Protecting your family from mosquitoes

My family loves to be outdoors during these warmer months. We won't be driven indoors by those spring and summer pests, mosquitoes and ticks. My last blog post was all about dealing with ticks. This one focuses on helping you avoid those pesky – and potentially dangerous – mosquito bites.

For most people, mosquito bites simply cause an annoying, itchy welt for a few days. For some, however, an allergic reaction or even a life-threatening illness, like West Nile virus or malaria, can result. 

Only female mosquitoes bite humans and other animals. They require blood to produce viable eggs. Mosquitoes are attracted to their prey by smell, movement and heat. They smell carbon dioxide (which you breathe out) and chemicals on your skin surface (including your sweat). They can smell you from more than 100 feet away! About 10 percent of people are more attractive to these blood-suckers than the rest of us, probably because of their genetic makeup and how it affects the chemicals on their skin. So, your defenses need to beat their senses – cover your scent, sit still and distract them with other sources of heat.

Covering your scent requires mosquito repellent. These are the most common key ingredients that you will find in mosquito repellents:

  • DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) – Available to the U.S. public since 1957, DEET is widely regarded as the most effective mosquito repellent – and it repels ticks, too! Off Deep Woods®, Off FamilyCare®, Cutter Backwoods®, and 3M Ultrathon® all contain DEET. It is safe for infants as young as two months of age, as long as you use a concentration of less than 10 percent DEET and apply it only once a day. For children and adults, you can use 10 to 30 percent DEET and apply it to skin and clothing as often as needed. Repellents containing 10 percent DEET last for about 2 hours, and those containing 24 percent last about 5 hours. There is no significant advantage to going above 30 percent DEET. Use it on intact skin (not on cuts), and avoid the eyes and mouth. When applying it to a child's face, parents should rub it on with their hands rather than spraying the face.
  • Picaridin – Found in products such as Cutter Advanced® and Natrapel, this has been approved since 1998 and is about as effective as DEET. Its purported advantages include a lighter, cleaner feel and the fact that it is odorless to humans. It, too, is approved for use with infants as young as two months of age.
  • Metofluthrin – This is the new kid on the block, approved in 2006. It is marketed as DeckMate Mosquito Repellent®, and it is not a spray or a lotion. It is available as a paper strip, which you can hang in your outdoor area, and as a device (containing a cartridge and fan) which you wear.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus – This is often considered a more natural alternative to DEET, nearly as effective as DEET and is approved for use with children ages three years and older.
  • Avon's® Skin-So-Soft® – Although shown to be much less effective than DEET, I know many people who choose this as a better-smelling and seemingly more natural alternative to DEET.
  • Permethrin – This is a chemical used to treat clothing rather than applying it to skin. Permethrin spray is available, among other places, from Cabela's® and REI®. It is extremely effective at repelling mosquitoes. In fact, using permethrin on clothing and DEET on exposed skin is the most effective regimen available to prevent mosquito bites. You should wash the clothing and your skin after you go back indoors for the evening.

Citronella candles can help, as long as you are in a semi-enclosed area with very little air movement. Fogging (with insecticide) is also very effective, as long as it hits the mosquitoes; it does not treat the reservoirs of standing water. You should take care to eliminate any standing water on your property (low-lying, wet areas, bird baths, trash cans, plugged gutters, toddler swimming pools, etc.) which serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. 

I hope that these tips will help you to enjoy the great outdoors this summer, free of mosquito bites and the diseases they carry.


  • Off Deep Woods® and Off FamilyCare® are trademarks of S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc. 
  • Cutter Backwoods® and Cutter Advanced® are trademarks of United Industries Corporation.
  • 3M Ultrathon® is a trademark of 3M Company.
  • Natrapel® is a trademark of Tender Corp. 
  • DeckMate® Mosquito Repellent is a trademark of Sumitomo chemical company, Ltd.
  • Avon® and Skin-So-Soft® are trademarks of Avon Products, Inc.
  • Permethrin® is a trademark of Coulston International Corp. 
  • Cabela’s ® is a trademark of Cabela's Inc.
  • REI® is a trademark of Recreational Equipment, Inc. 

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