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Unorthodox Home Remedies for Chiggers Ease the Itch

Chigger bites cause unbelievable itching and misery. Are there home remedies for chiggers? Could dermatologists be wrong about nail polish?

Chiggers are the bane of berry pickers, hikers, gardeners and farmers. Most of the pests that cause mischief are visible. Ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies and even fleas can be seen with the naked eye. But chiggers are virtually invisible. They are only about 0.3 millimeters in size. That’s about 1/130 inch across. Most people can’t see anything that small. Even though they are tiny, they cause incredible misery for many. That’s why home remedies for chiggers are in demand. We have a lot for you to try!

Chiggers are Almost Everywhere!

The scientific name for chiggers is Trombiculidae. These teeny, hard-to-see mites hang out in grasslands, forests, parks and around berry bushes. They have been called red bugs, berry bugs, bush mites and harvest mites, as well as chiggers.

People who go berry picking are sitting ducks for these spider-like creepy-crawlies. Farmers are also vulnerable. The larval stage of these arachnids is when they are especially hungry. Spring and early summer are dangerous for susceptible humans.

Chiggers are found in all 50 states, but the midwest, south, southeast and Great Lakes regions are prime locations. Chiggers love vegetation. Wherever there is tall grass or undergrowth, you will likely find these tiny beasties.

Chiggers climb up shoes and socks and work their way to skin. They attack toes, ankles and lower legs. They seem especially fond of the area behind the knees, the groin area and around the waistline. That’s probably because if victims are wearing belts, chiggers can’t easily keep climbing beyond the belt line. They stop and feast where they are.

Confusion About Chiggers!

When I was a Boy Scout over 60 years ago, the gospel was that chigger larvae would burrow into your skin and lay eggs. The only way to keep the beasties from doing more itchy damage was to coat the bite with clear nail polish and suffocate the beasties. More about that momentarily.

Dermatologists have been discounting the Boy Scout belief as an urban legend or rural myth for decades. They maintain that chiggers do not burrow under the skin or even bite. They insist that clear nail polish is a total waste of time.

Instead, the “wisdom” is that the critters slurp up skin cells, leaving behind digestive enzymes that can cause an intense allergic reaction that is unbearably itchy. Dermatologists often recommend treatment with powerful prescription corticosteroid gels to counteract this immune response.

Contradicting Dermatological Wisdom?

We have dug a bit deeper into the chigger controversy. Chigger mites lay eggs in the spring. When the eggs hatch, out come the larvae, which are virtually invisible. They crawl up vegetation waiting for humans (and other animals) to pass by.

When the larvae encounter a vulnerable target, they climb until they find a nice tasty spot.  They then pierce the skin with their pinchers. Once into the delicate epidermis, they inject digestive enzymes that break down skin tissue. That’s their food. It can take three or four days for a juvenile chigger (larva) to fully feast on your delicious dermis.

Where I believe the dermatologists get this chigger story partially wrong is in the timing of the process. From what I have gleaned, the itching can start within a few hours of larval attachment. Remember, though, the larvae can remain attached for two or three days. The red swelling of your skin may engulf them. Meanwhile, they are feasting! If you can’t see them, that means they are inserting enzymes and digesting skin tissue, all while you are itching like crazy.

I am betting that clear fingernail polish kills the beasties. Liquid bandage may also knock them out. That’s why these home remedies for chiggers might actually work, even though the Boy Scout explanation about suffocating eggs was wrong.

Stories About Nail Polish Home Remedies for Chiggers:

Here are just a smattering of the many comments visitors to this website have offered about home remedies for chiggers.

Van says that the dermatologists may not have it right and that home remedies for chiggers are better than corticosteroid creams:

WebMD says: ‘Once they’re attached to your skin, a chigger may stay there for several days while they feast.’

“So, they aren’t buried in your skin, but they aren’t just taking a bite and dropping off. They’re continuing to feed for a few days, just like ticks.

“That means if you cover them with nail polish, you’re probably suffocating the li’l buggers. And so it probably works.

“Certainly, my experience has been the same as most of the other commenters on your website: nail polish works better than hydrocortisone or any other itch suppressant.”

Jimmy adds this about home remedies for chigger bites:

“The experts, yet again, are wrong. Nail polish is a great remedy for chiggers. Doctors aren’t as smart as they want you to believe, but grandma sure was!”

Susan offers a possible explanation for why clear fingernail polish would only work if applied early in the process:

“I do find that the old standard, clear nail polish, seems to stop the longterm itching if I apply it as soon as I notice the bite. Later on, it doesn’t have an effect.”

