Does insect repellent clothing work? – Revised

Warm weather can fill your schedule with outdoor activities, but it can also fill your backyard or favorite hiking spot with pesky pests. So before venturing out on summer adventures, make sure you’re protected from mosquitoes and other biting insects.

However, spraying insect repellent isn’t the only way to stay safe, as you can also ward off insects with your wardrobe. Clothing treated with a chemical called permethrin is designed to repel mosquitoes and ticks without scrubbing all of your skin with spray products. We called on two experts to explain how these mosquito repellent garments work.


What is permethrin?

Credit: Revised/REI/Anastasia Crowley

When applied to clothing, permethrin helps protect you against ticks and mosquitoes.

Permethrin is “one of the most widely used agricultural chemicals in the world,” says Thomas Mather, director of the Center for Vector-Borne Diseases at the University of Rhode Island. It’s classified as a pesticide, which means it kills mosquitoes and ticks with enough exposure, rather than a repellent like DEET that you’ll find in insect repellents. Permethrin was first registered with the EPA in 1979 and works by “interrupting the neural pathways” of parasites, including mosquitoes and ticks, says Daniel Markowski, technical advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association.

While permethrin-treated clothing won’t keep mosquitoes from landing on you like DEET does, the bugs do get a dose of the chemicals when they come in contact with the fabric, causing them to fly away” but then die, so they won’t come back”. to bite you again,” Mather said. Similarly, when ticks are exposed to the chemical, they lift their feet higher and eventually fall off treated clothing. “If they’ve had enough exposure, depending on the concentration that’s in the clothes and how long they’ve been there, they’ll eventually die as well,” Mather says.

Are there any health risks to wearing permethrin-treated clothing?

According to the EPA, garments treated with permethrin are “unlikely to pose a significant immediate or long-term hazard” to people wearing the garments. “We had a recent study where we tested [treated] clothing worn by outdoor workers, and then we ran tests to look for metabolites that might have been absorbed,” Mather says of product safety. “There was no higher concentration of permethrin metabolites in the urine of people who constantly wore clothing compared to the average person who never wore treated clothing.”

How long do permethrin-treated clothes last?

A sweater and pants in front of a green background.

Credit: Revised/REI

You can buy insect repellent clothing from REI and LL Bean.

Similar to UPF protective clothing, garments treated with permethrin lose some of their effectiveness after repeated washings. “The [permethrin] the concentration in the fabric always changes and decreases over time,” says Mather, adding that you can check your garment’s label for specific information about its lifespan. The lifespan of permethrin-treated garments is also related to the type of fabric, he says, as more synthetic fabrics like nylon, rayon or spandex “seem to hold the product a bit longer than cotton.”

Where can you buy permethrin treatment clothes?

If you feel like getting outside as temperatures rise, permethrin-treated clothing can help you avoid insect bites and insect-borne diseases. Several major retailers carry permethrin-treated clothing, including LL Bean, which sells a selection of styles ranging from hoodies to leggings to unisex hiking socks, and REI, which offers products that include buffs to protect your neck.

Can you make your own mosquito repellent clothing?

Three bottles of Insect Shield spray in front of a green background.

Credit: Revised/Insect Shield

Clothing treated with permethrin loses its effectiveness over time, but you can spray it again.

To add some protection to clothes you already own, you can use a clothing-specific permethrin spray to treat your own clothes and socks, such as Insect Shield’s Clothing and Gear Spray, which the brand says lasts up to 60 days. To use, you must spray in an open area and carefully follow all directions on the product label. But Mather and Markowski recommend caution with this method. “You want to be careful not to apply the products [and] don’t come into direct contact with your skin more than necessary,” says Markowski. Alternatively, you can send your favorite clothes to Insect Shield to be sprayed for you. Services start at $8.50 per item, or $99.95 for a prepaid envelope of 19 inches by 14 inches of items.

Even if you don’t choose chemically treated clothing, Markowski generally suggests opting for lighter-colored clothing. “Research shows that if you have dark-colored clothing, it can actually attract mosquitoes,” he says, because mosquitoes are attracted to “large moving dark objects.”

Should you always use insect repellent with permethrin-treated clothing?

Because mosquitoes can land anywhere, not just on your carefully chosen clothing, it’s important to pair permethrin-treated clothing with insect repellent on any exposed skin. And while you might be tempted to just spray your clothes with insect repellent, Mather warns that it’s “misuse” and “doesn’t really work that well” because the spray usually won’t last on clothes. clothing fibers as long. as long as it does on the skin.

Insect repellents are especially important for repelling mosquitoes, which fly towards their host rather than latch on like ticks do. “With tick protection, we’re really promoting the longer-lasting effectiveness of permethrin-treated clothing,” says Mather, noting that DEET sprays, which work by burning ticks’ feet, knocking them off the host , are generally only effective against ticks for 30 minutes before they need repainting.

When it comes to protecting yourself from ticks, Mather recommends “thinking from the bottom up.” A permethrin-treated shirt may therefore not be as useful as protective pants and socks. Whether you opt for treated or untreated clothing, make sure your legs are covered to reduce the risk of tick bites. While the traditional advice is to tuck your pant legs into your socks, sports leggings are also a good way to keep ticks from crawling up your pant leg, says Mather.

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