Our Experience Using Permethrin Spray To Prevent Tick Bites (And Mosquito Bites) …Instead Of Using DEET

I’ve written about basic tick prevention and removal methods before. (Ditto for preventing mosquito bites.)

Since then, we’ve learned a little secret from the U.S. Military.

It’s called Permethrin spray!

Hubby and I now use Permethrin instead of DEET-based products to repel ticks and mosquitoes.

DEET is an excellent mosquito repellent, but it is a fairly poor tick repellent. We are inundated with so many DEET repellents because there are several huge corporations that manufacture hundreds of variations of DEET products. There is only one small company, Coulston Laboratory, that markets a handful of competitive tick repellent products for human use that contain 0.5% permethrin.  Source

 

A Tick Repellent That’s Stronger Than DEET

We recently purchased yet another piece of land — to potentially build a log home on. (More on that here.)

As a result, Jim and I have been spending a significant amount of time deep in the middle of the woods walking the property lines and attempting to clear out a spot to put a house.

Yep, deep in the woods — where the ticks run rampant!

But this time, we asked a couple of people “in the know” (like land surveyors and land developers) about the best tick repellent for humans — because products with DEET just weren’t cutting it for us.

The answer we kept getting was: Permethrin spray.

It’s very potent. In fact, the guy at the Tractor Supply store called it a “nerve agent” that you should never get on your skin. (More about that below.)

Permethrin has been documented thoroughly by the Department of Defense and is now used regularly by the U.S. Military.

Following is everything we’ve learned firsthand about Permethrin tick spray, how it has worked for us so as a tick repellent & mosquito repellent, and where we buy it…

 

Facts About Permethrin

These are some of the interesting things I’ve learned about the chemical Permethrin:

 

What If You Get Permethrin On Your Skin?

Permethrin has low mammalian toxicity, is poorly absorbed through the skin, and is rapidly inactivated by the body.

Skin reactions have been uncommon. In fact, Permethrin is virtually non-toxic to humans and no systemic effects have been reported. In EPA and FDA tests, it was uncommon to have any skin reddening, rash, or other irritation.

Although Permethrin is approved for skin application under certain circumstances (such as head lice), it is NOT applied to skin when used as an insect repellent.

The reason: Permethrin does not bond to skin. In fact, it is quickly deactivated by skin and turned into inactive compounds.

Because of this, Permethrin spray offers no repellent benefit on your skin. It is only effective when used as a clothing treatment.

 

Facts About DEET

These are some of the interesting things I’ve learned about the chemical DEET:

 

Where To Buy Permethrin Spray For Clothing & Gear

Our land surveyor friend said to look for Permethrin “at the Co-op”. He said it comes in an aerosol can that you spray directly on your clothing and gear (but never on your skin).

The first place I thought to check was Tractor Supply — but they only had the kind for vegetation. In fact, the guy at Tractor Supply said they have a few different products for your yard with Permethrin in it, but they aren’t to be used on clothing and should remain far far away from your skin.

Not all Permethrin is blended for the purpose of bonding to fabric. Most Permethrin is agricultural which is for pest control on vegetation. Its design purpose is to stick to plants thus protecting the plants. Veterinary products are designed to adhere to animal skins/hair or premises and are not for fabric application. Some Permethrin is formulated for treatment of medical conditions such as head lice and scabies. The formulations are not interchangeable mostly because of solvents utilized. Always refer to manufacturers label and use instructions. Source

So, I ran back home and hopped on the Internet where I found 2 places that sell cans of Permethrin spray for clothing and gear: Amazon and eBay. Amazon carries the Repel Permanone product and Sawyer Permethrin clothing spray.

We decided to purchase a 3-pack of the Sawyer Duranon Tick Repellent online. Each aerosol can contains 6 ounces of .5% Permethrin and covers 2 outfits — shirts, pants, socks, shoes, and hats. (We found this to be accurate.)

