How to get rid of mosquitoes – expert advice on avoiding bites

Keep the biters at bay. This is how to get rid of mosquitoes from your home and yard

Mosquito
(Image credit: Alamy)

It’s crucial to know how to get rid of mosquitoes. Some types are able to spread serious disease and, while the majority are simply a nuisance, itchy bites are never welcome.

In the yard, mosquito repellent plants can help in the task of creating an unwelcoming environment for these bloodsuckers, and there are a host of other measures you can take both outside and in your home to keep them away.

We’ve rounded up the top tactics for getting rid of mosquitoes here, and asked the experts to share their expertise, too.

How to get rid of mosquitoes

There are over 200 types of mosquito in the continental United States and US territories, according to the CDC (opens in new tab) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Of these about 12 types spread germs that can cause diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus, dengue, and Zika, it says. 

It’s vital to know how to get rid of mosquitoes since you won’t know which type is biting you, as the CDC points out, and because bites are unpleasant even if it’s just a pest rather than a disease-spreader, and this is the lowdown.

1. Eliminate standing water

Standing water is where mosquitoes lay eggs, so to get rid of mosquitoes, remove it as much as is possible. 

‘If you want to prevent bites, you should seek to stop mosquitoes before they become adults by removing these water sources whenever possible,’ says Terminix (opens in new tab) technical manager Timothy Best, board certified entomologist.  

‘Homeowners should survey their property for any and all areas where water may collect and become stagnant. These areas could include saucers underneath potted plants, birdbaths, children’s play equipment, clogged gutters; the list of possible reservoirs is likely infinite.  

‘While some species may require more water than other, say a defunct and neglected swimming pool, some species like the Asian tiger mosquito only require the equivalent of a bottle cap of water to support their development.’

Bear in mind that this is not a one-time task, and should be tackled after rainfall. ‘While life spans can vary by species, under ideal conditions (summer) a mosquito may develop from egg to adult in about seven to 10 days. So the longer the water stays standing, the higher likelihood of homeowners and their properties supporting mosquito development,’ Timothy says.

2. Consider treating water you can’t drain

It may be you can’t get rid of some standing water, and in this case you could try using a product with Bacillus thuringiensis (BTI) such as Mosquito Dunks from Amazon (opens in new tab). They can be added to the water and kill the mosquito larvae, but are non-toxic to kids, pets, fish, and other wildlife. 

‘You can also place one of the donuts on a stake secured in the ground where water occasionally lingers,’ suggests gardening expert and author Melinda Myers (opens in new tab). ‘It is there when needed.’

3. Keep the yard neat

Regular yard work can help get rid of mosquitoes. ‘Trim vegetation,’ advises Dr Nancy Troyano, board certified entomologist with Ehrlich Pest Control (opens in new tab). ‘During the heat of the day, mosquitoes spend their time resting on low lying vegetation to avoid drying out.’

There are a few other tasks you need to stay on top of. ‘Keeping grass trimmed, removing overgrowth, filling in hollow trees or stumps, and removing leaf litter can help reduce adult habitat,’ says Timothy Best.

Consider where you locate items in the backyard as well. ‘Move play equipment and and patio furniture away from dense foliage areas. Mosquitoes like to hide in these areas, and being close to them will make it easier for mosquitoes to bite you,’ says Dr Troyano.

4. Repel mosquitoes

Since you can’t get rid of every mosquito, your goal should also be to keep them off you so they can’t bite. Look for EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) registered repellents (opens in new tab), which include one of the active ingredients DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD) or 2-undecanone.

‘Avoid products that contain both sunscreen and insect repellents as you need to apply the sunscreen more often than the repellent,’ recommends Melinda Myers.

Dress to keep mosquitoes off you, too. ‘One thing that usually works is a long-sleeved shirt and long pants,’ says Dr David Claborn (opens in new tab), an entomologist and director of the Master of Public Health (opens in new tab) program at Missouri State University. ‘Clothing can also be treated with permethrin, which serves as an irritant to the mosquitoes that land on it, causing them to leave without biting.’

Think time of day, too. ‘Avoid being outside during peak mosquito hours – near dusk and dawn,’ says Dr Troyano.

5. Use fans to get rid of mosquitoes

Fans can help keep mosquitoes away from a porch or patio. ‘One or two inexpensive box or oscillating fans placed strategically can help dramatically reduce mosquitoes in localized areas,’ says Dr Nancy Troyano. ‘This will deter mosquitoes because they are such weak flyers.’

6. Seal doors and windows

It’s important to stop mosquitoes getting inside your home. ‘Tight fitting screens are the best answer to keeping mosquitoes out of the house,’ says Dr Claborn.

‘Keep in mind that they are strongly attracted to lights as well. In a rural house, a single light will draw them in from a few miles away.’

What about mosquito traps?

Mosquito traps are controversial, according to Dr Claborn. ‘For many of the commercial traps, the attractants that they use such as carbon dioxide or proprietary attractants actually bring in more mosquitoes than the traps actually kill.

‘The mosquitoes may be drawn into a region by the attractant, then re-orient toward a human once that human becomes detectable to the mosquito. Some of the traps catch large numbers of mosquitoes but that doesn’t mean that they are reducing the number of bites.’

Do bug zappers kill mosquitoes?

Bug zappers do kill mosquitoes but they also kill beneficial insects and, what’s more, studies have found they don’t make a difference. 

‘The only two controlled studies conducted to date by independent investigators at the University of Notre Dame showed that mosquitoes comprised merely 4.1 per cent and 6.4 per cent respectively of the daily catch over an entire season,’ says the AMCA (opens in new tab) (American Mosquito Control Association). 

‘Even more important was the finding in both studies that there was no significant difference in the number of mosquitoes found in yards with or without bug zappers.’

What smells do mosquitoes hate?

Mosquitoes are reputed to hate a variety of smells. ‘Citronella candles are a widely-used, popular item for good reason – they do have some repellency properties and they certainly smell good,’ says Dr Troyano. ‘Using them may deter some mosquitoes from a hyper-localized area, depending on the product you are using and where you place it. However, use of a citronella candle is not going to protect you from a mosquito bite. They should be used in combination with an applied repellent product.’

Be aware of the limitations. ‘Typically, the “natural” repellents that work are less effective and last a shorter period of time than do the products that contain DEET,’ says Dr Claborn. ‘There are some that have had some effect. For instance, one recent study showed that essential oils of eucalyptus and cloves are a little over half as effective at preventing mosquitoes from landing on bare skin as is DEET.’

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.