Repelling the Myths Behind Common Illinois Mosquito Repellents
Spring has sprung in the Midwest! People are finally packing away their heavy winter coats and emerging from their homes after another frigid winter to find the sun shining and flowers already in bloom. But something else out there is emerging, too. And for some Illinois residents, it’s enough to make them shun the springtime sun for the safety of the indoors.
Mosquitoes are a real pest when trying to enjoy the great outdoors in the spring. But when it comes to fighting back, it seems like there are just as many mosquito repellents as there are swarms of mosquitoes. Each brand claims to be effective, but how do you know which one to trust? And is it better to repel them naturally or with chemicals? At Anderson Pest, we’re tired of being clueless and covered in bites, too. That’s why we’re breaking down the science (and pseudoscience) behind the most popular types of repellents out there to help arm our customers with the knowledge they need to take back the great outdoors.
Know Your Enemy
Before you can effectively fight these airborne aggressors, you should know what exactly it is you’re dealing with. Here are some quick mosquito facts:
- There are over 3,500 different species of mosquitoes known to science.
- Only female mosquitoes suck blood. Males feed on flower nectar.
- Mosquitoes don’t eat blood – they use it to produce their eggs.
- The mouthpart of a mosquito is called a proboscis, which acts like a hypodermic needle to pierce your skin and search for a capillary to suck blood from.
- Mosquito saliva has anti-coagulative properties (to make your blood easier to suck), and this saliva is how they transmit diseases into your bloodstream.
- Mosquitoes do have one benefit – their larvae are eaten by fish and other aquatic creatures, while adult mosquitoes are food for birds, bats and spiders.
Bites Worse Than Their Bark
For some, mosquitoes are simply a fact of life during the warmer months. These are probably the same people who say, “I really don’t get bitten that often – maybe mosquitoes don’t like me.” That’s great for them, but for the estimated 20 percent of people who are considered “high attractor types” it’s not so easy to shrug off these pests.
Even if you’re one of the lucky ones, you should still be cautious of these buzzing bothers. Because of their diet of blood and propensity to dine on many different species, mosquitoes are notorious for transmitting many dangerous diseases to humans: malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, chikungunya, encephalitis, and more recently West Nile and Zika viruses. It was even discovered that they’re to blame for heartworm in dogs. While vaccines have been developed for some of these ailments, plenty are still without prevention or cure, which means that you, your family, and your pets could be at serious health risk.
Chemical Warfare or Natural Nonviolence?
When it comes to mosquito repellents, there’s one main question nowadays – chemical or natural? Unfortunately, there’s really no simple answer. It depends on several factors: where you are, what activity you’re doing, who is around you, etc. Of course, there are pros and cons for each type of repellent, as well as many myths and preconceived notions about them and their effectiveness. Only you can know for sure which type will work best for you, but it always helps to have facts to back up your decision.
These have gained traction recently among the eco-conscious as a response to what they see as an overuse of pesticides and other chemicals in the US and around the world. People didn’t have chemical sprays 100 years ago, they argue, so why should we use them now? Indeed, there are a good number of different methods for repelling mosquitoes naturally; however, the problem is separating the truth from the old wives’ tales. And some remedies that do work wouldn’t really fly in a 21st-century setting – sure, rubbing garlic all over yourself will keep mosquitoes away … along with everyone else.
The main form that natural mosquito repellent takes is as an essential oil made from distilling natural ingredients such as lemon, eucalyptus, cinnamon or thyme. The theory is that mosquitoes, which hunt using both sight and smell, won’t want to approach such powerful odors. However, you shouldn’t just go rubbing essential oils all over your skin – for some, it may cause a severe allergic reaction. Instead, these essential oils are diluted using a mild carrier oil such as almond or sunflower oil to make them safer while maintaining effectiveness. The key is to find the right balance – three to five drops of essential oil per fluid ounce of carrier oil is suggested.
The downsides to such natural repellents are in their effectiveness versus chemical oils and sprays. Sure, natural methods may be generally safer to use, especially for young children or pregnant women, but if you’re still being bitten by mosquitoes that may potentially carry harmful diseases, that safety seems like a moot point. And natural remedies only last for an hour or two before they need to be reapplied, so it’s best to use them in situations when you can do so often: around your house, at a campsite, or on a short hike.
Contrary to what people may think, you’re not just spraying hazardous chemicals on yourself and throwing your life to chance. Each chemical repellent on the market must pass rigorous FDA and EPA standards before it can be sold to the general public. Countless scientific professionals are working to perfect these formulas and strike that previously-mentioned balance between safety and effectiveness. For example, compounds like picaridin – created from an extract of the same plant genus that produces the black pepper on your table – have been used effectively in Europe and Australia since 1998.
Of course, when talking about chemical insect repellents, one should mention DEET, or diethyltoluamide. Developed in 1941 by the USDA for US Army troops to use during jungle warfare in World War II, it’s a yellowish oil that can be applied to skin or clothing. DEET provides protection not only from mosquitoes but ticks, fleas, chiggers, and many other biting insects as well. Many common insect repellents contain DEET and are legally required to mark the concentration on the label. There is a direct correlation between this concentration and the hours of effectiveness it provides – studies have shown 20 to 34 percent DEET offers anywhere from three to six hours of protection, while 100 percent DEET offers up to 12 hours. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention typically recommends 30 to 50 percent DEET to effectively prevent the spread of mosquito-borne illness.
While DEET has been proven safe for human use and is generally considered the most effective mosquito repellent currently out there, it’s not without its downsides. It can cause rashes, skin irritation and disorientation in high concentrations, and should never be applied over cuts or where it can get in your eyes or mouth. It should always be washed off skin and clothes at the end of the day – it’s also a solvent, and can dissolve materials like plastics, synthetic fabrics like rayon and spandex, painted and varnished surfaces, and even some watch crystals. Still, even with these caveats, it’s been estimated that DEET is applied over 200 million times a year all over the world.
The Best of Both Worlds
If you’re still on the fence about which type of repellent to use, you’re not the only one. Like most things, it’s better to use all available resources in moderation until you figure out a system that is convenient and effective for you. However, if you’re looking for a quick fix, below are a few steps you can take immediately to keep you protected from painful bites as spring turns to summer:
- Plant citronella grass, lavender, marigolds, and other flora around your property to repel mosquitoes naturally.
- Certain species of mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, and all are attracted to heat. Wear light-colored and breathable long-sleeve shirts and pants to keep your skin protected.
- Wear clothing treated with Permethrin, an insecticide that kills black flies, ticks, and mosquitoes without any harmful side effects on humans if used properly.
- Eliminate areas of standing or stagnant water, which is where mosquitoes like to lay eggs. Even a tiny spoonful of water is enough to harbor hundreds of baby mosquitoes.
Call Anderson Pest and Take Back the Great Outdoors
When it comes to keeping the biting insects off, there are a lot of different ways you can go. The consensus seems to be that chemical repellents are the most effective solution, but as always, it depends on your unique situation. Science is still trying to figure out why certain people get bitten more than others, and to find a perfect repellent solution that is safe for both humans and the environment.
With mosquito-borne illnesses on the rise around the world, you shouldn’t wait until you’ve already been bitten to deal with these airborne pests. Call Anderson today to schedule an appointment with one of our Illinois pest control professionals.