The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Can You Prevent Chigger Bites and Itching?

If you have never experienced the intense itching and blistering from chiggers, count yourself lucky. Some of us are super susceptible to chiggers. Prevent chigger bites with an old-fashioned remedy!

You might as well call chiggers “no-see-ums.” That’s because chiggers are so tiny you rarely, if ever, see them on your body. They are also known as red bugs, berry bugs (because they seem to hang out around berry bushes), and harvest mites. The latter is a good name for them because they are not actually bugs. They are known as Trombiculidae, a tiny little critter in the mite family. By the way, no-see-ums are actually sand flies that belong to the family Ceratopogonidae. They are known as midges rather than mites. This reader wants to know if there is any way to prevent chigger bites. The photo is of sulfur powder, an old-fashioned but surprisingly effective remedy!

Q. When I do yard work, what would you recommend I put on so I do not get chigger bites? They itch horribly.

A. Chiggers are the larval stage of tiny mites. Their bites create an intensely itchy, inflammatory response in susceptible people.

Some people are extremely vulnerable to chigger bites. Not only do they get red itchy spots where they have been bitten, they develop blisters that are hard to heal.

Where do Chiggers Hang Out?

Because these mites are so tiny you will rarely know when they have climbed on board your body. They hang out on grass and bushes and wait for an unsuspecting victim to brush by.

Although many people believe they burrow under the skin and lay eggs, the dermatologists tell us that is not true. When they bite us, they leave behind a brew of digestive enzymes. Those enzymes provoke an allergic reaction in highly sensitive people. Others may not even realize they have been bitten because they are resistant to those digestive chemicals.

Chiggers can lurk almost anywhere. They frequently hang out in forests. If you go tromping through grasslands, you could easily pick up chiggers there as well. Orchards and berry bushes are prime territory for chiggers, which may be why they have been called harvest mites. Berry pickers often bring home an unwelcome harvest of bites. Just weeding in the backyard can be problematic.

Prevent Chigger Bites:

An insect repellent is often effective when sprayed on shoes, socks and pant legs. We often wear long white athletic socks and tuck pants legs into the socks. Then we liberally spray with DEET on the socks and shoes.

Powdered Sulfur to Prevent Chigger Bites:

If you prefer a more natural approach, you could try dusting shoes and socks with an old-fashioned remedy: “flowers of sulfur” (aka sulfur powder). It can be found in hardware stores and some pharmacies.

Readers Share Their Ways to Prevent Chigger Bites:

Sarah in Charleston, SC, says Sulphur is ticket:

“A great way to prevent chigger bites is to pour “Flowers of Sulphur” in a sock and tie the top in a knot. Then (I stand in the shower) pat your feet, legs, and up to your waist, or as far as you want to go. Do this before dressing. My husband and I found that this worked every time if we were consistent about using it before going out in the yard.”

We’re not sure we would want sulfur powder up and down our legs, so we tend to keep it on our socks and work clothes.

Wayne in Indiana agrees that sulfur works:

“When I was growing up in Indianapolis, there was a very intense chigger infestation at my wooded yard and my grandparent’s farm which was also mostly wooded. I can say from first-hand experience that powdered sulfur is very effective at keeping the chiggers off.”

Nancy in Florida adds her mid-western experience to the mix:

“As a child In Ohio I remember my parents putting yellow sulfur powder (also known as flowers of sulfur) in a large salt shaker and shaking the powder on areas of clothing that might come in contact with vegetation. It was an effective deterrent.”

Rubber Boots to the Rescue:

Edythe in Florida has a simple way to prevent chigger bites:

“Wear calf high rubber boots. Chiggers climb up your leg. They don’t drop on you. The rubber boots keep them off you. You do not need pesticides. You can spray the outside of the boots for double protection.

“I live and work on a farm. I also really react to their bites. You can’t wash them off. When you come inside, peel your pants off and use a washcloth to wipe off your legs. You can’t see chiggers. They need to be wiped off right away.

“Be careful not to put the same pants back on as I have experienced leaving work pants in the mud room then putting them back on to work and immediately getting bit. They apparently survive well on our clothing.”

Rubbing the body with a rough towel as soon as you come in from the yard and then showering is also helpful. Even though Edythe says you can’t wash them off, we have found a quick shower to be helpful as an added precaution.

