Outdoor gear sitting next to permethrin spray bottle

Repelling ticks and biting insects effectively is important when avoiding vector borne illnesses. In this post I will talk about the best ways to reduce tick (and other insect) bites.

Ticks can be found almost anywhere. They like grassy, brushy, and tree covered areas. Ticks can live in wood piles, rock walls, leaf clutter, beach grass etc. They do not just live in dense brushy areas. Ticks can be found in cities, playgrounds, forests, sandy beaches and backyards. According to research scientist, Dr. Goudarz Molaei, “close to 75% of Lyme [disease] cases have been reported from bites that occur in people’s backyards”.

Ticks reside in all 50 states, and in countries all around the world. So, why not be prepared? They can be active any time of the year. These little critters are not just a threat in the Spring and Fall. Some ticks can remain active in temperatures above 40 degrees, while the black legged tick (known for carrying Lyme disease) can stay active at temps above freezing. There’s no need to be scared of what these little demons are capable of, rather, just be smart. Know what you can do to protect yourself and your family from Lyme disease and other tick borne pathogens. To learn more about Lyme disease check out this post; https://chronicallyimperfect.com/what-is-lyme-disease-basic-info-on-lyme-disease/

Biting Insects Carry Multiple Pathogens

According to Lyme Stats, there are over 300 species of the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi. Unfortunately, new tick borne pathogens are currently being discovered daily. Even new species of ticks are also being identified. Viruses once thought to only be found in specific ticks are “now being found in multiple types of ticks, as well as other biting insects like biting flies, mosquitos, fleas, and mites [including lice]”  (Abounding in Hope with Lyme, Tricia Soderstrom).

Ticks and Biting Insects Are Active Throughout The Seasons

With ticks and other biting insects lurking around all year long, it’s important to stay vigilant in protecting yourself, your family, and your pets. The most effective method of protection is using insect repellents. There are several types of repellents to choose from including essential oils, DEET, IR3535, Picaridin, oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, and Permethrin. According to most experts, however, essential oils are not recommended, as they must be reapplied every 20 minutes to be effective. 

Recommended Concentrations

Different repellents have different recommended concentrations for best results. DEET products should have a concentration of no less that 20%, but no more than 30%. DEET is said to remain effective for up to 5 hours. Products with Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, should contain a concentration of 30% or more. Oil of L.E. is not effective on it’s own, however. According to Men’s Health, you should find a repellent with it formulated into it. This is a super brief overview of repellents. If you would like to learn more about other recommended concentrations, check out this informative chart; https://globallymealliance.org/tick-repellent/.  


Repellents with Deet are considered the best topical defense against biting insects. Yet, permethrin products are the most effective repellent for ticks. It can kill ticks on contact. Permethrin is applied to clothing or fabric as opposed to skin. It should be applied to hiking and camping gear, clothing, shoes/boots, socks, hats, jackets, scarves, backpacks, equine tack, pet clothes, and pet beds.

Permethrin works by causing muscle spasms, paralysis and death. It is effective because it disrupts the tick’s nervous system, “causing them to drop off clothing and with longer exposure, makes them unable to bite” (Entomology Today). In a study, Dr Steve Meshnick and his colleagues found that “permethrin treated clothing was 80% effective in reducing bites” (Entomology today).

How To Use Permethrin Products

Using permethrin is easy. Simply, choose a permethrin product intended for personal use. Products made for yards, agricultural use, and pets, are not designed to stick to clothing or other fabrics, therefore, won’t protect as well.

When applying permethrin, read the product’s label for specific guidelines. Typically, spray the permethrin directly onto the clothing or gear with a slow sweeping motion while outside. Avoid spraying clothes while wearing them, and hold the bottle about 6-8 inches from the article. Treat the entire surface area of the object. Spray your clothes enough to become damp, however, not soaked. Garments should dry within a few hours in dry weather, but may take longer in higher humidity. Retreat articles as needed, usually about every 6 weeks or 6 washings. Pretreated clothing can also be purchased at most sports and outdoor shops. Manufacturers of pretreated clothing (like Insect Shield or Burlington) say “their products are still effective after up to 70 washings” (Consumer Reports, Catherine Roberts). 

Best Practices

The best way to protect yourself and family, is to treat your garments with permethrin, as well as use a topical repellent. Making sure to re-apply topical products as recommended on the label. When hiking or jogging, always stay in the center of the trail, avoiding foliage hanging over from the sides. Wear light colored clothing, tie long hair back and wear a cap, and avoid tick infested areas when possible.

Once back inside, remove and inspect clothing. Wash garments, then dry them on high heat. Make sure to do a full body tick check. Checking from head to toe, behind ears, under arms, belly button, behind knees, between legs, and around underwear line and scalp. Don’t forget to check your pets as well.

If a tick is found, kill it and send it in for testing. For advice on how to properly remove an attached tick, read this article: https://globallymealliance.org/about-lyme/prevention/tick-removal/. Check your state for local testing labs. Or you can send ticks to places like, Tick Check, Ticknology, or Tick Report. When sending a tick for testing, place the tick on a damp paper towel, or attach it with tape to a piece of paper. Enclose the tick in a sealed ziplock bag. Make note of the date, where the tick was from, and where on the body it was removed. Make sure to follow directions from the lab you chose, in case they have their own specifications. 

Be smart, Be Prepared

Your best line of defense against tick borne illness is being prepared and being aware. Using topical repellents, as well as treating clothing and gear with permethrin, will greatly decrease your chances of contracting life changing pathogens. There is no need to hide from Nature. So, get out there and enjoy the great outdoors.

Works cited

“Permethrin.” National Pesticide Information Center, 2009, npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PermGen.html.

“How to Remove a Tick.” Global Lyme Alliance, globallymealliance.org/about-lyme/prevention/tick-removal/.

“PRACTICE EFFECTIVE TICK PREVENTION.” Global Lyme Alliance, globallymealliance.org/tick-repellent.

Boerner, Leigh Krietsch. “How Permethrin Can Help Protect You From Ticks.” New York Times, 15 June 2018, www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/permethrin-protect-from-ticks.

Builder, Maxine, and Dominique Pariso. “The Most Effective Tick Repellents for Humans (and Dogs).” NY Mag, 23 July 2020, nymag.com/strategist/article/effective-tick-repellents.html.

Soderstrom, Tricia. “What’s In a Tick?” Abounding in Hope with Lyme, 17 Apr. 2017, https://aboundinginhopewithlyme.com/whats-in-a-tick/.

“WHAT HAPPENS TO TICKS IN THE WINTER?” Terminex, www.terminix.com/blog/education/what-happens-to-ticks-in-the-winter.

Lyme Stats, http://lymestats.org/

Roche, Ph.D., Dr. John P. “Significant Reduction in Tick Bites Found via Permethrin-Treated Clothing.” Entomology Today, 23 Apr. 2020, entomologytoday.org/2020/04/23/significant-reduction-blacklegged-tick-bites-permethrin-treated-clothing.