How to Properly Apply Insect Repellent

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Having your yard filled with the buzzing of mosquitoes, gnats, and other such pests is both a source of annoyance and a potential health risk. These insects bite your skin, irritating it. The constant scratching of these bites can leave you with sores that are susceptible to various infections.

To that is added the fact that mosquitoes, in particular, are carriers of some of the world’s most dangerous diseases. These diseases include malaria, dengue fever, and the West Nile virus.

Fortunately, there are many ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones from these airborne assailants. If you want to turn your home into a bug-free zone, one of the most obvious solutions is a good insect repellent. Read on as we explore how to apply insect repellent correctly and thus achieve the best results when it comes to warding off pests.

About Insect Repellents

First, though, let’s take a look at insect repellents and just how they work. Mosquitoes and other pests feed on human blood. In fact, that is what they’re doing when they bite our skin. Mosquitoes need this protein-rich meal to reproduce. But how do they detect the presence of this nutritious food source? It turns out that the smell of certain chemicals in our sweat and other skin secretions along with the heat of our bodies attracts mosquitoes.

Mosquito repellents effectively neutralize these mosquito attractants. They contain chemicals that mosquitoes can’t bear to be around. The most common active ingredient, by far, in mosquito repellents (and the most potent) is a synthetic chemical known as DEET, or N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide. For the best results, you should use a formula that contains at least 20% DEET as the active ingredient.

Be warned, though, that despite its effectiveness at repelling mosquitoes, DEET isn’t exactly harmless to the other creatures that are exposed to it. Many believe that DEET may be toxic to homo sapiens, and our children in particular. It may be harmful to the natural environment, too.

So, if this bothers you, you may want to try one of the many all-natural, eco-friendly repellents out there on the market. These contain natural substances like citronella, lemongrass, lavender, or rosemary oil as their active ingredient. But, in spite of their safety, they aren’t as powerful as DEET. So, it’s up to you to decide if the trade-off in protection against mosquitoes is worth it.

How to Apply Insect Repellent to Your Skin

Regardless of the formula you decide to use, you might be wondering what the proper way to apply insect repellent is. This may seem like a trivial question to ask. But, actually following the correct techniques when applying your chosen repellent can make all the difference in how well it protects you from insects. 

Note: Most repellents come in aerosol or spray form. The tips and pointers in this article assume that your repellent is as well. For roll-ons and lotions, much of the same advice is still applicable, though.

First of all, read the instructions on your repellent. These will tell you if you need to shake the product before applying it to your skin, and for how long. If you’re lucky, it will also recommend what the safe distance to hold the bottle from your skin and clothing is, as you apply it. If it doesn’t, a good guideline is to hold the bottle about 6–8 in. (15–20 cm) from your skin.

Next, you’ll spray all areas of exposed skin—as well as your clothing, if you like. Use a slow, sweeping motion, leaving no area unsprayed. Don’t overlook those easy-to-forget spots like your elbows and knees. To avoid excessive odor and greasy residues, apply just enough repellent to cover those areas, and no more.

Facing the Facts

When it comes to your face, or the faces of your children, you must use extreme caution and control. You don’t want to get any repellent in your eyes or mouth.

To do this, spray repellent on the palm of your hand first, then rub it onto your face. You should be aiming for a light covering of your entire face, including around the ears, but avoiding the eyes and mouth altogether.

What Not to Do

Generally speaking, it’s okay to apply mosquito repellent together with sunscreen. In most cases, you should apply the sunscreen before the insect repellent. Be sure to check the instructions on your repellent of choice for any extra information, though.

Next, don’t apply repellents to areas that are sunburnt or have sores or open wounds. Doing so risks aggravating those conditions.

Third, it’s not a good idea to spray mosquito repellent inside, in enclosed spaces. You might inhale potentially toxic fumes if you do so. This is why you should always apply repellent outside.

When it comes to DEET-based insect repellents, there are certain materials this chemical doesn’t react well with. So, you should avoid applying DEET-based repellents on or around spandex, rayon, acetate, many plastics, leather, and painted or varnished surfaces, among others. Always look at the precautions that come with your repellent to determine where it’s safe to use.

How Often Does Insect Repellent Need to Be Re-Applied?

If you’re planning to spend a lot of time outdoors, make sure that you choose a long-lasting product that doesn’t need to be re-applied often. As a rule, the higher the percentage of active ingredient contained in the product, the longer lasting it will be. The longer lasting it is, the less frequently you’ll need to reapply it.

Keep in mind that the amount of active ingredient in the product isn’t a measure of how powerful it is, though.

Insect Repellent for Kids

It’s very important to keep insect repellent well out of the reach of any little ones. You certainly don’t want to let them apply it on their own.

Use the same “hands first” technique on them as you do when applying repellent to your own face. First, spray repellent on the palm of your hand, then rub it onto the child’s face.

Applying Insect Repellent to Clothing

You might not have noticed, but mosquitoes can also bite through clothing that isn’t particularly tightly woven. If you don’t want to wear thick wool sweaters and pants outside in the middle of summer, then one solution is to apply insect repellent to your clothing.

Spray your shirts, pants, shoes, socks, and hats, instead of the skin underneath, and you should be well protected against bugs. Be sure to wash all treated clothing before you put it on again.

Remember, if DEET is the active ingredient in your chosen repellent, then there are certain materials you should not spray it on or around. You’ll find a list of the main ones above.

Applying repellent to your tent, bedding, and mosquito nets is another good idea when you’re out on extended camping trips. Nowadays, you can also buy versions of these products that have been pre-treated with repellent.

Now that you know how to apply repellent correctly, you can enjoy your spring and summer time outdoors without worrying about those pesky bug bites ruining all of the fun!

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