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Indoor Pesticides–why you should get rid of Raid!

Indoor Pesticides–why you should get rid of Raid!

Confession: I carried the rascals in!  While preparing to move from my last home, I looked at the price of cardboard boxes and said to myself, this is a big city.  Someone else just moved here, so why not ask for their boxes?  Craigslist had several postings a day for free boxes.  Unfortunately, free boxes have free roaches, and one or two roaches can quickly turn into dozens which took up residence in my kitchen.  Short of calling an exterminator, I did my best with over-the-counter pesticides to get rid of them, but on moving day my kitchen still had an infestation.  It was depressing, because I thought that only “dirty” homes got roaches but no matter how much I cleaned, they persisted (more on this later).  In hindsight I think they liked the consistent heat of the pilot light and some crumbs and drippings in my antique gas stove.  It was not my intention to leave a problem like this to the new homeowners (sorry)… but I got my reward. The bugs hitched a ride to my new house and although I tried more commercial and home remedies, they would not budge.  I even tore out the toekicks under my cabinets, thinking they had set up house there.  To my disappointment (because of my affinity for most things German), I even learned that they were called German cockroaches.  A week before Thanksgiving I broke down and called a pro, who required that I empty all my kitchen cabinets so that my cooking and storage containers would not be sprayed (he also cautioned me to wash anything that came in contact with the spray residue).  To my relief, the critters all died or left the house.  But now I wonder, what was in all the pesticides I tried, what did he use, and since I haven’t had a pest problem for about 4 years, how are these chemicals affecting me? 

Whether you or the professionals tackle the insect or pest problem, it’s important to consider the effect of pesticides on your air quality.  According to the EPA,  80 percent of most people's exposure to pesticides occurs indoors and that measurable levels of up to a dozen pesticides have been found in the air inside homes.  Whoa!  The exposure to airborne chemicals when spraying pesticides is obvious, however, there is also accidental ingestion and absorption to consider.  All in all, it’s a desperate and dangerous conundrum for those who are aware of toxins in pesticides…do I have to live with the pests or live with the poison? 

First, what kinds of pests are we talking about?  According to the EPA, there are 5 different types of pests and therefore 5 different types of pesticides:

  • insects (insecticides)
  • termites (termiticides)
  • rodents (rodenticides)
  • fungi (fungicides)
  • microbes (disinfectants)

What’s in these different types of pesticides?  If there’s a label on the bottle, then you can use this informative page to decode what each ingredient is and its risks to you. 

According to nontoxicforhealth.com, “Most indoor insecticides, including those you use on your pets, contain some type of Pyrethroids. These are amped up synthetic versions of natural chemicals found in chrysanthemums (the natural chemicals breakdown quickly in sunlight so they are less effective).”  These are possible carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, nervous and respiratory system toxins.  

In addition to the active (toxic) ingredients, manufacturers are not required to list all the inert (carrier and amplifying) ingredients, which can be even more harmful on their own.  Inert ingredients are called adjuvants, and they increase the effectiveness of the active ingredients by helping them spread out, stick to pests or weeds, and penetrate their outer layers.  “Among these are carcinogens like coal tar, naphthalene, hexane and xylene. And endocrine disruptors like dibutyl phthalate, plus hydrochloric and nitric acid and many petroleum distillates and fuel oils.” (nontoxicforhealth.com)  These inert ingredients do the same when they encounter your skin or clothing; they help the pesticide or herbicide stick to and penetrate so the active chemical can enter your body. Once inside, the inert ingredients alone are quite harmful. “...a 2016 study found that two inert ingredients, APG (alkyl polyglucosides) and POEA (polyethoxylated tallowamine) were 15–18 times and 1200–2000 times more toxic to cells than the active ingredient glyphosate, respectively.  And the inert/active ingredient glyphosate combo doesn’t just kill more body cells. They also disrupt your endocrine system at much lower levels than glyphosate alone.”  (nontoxicforhealth.com)  

One of the most common insecticides is Raid.  What happens when one sees an unwanted guest like a spider or roach?  They reach for the can of Raid under the sink, spray it, then wait to see if there are any other intruders!   I went to the official website (whatsinsideSCJohnson.com) to check on one version, “Raid Spray Multi-Insect Killer”.  The active ingredients are d-Phenothrin and Prallethrin. Both of these chemicals are Pyrethroids.  Then, there are the inactive ingredients (99+% of the product), the first three of which are Propane, Butane and Petroleum Distillate.  These 3 are VOCs, and the 5th, fragrances, contains many VOCs.  Here’s the problem: the product label recommends “Do not allow people or pets to enter treated area until vapors, mists and aerosols have dispersed, and the treated area has been thoroughly ventilated. Wait two hours after application, then open windows, vents and doors for two hours. “  I doubt that many people leave the area (especially an open-concept home) for 2 hours and then open the windows for 2 more hours, so consumers are breathing in the VOCs of the “other ingredients”, which carry the active ingredients to their intended destination, the insects, but also float through the air for 4 or more hours!

