The People's Perspective on Medicine

How to Keep Chiggers from Biting

Digestive enzymes left in chigger bites can drive a person crazy with itching. What are the best ways to keep chiggers from biting?

Chiggers, also known as red bugs or berry bugs, are among the annoyances of summer. Unlike ticks or mosquitoes, they don’t carry deadly diseases in the US. But their bites swell, redden and itch maddeningly. Can you keep chiggers from biting when you are outside?

How to Keep Chiggers from Biting:

Q. I am extremely susceptible to chigger bites. I never know where they are lurking.

I like to garden in my back yard and hike in the woods. A day or two later I am covered with bites that itch like crazy and then blister. They are ugly and take weeks to heal.

I have two questions. What can I do to prevent chiggers from biting me in the first place? If I get a bite, what can I do to control the itching and speed healing?

A. Chiggers (Trombiculidae) are tiny mites that climb on grasses and bushes waiting for unsuspecting prey to mosey by. Contrary to folklore, chiggers do not burrow under the skin but they do bite and afterwards they leave digestive enzymes behind. Some people like you are highly allergic to their enzymes and experience extreme itching, redness and swelling.

Keeping Chiggers Off Skin:

The best way to prevent bites is to make sure you never venture outside without protection. Tuck long pants into the tops of socks and coat your shoes, socks and pants legs with a highly effective insect repellent. Consumer Reports rates Sawyer Picaridin highly against ticks, mosquitoes and other bugs. Another option is DEET (OFF! Deepwoods VIII or Ben’s 30 percent DEET Tick & Insect Wilderness Formula). Permethrin-containing products like Repel can be applied to clothing as well. Any of these repellents should be used according to instructions, of course.

Easing the Itch:

Once a bite appears, hot water may temporarily ease the itching, but a strong corticosteroid gel is the best solution. You will need a prescription from your doctor for that.

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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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When we moved into our new house the yard was over-run with these beasts that I had never encountered. Any insect bites are a problem for me, but these were three weeks of torture per bite. I read somewhere that spraying soap and water might help, so we got a container that attaches to the hose and hosed down our acre of land. We didn’t seem to have a problem after that so I guess it worked for us.

A great way to stop 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.

If we didn’t use it, we could buy a stick that stopped the itch. It turned out to be ammonia! Plain ammonia was cheaper, so we just used that, and it worked fine.

I am very allergic to chigger bites. Nail polish does no good for me but if I put a quarter teaspoon of cold mustard, from the fridge on a bite and cover it with a bandaid, the itch stops and the next day the redness and swelling will be gone. Be sure to cover the bite with a bandaid as mustard stains clothing.

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 mostly wooded so I can say from first hand experience that powdered sulfur is very effective at keeping the chiggers off.

We always pained chigger bites with nail polish. If helped stop the itching and suffocated the chigger after a day or two.

A couple “quick fix” remedies that I have tried are Amber Listerine applied from a spray bottle to kill the itch and the other is a very strong saline solution. I heat about half a cup of water in the microwave, mix in as much salt as I can, cool the solution and apply with a cosmetic pad. I keep the pad in place until the itching has stopped and then apply a mixture of salt and lard, salt and butter or salt and coconut oil or coconut butter. WD-40 is also an excellent and quick chigger bite, mosquito bite and wasp sting remedy but I have a little trouble with the smell. It does provide effective relief though..

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.

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.

A super effective way to stop the itch of a mosquito or flea bite is to dip a metal spoon into hot water for about 10 seconds or so, and then put it on top of the bite (when it feels barely tolerable–don’t actually burn your skin!). You may have to reapply the spoon a few times…rarely you may have to repeat the next day as well. I usually get a bad reaction to bites and scratch them relentlessly even in my sleep, but this has worked miracles for me! The heat neutralizes the venom; this is supposed to work for all kinds of insect bites. There is also a little battery operated device you can buy online which has a safe little “laser” button which has the same effect–great when you don’t have hot water and a spoon available. It’s called a “Therapik.” Makes a great gift for camping friends–the friends I’ve given one to have practically cried with joy after they’ve experienced how well it works! :-}

Garden dusting sulphur is the best repellent. Put some in an old sock, and dust pants and shoes on the outside. If bitten, make a little paste with sulphur, and put on the bite. Always carried this or Chigaway while in the Army. Works well.

