Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects can have an outsize effect on your summer health and happiness. It only takes a few of the little critters to make you itchy and miserable, or, in rare cases, seriously sick. (Ticks, for instance, can carry Lyme disease, and mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus.)
A good insect repellant with DEET is often your best protection from pesky bugs. But if you prefer to avoid or limit the use of these sprays, especially if you have young children, there are other, less intrusive ways to lessen your chances of being a bug’s victim of choice:
Bug-proof your yard: Mosquitoes love to congregate in standing, stagnant water, even small areas that may escape your notice. Look for, and eliminate, puddles in and around plant saucers, trash containers, outdoor shelves and furniture, barbecue grills, playground sets, or low spots in the yard. Remember to clean out rain gutters; clogged ones may harbor water, and mosquitoes. If you have a kiddie pool or a bird bath, empty and clean it at least once a week. For an in-ground or larger above-ground pool, skim the surface regularly. Mosquitoes can lay eggs right on the water’s surface. Finally, if you have a water feature, like a pond, consider adding goldfish. They eat mosquitoes.
Wear the right clothes: Mosquitoes are attracted to darker colors, so wear white or pastels. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts, though often impractical and uncomfortable in summer heat, are better protection than skimpier summer clothing. However, proper clothing is especially essential if you’re spending time hiking or camping in the woods or in tall grass, where ticks are more of a risk.
Natural repellants: Citronella, in candles, spray or oil, is a natural, fragrant, non-toxic way to repel insects, especially fleas and mosquitoes. Essential oils from some other herbs, including catnip, rosemary and lemon thyme, also can deter insects.
Go batty: What are some of the most efficient mosquito-eating animals? Bats! One small brown bat can eat hundreds of mosquitoes in a single night. If you can stomach the idea, consider creating a bat habitat in your backyard; Bat Conservation International has plans and bat houses for sale online. (By the way, bats are nocturnal, so you may rarely even see them, and they will typically not bite unless threatened.)
Blow it off: Mosquitoes like still air, not breezes. Put an oscillating fan or two on the patio, or consider installing a ceiling fan on your covered deck.
Using DEET: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reviewed DEET, the active ingredient in many insect repellants, and determined that it poses no health concerns to the general public. That said, use it safely: Do not spray it on your face, do not over-apply, don’t apply it on children’s hands or faces, and wash it off after you go back inside. If you spray it on clothes, wash them before wearing again.