Female mosquitoes are basically tiny vampires (males don't bite), and vampires are known to hate garlic, so garlic must repel mosquitoes and may even kill them ... right? Nope, as it turns out, garlic doesn't have much effect on mosquitoes at all, and most likely, you can't use garlic to kill mosquitoes. The longstanding belief that garlic is an effective insect repellent has been challenged by several researchers, but that may not deter true believers in the power of garlic.
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It isn't clear how the notion that garlic repels mosquitoes became widespread, but it may have something to do with vampires. It's probable that the vampire legend originated with a disease that robs blood cells of a vital chemical and causes skin disfigurement and erosion of the lips and gums. People with this disease (who would be understandably hungry for healthy blood) can't tolerate high-sulfur foods like garlic, and from there, it's a short jump to assume that mosquitoes, the vampires of the insect world, are also averse to garlic.
There's That Itch Again
Mosquitoes display one of the most self-defeating evolutionary traits that nature ever allowed a species to develop. They secrete a protein that causes an immune reaction in their victims, so instead of getting away scot-free with a haul of blood to feed their young, they are just as likely to be swatted into their next incarnation. Nature may have intended this trait as a warning for the bitten, given that mosquitoes spread diseases like malaria, Zika virus and dengue fever. Mosquitoes spread disease so efficiently that the World Health Organization considers them the deadliest animals alive.
To Each His Own Repellent
Mosquitoes are pesky, and they're also dangerous, so people have been searching for effective ways to deter or destroy them since time began. Some traditional deterrents that people have used with varying degrees of success include:
- Rubbing the leaves of the American beautyberry plant (Callicarpa americana) on your skin.
- Eating bananas.
- Using citronella or other aromatic natural oils, such as neem, lavender, tea tree, camphor or peppermint.
- Burning pinon wood.
Some people have even reported that mosquitoes are repelled by beer as long as you don't drink it. If you do, Weil reports that a 2010 study warns that you're more likely to attract malaria-carrying mosquitoes than your sober friend.
The fact is that mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide that people exhale and excrete through their skin, and they can detect it from 160 feet away. They also like the lactic acid, uric acid and ammonia in sweat and are drawn to hot, sweaty people. People exhale varying amounts of carbon dioxide and sweat to varying degrees, and those who exhale less and stay cool are less likely to be bitten and more likely to benefit from folk remedies.
A Garlic Mosquito Recipe
When it comes to folk remedies for mosquitoes, garlic tops most lists, and scientists have noted that allicin, a compound in garlic cloves, is fatal to the larvae of some mosquito species. Some people claim that you can kill mosquitoes on contact with a spray made by blending garlic cloves and mixing them with boiling water. You might be skeptical and say that it's the hot water that does the job, but that doesn't really matter if it works, and it will definitely disperse a hoard in a problem area. A sample recipe calls for four cloves of garlic per gallon of water.
Rubbing garlic on the skin — perhaps mixed with a little beeswax — and eating garlic are some other traditional ways of using it as a mosquito repellent, but mosquitoes probably won't be all you repel. If you're looking for a topical treatment and you want to avoid chemicals like DEET, try using a more fragrant and less pungent essential oil, such as tea tree, lavender or citronella.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.