Insect-free oasis: Expert tips to keep mosquitoes away from your patio

There’s nothing like the sound of a grill sizzling in summer – and the unmistakable whining of a mosquito in your ear.

“Unfortunately, 85 percent of what makes us alluring or less alluring to mosquitoes is hardwired in our genetic circuit board,” says Timothy C. Winegard, author of “The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator.” [1]

The factors at play, he says, include:

  • Your blood type
  • The amount of carbon dioxide you emit when you exhale
  • Lactic acid in your skin
  • Your natural odors

“So, at the end of the day, unless you CRISPR yourself with genetic engineering, you’re kind of stuck with what you got.”

Still, there are ways to outsmart summer’s most annoying party-crashers, especially if you only want to enjoy an evening on your patio. We’re not talking about eradicating them from your yard, mosquitoes are vital to ecosystems – but if you want to keep them away from an entertaining space for a few precious hours, here’s what experts recommend [2].

Understand your blood type

Only female mosquitoes feast on humans, and for a good reason: The proteins in your blood help them grow and mature their eggs. 

“She’s just being a good mom,” Winegard says. “People with blood type O are her vintage of choice. … They get bitten twice as much as people with blood type A, with blood type B falling in between.”

Take these extra precautions, especially if you’re an O:

Keep cool

“Mosquitoes hunt by both smell and infrared sight, if you want to call it that,” Winegard says. “They can smell the carbon dioxide and see the heat signature of their target.”

Avoiding alcohol can keep your body temperature in check, making you harder to find – so consider opting for a mocktail instead.

Light-colored clothing is best

Avoiding dark clothing can also keep you cooler, but that’s not the only reason it may offer relief. “Mosquitoes, like many biting flies, are attracted to darker colors,” says Daniel Markowski, technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association.

“The thinking behind this is that the animals they typically feed upon are larger, dark-bodied mammals. Hence, they’ve adapted to locate dark, moving animals.”

Protect yourself

Even if you can’t keep every mosquito away, you can prevent them from biting you with the right repellent. DEET is “the gold standard,” says Markowski, “because it’s highly effective in most all situations.” 

Despite an enduring stigma around it, the Environmental Protection Agency has found that normal use of DEET doesn’t present a health concern to the general population [3]. Markowski also notes that it’s endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [4].

He also recommends Picaridin, an odorless, synthetic repellent that’s effective against a variety of mosquito species, and oil of lemon eucalyptus, which comes from the Corymbia citriodora plant [5]. Other plant-based options such as citronella, lavender and peppermint “can be good if you’re not highly attractive to mosquitoes,” Markowski says.

When relying on any bug spray, make sure you’re thorough: “Any chink in your armor, they will find it,” says Winegard. For further protection, Eric Caragata, assistant professor at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory at the University of Florida, suggests donning clothes in a thicker material such as denim, which is tough for a mosquito’s proboscis (mouthpart) to pierce.

protect yourself

Blow them away

Mosquitoes are not especially strong fliers, so adding a fan to your patio can be an effective deterrent. But a lazily whirring overhead fan, such as what you’d find on a covered porch, won’t be enough. Instead, go for a larger box fan set on high, says Markowski.

Extinguish them with smoke

If it’s not too sweltering outside, try lighting a wood-burning firepit or chiminea. Smoke from a wood fire is an effective mosquito repellent “the same way it is for any other animal, whether it’s humans or lions or anything else,” Winegard says, because “we don’t like smoke in our face.”

Get rid of standing water

Even a glass of drinking water left on the deck can become a breeding ground for mosquito eggs, and mother mosquitoes lay about 100 eggs at a time [6]. “They don’t need very much at all to breed. It can be a backyard toy, like a Tonka truck that has a bit of water in it, or a crushed pop can,” says Winegard. If you get rid of it, “they’ll go somewhere else to lay their eggs.”

If you have a bird bath, try picking up a biopesticide sold at hardware stores, such as Mosquito Dunks, tablets you drop in water that can nix mosquito larvae for 30 days or more [7]. “These are naturally derived products that are available for home use, and they’re quite effective at killing mosquitoes, but won’t kill the birds,” Caragata says.

He also advises inspecting any water around your home regularly for mosquito eggs, and promptly dumping it onto dry land if you spot any. “They look like tiny little grains of rice. Sometimes they’re black or mostly black.”

What doesn’t work

You may be wondering if old-school remedies (Citronella candles) and new gimmicks (ultrasonic mosquito repellents and scented stickers that affix to your clothes) actually work. Not necessarily, says Markowski.

“Their effectiveness will vary depending on wind, airflow patterns and the species of mosquito that are present in your area,” he says.

Bug zappers, meanwhile, are not only ineffective, but they’re also harmful.

Their ultraviolet light winds up attracting and killing many beneficial insects, while zapping a few mosquitoes, says Markowski. “I wouldn’t use them for mosquitoes at all.”


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