Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I decided to mow my lawn today. 
I've only been putting it off for about 2 weeks.  It's not that I don't like mowing the lawn; it's actually kind of fun.  Besides, it's a small yard, so once I scoop the doggie poop it goes pretty quickly.  The reason I've been putting it off is pretty simple:  Mosquitoes.

I live in Wisconsin, so I'm used to dealing with the little blood suckers, but this year they have been pretty nasty.  It's been hot and rained quite a bit this Spring and Summer so the little critters are out in full force.

When I was a kid I remember being hosed down with Deep Woods Off on camping trips or any outdoor adventures during the summer.  Deep Woods Off is DEET based and I guess it is pretty effective, but I choose not to use those chemicals for my family.  I like to go the natural route. I am generally pretty anti-chemical, and DEET is one that I try to avoid.

What is DEET?  Well, according to Wikipedia, it is N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide.  It's a very effective insect repellent, particularly against mosquitoes and ticks, but it also has some nasty side effects.  There have been some reports of seizures and even death due to DEET toxicity.  Excessive DEET exposure has been reported to cause insomnia, mood disturbances and impaired cognitive function. It may cause skin irritation and you shouldn't apply it directly to the skin but rather over your clothes. However, it may dissolve some synthetic materials as well as plastic and leather, so be careful.  There is a lot of other info about DEET out there, so go do a bit of research if you are interested in learning more.  Let's just say I don't want to use it and leave it at that.

So, what do I use to keep the nasty biting things away from my family?  Well, I have used a lot of natural bug repellents over the years.  Generally they tend to use the same basic ingredients.  There are several Essential Oils that are pretty effective at keeping mosquitoes away and most natural bug repellents use a combination of them.  Citronella is probably the most well known natural mosquito repellent.  It has a sharp, lemony smell and if you don't like it then you probably won't do well with most natural bug sprays.  I happen to like the smell of Citronella.  It's a nice clean scent.  Other effective oils against mosquitoes are Lemongrass, Thyme, Lavender, Eucalyptus, Clove, Cedar, Peppermint, Geranium and Rosemary.  For the record:  if you do get bitten by mosquitoes, a drop of Lavender helps to relieve the itching and swelling.

The question is: How effective are the natural bug repellents?  
Pretty effective, but not long-lasting.  Virtually all insect repellents work by either masking your scent or by using a scent that insects tend to avoid.  In the case of Essential Oil based repellents this effect only lasts for 30-60 minutes, on average.  This is because the oils are volatile and evaporate pretty quickly.  The biggest drawback is that you have to re-apply them fairly often.  By contrast,  DEET can last up to 12 hours, depending on the concentration, but it needs to be washed off when you no longer need it in order to get rid of all the chemicals.  That means no cuddling with your baby or snuggling with your puppy until he's had a bath. With the Essential Oils you can snuggle away to your heart's content, and let's face it, no one wants to have to give their kids or their dogs extra baths.  Given the option, I choose to have a chemical- and pesticide-free family that smells nice and is snuggable and just apply their bug spray more often.

Here's some common sense advice:

  • Even natural products can cause reactions.  Always do a patch test prior to using anything new on your skin.

  • Avoid using essential oils near your eyes, nose or mouth.

  • Avoid using essential oils on young children's hands because they will put them in their mouth.

  • Ask your pediatrician about using natural insect repellents on babies.  Generally they will recommend waiting until your baby is 6 months old.

    • Remember that animals have noses that are much more sensitive than you.  If you choose to use essential oil-based products on them, please dilute them first.  

      If you do find that you need some kind of insect repellent on your infant and they are under 6 months old, use Lavender Essential Oil.  It is generally regarded as safe to use on infants under 6 months of age.  Again, I would recommend a patch test first as well as diluting the oil and checking with your pediatrician just to be sure.  You can never be too careful.

      Usually I make my own insect repellent, but there are some great ones on the market that are wonderful and effective.  Here are a few of my favorites:

      California Baby Bug Repellent Spray 

      Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent

      These are both very effective, natural, DEET-free and great smelling. 

       So, off I go to mow my lawn.  My doggie and I have both been spritzed with our all natural bug spray and we are ready to tackle the skeeters and get in some quality snuggling time afterward.

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