Wash Those Chigger Critters Away:

A biologist in Live Oak, South Carolina agrees that washing can be helpful:

“I have spent many years as a field biologist in the southeastern US and make the following suggestions about preventing chigger bites.

“If you know that you have been out in chigger habitat (May to October in coastal SC) and have not applied preventative measures, take the following steps to prevent chiggers from attaching to skin:

  1. Before sitting down in a favorite chair, wash all field clothes including socks and underwear in washing machine with warm water and soap. This procedure will remove chiggers from clothes.
  2. Shower with soap and scrub with wash cloth (especially legs, groin and waist band areas) to prevent attachment or to remove recently attached mites.”

Share your own secret to prevent chigger bites in the comment section below:

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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I am very sensitive to chigger bites, but I found the perfect solution that works every time for me. I don’t spend over two hours out in the areas where the chiggers are, and if I did, this might not work so well. I don’t need anything to repel them. Once I come inside, I just make a point of removing shoes, socks and pants in the laundry room, and go straight to the shower. Chiggers get on your body near ground level (at least mine do), and they climb to find a “tight spot” – a place where clothing is tight to the body before they start biting. So I can wash from the knees down with soap and water, and they are just all washed away. I never get bitten this way.

They will climb as high as they need to find that tight spot – waistbands, underbust bands on bras, or inside tight socks. They are very tiny, and it takes them hours to climb high. If I wear sandals or loose socks or none, they will not bite in the low areas of my body. They will bite me on the rear while sitting if I have no tight clothing places and did not wash. I use hiking/swimming sandals that are made for water, so I can gently machine wash if I need.

I was so happy to discover this method. I can go out now, without having to worry, come in, remove my lower garments containing chiggers, run them through the dryer, or launder, wash my lower legs, and be chigger-free. For those who are not sensitive to chiggers, it may seem like no big deal to be bitten. My mother-in-law and I are both very sensitive, and even one bite that burns and itches horribly can give us chills and make us feel ill.

My skin seems to be very sensitive, so I have intense stinging from these bites. It is almost intolerable. I have learned to keep a spray bottle of apple cider vinegar in the refrigerator. If I spray the apple cider vinegar (ACV) on the area immediately, it seems to neutralize the stinging. Sometimes it will sting again later, so I reapply the ACV. For prevention: I wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves, and I spray about half way up the forearm of the shirt and the top half of the gloves with bug spray. Since we have snakes, I always wear knee socks, jeans, and boots. I spray the jeans around the top of the boots. These measures have helped me, so I hope this information will help others.

I have also washed chiggers off, but I could see them on my legs – probably because I’m so pale and looked for them within an hour of being exposed! I did have to scrub pretty hard to get them off and used a lot of soap to try to remove their saliva.

I have also used a product called ChiggAway – and it’s active ingredient is 10% sulfur and also Benzocaine to relieve itching if you forget to use it before you are exposed.

A few years ago we were suffering for months from some other type of mite – probably oak mites (before any local doctors believed it was a big thing) and both ChiggAway and my sulfur Acne medicine brought the most relief of any of the zillion things we tried.

My sister lives near Pinelands in NJ and swears by rubbing legs and feet down with rubbing alcohol on a cloth as soon as you come inside after being in potentially infested areas.

We had no preventative measures for chiggers — just dealt with the after effects. Dab each bite with clear fingernail polish to smother the little devils. In addition to the red bug bites, at times we had to use red nail polish — not a pretty thing.

Good to know about the sulfur.

I wonder if sulfa powder would help keep ticks off as well, and would it be safe to use on a dog?

We used to shower immediately using yellow soap, not sure if it was Octagon. Great for poison ivy too.

As a young boy growing up in the South, I would help my mother pick blackberries. About 30 minutes before we would start picking, we would each take a tablespoon of dill pickle juice. I don’t remember being bothered with Chigger bites but that was a long time ago. I was interested to know if anyone else did this.

When I was a young woman and took my girls to Girl Scout camp in KS, I would use the yellow sulfur in a sock, and dust the girls and my clothing after dressing. We were in the wood, the fields, and picking berries. The sulfur kept the chiggers away.

As a little boy my grandmother “MeeMaw” would tie strips of cloth that had been dipped in kerosene around our ankles and wrists to prevent chiggers from getting on us as we went out picking blackberries. It worked and kept ticks and other bugs off us too.

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