We interpret this to mean that the clear nail polish would only work if applied at the earliest phase of the process. If someone waits until the larvae has injected a lot of enzymes and created a nasty reaction, it may be too late to do any good. If you coat the bite at the first sign of a bite, you may prevent the mite from doing too much damage.

Amy insists that our very old article quoting the dermatologists “wisdom” that nail polish would not work was bogus.

“This is the second website I’ve found claiming nail polish doesn’t work and shouldn’t be used on chigger bites. I, personally, have gotten chiggers twice, and the first time I got it my parents had me put clear nail polish over them. It got rid of them so quickly it seemed too good to be true.

“The second time I got them, I remembered this trick and, again, it worked like a charm.

“I can’t explain it, and chiggers may not burrow into skin, but if it works, it works. Why wouldn’t we try to understand WHY it so consistently works rather than claiming it doesn’t because people who say it works sometimes also say chiggers burrow, so since they are wrong about that, they must be wrong about nail polish being effective. That is a NG line of logic.

“It reminds me of when I was a kid with poor eyesight and my dad told me to stop squinting my eyes because it didn’t help me see any better. Well, but it did! Just because HE didn’t understand it (and I didn’t understand it at the time) didn’t make it any less true. Sometimes if I couldn’t read something, for example, I’d squint and it would become clearer. That was a fact. I could repeat and have the same results over and over.

“As an adult now, I speculate this is because when you squint, the muscles around your eyes contract and affect the shape of the eye itself. This can modify where light passes through the lens and/or projects on the retina which is very likely why squinting works.

“Nail polish works on chiggers. That is a fact. You can repeat the results, so why deny it? I’ve used nail polish on my kids and it always clears them up right away. I may not understand why or how it works yet, but it feels immoral to steer people away from a proven solution just because you don’t understand it, especially if you don’t offer up an alternative that works as good or better.”

We now agree with Amy!

Adriana offers these final words:

“Clear nail polish and Liquid Bandage both work beautifully to eliminate the itch of chigger bites.”

Some People Are Extremely Sensitive to Chigger Bites!

For many people a chigger bite is not that big a deal. Yes, it will itch. There will be a red spot and maybe a pimple-like bump. Other people are extremely sensitive to these critters. Those who develop an allergic reaction may suffer for several weeks.

One reader shared this experience:

“I am very allergic to chigger bites. Each one forms a large red swollen area, and the intense itching lasts for over a week.

“I have tried many different creams that didn’t help. Then I tried using plain cold yellow mustard on each bite. I put a bandage over each one so it didn’t stain my clothes. It immediately removed the itch, and next morning the red swollen place was gone. That seems miraculous to me!”

Another person states that he develops red itchy bumps that then turn into ugly blisters. He goes on to say:

“My salvation is a potent prescription corticosteroid gel called clobetasol. At the first sign of a chigger bite, I apply the gel and the itch goes away and the blister does not form.”

Preventing Chigger Bites:

We also heard from someone who is even more vulnerable to chigger bites:

“I am extremely sensitive to the chigger enzyme and have had weeping sores for up to ten weeks with some scars as large as a quarter remaining.

“Prevention is best. Here is a list of the things that have worked for me.

“DEET works, but I prefer to not be doused in this product all the time.

“Sulfur powder works as a repellent when applied to socks or shoes. Wearing clothing treated with permethrin works as well. I have treated a pair of gaiters to wrap around my legs and shoe tops. All of the above repellents work to discourage ticks and fleas as well.

“Soaping up in the shower or bath after being outside and tossing all clothing in the wash should be a part of the preventive regimen, as well.”

Scrubbing after exposure helps get rid of chiggers and is also a good way to wash off any ticks that may have hitched a ride. Do this promptly after exposure, however. You do not want any chigger larvae attaching themselves to your skin!

More Home Remedies for Chiggers:

Doctors recommend spraying shoes, socks, pants and legs with DEET for prevention before venturing into grassy or wooded areas inhabited by chiggers. If you object to using DEET, try picaridin. Sawyer Picaridin is good at repelling ticks, according to Consumer Reports; it may also work against chiggers. Tuck the pants legs into the socks and make sure repellent is applied to socks, shoes and cuffs to discourage chiggers from climbing aboard.

According to the University of Minnesota extension service, it is prudent to take a bath with thick soap lather as soon as you leave a chigger-infested area. If you have welts resulting from chigger bites, apply an antiseptic after the bath to prevent infection.

Home Remedies for Avoiding Chiggers:

Readers of this column have other suggestions.

One reader describes a favorite old-fashioned technique for avoiding chiggers:

“Flower of sulfur is a powder available in drugstores. Pour some in an old sock, knot it and pat it liberally on feet, ankles, legs, waist and arms. A neighbor told us about this when he invited my husband to play golf right after we moved to Georgia.”

