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How Can You Keep Mosquitoes Away?

To keep mosquitoes away, you need a good repellent. DEET works, but it also can melt plastic. Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus could be alternatives.
How Can You Keep Mosquitoes Away?
Public domain from https://phil.cdc.gov/Phil/details.asp image #18749 credit James Gathany

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, or so the song goes. (Here’s the magnificent Ella Fitzgerald singing it.) But summertime also brings its share of biting insects, and keeping them away is not always easy. Mosquitoes can carry disease, including West Nile virus, so it makes sense to protect yourself as well as possible. DEET is the standard, but not everyone wants to use it. How else can you keep mosquitoes away?

Repellents to Keep Mosquitoes Away:

Q. I killed a mosquito last night, and that got me thinking about repellents. I have some concerns about DEET, which seems to be the standard.

A few years ago, I was camping with friends. One of my companions slathered DEET on herself and then poured wine into a plastic glass. Her fingerprints are permanently etched into the wine glass.

We’re not talking about disposables here. These cups are thick, dishwasher-safe, clear, reusable glasses. I’m hesitant to use a product that etches plastic.

I’ve had reasonable success by wearing a neckerchief permeated with permethrin and applying picaridin repellent.

What DEET Does:

A. DEET is an effective insect repellent that can certainly keep mosquitoes away. Unfortunately, it can behave a little like a solvent. It may dissolve some items such as plastic watch crystals, paint, nail polish and synthetic fibers. DEET may also harm certain breathable fabrics.

Both Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggest that oil of lemon eucalyptus and picaridin can each serve as an alternative to DEET. They are quite effective repellents. Brand names include Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, Sawyer Picaridin and Natrapel Picaridin.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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