I use plain rubbing alcohol to ease the chiggers’ bites. It helps.

Chiggers might not transmit deadly diseases, but I think they can cause the meat allergy “alpha-gal,” which I have, and which I first read about in The People’s Pharmacy. This is a serious and potentially very dangerous allergy that probably is underdiagnosed.

Dusting powdered sulfur on my shoes, top edges of my socks, waistband of my pants, etc. keeps them off me. When I forget to do that and get bit, something called Chigarid stops the itch. Be warned: it goes on like varnish–and stays on for days–and smells like gasoline.

When we were kids in Nebraska, chiggers were a constant bother. My dad used to come home from working with grazing lands covered with them. We always dabbed clear fingernail polish on them to suffocate them.

This morning, getting around to the farm chores, I noticed my belly button itching. I was out getting the goats back at dark in woods and brush so that probably explained the three little dark spots surrounded by a little inflammation in my umbilicus. Unable to remove the little bugs, I put the last of my little bottle of tea tree oil from Walgreens, the itching went away and when I read this article, the smallest of the three peeled off with rubbing and I am considering trying to extract another drop of the oil to redose the remaining parasites. Farmers mostly are forced to ignore ticks, chiggers etc. Luckily I live in an area without much tick fever, Lyme, Zika, West Nile or other microbes brought to us by migrating birds or escaped from military labs.

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.Or you can spray the outside of the boots. I live and work on a farm , I also really react to their bites.
Also 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. Apparently they survive well on our clothing.
It Takes a long ,very hot, clothes wash to remove chiggers. Ticks will survive a washing machine.

We use clear fingernail polish to “seal” the spot. It will stop the itching almost right away. Always works!!

Try ammonia on the bite. Put a little on a cotton ball,and hold it on it for a few minutes; Mother Nature’s antihistamine!

Over the counter benadryl gel helps my chigger bites. If a particular bite is in a position where rubbing on clothing kicks off new bouts of itching, I’ll put on a tiny dab of gel and then cover it with a bandaid. That seems to keep the itching to a minimum. But prevention is the key. I pre- treat my hiking clothes with the Sawyer permethrin spray a couple of times over the Florida winter hiking season and that has helped a lot. Don’t forget to do your socks, too!

A day after working in a south Texas forest, I found my legs were covered with red, itchy bumps from waist down. Chiggers. The doctor wanted to put me in the hospital, but I declined. The sprays and meds he gave me had no effect, but a country woman neighbor told my wife to suggest I sit in a cool tub, splash water on my legs and scatter baking soda all over them. When I did that, the itching immediately began to diminish. Within a couple of days, the bumps were gone. Our new friend said in south Texas chiggers were called “grass tigers,” and I know why.

Have clothes impregnated with “insect shield” by sending them to Insect Shield in Greensboro for treatment – lasts 70 washes. I work in the woods and fields, and since I have worn these clothes, I have had zero chigger or tick bites. Cost is around $25 dollars for a pair of socks, pants, and shirt.

I get a lot of chigger bites each summer. I cover each bite with clear nail polish. That seems to stop the insane itching. I may have to repeat every few days until it goes away.

in college in kansas i’d get chigger bites all the time. the local lore was to immediately paint the bitewith clear nail polish to block the air. might be a placebo but it always worked for me

Chiggers, nasty little biters! I used 1 T bleach in a gallon of cool water in tub and soaked feet and lower legs. Worked great. Instant relief.

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