Green, Greener Greenest

I love spending time outdoors in the summer but worry about mosquitoes and ticks. What's the best way to prevent bites?

By Lori Bongiorno

It’s worth the effort to discourage these bugs because mosquitoes can transmit West Nile, malaria, and dengue fever, while ticks can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. DEET has long been considered the most effective defense, but it can have adverse health effects, including seizures and skin rashes. While the EPA says DEET is safe when used according to directions, there are alternatives. Here are my Green, Greener, Greenest repellent solutions.

GREEN If you use DEET, use it sparingly. (Use products with concentrations of 10 percent or less on children 2 to 12 years of age, and never apply DEET to babies younger than two months.) It’s best to avoid products that combine DEET with sunscreen, because you should reapply sunscreen more often than bug spray. Use DEET only on clothing or exposed skin, avoiding cuts and rashes. Don’t put it on kids’ hands or faces. Wash it off with soap and water when you get inside.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared two less-toxic alternatives to be as effective as DEET: picaridin, a chemical repellent, and plant-based oil of lemon eucalyptus (not to be used on children younger than three). Contrary to popular myth, garlic and vitamin B haven’t been found to put off mosquitoes, but tests have shown that soybean oil can work well.
GREENEST Cut down on repellent use by covering up with hats, socks, shoes, and long sleeves and pants. (Remember: light colors make pests easier to see.) Stay out of underbrush, where ticks lurk, and check your yard for sources of still water, where mosquitoes congregate. Most tick and skeeter shelters are obvious, but some, such as gutters and empty bird feeders, are easily overlooked.

Lori Bongiorno is the author of Green, Greener, Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-Smart Choices a Part of Your Life (Perigree Trade Paperback Original).
Ask Lori your questions at

Issue 25

Sign up for Plenty's Weekly Newsletter