In order to clear the air, you’ll need to get rid of the VOCs.  Be proactive and get started with some pest prevention

  • Cut them off!  No, not with a knife, but with caulk, door sweeps, foam sealant, screening, etc.  There are many videos out there on how to seal out pests: make sure doors, windows, and ventilation openings have screens, install door sweeps and weatherstripping on doors and gaps around AC units, and fill cracks with silicone or latex caulk. 
  • Repair leaky piping to limit water sources for pests.
  • Install wire mesh (hardware cloth) on attic openings, roof, chimney and crawlspace vents.  
  • Use airtight containers for food storage. 
  • Clean up after meals and try not to leave any crumbs!  I left this one for last  because even clean homes can get roaches (they can live for a month without food and a week without water).   Do your best not to sustain them by limiting food sources, so the occasional foraging pest will not have reason to stick around.  Food sources even include non-food items: newspaper, cardboard (hence my moving box problem), “book bindings, leather, wallpaper paste, grease, soap, toothpaste, feces, and even human hair.” (resteasypestcontrol.com)  Gross!

Now here’s where you can take control with natural pest control solutions (source: nontoxicforhealth.com):

  • Wondercide is an essential oil-based natural pesticide that comes in flea and tick, mosquito, indoor and outdoor formulations. 
  • Food-grade diatomaceous earth is a fine white powder made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms called diatoms.  When sprinkled over surfaces where pests crawl, the earth sticks to their legs and makes small cuts in them and dries out their bodies.  It can also be sprinkled into the fur of dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. to kill fleas, as the earth is non-toxic if they decide to lick themselves.  The fleas start dying within hours!  I used this on my pet rabbit with success, because he liked to hop around the backyard during the day where fleas also roam.  Sprinkle it into carpets for fleas or ants as well.  Just be sure to use a mask when applying it, because the dust is harmful to your lungs (don’t use if you have lung problems).   Also, although many people claim it is safe for humans to eat, I have seen several articles about its danger to our intestines (may block absorption of nutrients).  
  • A hand vacuum will get pests where you can reach, and it’s so satisfying to suck them up!  You can catch-and-release outside, or drown them by emptying the contents of the bin into a bucket of soapy water.  There are lots of hand vacuums available and if you are buying one or replacing yours, be sure to get one with a HEPA filter so that dust and microbes are not expelled into the air while you’re getting that spider!  This one comes with several suction heads and 2 washable HEPA filters.  

Educate yourself–there are no excuses now that we have the internet at our fingertips!  Integrative Pest Management (IPM) is long-term prevention of pests or their damage by managing the ecosystem (University of California).  Basically the following are the four methods of IPM:

  • Biological control: use enemies of the pests to keep them under control!  For example, cats kill rodents.  Many people keep outdoor cats, and never see mice.  Spiders kill insects and mosquitoes.  By allowing small non-poisonous spiders to live around your home, you will have less insects.  Chickens will search and destroy insects too–and roaches are one of their favorite snacks!  The popularity of keeping backyard chickens has grown greatly.
  • Cultural controls: this mostly applies to how food is grown and cultivated, but if you are keeping plants inside, be aware that mold can grow if you overwater the plant and the soil stays too moist.
  • Mechanical and physical controls: keep the pests out by using the methods discussed under pest prevention, and if you need to, use mechanical or chemical traps in safe places so that children and pets aren’t harmed.
  • Chemical control: pesticides are a last resort, and only those that will be safe for the user and the environment. 

Here are two more posts that will be of interest to homeowners: Termiticides: safe for indoor use? (more personal experience here) and Enjoying the Outdoors Naturally…because we love the fresh air but not the creepy-crawly things!

Photo by hybridnighthawk on Unsplash

Termiticides: Safe for Indoor Use?

Termiticides: Safe for Indoor Use?

