How to Repel Midges, Mosquitoes and Summer Biting Flies

Updated on September 6, 2020
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I love to travel and explore new places. I hope my articles encourage you to visit them too.

A mosquito's bite can transmit malaria, and dengue fever.
A mosquito's bite can transmit malaria, and dengue fever. | Source

How to Avoid Getting Bitten by Insects

  • Make your skin and body odor less attractive to flying, biting insects.
  • Make your surroundings (your patio or your camping tent) less welcoming to these pests.

Make Your Skin Less Attractive to Midges, Mosquitoes, and Biting Flies

  1. Avoid wearing perfume. Make sure your 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 may be impractical if the weather is hot and humid. The main biting times for insects are dawn and dusk, so even if you're can only cover up at 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 are excreted through the skin, and will keep many creatures at bay; your friends as well as insects. On the plus side, folklore has it that witches and vampires will also keep away if you eat garlic.

  5. Use an insect repellent on your skin. There's a wide choice of repellents available. These range from non-toxic natural based solutions to ones with DEET chemicals. If you want to avoid a DEET spray, I recommend Greenerways Organic Insect Repellent, DEET-Free Spray. It's gentle enough to be used on delicate skin, and is also effective at deterring biting bugs.

A Scottish highland midge (Culicoides impunctatus) biting a human's leg.
A Scottish highland midge (Culicoides impunctatus) biting a human's leg. | Source

Midge Attack! Blood-Sucking Insects

Female insects are the ones that bite. They need the protein from blood to produce eggs; they feast on mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Some insect species feed in the daytime, while others choose to plague their host at dusk or night-time. Lights can attract night-feeding flying insects, but it is the carbon dioxide which animals and birds excrete that is the main attractant.

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 being bitten by mosquitoes.

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.

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

Make Your Environment Unwelcoming to Flying Insects

During the evening and night-time insects are attracted by light. Try deflecting them with scents they find unpleasant; hang strings of garlic nearby, or burn lemon scented candles.

Or you can try making a mosquito or midge trap (see the video below). This uses carbon dioxide as a way of distracting the flies, mosquitoes and midges away from people.

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.

3 DIY Mosquito or Midge Traps

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 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.

Scented Oils 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 insect bites.

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.

Do Bounce Dryer Sheets Repel Biting Insects?

Some people swear that putting a Bounce sheet in their pocket while gardening stops them getting bitten by insects. Dryer sheets contain small amounts of chemicals that act as insect repellents. However, the concentrations of these in the sheets is extremely low.

In 2010, scientists at Kansas State University carried out research to test the theory. Their tests showed that Bounce does not repel the majority of biting insects. The only exception was gnats; these are deterred by the chemicals found in dryer sheets. So there is a grain of truth in this old wives' tale.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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