We Put 10 Natural Mosquito Repellents To The Test—Here's What Happened

January 12, 2018
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A day of outdoor fun can be ruined when you discover swarms of mosquitos sucking the blood from your veins and the joy from your soul. You don't want to cover yourself in DEET, but you don't want to spend your evenings worrying about West Nile or covered in calamine lotion.

So we combed the Internet to find the best organic mosquito-repelling methods and sacrificed our own skin in order to test them out, then had our intrepid web producer David Oblas model each method.

Here’s what to use and how to use it, plus what you shouldn’t even bother trying.

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Onion In A Bowl Of Water

To put this old-wive's tale method to the test, our investigator wandered slowly about the garden with the bowl of onions to see if bugs dispersed in her path. Though they did not flee the area, they did not land on her or fly directly in her face. Swishing the water about seemed to release the aroma a bit more, but on the whole, this approach only had a mild impact. Best to only use this method when you plan to sit very still in one spot, such as during meditation.  

2 Out Of 5 Stars

Related: 3 Different Ways To Plant Onions

How to do it: Slice the most pungent onion you can find into a bowl of water. Keep it close by. Maybe even put your feet in it.

Pros: You can dry the onion and put it on a burger afterward.

Cons: Makes your eyes water.

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Mosquito Suit

One tester was impressed with the versatility of the garment, commenting of the jacket, “I could totally see it on a runway paired with a sporty dress.” However, she adds that the mesh material snags easily, which would open pathways for mosquito infiltration, making the suit less than ideal for a narrow hiking trail or work day in the garden. The fabric was extremely itchy as well, and she sagely pointed out, “Isn’t the whole point not to be itchy?” Though, of course, you’ll be safe from malaria, so perhaps the trade-off is worth the discomfort.

4 Out Of 5 Stars

How to do it: Order a Mombasa suit from Amazon.  Be sure to get a large enough size to go over your clothes. 

Pros: It’s a great conversation starter, and you can still sip your coffee through the hood.

Cons: It’s very warm on summer days, and the hood is embarrassing. 

Stylish Alternative: A light, breathable windshirt like this one from Nau is soft and designed to fit in, whether you're in the woods or at a rooftop party in the city surrounded by mosquitos.

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We’ve all heard that garlic repels vampires, but what about mosquitos? We admit we were skeptical of this method, so our tester didn’t stop at simply rubbing it on his skin. His diet for a day of camping was 100 percent garlicky. For lunch: garlic hummus with garlic pitas. For dinner: pasta with garlic sauce, garlic bread, and garlicky green beans. He also snacked on raw cloves throughout the day (though he drew the line at garlic s’mores). He says it worked surprisingly well: Mosquitos tended to land on his arms, but most flew off before biting. Companions, though, were not impressed with the smell, and his 5-year-old daughter opposed the menu. The final prognosis: Garlic not only keeps mosquitos away but also repels family and friends. Perfect for solo activities.

3 Out Of 5 Stars

Related: 4 Garlic Recipes Like You've Never Had

How to do it: Rub the bulbs on your skin, eat as much as you can stand, and wear braided strands around your neck if you’re feeling bold. For best results, consume throughout the day.

Pros: Great for when you want an excuse to go off in the woods alone. 

Cons: Undesirable smell rebuffs companions. Not ideal for a multi-day camping trip unless you really, really like to eat garlic.

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Electric Fan

One of our testers loved this method, finding the breeze to be very comfortable for her but not for the mosquitos. Another tester had reservations, commenting that the fan only worked where the air was hitting him, making it difficult to protect his legs and upper body at the same time without investing in a second fan. He also cautioned that ceiling fans are utterly useless and oscillating fans are “no good.” But all in all, both testers highly recommend this method for stationary activities, such as relaxing on the porch or sleeping.

5 Out Of 5 Stars

Related: What Southerners Taught Us About Keeping Houses Cool

How to do it: Aim an electric fan directly at your body. Done.

Pros: Extremely comfortable on hot days.

Cons: Does not travel well, especially to the campsite. Uses electricity (but in the stagnant air of summer, it’s likely a necessity anyway, so why not have it do double duty?).

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Menthol-Camphor Rub

If you’ve got a stuffy nose, this method will solve two problems at once. Our tester rubbed a healthy layer of the popular cough-suppressant (similar to Vicks VapoRub) onto his legs and neck, and the result was like “wandering in a sea of menthol.” It also produced a tingling sensation on the skin, resulting in many false-alarm slaps. However, he did not receive any bites, even on non-coated skin, while others around him did. But be advised: The scent and stickiness linger much longer than you may want them to. It’s best used in well-ventilated areas where others can stand far away from you. Our tester summed it up best when he said, “The mosquitos didn’t like me, but I didn’t like myself either.”