Termites are tough buggers.  Having lived in New Orleans for 10+years, it is hard to understand how any wooden structures are still standing, considering that the city is the perfect climate for termites: hot and humid!  I learned without any formal research that the Formosan species of termites does not need any ground contact (so much for termite barriers) to survive; it actually does well in a moist section of your attic or roofing, destroying the wood that holds up your roof!  I renovated a house after Hurricane Katrina and wanting to seal the home well with insulation, I went with a spray foam made from sugar cane.  In hindsight I think spray foam in general was a big mistake!  When I purchased the home in 2009, it had very few signs of termite damage, as all the walls and ceilings were open, and I knew the home (having been built in 1952) just had traditional fiberglass insulation before.  After 7 years of living in it, I had to call the exterminator several times a year for different colonies that invaded parts of the attic, one of which made their way down a wall and into a wood floor!  I think the insulation contained just enough moisture to help them live, and provided great shelter as they munched through the house.  I didn’t notice them at all until I saw a few droppings emerging through the foam, and could actually hear a slight “crinkling” sound in the insulation near the infestation, if the house was completely quiet. 

Many professional exterminators use Termidor, which is a formulation of Fipronil.   Fipronil is used in dog and cat flea medications (Frontline), and used in some outdoor pest applications.  Termidor is labelled as “safe for indoor use”, however, low concentrations are deadly to fish, shrimp, crawfish, honeybees and lizards.  It kills insects by affecting their nervous system, and in other animals, it causes nausea, dizziness, aggression, and interrupts hormones and reproduction.  Fipronil breaks down in sunlight to a chemical that is ten times more toxic, which is fipronil-desulfinyl.  This chemical is more easily absorbed into the skin, as well. (pesticide.org)  Fipronil is also the active ingredient in another termite treatment, Taurus SC.  There is likely gallons of Fipronil in the one house I lived in! 

There are other popular termiticides that are used outdoors, to prevent termites from getting to the precious wood in your home:

  • Imidacloprid is an insecticide that is popular in many other countries besides the US.  It is a sort of synthetic nicotine modeled after natural extracts of the tobacco plant.   It is quite toxic to fish, which is important for homes in areas that runoff to streams, lakes, etc.  It is very persistent in soil, meaning it does not deactivate quickly.  It’s also toxic to some birds, acutely toxic to earthworms, bees, and toxic to some plants.   Imidacloprid is the active ingredient in the flea and tick medication Advantage used for cats, however it is toxic to some cats.  Although it is of low toxicity to humans, why poison our surroundings with something so toxic to nature?  Fuse, Premise and Dominion are products that use imidacloprid to control termites.

  • Chlorfenapyr is a newer insecticide in the class of pyrroles that affect insects’ ability to produce energy.  It works on insects that have become resistant to pyrethroids.  It is supposedly only “moderately” toxic to humans; however, severe poisoning and death have been reported by ingestion, inhalation and exposure to skin.  Spectre 2 SC and Phantom are two products that use chlorfenapyr. 

  • Why put yourself into close contact with a chemical, just to avoid termites or insects?

Fine then–how do I keep termites at bay without using toxic chemicals? Here are some more natural tips:

  • Keep roofs and gutters in good repair, in order to minimize water sources for termites

  • Don’t use mulch next to your foundation; instead, keep it 6-12” away.  This allows air to circulate and doesn't encourage termites to enter the house under cover of mulch. 

  • Stack firewood at least 20 feet away from the house, and raise it off the ground about 8” or more.  This allows air circulation and visual inspection for termite tunnels. 

  • Keep trees and shrubs trimmed so that branches don’t touch your house; also don’t allow dead branches to accumulate on the ground.  Keep large plants away from the foundation, because they can block inspection.   Remember: sunlight and heat are the worst natural enemies of termites and they can’t stay in a hot dry area for very long!

  • For homes that are built above ground on pilings, make sure that termite guards are properly installed on each piling. 

  • Declutter the inside of your house!  I know a landlord whose tenant had stacked newspapers in piles all over the living room floor, which are a favorite termite food.  Now she has to replace the subfloor and some of the joists, which will cost thousands!  Look for telltale piles of sawdust under furniture that has a wooden structure like sofas and beds, and don’t store cardboard boxes or newspapers in your home.  

