The American Mosquito Control Association tallying the annual death toll at around a million. The mosquito bite is capable of inducing inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, which are the symptoms of Yellow Fever. In some cases, this bite can lead to severe bleeding, shock, and death in the form of Dengue Fever.
It seems that there’s nothing trifling about protecting yourself against the common mosquito bite. This is the best way of ensuring that adequate protection, especially in mosquito-prone areas, is good. Also, it helps to avoid getting unsightly skin inflammation, in the form of large bumps.
And with a recent study done on rats at Duke University indicating that frequent exposure to DEET (the primary ingredient in most bug sprays) led to “diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes” and that “humans should stay away from products containing it.” There’s been a growing trend in people seeking out healthier, more natural solutions to mosquito-borne diseases.
Fortunately, for those who are aware and prefer natural methods, these 10 of the most effective DIY mosquito repellents could just be the answer.
When considering the myths surrounding mosquitos and bloodsuckers in general, there’s undoubtedly a correlation between garlic’s reported effectiveness at keeping these at bay. It is also why garlic has maintained corresponding popularity with those vampire slayers of legend. Its exact mosquito repellent abilities haven’t been well documented. But there is anecdotal evidence that allicin, the compound responsible for garlic’s fragrant character, is inimical to mosquitoes’ senses, serving as a deterrent.
It’s believed that simply including garlic in one’s diet, or perhaps even ingesting a few cloves before bedtime, is sufficient at keeping tiny, bloodthirsty mosquitoes from buzzing around your head at night.
But empirical studies have shown that garlic juice, even applied directly to the skin, only has a 20 to 40-minute effectiveness as a repellent. Another study, done in 2005 by the University of Connecticut Health Center, comparing the effects of consuming large quantities of garlic versus a placebo showed no difference in the rate of instances of people bitten. So, while a popular myth, it seems garlic as a mosquito repellent is little more than old wives’ tale. One best put to bed before considering the more proven mosquito deterrents about to be expanded upon.
Considered as much as ten times more effective than DEET, catnip is one of the more accessible mosquito repellents at your disposal. Catnip contains nepetalactone, an essential oil abhorrent to mosquitoes, so scattering some around your porch and certain areas of your home could prove to be a cost-effective year-round solution to keeping the little bloodsuckers at bay.
Unfortunately, catnip effects tend to be relatively short-lived, requiring constant reapplication. Despite its easy availability as a perennial herb, the bioactive compound in catnip breaks down fast, reducing its usefulness as a deterrent of Culicidae.
As such, researchers at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES), have spent over a decade developing a new breed of catnip, a “Super Catnip,” that promises catnip farmers bigger yields at lower prices. The “Rutgers CR9” has more abundant foliage that can be distilled producing three times as much enriched oil. The CR9 seeds, released in 2017, have already outperformed all other commercial catnip varieties, says James Simon, a professor in the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology at the Rutgers School of Environment and Biological Sciences.
Like catnip, basil is another relative of the mint family with some powerful mosquito repellent properties. Due to its high estragole content, basil’s rich fragrance has even earned it the title of Queen (basileus) of aromatic herbs.
Estragole is a naturally-occurring volatile compound with a well-garnered reputation as an insect repellent. And of the seven known mosquito-repellent volatiles (pyrethrins, methyl-nonyl-ketone, geraniol, estragole, citronellal, limonene, and nerolidol), basil contains not one, but four of them. Making it a veritable mosquito-deterring powerhouse.
But of all the varieties of basil, cinnamon basil, Peruvian Basil, and lemon basil distinguish themselves from the rest due to their strong fragrances. While the herb can be distilled into a longer-lasting spray, more immediate relief from pests can be obtained by simply crushing basil leaves and rubbing a handful directly onto your skin. Should you desire to grow your own basil, though, the only real requirements are abundant sunlight, moist soil, and proper drainage conditions.
Oil of citronella is produced from the distilled oils of different varieties of grasses and is an all-natural insect and animal repellent. Its primary ingredients (citronellal, citronellol, and geraniol) have even been labeled as low-risk pesticides by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Citronella works by disguising the scents and odors most attractive to mosquitoes, namely carbon dioxide and lactic acid in humans. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario into the effectiveness of citronella candles as a mosquito deterrent, candles infused with only a three percent concentration of citronella resulted in a whopping 42 percent fewer mosquito landings.
But while citronella candles are commercially available, for obvious reasons, their usefulness only extends to indoor environments. For those looking to benefit from citronella insect repelling capabilities while outdoors, there’s the option of purchasing citronella spots, collars, and bands. Alternatively, like the other suggestions mentioned so far, citronella oil can also be applied directly on the skin to serve as a non-toxic mosquito deterrent.
5. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is native to Australia and is derived from Melaleuca alternifolia leaves. It is highly praised for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. And not only is it a reliable repellent of mosquitoes, biting midges, and bush flies; due to its terpene content, it actually smothers insects to death by dissolving their exoskeletons. As an added bonus, tea tree oil can also be used to treat insect bites and stings.
And while it can be applied directly to one’s skin, as an essential oil, it is highly concentrated and likely to cause some irritation or a rash. It’s advisable to first dilute it using a combination of other solvents or base oils like coconut, olive, jojoba or almond oil. Alternatively, a simpler solution would be to mix two parts water with one part tea tree oil in a spray bottle. Lastly, it’s quite toxic if ingested so should be carefully stored out of direct sunlight and, most importantly, away from children and pets.
According to a study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) repels mosquitoes and also kills their larvae. But being an aquatic perennial plant, often confused with water lilies, it probably wouldn’t be as useful indoors as in a backyard pond, for example.
If you have standing, stagnating water near your property, putting some lotus flowers in it would definitely help reduce the mosquito population, killing off their larvae, as mentioned earlier, as well reducing the water’s surface area so there’s less space for mosquitoes to reproduce. But unlike most the other repellents covered so far, the lotus cannot be used as a topical skin treatment, though.
There have been reported cases of individual lotuses living for over a thousand years. And certain species of lotus, like the Nelumbo nucifera, is considered sacred by both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. And many deities of Asian religions are usually depicted as seated on a lotus.
7. Black Pepper
What makes black pepper such an effective mosquito repellent is that it contains the compound piperine. This understanding is the fruit of the same study published in the Asian Pacific Journal that expounded on the efficacy of lotus flowers as an insect repellent.
A synthetic version of piperine called picaridin has even been developed by European bug spray companies for inclusion as an active ingredient in their products. Since it’s been shown to keep mosquitoes at bay for up to four times longer than the well-known, but controversial, DEET, picaridin sudden upsurge in popularity comes as no real surprise.
Unfortunately, the picaridin production process combines piperine with a number of questionably toxic additives. A safer option, minus all the synthetic additives, comes in the form of black pepper essential oil. But, as with other essential oils, its high potency brings with it the necessity of diluting it before applying it to your skin. Moisturizer or coconut oil being the preferred solvents for dilution.
8. Apple Cider Vinegar
Mosquitoes are reputedly able to track body odor from up to 35 meters away. But the regular consumption of apple cider vinegar has the side effect of actually changing the character of your perspiration odor, making you a much less desirable meal for the flying, buzzing nuisances.
Fortunately, these changes in body odor are too subtle to be detected by other people. Unless you enjoy going around smelling like a parcel of fish and chips, apple cider vinegar is best ingested for its mosquito-deterring benefits.
And at the height of mosquito-season, during the months of summer, consuming apple cider vinegar also helps one cope with the possibility of heat stress. For drinking purposes, a good suggestion is to simply add one or two tablespoons of ACV to 16 ounces of water. The addition of some mint or citrus would not only make the beverage more refreshing but triple effective as a mosquito repellent.
Smoke from burning wood, repellent plants, and herbs is easily the most relied upon mosquito repellent in the rural Tropics. It’s been suggested that it works by disguising human kairomones (a chemical substance emitted by an organism and detected by another), disrupting the convection currents required by mosquitoes when tracking their prey. And the combustion process, in itself, may release a variety of repellent or insecticidal molecules.
In Sri Lanka, waste products are frequently burned as a proven measure against a growing mosquito population. Experiments in Papua, New Guinea, validated their traditional practice of burning coconut husks (Cocos nucifera), mango wood (Mangifera spp.), wild ginger leaves (Alpinia spp.), and betel nut leaves (Areca catechu) as a powerful mosquito deterrent. Likewise, a recent survey of the Solomon Islands revealed that burning coconut husks and papaya leaves is a practice regularly exercised by 52% of the population in their pursuit of living a mosquito-free existence.
According to the University of Wisconsin, the popularity of bats as a mosquito repellent is in large part due to a lab study done in the 1950s. The bats were let loose in a mosquito-filled room and were apparently able to catch as many as ten mosquitoes per minute.
Some people claim bats can even catch over 600 mosquitoes in an hour. And with 70% of over a thousand species of bats being insectivores (only three species actually feed on blood), they aren’t quite the creatures of the night that pop culture’s so fond of portraying them as.
During peak season, one bat colony in Austin, Texas is estimated to house up to 1.5 million bats and consume in the region of 20 000 pounds of insects. So, having a bat house installed in your yard might just be worth the extra effort after all. In Europe, bat houses have even been used since the early 1900s, specifically for the purpose of eliminating mosquitoes.