Mosquito Mythbusting: Will the Real Repellents Please Stand Up?

Scientists separate fact from fiction to help protect you from bug bites.

ByABC News
May 3, 2010, 4:42 PM

May 5, 2010 -- It's that time of year again.

Beachside barbecues, afternoon patio parties, outdoor lawn games -- and the irksome insects that can spoil it all.

When the mosquito wars begin, anything can look like a weapon to itchy outdoor enthusiasts. But experts say many home remedies are mostly sizzle and little substance.

To separate mosquito fact from fiction, spoke to several scientists. Take a look at what they had to say.

Garlic: Is there an old wives' tale that doesn't feature garlic? According to lore, the pungent-smelling plant can do everything from cure the common cold to help determine a baby's sex to ward off witches.

But though some believe garlic has powerful bug-repellent properties, mosquito control experts say it isn't very strong.

"Garlic is a classic," said Joe Conlon, technical advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association. Some think that eating garlic could keep mosquitoes away, but he said studies have not shown that ingesting garlic reduces bug bites.

"As in most myths though, there is an element of truth in them," he said. "If you take garlic and squeeze it on your skin, that portion of your skin will be repellent to mosquitoes for about 20-40 minutes."

But, then again, he added, you'd be repellent to most everything else too.

Vitamin B: Can vitamin B tablets make you a less tasty treat to the biting menaces? Probably not.

Though some people swear by it, Conlon said that in double-blind studies, the vitamin continues to come up short.

When researchers at the University of Wisconsin asked volunteers to take placebos or capsules with vitamin B, they did not find any evidence that the substance could help reduce mosquito attraction.

Bananas: This one goes both ways. Susan Paskewitz, an entomologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said that some people think the fruit attracts mosquitoes, others think it repels them.

But "the predominant thinking is that bananas do make you more attractive," she said. However, she said a study in her lab didn't prove a link between bananas and mosquito attraction.

"Some subsets of people show dramatic variability," she said, adding that whether people ate bananas or not, they might attract several mosquitoes at one time, and fewer mosquitoes hours later.

Can Some Household Products Double as Mosquito Killers?

Listerine: If the Internet is to be believed, this antiseptic mouthwash doubles as an effective bug repellent. But Paskewitz said that though some of the product's ingredients have been shown to be repellent, Listerine itself has yet to prove its power to science.

Conlon also said that the claim that the mouthwash fights mosquitoes has "no basis in fact."

Dryer Sheets: Some think this household product also moonlights in pest control, but Paskewitz said its properties have yet to be tested in the lab.

She said some might think that the strong-smelling compounds might make the person more or less attractive to mosquitoes, but she said she didn't think anyone had ever done a scientific study to examine a connection.

"If it worked, I would be completely amazed," she said.

Lemon Joy: Some think Lemon Joy, the dishwashing detergent, is another mosquito murderer in disguise. The idea, Conlon said, is that a few drops in a bowl of water will attract the bugs to lay eggs in the water and then kill them off.

But he said that, as with the other household products, no scientific proof supports this claim.