  • For areas that are prone to underground termites, there is now a stainless steel mesh that can be installed around foundations and underground pipes.  It’s marine grade stainless steel warrantied for 10+ years, called Termi-Mesh

  • Application of Bora-Care or other borate products to unpainted wood is a great deterrent to termites, and borate products can be used in baiting systems.  Boron is a non-toxic element that humans and plants need, in low concentrations.  Therefore, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cooperative Extension, “Although boric acid is relatively safe to humans and other mammals, it can be harmful if accidentally ingested and must be kept away from food, children and pets. Care must be taken not to breathe in the dust when you apply it. Like other dust formulations, it should be used in places where it will not move around.”  In addition to termite protection, it does not allow molds and fungus to grow. 

  • If you live in an area that is high risk for termites, you will be familiar with swarming season.  During this time, the “alates” or reproductive termites will leave the colony in a brief flight and look for a mate to start another colony.  Usually in late spring, this is when you see swarms of termites surrounding outdoor lights at dusk and after sunset.  It can be a scary sight to homeowners, but don’t let it frighten you!  Turn off outdoor lights on and near your home during swarming season, close drapes or blinds to block light from windows, and make sure you have window screens and weatherstripping installed to keep them out of the house.  If any termites do enter the house, they will die within the day if they do not find moist areas or leaks, so proper maintenance will make sure they don’t start a new colony in your home.  If you do see them entering through a crack or pinhole in the wall, you can use a vacuum to suck them up, ensuring again that there is no moist wood or drywall to sustain them. 

  • If gardening is one of your interests, you may consider planting some of the following around your home, as they have been studied to repel termites: catnip, vetiver grass, and lemongrass. Marigolds are also a favorite of gardeners to deter pests, but they have not been scientifically shown to deter termites.

  • Newer insecticides like Chlorantraniliprole are of very low toxicity to humans, bees and fish, while they cause death to termites by paralysis. 

  • Baiting stations are environmentally safer than pouring chemicals into the ground around your house, because the poison within them is only carried by the worker termites out of the station and into the nest.  However, they can be slow to work and must be checked several times a year, if not monthly, by an exterminator.   If a termite inspection reveals that you have no active infestations in your home, then this may be a good preventative measure.  

Alaska may be the only state that is free from termites, but with some vigilance, they don’t have to take over your home!

Enjoying the Outdoors Naturally: Making your backyard a NO-FLY zone

Enjoying the Outdoors Naturally: Making your backyard a NO-FLY zone 

When summer gets going, the high-pitched “hummm” of mosquitoes in the yard or nearby woods is all we need to hurry inside when dusk comes.  But this is YOUR property, right?  There are many ways to take it back…some healthy and some not so healthy.  On the latter side, I know the smell of Malathion by heart, even though my mother told my sister and I to get inside immediately when we heard the drone of the fogging truck coming up our wooded lane.  Later I heard stories from baby boomers who as children went out to play behind the truck in the fog as it buzzed down the streets of New Orleans.  With the advent of west Nile and Zika viruses in the US, mosquitoes are still quite a serious concern, but knowing that Malathion can cause mutated genes in blood cells, breast cancer, abnormalities in sperm, and increased Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma among farmers that use it, among other effects, Malathion might be the greater danger! 

Similarly, many of the outdoor sprays, including the most popular Permethrin in the US, have active ingredients in the class of pyrethroids.  While pyrethroids are safer to us when dry (up to 2 hours later), they can be absorbed through skin while applying them, or drift into our homes through open windows or crevices (such as when an exhaust fan is being used inside the house, pulling in outside air).  Pyrethroids are a synthetic version of pyrethrins, which are extracts from the chrysanthemum plant.  Pyrethroids are possible carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and nervous and respiratory system toxins. 

Several years ago, I was gifted a newer mosquito “lamp” called the Thermacell.  It works by heating up a small pad saturated in Allethrin (a pyrethroid), that creates a vaporous barrier of about 15x15 feet around you.  It takes a few minutes (10-15) to fully establish the chemical barrier.  Although it works, the product warnings include keeping it away from uncovered food and to avoid directly inhaling the vapors.  Huh?  In order to be effective, you are sitting in the 15x15 area…directly or indirectly inhaling the vapors. (?!)

I hope you enjoyed our post on mosquito repellents where I discussed the products you spray on your body.  In this war on mosquitoes and other pests, there are repellents safer than Malathion and pyrethroids that you can deploy on your yard.  Here are the best of what we found!  

