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How to Keep Flies Away From Food at an Outdoor Party [13 Ways]

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

Flies are just a part of being outside, but having to shoo them away while entertaining and eating outside can be a real pain. Plus, there’s a certain creepy factor about having flies land on your food. It’s just not ideal.

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

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

1. Set Up Electric Fans

Flies don’t fly very well in windy conditions, so a ceiling fan or portable high-powered fan is a great way to keep them away from your food ( and your face) at your outdoor parties.

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
$49.98 $39.99

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.

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05/27/2023 10:56 am GMT

2. Use Citrus Scents

Selective Focus of Sliced Lemon on White And Black Background
Flies dislike citrus scents and you can use this to your advantage at your next outdoor party! Cut a few lemons and use them as table decorations. Many herbs, including basil, lavender, and mint have the same effect – they’ll keep those flies away, too.

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 this one:

Cliganic USDA Organic Lemon Essential Oil
$12.99 $9.99 ($30.27 / Fl Oz)
05/27/2023 11:00 am GMT

3. Wear Bug Repellents

keep-flies-away-at outdoor-party-with-insect-repellent-ss
Mosquito repellent can be effective in keeping flies away from you, too. If you can’t stand the smell of chemical bug repellents, look for all-natural fly sprays made from essential oils.

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

This great-smelling Deet-free repellent does wonders for keeping all sorts of buzzing bugs at bay. Plus, it's safe for the environment and actually moisturizes your skin!

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05/27/2023 11:00 am GMT

4. Use Scent Diffusers or Candles 

Traditional mosquito repellent coil emit smoke to repel mosquito outdoor
Mosquito coils can be very effective in keeping flies away from your food. They’re traditionally used to repel mosquitos but they work well for us to repel flies, too.

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 $13.99 ($0.28 / 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.

Get More Info
We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
05/27/2023 10:45 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. 

Yankee Candle Sicilian Lemon Scented, Classic 22oz Large Jar Single Wick Candle, Over 110 Hours of Burn Time
$30.99 ($1.41 / Ounce)

I never need an excuse to get another Yankee Candle, but this potent lemon one really does the trick when dining outdoors. You'll get to enjoy the fresh summery lemon fragrance while passively defending your plate from flies. It's a win-win!

Get More Info
05/27/2023 10:56 am GMT

5. Use Papaya Leaves

Two young students found that papaya leaves may work to repel mosquitos. Papaya leaves make a great centerpiece, why not try it at your next outdoor party! Add some coins to the glass for extra repelling-power.

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  

Nepenthes tropical carnivore plant in the garden.
Carnivorous plants won’t just help you keep flies away from food – they look beautiful, too. Imagine one of these Nepenthes plants in a hanging basket near your outdoor party area!

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 

Flies have approximately 8,000 lenses in each eye, which gives them great vision. However, stray light rays play havoc with those lenses, which you can use to your advantage by hanging bags of water around your outdoor party. The light reflections may well keep flies away at your next outdoor party!

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.

Coins in a glass of water can make an attractive centerpiece for the outdoor dining table, and they can help keep flies away! All those reflecting light rays really mess up a fly’s vision, which makes them more likely to stay away.

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 

Vintage steel and glass doorway in greenhouse with lush plants under glass ceiling
Treating your doorways and window frames with either a pyrethrin-based insecticide or natural essential oil spray can really help keep flies away.

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 

These net covers are great for protecting food from flies at your outdoor parties and barbeques. They help reduce the number of flies buzzing around, too.

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  

You can make your own simple fly trap to help keep flies away from food at an outdoor party. Pour a little bit of wine into a glass jar, cover with plastic wrap, and poke a few holes in the top. The flies can get in but they can’t get out.

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. 
You can get quite creative when you make your own fly trap. Use pretty mason jars to make them look much nicer than the ugly fly traps you see in the shop!

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: 

11. Ultrasonic Pest Repeller

Electronic insect repellents are very easy to use. You simply plug them into a power socket and they work hard at keeping flies and insects away.

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 

It’s hard not to go a little crazy with a fly swatter – but they are very effective as a last resort to keep flies away from your food…

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

Australian Cattle Dog Close Up Portrait Outdoor. This Is Breed O
Cattle dogs are amazing fly catchers! They may cause some havoc around the table with their fly-catching antics but I promise, they can be very helpful in keeping flies away.

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.

Did It Keep Flies Away From Food?

With the 13 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.

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!

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  • Elle

    Elle is the founder and visionary of Outdoor Happens. She adores wild gardens. Makes sense, considering she's never been very good at fitting into boxes, sticking to neat rows, or following the rules. Elle is a qualified permaculture teacher with a diploma in horticulture and naturopathy. She lives on a farm with cows, sheep, horses, chickens, and a bunch of horses. Passions include herbalism, fermentation, cooking, nature, animals, and reading.

Sherri Dyck

Monday 20th of June 2022

If you use the cattle dog or other pets for fly control I would check with your vet first because flies can carry many diseases which can be passed off to them.,and%20immunocompromised%20cats%20are%20at%20the%20greatest%20risk.


Monday 20th of June 2022

Good tip, thank Sherri!

Ken Brown

Sunday 5th of July 2020

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.


Monday 6th of July 2020

Hi Ken! Thanks for the tip! Sounds like the perfect non-toxic way of keeping those flies away :)

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