Insects such as mosquitoes, fleas, and wasps have always been a major drawback of the summer months, but knowing how diseases such as Zika proliferate in hot vacation spots raises the stakes. Though Zika is hardly the news it once was, it's worth remembering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked that mosquito-borne disease — linked to birth defects and potentially fatal neurological disorders — to Gulf Coast states including Florida and Texas as well as to U.S. territories including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.Slathering skin with chemical-laden products isn't the only alternative to risking disease. There are simple and cheap ways to repel bugs naturally. Use these tips and DIY antidotes to minimize the ick factor this season.
MAKE YOUR OWN BUG REPELLENT
Aside from the gratification of concocting DIY bug repellent, there's the benefit of its chemical-free composition. Ingredients needed for a bug-repellent lotion bar include coconut oil; shea, coconut, or mango butter; beeswax; dried rosemary leaves; dried whole cloves; dried or fresh thyme; cinnamon powder; dried catnip; and mint leaf. The instructions at Wellness Mama are a bit time-consuming, but don't let that be a deterrent for a summer's worth of relief. The site also provides instructions for brewing bug spray.
USE ESSENTIAL OILS
Essential oils of lavender and any type of mint (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, etc.) are known to repel bugs and often appear in premade repellents as active ingredients. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a long-lasting, effective way to repel mosquitoes and ticks, according to the CDC. A half-ounce bottle of lemon eucalyptus oil costs less than $5, and only a small amount is needed to fend off blood-sucking insects. Take a dab of the oil and rub it on skin, avoiding the mouth and eyes.
CRAFT CITRONELLA CANDLES
Barbecues are a summer essential, but mosquitoes can turn them into a nightmare. Rather than rush to the store for an antidote, repel insects with DIY citronella candles. The project requires safe-to-melt wax, crayons, containers for melting the wax, wicks, citronella oil, a spoon, a thermometer, jars, and hot glue (to affix the wicks to the bottom of the jars). Heat water to 140 degrees, add wax, and stir (include crayons to give the wax a nice color). Add citronella oil, pour the melted wax into jars (leaving some wick showing), and let cool.
CREATE A WASP TRAP
A few minutes adapting a soda bottle into a wasp trap can save lots of money and prevent stings. Start by slicing off the top quarter of a plastic bottle. Smear petroleum jelly or cooking oil along the steep inner sides of the bottle, place the inverted neck into the cut opening, and secure in place with duct tape. For bait, mix sugar and water and squeeze droplets into the bottom. Hang the trap from a tree and watch the wasps swarm.
USE WHAT'S IN THE HOUSE
Ants can find their way through every crevice in a home when summer rolls around. To repel them naturally, sprinkle cinnamon or chili powder around the areas they seem to be coming from, along the back edges of kitchen counters, and around cabinets. For a stronger option try this recipe: 1 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons boric acid, and 3 cups warm water. Combine the ingredients in a jar, put some cotton inside the lid of the jar, and saturate it with the mixture. Leave it on the counter where the ants will find it, drink up, and bring the "goodness" back to their nest.
AVOID SALTY FOODS
Mosquitoes are attracted to the lactic acid in human sweat. Eating foods containing large amounts of salt and potassium produces more lactic acid and a scent that attracts insects. Staying away from foods with these components, such as pickled vegetables and dairy products, can help make mosquito bites a thing of the past. To deter ticks and mosquitoes, down 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and include garlic in your diet. The addition of vitamin B1 to a morning routine also might help repel pesky bugs.
If coating skin in chemicals and concoctions doesn't sound appealing, covering up might be the second-best line of defense. Long sleeves and full-length pants make it harder for insects, including mosquitoes, to reach bare skin. In the summer, when mosquitoes are most active, opt for thin, breathable materials that cover most of the body.
WEAR LIGHT-COLORED CLOTHING
Mosquitoes use their vision as one way to locate targets. Dark colors, such as black and dark blue, stand out to blood-seeking mosquitoes. When outside, don clothes in pale shades. A lightweight pastel sweater is a good choice for cool and buggy evenings.
DOUSE YOUR CLOTHES
Even a homemade spray of organic essential oils can irritate the skin — it's the irritant properties that make them effective at keeping pests away. Rather than use a lot of bug repellent on your skin, spray or dab a thin scarf liberally and drape it over your shoulders. The high concentration will be more powerful at keeping bugs at bay, and a pleasant-smelling oil such as lavender won't bother those around you.
REMOVE BREEDING SPOTS
Stagnant bodies of water are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Get in the habit of regularly emptying areas that collect water, especially after heavy summer rainfalls and dewy mornings. Drains, pet-food dispensers, open containers, and other shallow areas easily collect small pools that harbor mosquitoes. Even small amounts of water are enough to attract mosquitoes and other pests.
TURN TO TECHNOLOGY
The Anti Mosquito app for iOS uses a high-frequency noise to supposedly deter mosquitoes (and potentially other small insects, such as ticks, flies, and fleas) and there are Android apps for the same purpose. The average human ear doesn't pick up these audio frequencies, so users won't be pestered by constant noise while the app is activated — but while some reviewers call the apps effective, there's no rigorous science to back them up. Downloads are free, so disappointed users may get bitten but won't feel ripped off.
Mosquitoes are attracted to body movement, heat, and the chemical compounds released during heavy physical activity. In areas heavily populated by mosquitos, refrain from exertion. Instead of working out or chasing after a ball, take a leisurely stroll or watch the garden grow.
As day turns to night, mosquitos and other parasitic pests are just waking up to start a night of feeding. If at all possible, schedule activities indoors during this transition period to avoid being an easy first meal. Bugs are still on the prowl after nightfall, but not as active as at dusk, when many get their fill.
TURN ON A FAN
Mosquitos are powerful little creatures, but what feels like a refreshing breeze to a person can feel like hurricane-force wind to a tiny insect. Using a fan in an area such as a bedroom or patio can greatly reduce the chance of mosquito bites. Another option is to use a hand-held fan when out in the woods, to keep bugs away from uncovered areas such as your face.
APPLY A GREEN THUMB
Some decorative plants have natural bug-repelling chemicals and aromas. Lining an outdoor space with these plants is aesthetically pleasing and practical. Garden Design magazine lists six plants that work as natural mosquito repellents, including herbs such as basil and rosemary, which offer an added culinary benefit.