Similar to the way a “wireless fence” works to keep pets in the yard, what if there was a way to keep insect pests out of the yard?  There is!  For those who dream of Star Wars technology in the home, Photonic Fence is an insect-killing laser device that tracks mosquitoes and other potential pests using cameras and computers, then kills them with a “minimum lethal dose” laser.  The “Photonic Fence is capable of finely discriminating between different species of insects, and so can be relied upon to target only harmful insects, rather than beneficial insects.” (photonicsentry.com)  Unfortunately it is only available by inquiry at the moment…

On the more realistic (and safer) side, the first thing to do is make your backyard inhospitable to mosquitoes through these strategies:

  • Get rid of standing water.  If you have a fish pond, make sure there is not algae growing in it, because this is a favorite food for mosquito larvae.  Be aware that container plants need to have adequate drainage, too, otherwise mosquito larvae can grow in water in the pots.  Also, refill bird baths and dog bowls frequently to discourage mosquitoes.  A frequently overlooked spot is the AC unit, which usually has a pan with drain holes under it.  If the drain holes get clogged with leaves and debris, voila! You have a mosquito incubator. 
  • Install fans around your favorite gathering places.  Mosquitoes are slow, weak fliers that can’t stand up against strong breezes.  It also disperses the carbon dioxide we breathe out, which is a way that mosquitoes target us.
  • Install netting or screen around your favorite hangout: a porch, gazebo, or screened tent.
  • Wear light colored clothing, because mosquitoes “see” dark colors more easily.
  • If fleas are your main problem, be aware that fleas breed in backyards before hitching a ride on pets or us.  So, you can unleash a natural predator like beneficial nematodes on them, that will destroy them and their eggs within about 2 weeks.  Here is an excellent article on how to deploy these microscopic worms to demolish fleas in your backyard. 
  • For the science geeks among us, try making a dry ice trap!  These are actually used by scientists to count and examine species of mosquitoes.  You’ll want to use this at the farthest point from any gathering place, because it is a “bait”: mosquitoes are tricked into thinking that the CO2 is from a prey source, so you don’t want it near you!

Now that you’ve done your best to put up a “NO VACANCY” sign, here are the safer outdoor pesticides which can be sprayed manually or automatically around your yard to discourage or kill mosquitoes and other pests.  These stand out by using natural ingredients for great results: 

  • We touted Wondercide in our post about indoor pesticides (Why You Should Get Rid of Raid!) and they have an excellent outdoor pesticide as well.  Wondercide built their business on being friendly to pets and families.  Their outdoor products come in a formulation that repels fleas and ticks (that also work on mosquitoes), or, if you don’t have pets that attract fleas and ticks, a formulation that primarily kills mosquitoes but also works on ants and ticks. 
  • Nature-cide Outdoor Insect Repellent is a great choice with no toxic ingredients.  The active ingredients are cedarwood oil and cinnamon oil, with carriers lecithin, soap and water.  It deters Ants, Bed Bugs, Caterpillars, Cockroaches, Earwigs, Fleas, Flies, Hornets, Mites, Mosquitoes, Moths, Silverfish, Spiders, Stink Bugs, Ticks, and Wasps.  It is available in a 32 oz spray bottle (perfect for small areas) or larger sizes.  
  • Mosquito Barrier by Garlic Research Labs, Inc.  is 99.3% garlic juice, with the remainder citric acid and potassium sorbate.  When it is diluted in water as per instructions, it kills adult mosquitoes, coats plants to deter mosquitoes, and suffocates mosquito larvae in standing water.  It also repels fleas, ticks and ants, a great combination for pet owners. 

The following two treatments have ingredients that are a lot safer than pyrethroids, but one carrier ingredient that can be questionable (sodium laureth sulfate).  Sodium laureth sulfate is a surfactant which helps the treatment spread out and stick to plants.  Depending on how it is manufactured, sodium laureth sulfate may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen and a possible carcinogen (davidsuzuki.org).

  • Pyranha® Zero-Bite® Natural Insect Repellent by Bug Armour: according to the label, the ingredients are 6% Geraniol (oil derived from geraniums), Clove oil and Peppermint oil, 7% Sodium Laureth Sulfate, 13% water and glycerin.   
  • Naprovit PRO Plus™ by Natural Misting Solutions “controls mosquitoes, spiders, wasps, hornets, midges (No-see-ums), gnats, and many other types of small flying insects when used in residential and commercial misting systems.”  It contains 8% Sodium Laureth Sulfate, 2% soybean oil and 1% corn oil (the rest is water and soap).  It kills insects on contact, including wasps and hornets; however I could find no information on its effect on honeybees.

