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How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party [14 Ways]

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There’s nothing worse than inviting guests around for an outdoor party in the backyard and being bombarded by flies and other winged insects while you try to relax and eat. So, after months of being attacked by flies at BBQs and picnics, I’ve been scouring the net for how to keep flies away from food at an outdoor party.

To keep flies away from your food, you can repel them with certain scents and fans, set up traps, employ carnivorous plants, and more. Flies only come out when they think you have food, so convincing them that there’s nothing good to eat is the best way to keep them from crashing your outdoor party.

Here’s a list of the ways that you can repel those flies so that they’ll buzz off and leave your party in peace. 

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party

Flies are just a part of being outdoors. But shooing them away while entertaining and eating outside is invariably a real pain. Plus, there’s a yucky and creepy factor about having flies land on your food. It’s just not ideal.

But there are several effective ways to keep flies from stealing food off your plate, even when you decide to keep the dip out on the table.

Speaking of picnic tables – we made a handy table below showcasing our favorite way to banish flies. Check it out.

Fly Repellent MethodDescription
Set Up Electric FansA large, powerful electric fan will help keep flies, gnats, mosquitoes, and other invasive bugs off you and the picnic table while enjoying your yummy BBQ. Fans won’t eliminate flies at their source. But they welcome temporary relief and make it difficult for flies to attack your food.
Use Citrus ScentsLemon Eucalyptus is our favorite citrus scent that helps to repel mosquitoes, flies, and other flying insects. It’s also a pleasant, natural scent that won’t ruin your outdoor BBQ celebration. Other lemon-scented plants, like lemongrass, bee balm, and lemon thyme, can also help deter unwanted BBQ bugs.
Wear Bug RepellentsBug repellents are your best bet if blackflies, midges, or other biting flies invade your barbecue. Bug repellents with DEET invariably work the best. But, many of our homesteading friends prefer natural solutions. Luckily – essential oils like lavender, basil, thyme, and peppermint can help keep bugs at bay.
Use Scent Diffusers or CandlesCitronella candles are our favorite candles to use outdoors when grilling burgers, smoking ribs, camping, or lounging. Citronella candles do not hurt bugs directly. They work by masking scents that bugs find attractive. So – a citronella candle can help hide the sweet aroma of BBQ sauce. Sounds good to us!
Use Papaya LeavesMany old-school homesteaders swear that papaya leaves help to keep flying pest insects away from outdoor food and parties. It’s difficult to prove for sure – but the key behind papaya’s insecticidal properties might be papain – a plant protease extracted from papaya with a history of helping protect plants against insects.
Grow Carnivorous PlantsVenus fly traps are one of the niftiest plants that can help manage flies. Venus fly traps eat other bugs as well – like grasshoppers, spiders, ants, beetles – and anything else that stumbles upon their booby-trapped trichomes.
Blindside Those Flies With Water!One alleged hack to keep flies away from food is to hang water bags around your BBQ area. That is because flies supposedly hate flying underneath the water – and will avoid it at all costs. Many claim this method does not work – including Myth Busters. But some homesteaders, grill masters, and restaurant owners swear it does – and you may notice water bags hanging around restaurant entryways to deter flying insects.
Treat Your Doorways and Window FramesFew things are quite as maddening as a fly buzzing around inside your home! Sealing cracks in your doors, window frames, and screens is likely your best bet to keep them locked out. If flies find their way inside, use an electric fly swatter to eradicate them without fuss.
Cover Food and Throw Out WasteNever make life easy for flies trying to snag your BBQ food. Always chuck out food waste, tie up trash bags, and use mesh food covers to help keep your food safe.
Make A DIY Fly TrapDIY fly traps are easy to make – especially if fruit flies invade your BBQ food. Yeast fruit fly traps work like magic – and will help reduce fruit fly populations in surprisingly fast order.
Ultrasonic Pest RepellerUltrasonic pest repellers might help deter flying insects. But – we’re always concerned that they might help scare away other beneficial insects, too! And, as far as we know – none of them are scientifically proven to repel bugs. So – we’re undecided on them. That said – many homesteaders swear that they work. (Some prominent models have thousands of reviews on Amazon!)
Use a Fly SwatterFly swatters are your top defense for when all else fails. We prefer electric fly swatters, as they make eliminating the invasive bugs much easier – and more efficient. Fly swatters help keep flies off your food when all other methods fail.
Try a Cattle DogThis method is tongue-in-cheek, but our cattle dog loves eating bugs! Our cattle dog hunts and tracks down flies, bugs, and insects with vigor. But – again, we urge you not to rely on this method – as flies can carry nasty diseases that your dog should avoid if possible!
Keep Your Yard TidyKeeping your yard tidy is always the best way to keep flies away from food. Flies breed and thrive in waste! Flies are only around because they have a harborage area nearby. So – keep your yard free of yard waste, animal droppings, smelly trash bins, and other organic-rich materials that blackflies seek, crave, and live off!

