eucalyptus” (which is proven effective in repelling mosquitoes) sounds a lot like “lemon eucalyptus oil” (which is not). But oil of lemon eucalyptus, though originally derived from leaves of a lemon eucalyptus tree, must be synthesized in a lab for it to be considered effective, meaning it is not comparable to standard eucalyptus lemon essential oil.
In short, though essential oils may smell pleasant, they won’t do much to protect you from mosquitoes (or any other bugs) this summer.
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