Bugs. They’re everywhere. Including in your face as you’re trying to serve your guests a glorious, low-CO2 feast in your backyard.
Lucky for us there are ways to limit the pests. Unlucky for us, it usually involves high levels of chemicals we really don’t want to be associated with. So we’ll just have to make the best of a bad situation, by learning exactly which types of repellents to avoid and which ones might be relatively innocuous.
The EPA’s Pesticides: Health and Safety Web site stresses no one should use a repellent that’s not registered with the agency. So there you can view those that are registered, and choose safely among them.
Now there is a little loophole, as is seemingly always the case when you’re dealing with the government, involving nonregistered repellents. There are some products that contain “ingredients considered to be minimal risk,” and products primarily composed of those ingredients are not required to be EPA-registered. So the issue isn’t necessarily safety, but rather effectiveness: Do these ingredients actually keep bugs away? The ingredients include things like soybean oil, mint, citronella oil, cinnamon, sesame, white pepper and zinc metal strips. The EPA can’t say for sure if this stuff works, so it can’t register them as repellents, but it can say almost definitely it’s not going to harm you from a chemical-exposure standpoint.
The best part of the EPA’s “official” list is it sorts the products by “hourly protection time,” so you can see exactly how long a particular brand is supposed to have you covered. The EPA list also shows a maximum of 30% DEET (the commonly understood “best” way to ward of mosquitoes) in any one brand, so, presumably, that’s the most allowed.
If you see some funky-sounding chemicals among ingredients, it might be a good idea to throw them into the ToxRefDB to see if they have a history of doing bad things to lab animals.
And if you want to avoid the likes of DEET altogether (which has shown deleterious effects in some studies) and give some natural remedies a try, check out this informative post from our friends at Mother Nature Network.
Finally, try simple good sense. One way to avoid bugs AND the repellents is to take steps such as eliminating standing water from around your yard, changing the water in bird baths at least once a week, and staying indoors during mosquito rush hours of sunrise, sunset and early evening.