You don't need a lot of fancy equipment (or heavy-duty chemicals) to help keep your backyard get-togethers mosquito bite-free.
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Garden birdbath filled with colorful flower petals
Credit: Kristen Prahl/Getty Images

Mosquitoes: They're the bane of every hike, backyard barbecue, and outdoor movie night. And it seems no matter what you try, at least one delicious person ends up with plenty of mosquito bites by the end of the night.

We can't entirely eradicate them—with over 3,500 mosquito species worldwide, and more than 400 here in the U.S., they're here to stay. But there are definitely things you can do to avoid having them ruin your next s'mores night around the campfire—and keep yourself mosquito bite-free.

Why Mosquitoes Bite

It may feel like it, but we're not a mosquito's favorite meal. "Many mosquitoes wouldn't bite a person—they bite frogs, birds, lizards," says Dina Fonseca, Ph.D., chair of the department of entomology at Rutgers University. "But we've domesticated them to realize that we're a source of blood." That's especially true of some invasive mosquito species, like the Asian tiger mosquito, which are the most likely to be the ones biting you. "They're becoming very large populations, because they don't have any competitors or predators and can exploit the environment."

Mostly, mosquitoes live on the sugar from plants—and they actually help pollinate some flowers, Fonseca says. "Only female mosquitoes bite—they're little moms getting blood to be able to make eggs. They use the blood to feed the eggs."

How to Prevent Mosquitoes in Your Backyard

There are ways to make your yard less enticing to mosquitoes—and fortunately, most of them just require a little work (and no money!) on your part.

Remove all standing water

You've probably heard this advice before, but when they say all standing water, they really mean all. "No water, no mosquitoes," Fonseca says.

Unfortunately, even the smallest amount of standing water can be the culprit if you're seeing more mosquitoes. "We're talking about a yogurt container, saucers under plants, planters that don't have drainage holes and may fill up with too much water, the accordion extension pipes for gutters," Fonseca says. "We cleared out one of those and found 500 larvae for Asian tiger mosquitoes." 

Be especially careful with covering recycling bins—even a little rainfall can collect in your recycled bottles and cans and provide plenty of places for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. "Plastic was the best thing that ever happened to mosquitoes," Fonseca says.

Get your neighbors on board

Mosquitoes don't exactly respect property lines, so your neighbor with a swampy-looking planter can be breeding a whole army of mosquitoes that are invading the neighborhood. You may want to mention it to your neighbor so they can help make their yard (and yours) less attractive to mosquitoes.

Call your local mosquito control program

Most counties across the country have a program dedicated to keeping mosquitoes at bay—and if you suspect that your mosquitoes are coming from marshes or other wet areas around your neighborhood, they may be able come in and help. 

In many cases, mosquitoes may be breeding in a different areas than where the mosquito control programs are used to treating, due to environmental changes. "Climate change can change the distribution and abundance of mosquitoes," Fonseca says. "For instance, on the coast, sea level rise is flooding areas that didn't used to flood, so the hotspots for mosquitoes may be changing." 

Set a trap

Those bug zappers may seem really cool, but the best trap is a DIY one that involves two different sized buckets and some sticky tape or flypaper. "You add in water, a little grass or yeast to make the environment an enticing place to lay eggs," Fonseca says. "Then you put canola oil on the sides of container and flypaper, so they get stuck."

How to Prevent Mosquito Bites—and Treat Them

Even if you're super-vigilant about mosquitoes, odds are you'll still find a few attracted to you and your guests. But there are some methods that you can use to make yourself less attractive.

DEET

Yeah, it's a pretty harsh chemical. But it is effective at keeping mosquitoes off you, Fonseca says.

Lemon and Eucalyptus Oils

Fonseca herself uses this, after she developed a reaction to DEET, and finds it very effective.

Fans

Running a fan creates a breeze that outmatches a mosquito's tiny wings. However, it'll still leave you a little exposed. "A mosquito can figure out a way," Fonseca says. "I got bit on my back—the mosquito used me as a shield from the fan."

What Doesn't Work Against Mosquitoes

Some of the most commonly used mosquito deterrents don't do a whole lot to stop mosquitoes—so you might want to reconsider using some of these.

Citronella Candles

Sorry, but those lemony citronella candles don't hold a candle to other options for preventing mosquito bites. 

Mosquito Treatment Companies

Fonseca says the jury's still out as to whether they work, but she has doubts. "We know very little about how effective private companies are," she sys. "The best way to get rid of adult mosquitoes, is to get rid of them as larva with larvicides." 

Because they spray during the day and may spray a not-as-fine mist, they may end up killing a lot of beneficial insects along with the mosquitoes. "Then you're replacing a mosquito problem with a plant-based problem, with aphids and whiteflies increasing."