Outdoor activities are less fun, when you need to choose between getting bitten by bugs or putting heavy-duty insecticide on your skin. But there are other options, and this page describes them.
You have a couple of choices: keep the mosquitoes away with a physical barrier, or use an insecticide that's as safe as possible, and that's not actually on you. Or, for the best protection, a combination of both.
Mosquitoes used to at least leave us alone in the daytime, and bite only in the early morning, evening or night. Now, with Asian tiger mosquitoes here in so many U.S. states, they're biting aggressively in the day, too. If that's not bad enough, they're now carrying scarier diseases like West Nile Virus.
The first option below doesn't require any insecticide at all. However, you can increase its effectiveness by spraying it with permethrin, one of the safer bug killers that's used on armed forces clothing. But it's not necessary, and you can actually have full mosquito protection without any insecticide at all, by following a few tips.
Bug Jacket & Pants Screen Out Skeeters without Screening You Indoors
Sure, you could stay inside all summer, protected by window screens, but what fun is that? You could go out with every inch of your skin covered, but it's hot with all that clothing on. This lightweight jacket and pants made of netting let you wear shorts or a short-sleeve shirt to take advantage of every breeze, without being bitten.
You've already guessed the negative, right? Not all of us can look as cool as the fellow doing the modeling above. In fact, these can look a little unusual in a crowd. But when it's just you and the skeeters, in the early morning fishing, or out in the garden, or out birdwatching, who cares about fashion? The goal is not to get bit!
The key to making mosquito netting work is to keep it away from your body. If a skeeter can reach through it to get to your skin, he will. This means that you're most vulnerable on your shoulders where the netting lies and anywhere something like a camera strap, binocular strap or pack strap presses it down. If you can avoid that, by keeping straps to a minimum, this really does work. It also keeps off bees and yellowjackets, if you happen to stir up those critters. To protect your hands, you can wear lightweight gloves, like cotton garden gloves.
The jacket comes with a built-in hood that's big enough to fit over a hat. It unzips in front so you can pull it away from your face to eat or drink. When it's covering your face, one nice advantage is that it also keeps away those little gnats that like to hover in front of your eyes.
"This works for gnats, deerflies, mosquitoes, black flies, most anything, as long as it doesn't touch the skin. I love it for fishing. Unlike DEET, it doesn't wear off. The sizes are made to fit loose, so they seem large, but you want that extra slack."
"The head net comes with the jacket, which is nice. I had one that I made the mistake of wearing in a thorny area, not good. Until then it had held up well, and I bought another one, but plan to be more careful and avoid where it could get snagged. It's cool enough even for the Florida heat."
"Yes, you look silly in this. But the garden is in the back yard, so who cares. Much easier to slip this on to go out for a short while, than spray on insect repellent that lasts for six hours, but is worn off when I want to go out again six hours later. I did find that I needed to spray it with permethrin to keep mosquitoes from biting when I leaned over and it pulled tight against my back, but a one-time treatment solved the problem for the rest of the summer."
"The mesh fabric is as strong as you could expect, for something that needs to be thin and light for comfort. The jacket pulls over the head, but you can unzip the hood to eat or drink. It has elastic at the wrists and waist, and the pants have the same at the waist and cuffs. Wear a hat under the hood to hold the mesh out from your face and ears."
Insect Shield T-Shirt Has Repellent in the Fabric to Keep Bugs Away
While the mesh jacket, pants, or face net above contain no insecticides whatever, this T-shirt is a compromise between being insecticide-free and looking obvious. Nobody will realize you're wearing a mosquito-repellent shirt, unless they notice you're not swatting and getting bit like they are.
The fabric contains permethrin, and is registered with the EPA to last for 70 washings. The video below describes the process in more detail, or there's a lot more information in the manufacturer's description here.
You can machine-wash it and dry on low heat, like any moisture-wicking shirt. Permethrin works for almost all insects, not just mosquitoes, so it will keep off ticks, chiggers, black flies, and other nasties too. It's the same thing used in U.S. military uniforms to protect soldiers from all the bugs they have to deal with in different countries.
The Centers for Disease Control and many government agencies recommend permethrin-treated clothing as a supplement or alternative to insecticides that are applied directly to the skin. It can only be used on clothing, since it loses its effective too quickly when sprayed on the skin, but can last for weeks on fabric.
There are lots of other clothing items also treated with permethrin, though they can get kind of pricey. This Zeller T-shirt tends to be cheaper than most, but it does just as good a job. Another option is to use permethrin spray to treat whatever clothing you want, yourself. It doesn't last as long as the clothes that already have permethrin in them, but gives you more clothing choices, and of course you can reapply it the next month if it wears off. See the description below for information on the spray itself.
