Chiggers are tiny arachnids that hang out in shady, grassy areas. Some like moist areas around ponds and lakes while other species prefer it dry. You probably won't see many chiggers with your naked eye because they're only 0.3 millimeters long. The little jerks see you, though, and sense the carbon dioxide that you exhale as you breathe. Hundreds of these little creatures will hang out together, just waiting for you to stumble upon them. When you do, they crawl up your socks and pant legs until they reach bare skin. They will make a meal out of you, inflicting tiny but insanely itchy bites on your skin. If you know the day's activities will take you into chigger territory, you can avoid them by wearing protective clothing and spraying yourself with insect repellent. You can also discourage them through clean landscaping practices and regular mowing.
Checking for Chiggers
Before launching an attack on chiggers, first make sure you have them. To check, give your skin a thorough examination, looking for tiny red dots that move or seem attached to your skin. These critters can appear anywhere, but usually they're on your lower legs around the top of your socks or around your waist. Even if you don't see chiggers themselves, look for small red bites, hives or rashes. If they bite, you're likely to experience itching that is intense and keeps you awake at night.
Chiggers live everywhere in the world, so your chigger exposure may occur anywhere you go. If, however, you suspect your own lawn or garden is harboring the little beasts, perform a check for them. To do this, prop a few 6-inch by 6-inch pieces of black cardboard up in your lawn. Place the cardboard near damp, shady areas where the vegetation is thick. Don't bother placing your testers in bright sunny areas since chiggers don't spend time there. Set your traps, wait a few minutes and then examine them with a magnifying glass. If you have chiggers, there will be tiny red dots crawling around at or near the top of your cardboard.
If you have a chigger issue, the first step is to treat yourself. Chiggers don't spread disease or illness, but they do cause a lot of itching. Take a thorough shower in hot water to remove any remaining chiggers from your skin, lathering yourself up generously. Wash your bedding and the clothes you've recently worn in hot water, as well, to ensure that there are no chiggers lurking there, waiting to attack you again. Treat any itchy spots on your body with an over-the-counter anti-itch cream and take some antihistamine pills like Benadryl to systemically control the itch. You can also visit the doctor, but this generally isn't necessary unless you have scratched your skin open and gotten an infection.
Chasing Chiggers Away
Now that you're feeling better and itching less, it's time to get rid of the chiggers you found in your lawn. Although dropping pesticide bombs on the chiggers sounds appealing, insecticide treatments generally don't work on them. These mites are tiny and congregate in small areas, making broad-spectrum pesticide applications ineffective. Instead, opt for environmental controls. Keep your grass short, weed planting beds often, keep bushes pruned and get rid of any brush piles on your property. Always rake up fallen leaves, thick lawn thatch and other yard waste that can serve as cover. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth over any areas where you find chiggers to kill them naturally. Secure your trash cans and keep outdoor pet dishes clean to avoid attracting rodents, raccoons and other animals that sometimes carry chiggers.
If you truly feel the need for pesticides, use them cautiously and sparingly. Apply the treatment only in areas where you have found chiggers or where they are most likely to live. Keep your children and pets away from the treated areas until the chemicals dry and make sure your pets don't ingest any of the treated grass or plants. Your local university extension office can tell you which pesticides will work best for the particular chigger species in your area and help direct you to legal choices. Permethrin, cyfluthrin, diazinon and carbaryl are the pesticides that work best for chiggers.
Walking Among the Enemy
Before embarking on a hike, treating your lawn or otherwise traveling where chiggers are, protect yourself. Wear long sleeves and long pants. Pull your socks up over the outside of your pant legs for added protection. You'll look ridiculous, but you'll also have the last laugh if others in your party are itchy later and you're not. Consider spraying yourself with an insect repellent that contains DEET. If you prefer a more natural approach, choose a repellent spray that contains citronella, tea tree, jojoba, lemongrass or geranium oil. If the odor doesn't bother you, shakes your socks in a bag of sulfur powder before putting them on and going outside. Chiggers dislike the smell.