Each of the above products are recommended by Kirby C. Stafford III, Ph.D. of The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station:

Several products contain 0.5% Permethrin (e.g. Duranon Tick Repellent, Repel Permanone, Cutter Outdoorsman Gear Guard, Permethrin Tick Repellent) — which is for use only on clothing or other fabrics such as mosquito netting or tents.

As Permethrin has become more popular as a tick repellent, we’ve started to see Permethrin spray available at sporting goods stores — including REI.

 

Our Unscientific Test: Permethrin vs. OFF With 30% DEET

To begin our experiment, Jim sprayed his jeans, short-sleeve shirt, socks, and shoes with Duranon (the Sawyer Permethrin spray) 2 hours prior to our trip — as instructed on the label. He made sure not to get any on his skin.

I sprayed my jeans, long-sleeve shirt, and shoes thoroughly with OFF a few minutes before we entered the woods.

So, after a 1-hour long walk in the woods, did we find any ticks on us???

We never found a single tick on Jim! Not one.

As soon as we got in the car, we found one on me (on my back, around the bra line). And a few hours later we found another one on me — in about the same location. That’s pretty typical.

When we only use a product with 30% DEET, we almost always find 2 to 4 ticks on each of us. And if we spend a lot of time in really thick woods (which we didn’t on this trip), then we usually find 5 to 10 on each of us. Yep, even with the DEET.

At this point, we are over the DEET products (when it comes to ticks anyway) and Permethrin spray now ranks #1 in our book — it’s definitely the best tick repellent for humans!

The Department of Defense system consists of both Permethrin treated clothing and DEET applied to skin. The use of one without the other will undermine the system and increase the risk of insect or tick bite. Source

Okay, so maybe we’ll still use 30% DEET on our skin and use the Permethrin on our clothing. With this combination, we may never see another tick in our lifetime!

 

For More Information About Permethrin

Contact the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network. Their phone number is 800-858-7378. Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. EST or 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. PST.

About Lynnette

I like to help people find unique ways to do things in order to save time & money — so I write about “outside the box” ideas that most wouldn’t think of. As a lifelong dog owner, I often share my best tips for living with and training dogs. I worked in Higher Ed over 10 years before switching gears to pursue activities that I’m truly passionate about. I’ve worked at a vet, in a photo lab, and at a zoo — to name a few. I enjoy the outdoors via bicycle, motorcycle, Jeep, or RV. You can always find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites).

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  • Just wondering four years later what your long term findings have been with this product and tick prevention.

    • Mikeclarke333 - We only use Permethrin when we're going into the woods or other areas that are likely to have a lot of ticks. So for us, it still works great every single time we use it. One of the most noticeable things is those who AREN'T wearing it tend to find ticks on their skin and clothing (especially those teeny-tiny ones that are very hard to see), whereas those who ARE wearing it remain tick-free on that same outing. There's no better proof that it works than that :-D

  • Sincerely appreciate all the info. We live on five acres of wooded land and in 2010 I got Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from several tick bites I get every spring. I think our area is truly infested with deer ticks (deer are everywhere here) and also the lone star tick. Any way I have been fighting the battle of Lyme disease since and this is great NEWS. From now on we will definitely use the permethrin! Thanks so much.

  • Are there any safety concerns with having Dogs around the clothes that are sprayed with the permethrin?

  • After all these years, are you still an advocate of Permethrin? Ticks are getting bad in Western PA and our dog got Lyme Disease. Need to do all we can to prevent it.

    • Hi John, Yes. We just went out last week to walk some woodsy property that we were thinking of buying. I sprayed the permethrin on both of us before we headed out, and I took the can with us. I'm still a big fan.

  • As with any pesticide, it is important to read and follow the label. Permethrin sold to be applied to clothing must be done in advance to allow the clothes to completely dry prior to wearing. It is highly effective against ticks, but you don't want to expose your skin to the wet product or risk breathing it in during improper application. This is a very different product than a topical sold to treat scabies or applications for dogs.

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