Powdered sulfur is not always easy to find. If it is not available, try Chigg Away, a liquid that contains sulfur.

Another reader has a homemade repellent recipe:

“I have problems with chiggers in my garden, and the itch from the bites drives me crazy. I made a mixture of amber Listerine, vanilla extract and oil of orange and sprayed it on my body. I took special care with my ankles, waistband on my underpants, bra and also my hair and neck. It was very effective, though I smelled like bubble gum. I detected just one bite under my arm and will be more careful with that spot in the future. I hope this helps others who are bothered by those pesky critters.”

Relief from Itchy Chigger Bites:

Finding relief from chigger bites is a challenge all its own. One reader reported:

“I got four bites behind my knees while working in my flower bed two days ago. I have been miserable the last 48 hours.

“I read about heat for the itching and have just tried both the warm compress and hair drier. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the relief. I’ve been using a steroid cream that provided no respite whatsoever. I will be using heat to soothe the itch from henceforward.”

Some of the remedies readers have recommended are downright strange, not to say messy:

“After years of suffering from chigger bites, I tried plain wet mustard straight from the fridge. I spread about 1/2 teaspoon on a bandage and applied it to the bite. This got rid of the itch so much faster than the hydrocortisone and Benadryl I was using before.”

Several More Home Remedies for Chigger Bites:

Readers have also found that soaking in a bathtub with lukewarm water and Epsom salts or baking soda can soothe that maddening itch. Others apply Sea Breeze Fresh-Clean Astringent, mouthwash or even toothpaste.

We have heard that Capzasin cream can take away the itch, though presumably it stings a bit at first. This arthritis cream contains capsaicin. That’s essence of hot peppers. You can read more about how “Hot Peppers Ease Itch of Chigger bites” at this link.

Hot water may temporarily relieve the itch. Then there is old-fashioned amber Listerine. You can read about these home remedies for chigger bites at this link. There is also this article: Listerine Mouthwash Eases Itch From Chiggers.

One reader reports that hydrogen peroxide was helpful:

“I got into some chiggers and was in misery, so after everything else failed I decided to try some hydrogen peroxide. To my surprise the itch stopped immediately and never came back.”

In response to this post on our website Ann responded positively:

“I was suffering with chigger bites on both legs. The itch was horrible! I tried hydrocortisone cream with very little relief. I decided to try hydrogen peroxide and the itch immediately disappeared! Wow…I am amazed! This stuff really works!”

Jesse offers a variation on this theme:

“These creatures love tight clothes where it is hot and humid (which is why they love socks, waistbands, underarms, and personal areas. DEET is supposed to keep them off, but that stuff isn’t something I want on me really. Although, after being bitten, I wonder now.

“They do not die in you; as has been mentioned by some people. It’s the enzymes in their horrible, horrible mouthparts that liquify your skin for their nourishment. They bite in their nymph stage and, when they finish feasting, drop off, leaving a hard stylostome, a straw-like channel that is hardened and can easily be infected.

“I’ve got about 80 bites on me right now and I look like a health textbook photo. I’ve just taken a super hot shower and liberally applied witch hazel followed by H2O2 (I didn’t want to rinse off the peroxide with the witch hazel). The hot shower should have opened up the pores, even the stylostomes, and allowed the treatment in. I saw some fizzing, which could be because I scratched myself silly and it’s reacting with the tiny amount of blood or because it’s reacting with the proteins.”

Tyler says the H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) worked, but timing may be crucial:

“Hydrogen peroxide works so well. It stings for less the a minute and then no itch what so ever.”

Holly says H2O2 did not work…but she had a really bad case!

“I have possibly the worst case of chiggers on the planet right now! It looks like I have chicken pox from my toes to my shoulders. I tried Hydrogen Peroxide, but for me the relief only lasted until the peroxide dried up. It looks like I’m going to have to go to the doctor for this one. With the constant itching, I’m only able to get a couple hours of sleep each night. This is an awful situation.”

What To Do When Home Remedies for Chiggers Don’t Work?

If you end up like Holly with the worst case of chiggers on the planet, you need medical attention promptly! Home remedies seem to work best when used at the very earliest stages of the process. Once the larvae have injected lots of enzymes and created a huge allergic reaction, medical attention is essential to calm the allergic reaction and prevent infection.

If you have home remedies for chiggers that have not been mentioned, please share them 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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Citations
  • Alexander, L., et al, "Chigger Bites and Trombiculiasis," Stat Pearls, Jan. 2024, Bookshelf ID: NBK538528
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