From expert advice to the best mosquito repellents, here's what you need to prevent these pesky insects from spoiling your time outdoors
By Paul Hope
Mosquitoes are one of the most despised insects on the planet, and with good reason. As if buzzing incessantly near your ear and leaving relentlessly itchy red bumps all over your body aren’t enough, mosquitoes can transmit a number of infectious diseases, a fact that elevates the insects from a nuisance to an outright health risk.
The West Nile virus—by far the most common mosquito-borne illness in the U.S.—has afflicted nearly 2,700 people since 2003, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, and the total numbers are probably far higher.
Getting rid of mosquitoes requires a multipronged approach. First, keep mosquitoes away from your yard. This not only will make spending time outdoors more comfortable but also can help minimize the chances of mosquitoes entering your house. Second, use a safe, effective mosquito repellent. After all, controlling the greater population requires targeted efforts. Even if you get rid of mosquitos in your own yard, your neighbor’s might be a breeding ground, explains Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an entomologist and coordinator of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University.
And whatever you do, you’ll also lessen your risk of getting bitten when you avoid going outside at prime feeding times—that’s dawn and dusk for the Northern house mosquito, the most common variety in most of the U.S.
To find out how to get rid of mosquitoes in the yard, we asked Gangloff-Kaufmann for science-backed advice. We also performed extensive tests on human subjects in our labs to find the best mosquito repellents to protect you and your family. Here’s what we learned.
1. Install Bug-Proof Barriers
Gangloff-Kaufmann advises using fine mesh screens in all open windows and doors. This allows cross-breezes to enter your house, but the screens’ openings are too small for mosquitoes to permeate. Consider screening in your porch as well. “Screens are simply the best mosquito-control device you can find,” she says. “They were one of the original forms of home pest control, and for good reason.”
If you already have screens, check the seals around the edges and use a patching kit to repair any tears to keep mosquitoes away.
2. Eliminate Standing Water
“Mosquitoes larvae develop in water,” Gangloff-Kaufmann says, “and they can do it in even the small amount of water that would fit in a bottle cap.”
So to get rid of mosquitoes in your yard, it’s imperative to empty outdoor water toys and remove wheelbarrows and other outdoor gear that can catch water after a rainfall. Keep your gutters and drain lines clear of debris—clogged leaves and branches can cause water to pool.
In a mere four days, eggs laid in water mature into nymphs. So if it rains on a Monday, don’t wait until the weekend to get rid of standing water. By then it’ll be too late.
3. Keep Your Yard Neat
“On hot days, mosquitoes favor cooler spots in the shade,” Gangloff-Kaufmann says.
By minimizing any tall grass or limbs that cast shadows on your yard, you make the habitat immediately surrounding your home much less appealing to mosquitoes.
Letting more sun in also helps dry up any wet spots. If your lawn has uneven terrain or divots, fill them with topsoil and plant grass seed. Left alone, any dips will collect water during each rainfall and provide a potential breeding ground.
The push mower, string trimmer, and chain saw below are top-scoring models in CR’s tests.
4. Use Fans, Even Outdoors
CR has tested three methods for controlling mosquito activity in a large area: citronella candles, an oscillating pedestal fan, and a battery-powered area diffuser that emitted geraniol, a natural repellent derived from plants. We found that the fan was far more effective than citronella candles or the geraniol diffuser.
In fact, our tests showed that the fan reduced mosquito landings by 45 to 65 percent for folks sitting nearby.
“There’s a reason you see porch fans in mosquito-rich areas like the tropics,” Gangloff-Kaufmann says.
She says that while a fan makes it more difficult for mosquitoes to fly against the steady breeze, it also helps disperse the carbon dioxide we emit when we breathe—a good thing because mosquitoes use carbon dioxide as a guide to finding humans when they’re looking to feed.
5. Dress Appropriately
To keep mosquitoes from biting, wear long sleeves, pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes. This is especially important when you’re outdoors for a long stretch of time. It’s also wise to avoid tight-fitting clothes, because mosquitoes can penetrate them. Forgo dark-colored clothes and scented products, too, because these attract mosquitoes.
6. Use an Effective Mosquito Repellent
An important strategy to keep mosquitoes away from your body is to spray a good mosquito repellent onto exposed skin and on your clothes (but not under them).
To test mosquito repellents, Consumer Reports applies a dose of a particular brand to a subject’s arm, then exposes it to cages of disease-free mosquitoes for 5 minutes at a time. The process is repeated a half-hour later, followed by every hour, until the product wears off (and fails to protect the user) or until 8 hours have passed since the first dose was applied. What follows are the best mosquito repellents from CR’s tests. (For more information on how to pick a mosquito repellent, see our video, below.)
The Lowdown on Insect Repellents
Bug bites not only are annoying but also can also transmit diseases. On the "Consumer 101" TV show, host Jack Rico goes inside Consumer Reports’ labs to find out how CR tests insect repellents to make sure you are getting the most protection.
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