Bugs — and bites — be gone!

July is here! It’s high time to experience all that summer has to offer in Minnesota in this short, but amazing season — ball games, picnics, time near the water, camping in the woods and going on day hikes. 

The challenge, especially in our fair state, is to repel those uninvited guests that frequently make themselves present during our time outdoors, namely mosquitos, black flies, horse-flies, deer flies, no-see-ums and ticks.

Here how I — a longtime Northwoods mama — keep the bugs at bay.


Natural repellents  

Many products on the market appeal to those who are concerned about covering themselves with potentially dangerous chemicals. However, many natural insect repellents — many of which are made from essential oils — don’t work very well, putting you at risk for the ailments associated with Zika and West Nile viruses, or Lyme disease.

If you’re looking for an effective repellent with more natural ingredients, look for products with oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE). Understand that oil of lemon eucalyptus isn’t the same thing as lemon eucalyptus essential oil, which doesn’t have the same repellent effect.  

My top pick for a plant-based repellent is Repel Lemon Eucalyptus ($4.99 at Target).

Note that the CDC doesn’t recommend products with OLE on children younger than 3.

Picardin Insect Repellent

The tough stuff   

Products containing DEET, Picaridin or IR3535 are your best bets if you want the most effective, long-term protection against insects and ticks. Products containing DEET tend to be more oily and have a more unpleasant odor compared to products containing Picaridin. DEET, however, has proven to be more effective on ticks. 

IR3535 offers similar protection against most species of mosquitoes and is effective at repelling deer ticks — without the odor, staining or possible skin irritation associated with DEET.  

My top heavy-duty product picks are OFF! Family Care Insect Repellent I (Smooth & Dry) with DEET ($5.89 at Target); Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent ($7.99 from Walmart, at right); and Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Expedition Aerosol Spray SPF 28 ($16 from Avon). 

DEET is approved for use on children with no age restriction as long as it is used according to manufacturer directions, according to the EPA. Talk to your doctor before using chemicals on infants. See this EWG article for a guide to choosing the right product for your child.

thermacell Mosquito Protection Zonem

Thermacell devices

These fuel-based portable repellers can serve as additional protection against mosquitos or as an alternative to sprays or lotions. Powered by small fuel cartridges, these cordless devices disperse scent-free repellent into the air using low heat, creating a 15-foot “zone of protection.” 

We like the wearable MR150 Portable Mosquito Repeller ($19.58 on Amazon) for gardening, berry picking and camping. At home for outdoor dining, I recommend the Patio Shield Mosquito Repeller ($24.95 at REI).

Insect Shield Wrap

Apparel and gear

Another creative and effective solution is insect-repellent apparel and gear.

I highly recommend products treated with Insect Shield, an odor-free form of the pesticide permethrin designed to last the lifetime of the apparel upon which it is applied. 

Insect Shield shirts, pants, socks, hats, buffs, scarves and bandanas repel mosquitoes, ticks, ants, flies, chiggers and no-see-ums, while the blankets, travel sheets, nets and hammocks repel mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and flies. 

My top Insect Shield picks are the Sport Crew Socks ($8.76), the Outdoor Blanket ($34.95) (a great protective ground barrier for babies and children) and the Versatile Wrap ($28).

You can find maternity, workwear and pet products treated with Insect Shield, too, and can even send your own garments in to be treated, such as kids clothes for camp, family reunion T-shirts and more. See insectshield.com for details.

Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four school-age children in Northeastern Minnesota. She blogs at kidsandeggs.com.