How to Find a Mosquito Trap That Actually Works

Avoid bug zappers, experts say. Instead, try these evidence-backed traps and other strategies to stay safe.

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A swarm of mosquitos Photo: Artem Hvozdkov/Getty Images

The sound of a bug zapper buzzing in the evening air might make you feel like you’re protected against biting mosquitoes. But mosquito control experts don’t think highly of these devices, which rely on ultraviolet light to attract any sort of flying insect before giving them a deadly jolt.

Stopping mosquitoes is an important goal, these experts say. After all, they are not only annoyances but also disease vectors that may carry viruses like West Nile, dengue, Zika, and chikungunya.

There are some mosquito lures and traps that work under the right circumstances, says Daniel Markowski, PhD, technical advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association. But bug zapping devices aren’t on that list.

“When you’re hearing your bug zapper go all night, it’s killing moths and midges and beetles, beneficial good insects, and very few if any mosquitoes at all,” he says.

Devices that rely on light or heat are indiscriminate bug killers. Research indicates that only a minuscule fraction of the bugs they kill are mosquitoes. Instead, they’re likely to kill insects that are important pollinators or serve other helpful functions, says Eva Buckner, PhD, medical entomology specialist at the University of Florida’s Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory. 

Fortunately, zappers are not the only option. There are tools you can use to help manage mosquito populations, but there is no one home product that can eliminate all mosquitoes, says Kristin Healy, PhD, an associate professor of entomology at Louisiana State University and president of the American Mosquito Control Association. Still, you can dramatically reduce the risk of being bitten by at least some of these pests by using an integrated approach, targeting mosquitoes at various stages of their life cycle, and taking a variety of steps to protect yourself.

Which Type of Mosquito Is Bugging You?

There are more than 2,700 mosquito species around the globe, and more than 100 mosquito species in the U.S., according to Healy. They vary in terms of breeding habitats, flying distances, feeding behaviors, activity levels at different times of day, aggressiveness, and more. Because of that, things that will ward off or trap one type of mosquito may have no effect on another.

More on Dealing With Mosquitoes and Ticks

If you live in a place where mosquitoes primarily breed in swamps or floodwaters, there’s probably little that the average homeowner can do to reduce local mosquito populations with traps, lures, or home and yard maintenance, Healy says—you’d be better off contacting your local mosquito control district, department, or agency. Search for your state or local department online, or check with your local health department.

But homeowners can have a big impact on some of the mosquitoes that breed in small containers, often in backyards, and are known disease spreaders. These include several Aedes species, including Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, which can spread Zika, chikungunya, and dengue. These mosquitoes often bite during the day, especially in the early morning and late afternoon or evening, and often bite people around the ankles, according to Buckner. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list online of where in the U.S. these species can be found.

Some of the same household control measures will also have an impact on populations of several Culex mosquito species, including the Northern and Southern house mosquitoes, which are known to enter homes and can spread West Nile, according to Buckner.

If you don’t know what’s bothering you, you can ask your local mosquito control district for information about mosquitoes in your area (and the diseases they are known to spread), according to Markowski. But even without that information, any of these strategies are effective on a variety of common biters in the U.S., especially in the mosquito-prone areas of the South, East Coast, and Midwest.

Mosquito Traps and Lures That Work

Mosquito traps and lures target adult mosquitoes that are already out, flying around, and looking for a meal. Because mosquitoes can enter your yard from any direction, however, it’s unlikely that a trap will capture all of them, Markowski says.

The best traps are ones that target mosquitoes specifically, not bugs or flying insects in general, according to Buckner, Healy, and Markowski. To do so, some create environments that mosquitoes might fly into to try to lay their eggs. Depending on the trap, mosquitoes are trapped before they can lay eggs, or they lay eggs in a solution that can kill the eggs or larvae before they become adults. Others lure the bugs that are seeking out a blood meal (like you) with an attractant like carbon dioxide, which simulates breathing. Once in those traps, the mosquitoes can’t escape—and they die.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designed a low-tech trap known as an autocidal gravid ovitrap (AGO trap) to specifically target Aedes species, which often breed in buckets or old tires in backyards. Versions of this trap often look like a bucket, with a bit of water and hay inside. Female mosquitoes fly in looking to lay eggs, but a screen prevents them from actually depositing eggs. They are then captured by sticky paper on the sides of the bucket.

