If you have ever wondered why a neighbor often makes a smoky fire pit every night or lights torches and you are clueless about the reasons – you could be surprised.
The common wisdom is that fire and smoke keep pesky mosquitoes away. But is that true? Does smoke keep mosquitoes away?
Maybe you already have been using fire and smoke to drive the flying bloodsuckers away yourself – but you are unsure if it works and the logic behind it all.
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If you are intrigued and curious about this insect-repelling method, then wait until you find our mosquito-repelling research within!
How Does Smoke Keep Mosquitoes Away?
Fire and smoke may mask human odors and carbon dioxide that mosquitos seek to find their next blood meal. Smoke from some plants may also contain organic compounds that act as irritants that harass mosquitos and other pest insects. But – the science of whether or not smoke deters mosquitoes for sure isn’t so clear. There are a few theories and conflicting studies, too.
Humans have used fire since the dawn of their existence as a species. It is our ecological signature. On the other hand, very few other creatures appreciate the fire’s heat! In fact, to them, open fire means the danger of scorching flame and harmful emissions.
Except for the poor moths from the saying like a moth to the flame, animals generally try to move away from open fires as quickly as possible and avoid going into burning areas.
These facts are precisely how the mosquito fire defense principle derives.
Campfire rumors say to stand in the campfire’s smoke to avoid mosquito bites. In parts of Africa, ranchers and shepherds create smoky fires and gather their animals to stand in smoke for the same reason.
However, the case for burning just about anything to keep the mosquitos away is not quite as hard as it first seems.
Does Smoke Repel Mosquitos?
Some smoke might! Although the idea about mosquito-repelling smoke has been around for ages and works according to numerous anecdotal evidence, the effect has been difficult to prove scientifically.
In 2008, the World Health Organization extensively reviewed the existing literature on mosquito smoke repellent techniques.
The studies came about because mosquitoes are vectors for deadly diseases such as malaria. The results have been largely inconclusive, with no clear-cut proof that the smoke reduces the number of blood meals (that is, mosquito bites).
Still, the results of some studies suggest that, although it may not deter mosquitos from sucking your blood, smoke from various plant compounds may reduce the number of mosquitoes in the area, which would likely help you defend yourself.
The WHO report cites several observational studies. In those studies, the smoke of some plant compounds seems to repel mosquitos. The report from the WHO is the best we’ve found – and it’s worth reading!
In one such observational study from Siberia, humans holding smoldering sticks of thyme saw a reduction of 85% to 90% in mosquito and fly landings compared to the control group. (Again – this data is on a small scale. However, it’s fascinating nevertheless!)
What also seems sure is that the size of the fire pit and the amount of smoke doesn’t necessarily play a significant role.
It appears that there is one key factor that will determine how well the smoke-and-fire mosquito repellent will work – the type of fuel you use.
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What Plants to Burn to Repel Mosquitoes?
Start by knowing your enemy.
Like other insects, mosquitoes have olfactory organs that help them deduce smells – and some odors turn them off. Plant repellents are the plants whose smell repels certain animals. Some repellents work fresh or in the form of oils and ointments. Others can burn for better effect.
It is precisely the latter group that we are interested in exploring. The WHO study mentions that some plants traditionally burned as mosquito repellent may work as promised.
Wood and Herbs That Repel Mosquitoes
As I already mentioned, some herbs and wood are famous for repelling insects.
Let’s have a look at some of the most common choices.
Eucalyptus wood contains eucalyptol (or cineole), a component that acts as an efficient insect repellent.
Besides producing insect-repelling emissions, eucalyptus burns very hot and smells nice while burning.
However, there are some downsides – it tends to spark more than average, so be careful about the location and safety of your eucalyptus fire pit.
Also, eucalyptus isn’t great for indoor use. Eucalyptus sparks. It also has a reputation for creating thick smoke that clogs chimneys over time.
Pinyon (Pinus edulis) is a conifer native to the western US. When burned, it produces aromatic smoke that most people find pleasant – unlike the little vampires that we’re trying to drive away!
Contrary to most pines, pinyon wood burns hot and clean, making it a suitable fire pit wood.
Rosemary, Sage, and Lavender
Rosemary, sage, and lavender are sort of a holy trinity of herb-based mosquito repelling. We could also add basil to the trio.
These plants produce essential oils that mosquitoes detest, but to us – they smell pleasant. The diluted essential oils are perfect as a topical skin insect repellent.
They also smell great as incense or around the campfire!
Pick a few branches of these Mediterranean plants – which you should grow in your garden anyway for several reasons – and add them to your fire pit as needed.
Alternatively, you could buy them in your local supermarket or farmstand.
These two mosquito coil holders let you burn your mosquito spirals safely by your campfire, on your porch, or when relaxing out in your garden. The coil holders are 5.35-inch and fit most mosquito coils and citronella spirals.
When creating a fire pit, campfire, or bonfire to repel mosquitoes, stick to these basic fire safety rules!
Driving off mosquitoes will not do you much good if you burn down your property or someone gets hurt!
Also, we live in an era of devastating wildfires!
It is critically important to ensure safety in the wilderness and respect all rules and official announcements regarding outdoor fire activity.
One more potential problem with the regular use of smoke as a mosquito deterrent is the long-term air pollution and the related health issues associated with smoke.
Additionally, the health effects of inhaling burning essential oils from many insect-repellent plants are yet unknown.
Alternatives to Open Fire
If you dislike the idea of an open fire due to safety issues or emissions, there are less invasive ways to use fire to drive off the insects.
Scented candles are growing in popularity as an insect control method. Citronella and calendula candles seem to work the best. Besides the repelling effect, they look and smell attractive – no char and no fuss.
Although candles burn in a controlled way, be careful not to put them in spots with flammable materials around.
Some homesteaders also ask if DEET works to repel mosquitos. The answer is that yes – DEET works! However, we prefer using natural mosquito-repelling methods if possible.
In Conclusion – Does Smoke Keep Mosquitoes Away?
Although the science on the subject is not entirely clear, some studies and plenty of anecdotal evidence support the idea that fire and smoke work for repelling mosquitoes. However, choosing the best plant material to burn can increase the repelling properties of the smoke – and make it smell better.
If you are asking for my judgment on the topic – I would use fire and smoke only as a last resort, in cases where other repelling methods are unavailable or in cases where the fire is already there – e.g., during camping.
There are too many unpleasant side effects associated with fire and smoke to rely on them as a mosquito-repelling method, especially if you live in an urban area.
In the end, a friendly message to the poor naive moths – listen to your bloodsucking insect cousins and stay away from that fire!
Thanks for reading – and if you have tips on which types of smoke repel mosquitos and other flying pests, please share!
Have a great day!