It’s Easy Being Green: No More Mosquitoes

There’s a new all-natural bug spray ingredient in town, and it smells good, too.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

Memorial Day has come and gone, kicking off summer 2011. Pool parties, BBQs, and water slides will abound. But lurking in the shadows of the incredibly bright sun is the darker side of summer: mosquitoes. We’re all aware of the traditional ways of repelling these pests, including bug sprays, citronella candles, and tiki torches. But what about their cost on our bodies and the environment?

In most familiar bug sprays used nationwide, the active ingredient is N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, or DEET. DEET was originally created for the military and was given the green light for public use in 1957. Many users complain of the harsh smell and are wary of applying such a strong chemical directly to the skin.

They may have a reason to be cautious. DEET use has led to illnesses and deaths in rare cases, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports that DEET can be toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. Moodiness, impaired cognitive function, and insomnia have also been reported with long-term use of DEET. Yet the most serious concerns still revolve around the central nervous system. In a study by Duke University Professor Dr. Mohammed Abou-Donia, lab animals exposed to DEET had a harder time performing neurobehavioral tasks requiring muscle coordination than animals who were not exposed.

Even with these hazards, about 30 percent of the U.S. population still uses DEET every year. But that may soon change in light of recent announcements.

Until recently, DEET was the only individual repellant recommended by the CDC and approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency. But, in greener news, just this week the CDC announced an all-natural, equally effective DEET alternative: lemon-eucalyptus oil. Lemon-eucalyptus oil is a plant-based repellant made from the leaves of the lemon-eucalyptus tree. It too is EPA approved and can be extracted naturally.

Fortunately for those in mosquito-plagued lands, lemon-eucalyptus oil doesn’t have the strong chemical smell of DEET or its oily feel. Some companies, like Repel and Cutter, are already using lemon-eucalyptus oil in their products. Check for active ingredient p-menthane-3,8-diol, or PMD, on the bottle to make sure.

There are also two other quick, and natural, alternatives: bats and catnip. Unlike humans, bats love mosquitoes and can eat up to 1,000 an hour. If you’re bat-friendly, consider installing a bat house in your yard. If not, planting catnip in your yard creates a natural force field for repelling mosquitoes. Other plants that share this characteristic include marigolds, rosemary, and citronella grass.

Cheers to a mosquito-free summer and keeping the itch at bay. Good luck this summer.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.