If you’ve been reading this site for long, you know that I hate dealing with insects like mosquitoes and gnats. They’re annoying, the bites are itchy/painful, and I don’t want them anywhere near my patio. However, I also don’t want to spray myself or my kids with smelly, potentially harmful bug spray. To reconcile these two competing desires, I’ve compiled a fantastic list of commercial bug spray alternatives. Any of the techniques below will put a dent in your bug problem and won’t have you smelling like a DEET factory.
Bug Spray Alternatives
If you’ve done any cursory research about how to repel mosquitoes from your outdoor area, I’m sure essential oils have came up on the list. In addition to having a litany of other uses, certain essential oils can cause specific bugs to flee your patio with haste. However, beware! Others can attract unwanted pests to your area. Because of this, it’s important to choose wisely.
Which essential oils repel bugs? It depends on the insect you’re trying to keep away. I’ll cover the most common pests folks wants to repel.
|Fleas||Cedarwood, citronella, lemongrass, lavender, orange, pine|
|Mosquitoes||Citronella, peppermint, clove, lemongrass, lavender|
|Ticks||Juniper, grapefruit, oregano|
Due to humans’ complicated relationship with arachnids, this particular bug spray alternative might not be for you. However, it’s well-known that spiders (and their webs) are great at culling populations of insects. If you can keep them out of your house, they can be powerful allies in the quest to rid your patio of bugs.
How do you attract spiders to your house? This is going to sound counter-productive, but you have to attract their prey. Spiders are drawn to locations where food is abundant (and bugs are their primary source of food). Displaying some bright, insect-attracting lights for a few nights will surely entice a few.
Additionally, you could buy some poison free spider glue. These contain pheromones, which attract the spiders to the sticky surface. Be diligent about carefully removing the spider, or it could easily get stuck and perish.
Burn Some Sage
Burning sage (or as some folks call it, smudging) can be another effective bug spray alternative. While I’m not as spiritual as some folks who practice sage burning, I recognize that it can definitely have a use to repel unwanted insects.
Steps to Repel Insects With Sage
- Take a sage bundle and catch the end of it on fire with a match. Blow out the flame as soon as you see it, continuing to blow until you have a nice glowing ember.
- Wave the bundle around your immediate area, making sure to get the smoke around your body and personal space.
- After the area has been thoroughly immersed in sage smoke, set the sage bundle down in a ceramic bowl and allow it to continue burning.
Set Up Fans
The use of fans can actually amplify the effects of burning sage. However, simply setting up a few outdoor fans on your patio can take care of many flying pests. Mosquitoes and fleas in particular are not strong fliers. A strong gust of air away from your area will ensure that they can’t get close. Additionally, fans blow away carbon dioxide from the area (mosquitoes are drawn in by CO2 and it collects as we exhale).
Using multiple fans can be more effective, creating a wind tunnel effect that will disorient the flying insects completely. When they emerge from the tunnel, they often fly away in a panic.
Citronella candles are a classic outdoor solution for keeping mosquitoes and other pests at bay (as long as you clean them) (as long as you clean them). They definitely work in closed-in areas, but if you have a wide-open patio away from your house, their effectiveness drops.
One other thing to note is the cost-efficiency of citronella candles. Fewer things on this list have a smaller up-front investment. This makes it a nice choice to start with, as if they don’t completely solve your issues you’re only out $10-$20.
Sleeves And Pants
You might be thinking “But Captain, this is cheating!” And you’d be forgiven for thinking that. However, often all you need to keep the bugs away is to layer your clothing effectively. In the Fall and Spring, you can comfortably wear long flannel shirts and/or work pants to reduce the surface area that insects can attack. For an added boost, tuck the legs of your pants into your boots and make sure your shirts are buttoned completely.
You still have to worry about your face, but it’s a much smaller area to defend!
Dryer sheets do in fact repel insects (source). However, the kind of insects that they repel may not be the kind you’re worried about. Fungus gnats, mites, weevils, and some cockroaches hate the smell and chemicals used in dryer sheets. This may be a good option if you have a very specific type of bug problem!
Hang A Bug Zapper
I have a lot of memories from childhood in front of my dad’s garage, basking the faint blue glow of his bug zappers. Every now and again, that distinct “bzzt” sound would fire and we would all be alerted that the zapper had killed another one. There’s no doubt about it, bug zappers can kill a lot of bugs.
Unfortunately, mosquitoes aren’t on the list. Like I said above, mosquitoes are attracted by carbon dioxide (I covered this thoroughly in my chilling expose about whether patio heaters attract bugs). Bug zappers attract their prey using ultraviolet light. While a random mosquito or two may randomly find their way into your bug zapper, it won’t be an effective way to keep them at bay.
You might be inclined to think “Yeah, but what about the carbon baited mosquito traps? Don’t they serve the same purpose as bug zappers?”
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but carbon-dioxide mosquito traps are equally as ineffective at killing them. Anyone telling you to pursue these solutions is just trying to separate you from your money.
Wear Permethrin Treated Clothing
This is cheating a little. While permethrin is an insecticide, you don’t have to spray it on your skin. People realized that if you apply the treatment to your clothing instead, you could extract some additional benefits. Namely, the treatment would last longer and you wouldn’t have to apply the permethrin directly to your skin! You can also apply the permethrin to hammocks, lawn chairs, or any other kind of outdoor gear you frequently use outside.
This approach is common in the military and among outdoor workers. These are people that need a bug spray alternative most of all, so I take their recommendations seriously.
Put Up A Screen
Patio screens and mosquito nets are the most effective way to shield yourself and your loved ones from flying insects. Adding one of these to your patio creates an actual physical barrier between you and the bugs that wish to do you harm. However, putting up a screen can be cost-prohibitive if you have a large outdoor patio (for a smaller patio, you can expect the cost to be somewhere around $300 installed). It can be impossible if you have a patio without a pergola or covered roof.
Mosquito nets have a few advantages over patio screens. For one thing, they’re super cheap. But they definitely don’t have the durability of a permanent patio screen. Additionally, they’re much smaller and you’ll have a difficult time installing one around an ample sized patio.
Eliminate Standing Water
Standing water is the bane of anyone trying to remove insects from their outdoor area. That small puddle on your patio looks like a shimmering oasis to flying insects. They’ll hang around as long as they can drink their fill. Additionally, flying insects like mosquitoes will actually lay their eggs in standing water. Their eggs can hatch in as little as 8 days, so standing water can definitely exacerbate the problem. Simply removing it is a ridiculously easy bug spray alternative.
If you have drainage problems, this may be a bit more complicated. But if you have drainage problems, you have a much bigger problem than flying bugs!
Did I miss your favorite bug spray alternative? If so, please share it in the comments so you can help your fellow humans. Together, we can figure out how to relax in our outdoor space without worrying about getting bit!
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