How to Repel Midges, Mosquitoes and Summer Biting Flies

Updated on August 8, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Friends say I have "green-fingers" and the garden certainly seems to respond to my efforts. I enjoy observing wildlife and being outdoors.

A mosquito bite can transmit malaria.
A mosquito bite can transmit malaria. | Source

Scents Can Be Used to Deter Insects

  • Citronella: A fresh lemon-like smell.
  • Eucalyptus: A pungent oil often used in nasal decongestant sprays.
  • Lavender: A rich floral perfume.
  • Peppermint: A clean and fresh toothpaste smell.

These fragrances can be used as oils or scented candles to help keep away flying insects. They pleasantly fragrance the air, but none of them are totally effective. You still need to use an insect repellent to protect yourself from being bitten.

Mosquito bites are itchy and unsightly. They can become infected if scratched.
Mosquito bites are itchy and unsightly. They can become infected if scratched. | Source

How to Avoid Insect Bites

There are two main ways to avoid getting bitten by flying insects. The first is to make your own skin less attractive to midges, mosquitoes and biting flies. The second is to make your surrounding environment (for example your patio or your camping tent) less welcoming to these pests.

The suggestions given below are based on personal experience. However the effectiveness of each method will depend upon your location and climate. You'll need to experiment to see which ones are the most effective for your situation.

1. Prevent Your Skin Attracting Insects

1. Avoid wearing any perfume. Make sure that deodorants, aftershave, soap and shampoos etc. are all unscented.

2. Cover up as much skin as possible. Wear long-sleeved shirts and blouses, and long trousers. This is sometimes not practical if the weather is very hot and humid. The main biting times for insects are dawn and dusk, so even if you are only able to cover up for these times it will reduce the number of bites you receive.

3. Apply scents to exposed skin (hands, arms, ankles, face and neck) that are known to deter insects. The most commonly used ones are citronella and eucalyptus oils.

4. Eat lots of garlic. Garlic compounds excreted through your skin will keep many creatures at bay. However, you may find that your friends as well as insects stay away from you. On the plus side, folklore has it that witches and vampires will also keep away from you if you eat garlic!

5. Use an insect repellent on your skin. There are a whole variety of repellents available. These range from non-toxic natural based solutions to ones containing DEET chemicals. I like Bugs BeGone for Kids by Amrita Aromatherapy as it is gentle enough to be used on delicate skin, and is also effective at deterring biting insects.

How do you avoid getting bitten?

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How to Make Natural Chemical-free Insect Repellent

If you want to know for sure what ingredients your repellent contains, you could make your own. The video below demonstrates how to make a natural chemical-free insect repellent. The mixture is made using equal quantities of witch hazel and cider vinegar, together with a few drops of eucalyptus oil.

Natural Insect Repellent Recipe

Chemical DEET (Insecticide) Repellent

If the insects in your locality are ones that carry disease (for example mosquitoes and malaria) you may want to use a DEET insect repellent such as Repel to give effective protection against disease. If I'm in a malarial area I use these as the risk of catching malaria from being bitten outweighs the detrimental effect of DEET on the environment. However, this is a personal choice and your decision should be based on your own experience of mosquito bites.

Safe Use of DEET Personal Insect Repellents

All DEET product labels in the United States include the following instructions:

  • Read and follow all directions and precautions on this product label.
  • Do not apply over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply to hands or near eyes and mouth of young children.
  • Do not allow young children to apply this product.
  • Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing.
  • Do not use under clothing.
  • Avoid over-application of this product.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.
  • Wash treated clothing before wearing it again.
  • Use of this product may cause skin reactions in rare cases.

This information is from the US Environmental Protection Agency website.

Close-up of a biting midge.
Close-up of a biting midge. | Source

2. Make Your Environment Unwelcoming to Flying Insects

It can be difficult to make your surroundings less welcome to insects in the twilight as they tend to be attracted to light. You can try deflecting them with scents they find unpleasant. Hanging strings of garlic nearby or burning lemon scented candles can be effective insect deterrents.

Or you can try constructing a midge eater (see the video below). This uses carbon dioxide as a way of attracting the flies, mosquitoes and midges away from people into a trap. You will need a large plastic bottle, a small plastic bottle, black paint, tape, yeast, sugar, water and a sweaty sock. It is a fun summer project for your kids to make.

Some people get bitten by midges and mosquitoes no matter what precautions they take. If this is you, make sure you have first aid treatments handy to minimise any itching and swelling. Antihistamine cream or ointment will reduce the inflammation and Calamine lotion will sooth and cool the affected area. In rare cases, a person may suffer a severe allergic reaction to an insect bite. If this happens you should seek urgent medical help.

Make Your Own Midge Eater

Why Do Some People Get Bitten Less Than Others?

Some people seem to get bitten more than others. This is not your imagination, some people’s skin really does attract more biting flies and midges. We naturally excrete waste products through our skin. The chemical composition of these waste products depends upon our metabolism, our general health and the food we have eaten.

Every person’s skin “effluent” is slightly different. This difference explains why one person is more attractive than their neighbor to flying insects and is therefore more likely to be bitten. Two people can be within inches of one another and the flies will all swarm around one person rather than the other. Sometimes one person has used a strongly perfumed shampoo or deodorant. However, often it is a person’s natural body excretions that explain the difference.

The website mosquitoinfo.info says that "the more carbon dioxide and lactic acid you produce, the more likely you are to attract a mosquito. Who produces more carbon dioxide and lactic acid? Overweight people and very active or fidgety people." and "Mosquitoes usually prefer to bite women over men."

The Secret Life of Midges

How Do You Avoid Getting Bitten In the Garden?

If you attract biting flies and get bitten a lot, the best advice is to avoid being in the garden at sunset. Also, stay indoors on hot, muggy days. These are the times when flies mass together and swarm.

If you really want to go outside despite the discomfort, make sure you use lots of insect repellent, especially on areas of skin that are not covered up. i.e., your feet, hands and face.

Many people swear that burning a scented candle in the garden like citronella, lavender or eucalyptus can help keep the bites at bay, but the jury is still out on that. You could also grow these plants in your garden and that may be of some help.

Swarms of midges fill the air at sunset.
Swarms of midges fill the air at sunset. | Source

Will Water Sprayed on Midges Make Them Go Away?

No, water alone will not make midges stop biting you. A water spray has the same effect as you blowing on the insects. You may temporarily dislodge them, but they will quickly return.

An insect repellent sprayed onto your skin will provide relief. Alternatively you could use an insecticide spray to disorientate and kill flying insects. Try to avoid being outdoors at sunset or on hot humid days as this is when midges are most active.

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