The smell of citronella candles may bring back memories of family barbeques and warm summer nights. Unfortunately, in terms of protection from pesky bugs, smelling nice and nostalgic is really all they do.
According to a study published in the Journal of Vector Ecology, although citronella in essential oil form can deter bugs, citronella candles don’t contain enough active ingredients to prevent mosquitoes from getting all up in your personal space. Further, the study found that candles generally release their active ingredients vertically from the flame, minimizing the area these active ingredients can reach. (Diffusers, on the other hand, continuously release active ingredients horizontally, covering more of the room or area. But more on that below.)
If backyard bugs are harshing your vibe, you’re likely looking for easy and effective ways to keep them at bay. While you may be tempted to cover your yard in chemicals, LJ Brubaker, a volunteer entomology research assistant at the Ward Lab of Drexel University in Philadelphia, says chemical treatments often do more harm than good.
“I wouldn’t recommend any kind of insecticidal treatment because they are not effective for a single species,” Brubaker told HuffPost. “They’ll impact other plants and animals and insects that you want and need to have around.”
According to the American Mosquito Control Association , electric, ultrasonic and/or other “bug traps” or zapping devices generally have the same outcome. While these devices may get rid of some mosquitoes, they’re often harmful for “non-pest” insects and animals you want around, like songbirds. Additionally, many marketed “mosquito traps” often demand lots of setting up and maintenance, leaving room for human error to make them way less effective.
But don’t be dismayed! While citronella candles and chemical spreads may not make the cut this summer, we’ve rounded up a bunch of backyard items scientifically proven to protect you from bugs.
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A versatile mosquito net
According to Brubaker, a physical barrier like a mosquito net or tent is the most effective way to keep mosquitoes away. Yet, they warn, not all nets are created equal.
“You’ll want to get one with sturdier mesh that will resist wear and tear,” they said. “Durability is important. Your mosquito net is only effective if it’s not full of tears.”
This is a versatile rectangular mosquito net that can be used inside, outside and with camper vans and mobile homes. It comes with a hanging kit to install it over a bath, food table, truck bed or any other area. Reviewers say they use it under their porch, over their bed and for their mini van while camping.
A wrap-around mosquito net for outdoor umbrellas
If you like to eat outside or spend long sunny afternoons under your umbrella, this wrap-around mosquito net with a weighted bottom hem may be just what you need. It’s adjustable and fits most sizes of outdoor umbrellas, with a zipper door to keep you free from bugs.
A free-standing mosquito tent
If you have a big yard, love to camp or just don’t have any sort of porch or deck to hang a net from, you may prefer a free-standing bug net canopy. It works both to block the sun and create a physical barrier from bugs while you’re outside. This one comes in three sizes.
Outdoor essential oil diffusers containing geraniol and linalool
Citronella may be the big name in the anti-bug bite game, but a 2009 study found that geraniol and linalool
— two different compounds found in a bunch of essential oils and aromatic plants and herbs — are actually way more effective in keeping bugs away. Further, the same study found scent diffusers to be way more effective in bug protection than candles, both indoors and outdoors. (If you’re a big nerd like I am, you can read the entire study
, which goes into how the compounds respond to direct heat and why diffusing is more effective than burning.)
You can find geraniol and linalool in rose oil, lemongrass, basil and lavender, among other natural scents. Per Brubaker, having an outdoor essential oil diffuser with some of these scents can deter flying pests.
“All smells are just chemicals,” Brubaker said. “When we smell something like rotten food, it tells us, ‘No, don’t go over there,’ but that same chemical makes a fly attracted to the rotten food. There are smells that we smell as pleasant, that when an insect senses they’re like, ‘No thanks.'”
The Skeeter Patio Egg is an outdoor diffuser that comes with its own concentrate of lemongrass oil and geraniol, not to mention a super cute macrame hanger. When the concentrate runs out, you can refill it, keeping the egg for many summers to come.
Lemon eucalyptus oil distilled in water
According to a 2013 study of the effectiveness of low-cost bug repellents
, para-menthane-diol (PMD), a biochemical pesticide found in lemon eucalyptus leaves, gives comparable bug protection to DEET. A field study from Guatemala
showed that PMD gave 98% protection for 5 hours against 13 species of mosquitoes, compared to 92% protection from DEET. And according to the CDC’s Yellow Book
for health during international travel, PMD is the only plant-based bug repellent suggested for use in areas with high rates of mosquito-carried diseases.
The bug-repellent qualities of lemon eucalyptus in essential oil form aren’t as proven as the pure PMD form, and its repelling effects won’t last as long, but the oil is a lot easier to purchase for your house. To get the most out of it, know that a 2011 study from the National Institute of Health concluded that lemon eucalyptus oils are more effective when distilled in water and spread over a large area. Brubaker suggested diluting lemon eucalyptus essential oils in water and spraying it around your outdoor area.
A wood-burning fire pit
Smoke has long been associated with keeping bugs at bay. A field study in Papua New Guinea
found that burning specific plants and woods like wild ginger and coconut husks offered extra protection from bugs. However, according to the study, most smoke from natural woods (like firewood from your local grocery store) will help with bug protection.
This is a foldable, portable wood-burning fire pit that’s perfect for camp cooking, yard parties or just keeping bugs away. It comes with a carrying case, screen cover, poker and log grate.
Mosquito Dunks for standing water
Brubaker said that another effective way to reduce mosquitoes in your yard is to treat spots with standing water, like an old flower pot that’s started to collect rainwater or a birdbath that doesn’t get changed regularly.
“Mosquitos breed in small- to medium-size areas of standing water; their larval stage is in water,” Brubaker said. “If mosquitoes are able to breed near you, it’s going to be harder to deter them.”
The Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management District suggests using Mosquito Dunks, a larvicide you can put in standing water that hinders future mosquito breeding, but is non-toxic to other plants and animals. They found using a half or even a quarter of a disk has the same effect as using a whole one.
A 2-pack of yellow GE “bug lights”
Per the American Mosquito Control Association
, swapping your deck or outdoor light bulbs for General Electric’s yellow “bug lights” may help as well. Unlike other incandescent lights, these yellow bulbs don’t attract mosquitoes.
A large outdoor fan
If you get bug bites in all sorts of places, you may be surprised to know that, according to the AMCA, mosquitoes aren’t actually super strong fliers. In fact, they suggest placing a large fan on your deck
, patio or yard to keep you cool and make it harder for mosquitoes to get near you.
This 3-speed high-velocity fan works for both indoors and out. It has a floor mount so you can stick it on your deck or patio with ease, and it comes in three sizes.