"I wasn't sure about this, because mosquitoes will bite right through regular T-shirt fabric, but when others around me were getting bitten, I wasn't. It doesn't look or feel any different than a regular T-shirt, maybe a little stiffer fabric, more like a quick-dry moisture-wicking shirt. There's no odor."
"The sizes run a little small. Wish I'd gotten one size bigger. But it keeps the bugs away just like it says. If they land, they fly away before I can swat them, and they don't stay around to bite. I've washed it about five times, still working, though I don't know how long it will last."
"Love that it doesn't stand out like you're wearing anything odd, just a plain unisex T-shirt. My old one finally faded in effectiveness and started looking old after about three summers and I don't know how many washings. Seemed like I was always wearing it to mow the lawn or gardening. Definitely got the use out of it and have bought another. The sizing seems to be for men, I usually take a L women's and the M fit me."
"Well-made shirt with moisture wicking fabric, plus the additional advantage of insect repellent. The price was cheaper than others but the quality seems just as good."
Treat Your Own Clothing with Permethrin Spray to Keep Off Skeeters & Ticks
This is the same stuff that insect-repellent clothing uses: Permethrin, a man-made formula of the natural insecticide pyrethrum, found in some flowers.
You spray it on your clothing or camping gear, let it dry, and it repels mosquitoes, ticks and other insects for six weeks or six washings. Unfortunately, it doesn't work when sprayed on the skin, since your skin deactivates it too quickly, but it lasts well on fabric.
The pump spray gives nice coverage. We hang everything we want to spray outdoors on the fence on a still day, spray one side, flip it, spray the other, and let it dry for a few hours. There's an odor when you're spraying, so you want to take the usual precautions of wearing rubber gloves, not breathing the vapor or getting it in your eyes, etc., but once it dries, it's odorless and we haven't noticed any stain or change in color, though if you're really concerned about something, you could spray a little corner first to check.
Permethrin is the same repellent that's used on thousands of U.S. military uniforms. You can read more about it on the Armed Forces health website here. They note that the safety of permethrin-treated clothes has been approved by the Surgeon General and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the CDC and World Health Organization recommend using treated clothing or nets if you'll be where disease-carrying insects are. They say, "A small number of servicemembers have experienced adverse reactions, such as short term mild rashes or sensations of warm skin," and suggest that if you're one of those, not to spray undergarments or hats.
The manufacturer says the 24 ounce bottle treats "up to 4 complete outfits" and I'd say it treats at least that. Besides keeping mosquitoes away, it prevents ticks from crawling up your socks, and nasty things in general from crawling into your sleeping bag when you're camping.
"We used this for our pants and shirts, then wore face nets, on a two-week camping trip in Wisconsin. Worked perfectly, never needed to reapply it, so no need to carry bottles of repellent with us, just sprayed the clothes at home before we left."
"I purchased this to save money over buying pre-treated clothing, but like the freedom to treat whatever I want, including shirts that don't look like bug-repellent ones. Originally was trying to solve tick problems, with lyme disease around now, but it also works great for mosquitoes."
"This was the secret to keeping mosquitoes from biting through netting, when we were backpacking."
"I wear disposable gloves and a mask when I spray everything. Keep curious pets, kids, etc. away when you're spraying, but once it's dry, you can't smell it and won't even realize it's on your clothes. I thought it wasn't working the first time I tried it, until four of us came back from a hike and I was the only one not bitten by chiggers on my lower legs, because I'd sprayed this on my socks and pants."
Mosquito Head Net Protects Face
A head net not only keeps mosquitoes from biting, it keeps gnats out of your eyes. Wearing it over a hat with a brim that goes all around is the surest way to keep it from your face, so mosquitoes can't land where the net touches your skin and bite through it.
If you just need protection for your face, neck and ears, this is a less fashion-challenged option, compared to the full jacket above, but it'll still keep the bugs from biting. They may land on it, but they won't get to you. If you want to discourage them from even staying when they land, spray it with permethrin clothing spray, described above, which will also repel them if they try to bite through the netting if it accidentally touches your skin.
"I thought it might be hard to see through, but it's not. The dark color is barely visible and it's actually nice in the summer because it cuts down on the glare of the sun just a bit."
"A great alternative to putting sprays on your skin. It didn't work for the smallest biting no-see-ums, but was great for mosquitoes and gnats that aren't so aggressive."
Product photos courtesy of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.