You can buy the Ovi-Catch AGO trap, based on CDC technology, from Catchmaster. And there are a number of closely related traps, says Buckner. The company Biogents sells several research-backed traps, she says, including a similar product known as a “GAT” trap

The CDC’s AGO trap does not contain any chemicals meant to kill anything, but some traps that are structurally similar contain larvacide to kill mosquito larvae. One example Markowski cites as effective is the In2Care trap. With this trap, mosquitoes fly in and can access the water where they lay eggs. But this water has a fungus that will slowly kill adult mosquitoes and a larvacide that the mosquitoes can spread to other breeding sites before they die. 

For AGO traps or others like them to work best, you should have a network of them in your neighborhood, Buckner says. The mosquitoes they attract don’t fly far but still might come in from a neighbor’s yard unless you and your neighbors in surrounding homes work together to decrease the local population.

These aren’t the only traps that work. Popular traps like the Mosquito Magnet can also catch a lot of mosquitoes, including house mosquitoes, attracting them by emitting carbon dioxide, Markowski says. (Attractants can also be used in bug zapping devices, but these experts said that such devices still kill too many beneficial insects.)

These sometimes kill hundreds of mosquitoes in a night, Markowski says. But that highlights both the benefits and weaknesses of traps as part of mosquito prevention. Eliminating a couple hundred mosquitoes might lower your risk of being bitten. “But the issue you have is it is literally a numbers game,” Markowski says. If you have an unused swimming pool or backyard pond nearby, that could release millions of new mosquitoes each week. In that context, a few hundred a night is just a drop in the bucket.

That’s why you can’t expect traps to do everything, according to Healy. “Be wary of things that say they control 100 percent” of mosquitoes, she says. Instead, think of traps as one strategy among many.

An Integrated Strategy

It’s far easier to manage mosquito larvae than adult mosquitoes, Healy says, because they tend to be confined to a source of standing water. Because of that, one of the first steps anyone should take is to identify standing water sources on their property.

If possible, take a weekly walk-around to dump out any sources of standing water. Look for buckets, trash cans without lids, tires, plastic pipes, or anywhere else where even a small amount of water can collect. You can also replace the water in something like a bird bath every week. Because it generally takes at least a week for eggs to be laid and larvae to hatch and then grow to the adult stage, you don’t need to do this more than weekly.

If you have a small pond or something else that can’t be drained, your local mosquito control district may provide you with small fish that feed on mosquito larvae, which can help control your problem. In other places, you can look for a safe, environmentally friendly larvacide like Mosquito Dunks or Mosquito Bits to put in the water.

If you look in home improvement stores, you’ll find a number of barrier sprays that kill mosquitoes resting on outdoor foliage. But “I don’t recommend any type of broadcast spray,” Buckner says. These sprays usually contain pesticides known as pyrethroids, which will kill just about any insect they come in contact with, including pollinators like butterflies and honeybees. If you are going to use any kind of pesticide spray, just use it on the spaces around your doorways, where mosquitoes are likely to rest, Markowski says, “not out there on vegetation or flowers.” Keep in mind, though, that exposure to pyrethroids has been linked to some health risks for people. 

And, of course, make sure to have screens on windows or doors that you want to be able to leave open. 

“I’ve yet to see a single device or product that works in all situations at all times, there is no magic bullet that’s going to wipe them all out,” Markowski says. “It’s an integrated approach, if you do a little of all of it, that’s when you’re protected.”

To bolster your personal protection, remember to use an EPA-registered insect repellent when you are outside (see CR’s insect repellent ratings here). Use these repellents as directed on the label.

Head shot image of CRO Health editor Kevin Loria

Kevin Loria

I'm a science journalist who writes about health for Consumer Reports. I'm interested in finding the ways that people can transform their health for the better and in calling out the systems, companies, and policies that expose patients to unnecessary harm. As a dad, I spend most of my free time trying to keep up with a toddler, but I also enjoy exploring the outdoors whenever possible. Follow me on Twitter (@kevloria).