Smarter: How to Not Get Eaten Alive by Mosquitoes

Mosquito biting hand Photo: Getty Images

This week I’m sharing tips on how to keep mosquitoes away so that your arms and legs don’t become an all-you-can-eat buffet for those tiny biters. Also in this issue: You may be adding too much detergent to your laundry, and should you squeeze toothpaste on a pimple?


THE BIG STORY:

‘Good Night, Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Mosquitoes Bite’

There’s much I loved about growing up in Taiwan. The constant companionship of mosquitoes is not one of them.

Companionship is putting it mildly. A daily cat-and-mouse game is more apt when describing my relationship with mosquitoes. There were times when I managed to outwit my opponents and emerge unscathed, and also times when, despite my best defenses, those crafty little bloodsuckers got the best of me.

There are many strategies I’ve tried over the years to avoid getting bitten. Here are the methods that work (and the ones to avoid), according to CR’s experts and my personal experience.


Get Smarter

1. Wear the right clothes. 
The less your body is exposed, the better your chances are of not being bitten by mosquitoes. Go for long sleeves, pants, and closed-toe shoes. Avoid skin-tight clothes because mosquitoes can bite through them, says Catherine Roberts, CR’s health reporter who has been writing about how to protect yourself from mosquitoes, ticks, and other pesky biters for the past four years. 

Also, make sure you don’t wear dark colors, perfume, or aftershave because those things can attract mosquitoes.

2. Skip citronella candles.
Many people love citronella candles, but while they have some repellent effect in their immediate vicinity, they’re not effective enough to rely solely on them for mosquito protection, Catherine says. You can also skip wearable repellent devices, such as wristbands, and sonic repellents, which are supposed to drive away mosquitoes with high-frequency sounds. Neither has shown significant effects in repelling mosquitoes.

What about “natural” insect repellents? It depends on the product. Repellents that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or picaridin are way more effective than those with ingredients like lemongrass, peppermint, geraniol, soybean, and rosemary, which seem to work only for short periods of time. And though the names are similar, OLE, which can be synthesized or extracted from a tree known as lemon-scented gum, is not the same as lemon eucalyptus oil.

When it comes to efficacy, the most important thing to look out for is the active ingredient in the repellent and its concentration. Products with 25-30 percent deet are recommended, and if you want to avoid deet, repellents with 20 percent picaridin (in spray form) or 30 percent OLE are your best bets. Though in general, deet is more effective than picaridin or OLE.

Ben’s Tick & Insect Repellent Wipes (Amazon and Walgreens), 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent8 (Amazon), and Off Sportsmen Deep Woods Insect Repellent 3 (Walgreens and Walmart) are some of the highest-rated repellents in CR’s testing. In those tests, participants bravely stick their arms into cages with 200 disease-free mosquitoes. (You can watch a video of that happening right here, and to these participants, we thank you for your sacrifice.) The highest-rated products can protect against mosquitoes for 6.5 hours or longer, while the lowest-rated ones last for 2 hours or less.

3. Apply insect repellent the correct way.
The most effective insect repellent is no match against mosquitoes if you don’t apply it the right way. You should, of course, always follow the instructions on the product label, but here are some general tips to follow:

☀️ Apply sunscreen first. Let it be absorbed into your skin for 15 minutes before you apply the repellent.

Go for a thin, even coat. Make sure you don’t overdo your repellent application; a thin film will suffice.

👖 Don’t spray under your clothes because deet-based repellent might cause skin irritation. 

🦵 Be careful not to miss spots. It’s common for people when they’re doing a quick pass to miss spots on their arms and legs, says Chris Regan, who leads insect repellent testing at CR.

But never spray repellent directly onto your face or ears. Instead, spray it on your hands first and then apply it to your face, neck, and the outside of your ears. 

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DOUBLING DOWN

Outside of applying insect repellent, getting rid of the mosquito habitats in your yard is one of the best ways to prevent bites, Catherine says.