Want to get the better of those buzzing bothers? Then, let us share our fly-fighting tips with you – in much further detail.

We share more below!

1. Set Up Electric Fans

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

Although a fly’s tiny size makes it nigh on impossible to swat, it also means it can’t fly well in wind. Just a subtle breeze can send those little buggers flying off course. Use that to your advantage.

If you have a covered patio, consider installing a ceiling fan. If not, portable electric fans could easily keep those pesky insects away. Plus, they’ll keep you cooler in the summer months. 

Additionally, if you want to keep flies and mosquitoes away from your face, consider a handheld fan. You need a nice, high-powered fan to keep flies from dropping by. I personally use this one:

Koonie 10000mAh Rechargeable Portable, 8-Inch Battery Operated Clip on Fan, USB, 4 Speeds
$39.99 $35.99

I love this powerful USB-rechargeable fan. It's so handy for so many things! But, more to the point, this fan will clip onto your patio table, the shelves of your grill, or even on your chair to keep flies at bay. Plus, since it's cordless and rechargeable, you won't have to worry about creating more waste with batteries or dragging out an extension cord.

Get More Info
We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
06/07/2024 12:37 am GMT

2. Use Citrus Scents

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

Flies hate the scent of lemons, so if you can spare a couple after you’ve served the gin and tonics, slice them in half and create some tasteful table decorations with them.

If you really want to double down on the scents you’ll love but the flies will hate, stuff cloves into the flesh of the sliced lemons. Some herbs with essential oils have the same effect on flies, including basil, lemongrass, lavender, mint, and rosemary.

Bundle a whole bunch of these herbs into a vase for a centerpiece that looks great and repels insects too. Otherwise, use an oil warmer and some organic lemon oil like Mary Tylor Naturals, or a natural, DEET-free repellent spray.

3. Wear Bug Repellents

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

Chances are you’ve used mosquito repellent at some point in your life to keep those biters away on vacation. But you’re not limited to repelling just mosquitoes; there are also repellents for creating a no-fly zone around your body.

If you can’t stand the smell of standard repellent, look for all-natural repellents that are made from the same essential oils we’ve listed above. They can be better for your skin, too. 

Bug Soother Spray: Natural DEET-Free Insect, Gnat and Mosquito Repellent & Deterrent
$12.99 $9.99 ($1.25 / Fl Oz)

Here’s a vanilla-scented natural bug repellant in a handy spray bottle. It’s a DEET-free, all-natural bug spray with lemongrass oil as the active ingredient. It’s perfect for keeping bugs at bay - such as black flies, sand fleas, no-see-ums, gnats, and mosquitos.

Get More Info
We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
06/07/2024 04:09 pm GMT

4. Use Scent Diffusers or Candles 

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

That’s right, yet another method that involves using those scents that flies can’t stand. If you choose the right fragrance, a reed diffuser can drive away flies.

Or, if you’re a smart home enthusiast, you can pick up electric scent diffusers that hook up to your Wi-Fi like a remote control anti-aircraft system. And you guessed it; the best thing to fill these diffusers with is one of those essential oils that these insects hate so much. 

Our Pick
Mosquito Repellent Incense Citronella and Lemongrass Oil
$16.95 $10.95 ($0.22 / Count)

This box of incense contains the natural oils of citronella and lemongrass. Perfect for checking mosquitoes at the park, campground, patio, or garden! The incense box contains 50 incense sticks and is DEET free.