3 Out Of 5 Stars

How to do it: Rub the paste all over body as if it were sunscreen. Clothespin nose if necessary.

Pros: Well, it does work...

Cons: Cleanup requires more soap than usual, and residue may still linger after washing. 

Related: Make This DIY Muscle Soothing Rub At Home With Just 4 Ingredients

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Tiki Torch

When using, it’s best to leave the torch stationary, firmly rooted in the ground, and let the force field of burning citronella shield you from your blood-sucking enemies. Shorter torches seemed to be more effective. Our tester also tried walking with the torch, but disappointingly, the safety bubble of smoke trailed behind him. “It did not have the Gandalf effect that I was going for,” he lamented. However, we definitely recommend taking torches to your next outdoor barbecue; they resulted in the fewest bites overall.

4 Out Of 5 Stars

How to do it: Strategically place tiki torches in a protective ring around your picnic; light them.

Pros: No mosquitos; people will think you’re super cool. 

Cons: Presents a fire hazard; doesn’t work especially well when moving. 

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Campfire Smoke

We don’t recommend lighting a campfire for the sole purpose of repelling mosquitos, but if you’re going to have one anyway, it may provide minimal relief. The key to this method is staying directly in the smoke at all times, which can be a challenge on windy days and result in a lot of pacing. When the smoke surrounded our tester, he did notice a reduction in bites, but as soon as the wind shifted the mosquitos showed up. He also found the continual exposure to smoke very uncomfortable, ultimately preferring to take his chances with the mosquitos. (Here are 9 kinds of wood you should absolutely NEVER burn)

2 Out Of 5 Stars

How to do it: Build a campfire and follow the smoke as the wind changes direction.

Pros: You can toast marshmallows at the same time.

Cons: Can be uncomfortable, more difficult to breathe, and result in a continual stinging and watering of the eyes. Plus, you’ll smell like wood smoke for days.

Related: 10 Ways To Have A Better Camping Trip

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Stay Inside

Not surprisingly, our testers found this method repelled almost all mosquitos as long as the windows remained closed. However, one tester noted that her rural country home, which in her words is “like glorified camping,” was not entirely impervious. She discovered three new bites even after an entire day indoors, so she suggested covering up with a sheet for extra protection. Another tester adds that leaving the windows open while the lights are on is disastrous.

3 Out Of 5 Stars

How to do it: Bolt doors and windows. Hide in your bed.

Pros: Somewhat effective and comfortable.

Cons: Severely limits outdoor fun because, well, you’re stuck inside. Bummer.

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We’re all for medicinal herbs, and so we wanted to try the method of rubbing them directly on the skin. Our tester went with sage and discovered it was by far the best smelling technique. Crushing leaves and rubbing them on the skin worked moderately well, though our tester found that it was hard to get an even coverage, and scent and effectiveness both faded quickly. A day of working in the garden could potentially deplete an entire bush, so your best bet is to try an essential oil to benefit from the higher conentration of sage. Don’t have sage? Other members of the mint family work just as well. Try any of these 8 Plants That Repel Mosquitos Naturally.

3 Out Of 5 Stars

How to do it: Crumple leaves and rub on exposed skin. 

Pros: You already have it growing in your garden and it smells great.

Cons: Needs to be reapplied frequently.

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A Mosquito App

There are dozens of smartphone apps on the market that claim to dispel mosquito swarms by emitting a high-frequency tone that the skeeters just can’t stand. Our tester tried out eight different free downloads that did absolutely nothing. He said he would be better off just fetching the calamine lotion.

0 Out Of 5 Stars

How to do it: Don’t.

Pros: Tone did not appear to affect any humans or animals in the vicinity.

Cons: Extreme itchiness. 

Yes, a 0 out of 5 for the mosquito apps. If your phone is your only mosquito defense, you might want to keep some of this soothing calendula chamomile lotion on hand:

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Apple Cider Vinegar and Herbs

This brew from the website Wellness Mama, dubbed “Vinegar of the Four Thieves Insect Repellent,” is a great option if you don’t mind smelling like pickles for an extended period of time. Making a batch takes some advanced preparations, but once it’s ready, it will last most of the summer. Our tester discovered the stench to be alternatingly pleasant and revolting. The scent begins to disappear within the hour, but unfortunately effectiveness fades along with it. Like the camphor rub, the arm-crawling sensation induced by the vinegar is severe, so don’t slap without first looking.

3 Out Of 5 Stars

How to do it: Wellness Mama’s recipe calls for 2 tablespoons each of dried sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, and mint steeped in a 32 ounce bottle of apple cider vinegar for at least two weeks, so you’ll need to brew the repellent a while before a scheduled trip. For best coverage, apply to skin using a rag, not a spray bottle. Here's the full recipe.

Pros: You can also use it as salad dressing while camping.

Cons: Your hiking buddy may “accidentally” get lost in the woods to escape the smell.