To live in Canada is to know mosquito bites.
But bug spray ingredients often don’t break down, so they linger and can cause harm to plants and animals other than mosquitoes.
Here are some non-toxic things you can do to keep mosquitoes away
Create a mosquito-unfriendly home
- Attract mosquito-eating chickadees, house wrens, bluebirds, swallows, martins and bats with birdhouses, bat houses or bird baths.
- Remove standing water (mosquito breeding grounds) and refresh bird and bee baths weekly.
- Fill, cover or remove items in your backyard that may collect water — empty planters, kids’ toys, wheelbarrows, etc.
- Keep rain gutters clean to help rainwater flow freely.
- Keep grass to about three inches.
- Repair screens on doors and windows.
Be less attractive to mosquitoes
- Go unscented or fragrance-free. Mosquitoes love fragrances from personal care products (e.g., soap, shampoo, etc.) and laundry products (detergent and dryer sheets).
- Cover up with long sleeves, long pants and socks.
- Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks. Mosquitoes are drawn to dark colours like navy, black and red. Tuck pants into socks for extra protection — also helps prevent tick bites!
- Take a bug net or bug shirt camping.
- Cover strollers and infant carriers with mesh netting. Do not use insect repellants on babies under six months.
- Try other, less-toxic sprays, often with essential oils of cedar, eucalyptus, lemongrass or peppermint. Read instructions carefully and check for any signs of irritation.
Mosquitoes find some people tastier! One study shows they’re more enticed by blood type O than A. And some people smell better, depending on their skin microbiome and their diet (e.g., drinking beer makes some people irresistible).
What about DEET?
The Environmental Working Group found “DEET is generally safer than many people assume and remains a viable option for people in areas infested with disease-carrying pests. As rates of bug-borne illnesses rise, people need bug repellents that work well when it counts.”
However, DEET comes with warnings to avoid eyes, mouth, ears, cuts and irritated skin. For most of us, it’s best avoided, or used only as a last resort with great caution — and never indoors:
- Use sparingly on your clothes, rather than on your body. (DEET can damage synthetics — plastics, rayon — as well as furniture finishes, leather, and paint.)
- DEET concentration should be no greater than 30 per cent for adults and children over 12, 10 per cent for children aged two to 12 (apply up to three times daily) and 10 per cent for children aged six months to two years (not more than once a day). Never put DEET on children under six months old.
- Always apply outdoors (not inside a tent) and not near food to avoid inhaling the spray.
- Never rinse DEET off in oceans, lakes or rivers.
Mosquito bite remedies
Get quick itch relief from a few familiar ingredients in your pantry:
Dab a little white or apple cider vinegar on a cloth. Apply to bite. Reapply as needed or dampen an organic cotton ball in vinegar and tape it on.
Add enough water to a tablespoon of baking soda to make a paste. Apply to bite and dry. (Many bug bite relief products are five per cent baking soda.) You can also add 125 millilitres of baking soda to a warm bath.
Add one cup of Epsom salts to enough tap water to dissolve them. Soak a cloth in the solution and dab onto bites. Or add one to two cups Epsom salts to a bath.
Note: Find Epsom salts at most grocery, drug and bulk stores. Read the ingredient list to avoid added “fragrance” or “parfum.”