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06/07/2024 12:09 am GMT

Candles can work too, though they’re obviously less effective outdoors if there’s a strong wind. Citronella candles are the scent of choice for driving away mosquitoes, but did you know that they’ll swat flies away too?

If you and your party are eating in a porch area with lots of protection from the breeze, then fire up a candle in the corner and you should see fewer unwelcome intrusions. 

5. Use Papaya Leaves

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

An informal study conducted by two students of the Modern English School in Mumbai found that papaya leaves may well be effective as a mosquito repellent. They mixed the extract of papaya leaves in a candle, and once they burned it, it worked well as a repellent.

“We have seen that the chemicals used to drive away mosquitoes are not environment friendly. While working on various herbal solutions, we found that leaves of papaya tree can work as mosquito repellent,” said Neha and Divya.

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6. Grow Carnivorous Plants  

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

Carnivorous plants – think Venus Fly Trap – can be a great natural solution to your fly problem. Though they’re not a preventative solution, they’re great to have around the house or porch and will soon start to reduce your resident fly population.

As an uncommon house plant, they also look awesome and should generate a few comments from your guests. And, although they’re not the easiest plant to buy online, you can buy them on Amazon – just click the image below:

7. Blindside Those Flies 

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

I’ve seen reports that you can hang a plastic bag half-filled with water to distract and drive away flies in well-lit yards. Supposedly, it has something to do with the way that the light reflects through the water, confusing their vision.

With approximately 8,000 lenses within each eye, flies have incredible vision in every direction, but stray light rays can easily interfere with this ability. Some bloggers have reported success with a similar method that uses glasses filled with water and a few pennies sitting at the bottom.

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

Just remind your guests not to drink the water or you’ll have a much bigger problem than how to keep flies away from food at your party. 

8. Treat Your Doorways and Window Frames 

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

If you’re hosting the party on your porch close to the house entrance, you can treat the doorways and window frames with Pyrethrin-based insecticides or other natural forms of repellent to discourage flies from food at the party.

Pyrethrin is a product made from the chrysanthemum flower and works against common house flies, gnats, and other insects too. Like a silent assassin, it won’t leave any traces, at least, not on your doors or windows.

The product in the image below, ‘Mosquito Magician’, is made from a blend of essential oils, including Citronella, Garlic Oil, Rosemary, Lemongrass, Cedarwood, and Geraniol. It can be used outdoors around the home, garden, patio, and pool, and lasts for up to 2 weeks. You simply mix 4 oz in 1 gallon of water and spray it around with a pump sprayer, fogger, or even a commercial backpack sprayer. 

9. Cover Food and Throw Out Waste 

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

During any outdoor party, you’re bound to accumulate waste. Empty plates, used cutlery, spent food packaging, and all sorts of other bits and pieces that you might be tempted to deal with once the guests have gone home.

But flies are attracted to food scraps and you’ll only increase the chances of having a swarm descend on you and your party. Keep food covered once it comes off the BBQ and you should see fewer unwanted visitors. 

10. Make Your Own Fly Trap  

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

Sure, you can buy fly traps from most home stores, but they’re usually pretty unsightly. Nothing spoils an appetite more than a hanging sticky trap filled with dead flies out in the open. UV light traps aren’t much better; nobody wants to smell cooked insects rather than the smell of cooking BBQ foods. 

But don’t worry, you can easily make your own fly traps to keep flies away from food at an outdoor party with a few things you can normally find in your kitchen cupboard. Plus, that way, it just costs a few cents to make them, and you don’t have to go shopping.

Here’s how to make an easy, natural fly trap from some common ingredients:

  1. Take a mason jar or similar container.
  2. Add some wine or vinegar.
  3. Cover the opening with plastic wrap.
  4. Punch through a few holes in the plastic.
  5. Flies will smell the liquid and enter, but are unable to escape, leaving you and your guests to enjoy the real food in peace. 
How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

You don’t even need a mason jar for this quick hack. Just take a used soda bottle and you’ll have your own fly jail in no time. Check out this handy YouTube video I found that shows you how to make your own fly trap: 

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

11. Ultrasonic Pest Repeller

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

Ultrasonic pest repellers are a simple plug-in-and-go type system, some with electromagnetic and ultrasonic wave technology. The waves disturb the pest’s central nervous system and will drive them away, no chemicals required.