You should make sure you eliminate their preferred breeding ground—standing water—by keeping your gutters clean and getting rid of standing water from swimming pool covers, birdbaths, and wheelbarrows. It’s also important to clear away ivy and dead leaves.

And if you’re seeking some extra protection for your deck and patio, an oscillating pedestal fan was more effective on cutting down mosquito landings than a citronella candle and battery-powered diffuser that propelled geraniol, according to a 2015 CR experiment.


THE GOOD STUFF

If you’re looking to buy a dash cam, here are five features to look out for.

@consumerreports @consumerreports When shopping for a #dashcam, make sure the one you purchase has these key features 👌. #cartok #carsoftiktok #tiptok ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

TIP OF THE WEEK

Homer Simpson Laundry Gif

Source: Disney/The Simpsons/Giphy Source: Disney/The Simpsons/Giphy

Much like Homer, I’ve been doing laundry wrong my whole life. More specifically, I’ve been using way too much detergent.

“People tend to overdose detergent,” says test engineer Rico de Paz, who led CR’s laundry detergent testing for four years until he retired last month. Most laundry detergents are concentrated nowadays, so using too much is environmentally irresponsible because the extra detergent is being dispersed into water systems.

How much detergent should we be using? The recommended amount is typically 1½ ounces, the size of a full shot glass, for a normal load, and twice as much for very soiled clothes or larger loads.


RAISING ALARM BELLS

Here’s something disturbing I recently found out: Video doorbell cameras do an uncomfortably good job at picking up audio. In less windy conditions, the Ring doorbell camera CR tested can pick up clear recordings 20 feet away, and the Arlo security camera captures audio as far as 30 feet away.

🔊 How does that distance translate in real life? Well, that can cover a good stretch of the sidewalk in front of a house. And if you live in an apartment, your conversation could be recorded by your neighbor’s video camera the second you step out of your door. So kinda creepy, if you ask me.

It also feels like an invasion of privacy when you consider that your private conversations, such as a discussion with your partner on weekend plans, might be listened to by your neighbors. Those recordings can also be accessed by strangers if they are shared with other users on Ring’s Neighbors app or with the police.

🤔 What can you do? Most video doorbells start recording audio when the motion detector inside is activated.Some can also be activated by a loud noise.You can angle the camera so that it’s capturing less of your neighbors’ homes or the street in front of you to allow them more privacy, or you can set the motion sensor to detect movement in certain areas of the camera’s field of view (and exclude your sidewalk). You can also choose to opt out of audio recording when your camera is motion-activated in the doorbell’s settings.


THE SHORT ANSWER

toothpaste squeezed out of tube on pink background

Photo: Andrey Cherkasov/Adobe Stock Photo: Andrey Cherkasov/Adobe Stock

Should you put toothpaste on a pimple? Er, no.


REALITY BITES

On social media, we polled users on which insect bite they hate the most. Tick bites won on Twitter, and mosquito bites (my personal least favorite) came in second. On Instagram, mosquito bites were in the majority with 58 percent of the votes, while tick bites followed with 33 percent. (But let’s be honest: Both really deserve our ire equally.)

If you’re bitten by a mosquito, you can try a cool compress and an over-the-counter steroid cream to ease the itching. Applying calamine lotion or dabbing undiluted white vinegar on the bite could also help.

If you find a tick bite, use tweezers to remove the tick and make sure you get the entire body and head. And if you notice any signs of a tick-borne illness, such as chills, fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle or joint pain, or a rash (which are common symptoms of Lyme disease), make sure to seek medical help right away.


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Headshot of CR Author Pang-Chieh (BJ) Ho

Pang-Chieh Ho

I'm a newsletter writer who likes looking into the different ways we can live smarter. The topics I cover typically explore unanswered questions we have about the products we use every day and bridge the gaps between what owners' manuals advise and what we actually do. In my spare time, I like to take photos, critique movies out loud while I watch (at home!), and take care of my ever-increasing plant "children."