Keeping mosquitoes away without bug spray

No animal on Earth kills as many people as mosquitoes. Whether you’re in a Malaria danger zone or just want to have a backyard barbecue in peace, fighting flying insects can take a substantial effort. It’s also not always pleasant or possible to keep re-applying bug spray.

While remarkably few high-tech products actually work to repel mosquitoes, one company is leading the way in mosquito-discouraging electronic devices. Thermacell’s devices use either batteries or butane canisters and can create zones of up to 20 feet in diameter that are relatively free of the obnoxious, bloodsucking pest.

Electronic mosquito repellers that work

Various electronic devices have hit the market over the years with claims of non-invasive and, in many cases, chemical-free mosquito management. However, the reality is that many of them don’t work. Two of the most talked-about yet least useful types are ultrasonic devices and UV lights, also sometimes called bug zappers.

Do ultrasonic devices repel mosquitoes?

Ultrasonic devices produce a sound that humans can’t hear, and unscrupulous marketing teams claim this high-pitch frequency deters flying insects. But numerous controlled, scientific studies have shown time and time again that it’s false.  Ultrasonic devices don’t deter or incapacitate mosquitoes.

Do bug zappers work?

You might also have heard of bug zappers. These are typically UV lights attached to electrified coils that spell doom for any flying pests that make contact. Unlike many other bugs, mosquitoes aren’t attracted to UV light on its own. In other words, a typical bug zapper won’t reduce the mosquito population.

There are cartridges containing a chemical called octenol that attracts mosquitoes. In theory, one of these cartridges could make a bug zapper work on mosquitoes, at least a little. In practice, though, they’re not very effective at all.

What’s more, bug zappers kill insects indiscriminately, even though many of the bugs they attract benefit soil and plant health. Also, they zap bugs with so much force that insect bodies and their contents often explode, possibly contaminating surfaces around them.

Entomologists (bug scientists) and environmental researchers universally pan bug zappers as being ineffective and bad for the environment. You shouldn’t use them.

What electronic devices actually fight mosquitoes?

There aren’t a lot of options, and many don’t actually repel anything. The only significantly effective class of high-tech anti-mosquito equipment is basically a powered fogger. Thermacell makes a decently long line of battery-powered devices, as well as some that run on butane canisters that disperse a chemical called allethrin.

Allethrin is part of a class of chemical compounds known as pyrethrins. Unlike DEET, which effectively masks the scent of carbon dioxide that mosquitos love, pyrethrins incapacitate or kill the insect. Allethrin does just that.

At the moment, Thermacell has cornered the market of allethrin-dispersing mosquito-fighting devices. The fumes are invisible, have no smell, and are safe for kids and pets. Allethrin also incapacitates a couple of species of fly.

Best high-tech ways to fight mosquitoes

There is one extremely high-tech method researchers use to fight populations of specific types of disease-carrying mosquitoes. Researchers are currently developing genetically modified mosquitoes and introducing them into problem areas to ultimately breed sterile mosquitoes.

In theory, this could eventually get the most dangerous strains under control. But the technology isn’t perfect yet, and research is still underway. Plus, scientists will not likely use this genetic engineering technique to eliminate every mosquito, but only those known for carrying highly contagious diseases such as the Zika and West Nile viruses.

Instead, consider these devices from Thermacell. They work by releasing allethrin into the air. For that reason, they won’t work if it’s windy, but mosquitoes don’t bite as much in high winds.

Thermacell EX90

Thermacell EX90

Able to clear a 10-foot radius of flying, biting insects, this is Thermacell’s most effective model. It’s not portable enough to go hiking, but it does have a relatively long battery life.

Sold by Amazon

Thermacell MR450

Thermacell MR450

Instead of full-on battery power, it runs on a watch battery and a special butane canister. It’s one of the most portable options and is specifically meant for hiking in the woods.

Sold by Amazon

Thermacell MR9W

Thermacell MR9W

A soft white lamp inside means this one kills two birds with one stone, protecting those nearby from mosquitoes will also illuminate your outdoor gathering.

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Thermacell MRBPR

Thermacell MRBPR

This one’s made for hiking, but not just any kind of hiking. It’s engineered to run on the same isobutane canisters used by many backcountry stoves. If you’re heading into the backcountry and want an interesting, reasonably effective weapon against flying insects, this is it.

Sold by Amazon

Thermacell Perimeter System

Thermacell Perimeter System

If you have a large backyard and don’t want to line it with boxy, plastic Thermacell devices, consider this discreet allethrin-dispensing system. Each purchase gets you a pair of in-ground spikes, and you can use as many as you need to cover your outdoor space.

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Thermacell MRCLE

Thermacell MRCLE

This option combines a common LED camp lantern with the company’s effective insecticide delivery system, and it’s not very expensive, either.

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Mosquito-fighting alternatives

If Thermacell’s allethrin systems don’t work for you, consider this secret weapon in the war against mosquitoes: the fan. Mosquitoes can’t fly very well, and a moderate breeze is enough to keep some breeds at bay. Either of these fans should work well for reasonably sized patios.

Maxx Air Industrial Fan

Maxx Air Industrial Fan

It measures 30 inches, has three speeds and is as durable as they get.

Sold by Amazon

Simple Deluxe 30-inch Drum Fan

Simple Deluxe 30-inch Drum Fan

It’s as rugged as you’d expect from an industrial-style drum fan, but has special technology to keep the amount of noise much lower than similar industrial fans.

Sold by Amazon

One novel way to kill thousands of mosquitoes

If you live in a warm, wet climate and routinely fight off massive hordes of mosquitoes, there’s one relatively low-tech but surprisingly effective method that can help. It involves a medium-to-large, industrial-style fan and a bag of charcoal. It’s especially effective in the Southeast United States.

Mosquitoes are attracted to heat and carbon dioxide, which is also what burning charcoal produces. Lighting a pile of charcoal simulates a human’s body heat and CO2 exhalation. Cover the intake side of your outdoor fan in fine mesh and place the coals to the side of it.

Start the process just before the time of day or night the mosquitoes in your area start to act up. Then it’s time to play the waiting game. First, the mosquitoes come because they think the burning charcoal is a living person full of nutritious blood. When they reach the air current caused by the fan, the notoriously weak flyers get sucked into the mesh.

After a few hours of this, you’ll notice anywhere from a fine layer to a thick mass of mosquitoes stuck up against the netting. At this point, it’s essential to wrap up and chemically treat the mosquito-covered netting before turning the fan off. After all, most of those mosquitoes are still alive and would love nothing more than to fly away.

Don’t let them. Spray them down with some insecticide, bury them in the trash, and get ready to do it again the next day. One time around might not make a massive difference in your mosquito problem, but after several days, you’ll notice fewer and fewer mosquitoes caught in your net. That means it’s working. Mosquitoes never fly very far from where they’re bred, so this novel and somewhat low-tech method is a great way to rid a large backyard of thousands of mosquitoes.

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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