If they sound too good to be true, they’re really not! I’ve been surprised by how well these things work:

They’re generally easy to use, all you need is a wall socket and plug it in. They don’t make any noise! So, you can use them indoors and outdoors (in a covered, dry area such as a patio). They work for flies, but also other insects and even rodents!

These are a good option for keeping flies away from food as they’re non-toxic, eco-friendly, and humane.

12. Use a Fly Swatter 

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

If all else fails, you could always turn to the trusty fly swatter to ‘take care’ of those flies once and for all.

Probably a last resort, given that you don’t want dead flies littering your party table, but you can pick up electrified swatters these days to make sure that you never miss a shot. 

13. Try a Cattle Dog

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

This solution for keeping flies away from food might sound a bit silly, but my little cattle dog was the best fly repellent of all. She’d tirelessly chase flies around and was the best at catching them too! Not only does it keep an energetic dog like the cattle dog entertained, she actually made a big difference to the number of flies around our party.

When we went camping on the beach, she won the march fly catching competition with 12 march flies in 2 minutes. None of us could beat her. Mind you, I don’t normally go around killing animals without reason but the number of (very painful) march fly bites left us no choice. Except go home, I suppose.

14. Keep Your Yard Tidy!

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

We saved one of the most effective methods to keep flies away from food for last.

It’s to keep a tidy yard!

Outdoor flies might invade your picnic table or outdoor celebration for a few reasons. Maybe they love the scent of the yummy food source you’re cooking, the sweet ice cream you’re serving, the baby back ribs on the grill, or the S’mores you’re grilling in your bonfire pit.

It’s nearly impossible to avoid emitting these flavorful aromas when you gather for a barbecue.

But – adult flies also love some of the following less-than-desirable odors that you can easily manage.

  • Uncovered garbage cans
  • Food waste
  • Pet waste
  • Ripe organic matter – like natural fertilizer
  • Dead animals
  • Rotting veggies, fruits, or plant matter
  • Any other rotting organic material
  • Muck gathering at the bottom of outdoor water sources (like a backyard drain)
  • Animal food (pet food, pig food, farm animal food, et cetera.)

Keeping your yard free of the above list should help manage your local fly population – and put this nuisance pest in check.

(We also advise refrigerating ripe fruits during summer – this should help keep flies at bay – especially fruit flies, arguably the most annoying insect pests! The fridge can help keep your food safe – and undisturbed.)

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party - 13 Different Ways!

Did It Keep Flies Away From Food?

Thanks for reading my guide about keeping flies away from food! With the 14 methods I’ve listed above, you should be able to keep flies away from food. Or at least deal with them quickly if they do swoop in.

The main tip to keep flies at bay is to ensure they don’t have an abundant food source – or at least an easy food supply!

(We realize not everyone can afford to build custom fly screens or a physical barrier to keep bugs at bay. So – we hope our effective fly control methods work for you!)

What about you?

  • Which fly repellents work best for you?
  • Have you ever tried using natural citronella torches to repel flies?
  • Have you ever used aromatic herbs – or the smell of cloves to repel flies? Do you think it works?
  • What are your favorite natural methods to repel flies?

If you’ve got any other tried and tested methods of keeping flies away from your outdoor party, let us know about them in the comments below!

Thanks again for reading.

Have a great day!

Continue Reading:

How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party – Resources, Works Cited, and References

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  1. Your writing style is so entertaining that I felt like I was having a conversation with a friend rather than reading a how-to manual. And can we talk about how timely this story is? With the arrival of the warmer months, I’m already arranging my next get-together, and your comments will be invaluable. I’m going to give the DIY fly trap a go; it looks like a fun project that could rescue my nibbles from becoming fly feasts.

  2. Hooking Plastic Sandwich Bags With Water and Penny’s in them have worked for us with Bright Yellow String Attached to Bags.
    We hang them Near Door Entrances, Railings, Tables. Guests always ask what’s up with the bags with penny’s. We seen them on vacation at Food Trucks in North Shore in Hawaii.

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