Experts reveal whether these 4 mosquito repellent spray alternatives actually work

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

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For those that prefer to steer clear of bug repellent sprays, other options exist that also claim to repel mosquitoes and other flying pests. However, not all of them may be as effective as others.

“One that I’ve been hearing chatter about recently are phone apps that purport to emit a high-frequency sound that keeps mosquitoes at bay,” said Catherine Roberts, a Consumer Reports associate editor for health who covers insect repellents.

Although Consumer Reports hasn’t tested these apps, Roberts said there’s no proof that sonic repellent devices will work. A few companies landed themselves in hot water with the New York State attorney general’s office in 2016 for making false claims about their efficacy, according to Roberts.

Citronella torch - Getty Images

Citronella candles and torches might be options to consider when looking for mosquito repellent spray alternatives. (Photo/EzumeImages/Getty Images)


“The attorney general also cited a few companies that made wristbands, bracelets, patches and stickers in that same set of cease and desist letters, telling them to stop selling [products] as ‘Zika protective,’” Roberts told AccuWeather.

Below are four alternatives to mosquito repellent sprays that may or may not work for you.

1. Citronella candles, torches

Citronella candles have been touted as a method of keeping mosquitoes away, but studies reveal that they're not extremely effective.

Because mosquitoes and other biting insects tend to fly upwind in search of a host, the only place that a candle or torch would work well is within that particular wind stream, according to University of Florida Professor of Entomology Jonathan Day.

“When mosquitoes encounter the citronella and the smoke, which is an irritant to them, they just go around it,” Day said.

A recent study that tested 11 different repellents on Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can spread Zika, yellow fever and other diseases, found that citronella candles didn't significantly reduce mosquitoes’ attraction to humans.

Candles and torches might work in very small, semi-enclosed areas, said Day.

2. Mosquito-repellent wristbands

The idea of donning a wristband to ward off pesky mosquitoes seems simple enough, but testing has shown that these may not do the job.

Consumer Reports examined the effectiveness of two types of mosquito-repellent wristbands in 2015. Volunteers wore them, placing their arms inside a cage of disease-free mosquitoes for intervals of five minutes, half an hour, one hour and every hour thereafter.

“[This continued] until the volunteer received two bites in one five-minute session or one bite in each of two consecutive sessions,” Roberts said.

“We found that [wristbands] didn’t work—mosquitoes started biting testers pretty much as soon as they put their arms in the cages,” she added.

Day and fellow researchers also tested the efficacy of DEET- or citronella oil-saturated wristbands. The problem is that mosquitoes have to make contact with the repellent before it becomes effective, Day told AccuWeather.

“[If you're wearing a wristband], it doesn’t surround you in a halo of protective vapor,” he said. “Mosquitoes will feed all around the wristband, so wristbands and ankle bracelets are just not effective at all.”

3. Protective clothing

Another option is clothing specifically designed to ward off or kill mosquitoes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing clothing treated with permethrin, an insecticide intended to kill bugs on contact.

Consumer Reports testing found that some types worked better than others, but none were foolproof.

“[Permethrin] might not prevent a mosquito from landing on you, but the idea is that it would kill it before it was able to bite you,” Roberts said. "When we tested a few kinds of permethrin-treated clothing against a shirt sprayed with DEET, the shirt sprayed with DEET was better at preventing bites and landings.”

Many mosquito-repellent clothes are tightly woven, highly breathable and interfere with mosquito feeding, as mosquitoes can’t bite through the cloth, said Day, who wears these types of clothing when out in the field.

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4. Fans

Consumer Reports also tested a clip-on repellent fan manufactured by the brand Off!, which is designed to attach to a person’s waistband. The fan then circulates a chemical called metofluthrin into the surrounding air.

Results showed that it offered less protection than the best-performing spray-on repellents also tested by Consumer Reports.

While clip-on repellents may seem ideal because users don’t have to rub chemicals directly on their skin, Consumer Reports expressed concerns about the fan they tested, as the Environmental Protection Agency has classified metofluthrin as a neurotoxin and potential carcinogen.

Day recommends box fans for people that have pool decks or patios. The fact that mosquitoes are poor fliers helps these types of fans perform well, according to Day.

“They have difficulty flying in windy conditions, and any level of wind interferes with mosquito flight,” he said. “I suggest that people set up a fan so there’s a crosscurrent at their picnic table."


For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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