How to Keep Mosquitoes and Ticks Away

Simple strategies to keep these biters at bay, plus what to do about stinging insects

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Illustrations of mosquito and ticks Illustration: Consumer Reports, iStock

Every year, mosquitoes and ticks infect hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. with diseases—including Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and more—that can have serious consequences. The best strategy to avoid those illnesses is to use multiple layers of protection rather than just one.

Using insect repellent is obviously key, but the most effective bug avoidance requires you to take additional precautions.

“The most important thing is to avoid getting bitten in the first place,” says Rebecca Eisen, PhD, a research biologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. “Fortunately, there are really simple things you can do to protect yourself and your family.”

Your Deck and Yard

Mosquitoes: According to the CDC, an important strategy for keeping mosquitoes out of your yard is to eliminate their preferred breeding ground: standing water. Keep your gutters clean and birdbaths, old tires, wheelbarrows, and swimming pool covers free of standing water. Clear away ivy and decaying leaves, too.

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As far as your deck or patio is concerned, some repellent products work much better than others. Several years ago our testers tried out two area repellents—citronella candles and a battery-powered diffuser that blows out geraniol—and found they were ineffective at keeping mosquitoes away. An oscillating pedestal fan did much better. When set on high, it cut mosquito landings by 45 to 65 percent for the people sitting close to it.

Mosquito traps that use fans, electric grids, or adhesive pads to capture and kill mosquitoes may also be somewhat effective. The idea behind them is generally to attract mosquitoes and kill the ones that come into contact with the traps. But the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) says their effectiveness depends on a wide variety of factors, including the species of mosquito, the insects’ population size in the area, the season, wind conditions, and more. So it’s unclear whether their use translates into a noticeable reduction in the overall mosquito population, and the traps could even potentially attract more mosquitoes to the area than they could possibly kill.

Our safety experts warn against using yard foggers or misters that spray insecticide. “You might inhale the chemicals, some of which have been linked to serious health problems, including endocrine disruption and neurological effects,” says Michael Hansen, PhD, Consumer Reports’ senior scientist.

Ticks: They like tall grass and lots of shade. So keep your lawn mowed, remove leaves and other debris, and try to let as much sun into your yard as possible. Consider putting up a fence around your property to keep out deer and other large animals that can carry ticks. Another option: Create a 3-foot barrier of dry wood chips or gravel between the edge of your lawn and any wooded areas on the perimeter of your property, which will discourage ticks from coming into your grass. And don’t forget to check your pets for ticks after they have been romping outside.

Person pulling up their sock.
To avoid ticks, wear closed-toed shoes and tuck your pants into your socks.

Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

Your Clothes

Mosquitoes: Wear long sleeves, long pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes, especially when you’re out for long stretches of time. Avoid tight clothes (mosquitoes can bite through them), dark colors, and perfume or aftershave (both attract mosquitoes). Apply a good repellent to exposed skin and your clothes (but never under them). Here are a few of our top-rated insect repellents:

Ticks: When walking through wooded or grassy areas in the summer, wear the same clothes that ward off mosquitoes. Light-colored clothes make the bugs easier to spot if they’re crawling on you. Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks. Apply insect repellent to your clothes and exposed skin.

Showering soon after being outside in an area with ticks is associated with a reduced risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease, as is doing a tick check. So jump in the shower after you hike or get done with yardwork, and take the opportunity to inspect your skin for bites. Use tweezers to gently remove any attached ticks. For extra protection, toss your clothes into a clothes dryer on high heat to kill ticks that might be crawling around.

The CDC also recommends wearing clothing treated with the insecticide permethrin or treating your own clothes with permethrin spray. Scientists have found that the treated cloth can incapacitate ticks and even kill them, making them less likely to bite you. (If you wear permethrin-treated clothes, you don’t need to also spray them with a traditional bug spray.)

What About Stinging Insects?

“For the most part, bees and wasps will leave you alone if you leave them alone,” says Stanton Cope, PhD, a former Navy entomologist and former AMCA president.

Nests in your yard should be removed only if they’re in high-traffic areas, Cope says. If you can, wait until the fall or winter when the nests are abandoned. If you need to remove them sooner, do it early in the spring, and early or late in the day when the insects are less active. Insecticide powders or sprays might be necessary, but follow directions and keep pets and children away. Always wear head-to-toe protective clothing, and never remove nests if it requires standing on a ladder; call a professional instead.

The insects are drawn to strong scents. So to make yourself less attractive to bees and wasps, avoid using perfumed soaps, shampoos, and deodorants if you have lots of insects in your yard or you’re headed to a picnic. And because sweat can agitate bees, consider washing up before heading out.

From the Tip Jar

On the “Consumer 101” TV show, Consumer Reports’ experts offer host Jack Rico advice on making the most of sunscreen, the best natural light for taking photos, and which insect repellents to use.