Summer is just around the corner, and the bugs have already begun buzzing. Painful bee stings and itchy mosquito bites can be less bothersome with a couple of simple home remedies utilizing ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.
One old-fashioned way to soothe bee stings is to apply the cut surface of an onion to the spot. When we first heard about this remedy years ago, we thought it was just an old wives’ tale. A chat with Dr. Eric Block, then chair of chemistry at SUNY Albany, straightened us out. He is the world’s expert on the chemical makeup of onions, and he assured us that fresh-cut onions contain enzymes that break down prostaglandins. Prostaglandins, the body’s response to injury, cause pain and swelling, so heading them off at the pass makes for a more comfortable recovery.
Here is just one of many onion stories we have received over the years:

“My 14 month old son was stung 5 times on the arm. My sister-in-law rubbed a sliced onion over the inflamed area and right away the inflammation and swelling went away. All you could see were five dots where the wasp stung him and that was it! He was running and playing afterwards like nothing ever happened. We instantly called his doctor and were on the look out for an allergic reaction but thankfully everything ended well.” Tara

A modified approach utilizes Adolph’s meat tenderizer (or any other brand containing papain). Papain tenderizes meat by breaking down proteins. It can do the same for proteins in a bee or jellyfish sting and sidestep or reduce a painful reaction. Make a paste out of meat tenderizer and water or vinegar and get it on the sting as quickly as possible.
S.C. offers this experience:

“I have used meat tenderizer for various bites and stings for years, and have found it to be the only thing effective for fire ant bites. I use it as you describe, but I do try to massage it into the site of the bite. I apply it immediately after the bite, as it is less effective with long delays in application. I have taught this to my grandchildren and other children.”

Baking soda mixed with vinegar is another time-honored kitchen based remedy for a bee or wasp sting. It fizzes and bubbles as it relieves discomfort.
Wasps and bees aren’t the only flying creatures to menace a picnic or barbecue. You can make a mosquito repellent at home with one tablespoon citronella oil, two cups white vinegar, one cup water and one cup Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil. Or, you can buy Skin So Soft Bug Guard with IR3535, a “biopesticide” that has been used in Europe for decades.
To stop itching, apply plain hot water, about 120 degrees F (uncomfortable but not burning) for several seconds. Apparently this overwhelms the nerve endings sending “itch” signals, and you get relief for hours. This simple remedy also works for mild poison ivy.
No hot water? Try crushing a few plantain leaves and rubbing them over the bite. This weed grows almost everywhere and has a reputation for easing itch.
People also tell us that Vicks VapoRub can banish itchy mosquito bites. And that’s not all it is good for. When toes go on display in sandals, it may be time to treat ugly nail fungus. Smearing Vicks around the affected nail twice a day has helped many people get rid of their fungus. Others prefer to soak their feet fifteen to thirty minutes a day in a soothing solution of one part vinegar to two parts water. This should help discourage athlete’s foot as well as toenail fungus.
Vinegar in water–one part vinegar to five parts water–is also a great treatment after swimming. Make sure the solution is tepid, then put a few drops in each ear to prevent swimmer’s ear.
For more details about these and other inexpensive common-sense remedies, you may want to check our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies (National Geographic). Quick & Handy Home Remedies is full of other helpful hints, too.
Don’t let hot weather hazards ruin your summer. By learning how to use what you already have in your kitchen you can withstand warm weather woes.

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  1. Susan

    While camping when our middle son was a toddler – about 30 years ago, he was stung by a yellow jacket. A fellow camper told me to put toothpaste on it. We did, and it never swelled. I was very impressed.
    Through the years, having 3 boys and lots of bee stings, toothpaste is all that I have ever used. We’ve had stings from honeybees, wasps, hornets, bumblebees, more yellowjackets, all kinds of bees. Each time we grab the toothpaste and cover the sting area (after removing the stinger). After a few minutes, the pain and any sign of the sting are gone – and no swelling or itching.
    It is really amazing! One note – the gel toothpaste seems to work better than the “paste” toothpaste. My friends all think I’m crazy when I tell them this, but it really does work!

  2. s

    My husband is from Kentucky. I got stung by a bee & he broke open a cigarette, mixed it with saliva (or water) & taped it on the sting – it went away! I tried this at a preschool outing – a little girl got stung 5 times. The only cigarette I could find was menthol. We mixed it with water from a fountain & the Mom treated the stings. She told me the next day that the only one that stayed painful was the one she missed! I keep a cigarette in the car now.

  3. RT

    I live in chigger country and have a natural/native back yard and get multiple bites a week. The best treatments for chigger bite? Benadryl Extra Strength Itch Stopping Cream. “Extra Strength” is important. One dab directly on the bite area as soon as you discover it — usually by its itching Rub it in and add an extra dab to stay. DO NOT SCRATCH! Wear clothing that does not press on bite site. Treat again after a few hours or as needed. Itching is eased immediately and should not return at all after 24 hours.

  4. Jerry

    My friend told me to grab a bottle of mustard and put it on a wasp/yellow jacket sting. Said it will remove the stinger too and no swelling. Mustard has vinegar in it so probably that is the key ingredient.
    To the person who takes ice with them since they are allergic to Deer Fly. Put a plastic snack or sandwich bag in the coolr to put your ice in.

  5. HZB

    Clear nail polish stops the itch immediately.

  6. DS

    I am sure that people will contribute other ideas so keep me posted, please.

  7. cpmt

    I was thinking…what about pineapple and papaya ? will that help ? (since they tenderize meat…)

  8. GaryB

    I’m very allergic to the Deer fly, the one that has the zigzag stripes on the wings. If I get bitten on the hand lets say, it will swell up so much I would not be able to close my hand and this would last for several days. I found if I can get some ice on the bite with in 4/5 min and keep the ice on top until it has melted there will be no swelling, just a small red spot, actually smaller than a mosquito bite. When we go out on our 4 wheelers/walking/fishing, I take a small cooler with ice from our ice maker, paper towel, and a Ace stretch bandage. (those instant cold packs work also) I wrap two ice cubes in the paper towel so the ice is not directly touching my skin, place this on the bite and then wrap with the stretch bandage tight enough to hold it in place. Then I go on about my business, when the ice has melted 10-15 min later I take it off and I’m fine. This has been a vacation home saver for me. I look kinda funny depending on where I get bite and all wrapped up, But IT works. A little side note on the Deer Fly, they always come from behind, so there is a company that makes a kinda flypaper the you can attach to the back of your hat, It looks gross but to see a half dozen flies stuck on there, well lets say it my first line of defense.

  9. Lee H

    I have used the onion remedy and it works on fire ant bites,too. We seem to have an over abundance of chiggers in North Texas this year and I’ve found Milk of Magnesia takes the itching away for several hours. Thanks so much for tell us about MoM in your column!
    On another note, I found that Pond’s Cold Cream easily and safely removes paint and stain from your skin. We stained our wood patio furniture this Spring and didn’t have mineral oil to remove it from our skin…. and found that the first ingredient in Pond’s is mineral oil… and it smells great, too!
    Thanks so much for all that you do!

  10. Christel C.

    Living in Florida we are often effected by mosquito bites. I found that rubbing Neosporin on the bite as soon as possible is a simple and sure way to eliminate itching and swelling within less than 30 minutes.

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