There you have it–let us know what other outdoor strategies have helped you enjoy your little slice of heaven!

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Mosquito Repellant: Is DEET the only option? (No, there are safer choices!)

Mosquito Repellant: Is DEET the only option?  (No, there are safer choices!) 

Going on camping trips and just generally living in the woods for most of my life now, I am very familiar with mosquito repellant.  I was told that more DEET = less mosquitoes.  What exactly is DEET ?  

According to pesticides.org, “DEET is a repellent used by almost one-third of the U.S. population every year. It is one of the few pesticides applied directly to skin and clothing.”  It was developed during WWII by the US Army as a repellant and has been in use as a pesticide since 1957.  Just because it’s been used so long, does not mean it’s safe, however!

DEET has scary effects on animals, some children, and the cells and DNA in our bodies.  In lab tests, animals subjected to DEET lost much of their ability to climb, grip, and reproduce in normal ways.  It is debilitating and fatal to fish.  Children may have seizures at even low concentrations (less than 20%), and experiments with our own brain cells show that it kills them.  It’s not something I’ll want to apply again to anyone in my family!  

Permethrin is a different mosquito repellant that is marketed and sold as a fabric treatment for tents, clothing and camping gear like backpacks and used as an outdoor soil treatment for termites; it is a synthetic pyrethroid, which is a class of neurotoxins.  It behaves in insects similarly to the insecticide DDT.  Permethrin does not decay quickly in soil (it is commonly sprayed on the ground and around homes).  Besides being a possible carcinogen, it affects the immune system, hormones, and different organs such as the liver and lungs.  According to laboratory studies on rats, “children may be more sensitive to permethrin than adults,” (pesticide.org).  Why put yourself into close contact with a neurotoxin, just to avoid termites or insects?

I believe there is “kryptonite” for every pest–we just have to discover them.  The following repellent active ingredients work by masking the personal scent that mosquitoes use to target us as prey.  Some are manufactured and some are natural extracts.

  • Picaridin is a synthetic imitation of piperine, an extract from plants used to make black pepper.  It is in the original formulation of Skin So Soft, which was passed around many Girl Scout Troops and made its way onto our family camping and fishing trips too.  According to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), Picaridin has had very few allergic reactions, was not shown to cause cancer, and is generally safe.  
  • Due to the anecdotal (not studied) evidence that Skin So Soft repels mosquitoes, Avon produced a Bug Repellant that contains IR3535 as its active ingredient, which is a chemical that is structurally similar to the naturally occurring amino acid B-alanine (ewg.org). It is similar to or slightly less effective than DEET or Picaridin on mosquitoes, but almost twice the mean protection time of these products against deer ticks (which are carriers of Lyme’s Disease).  It can be very irritating to the eyes, but has no other health risks.
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is an extract of a species of Australian eucalyptus tree.  This extract is refined in order to concentrate the chemical that repels bugs, para-menthane-3,8-diol, or PMD.  PMD is used by brand names Repel and Cutter at 30% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or 20% PMD.  According to beyondpesticides.org, PMD was tested in Africa against mosquitoes that are known to cause malaria, and it “gave complete protection from biting for between 6 and 7.75 hours”, and it was equally effective as lower concentrations of DEET.  PMD has reportedly few allergic skin reactions but it is an eye irritant.  Because it has not been studied on young animals, it’s not advised to use on children under 3. 
  • Essential oils: Clove or Thyme oil at 50% concentrations were the most effective in this study of 5 oils, however they can be irritating to the skin and not pleasant to every user at these high concentrations.  In this study, clove oil was studied along with citronella, patchouli, and makaen (Zanthoxylum limonella), and clove oil performed the best, with undiluted clove oil giving 2-4 hours of complete repellency.  This study also concluded that full-strength oils perform the best, but adding vanillin increased the time of repellency.  VerywellHealth.com gives a list of more oils and their respective benefits and cautions. 

These are the ACTIVE ingredients.  We note that  there is always a “carrier” (whether it’s called inert or inactive, these are the ingredient(s) that dilute and aid in application of the active ingredient) and not every product discloses the full list of ingredients.  It’s always best to check the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for a product you are considering.  These are usually found at the bottom of the manufacturer’s home page.  

  • Picaridin products tend to have less disclosure about carrier ingredients: 
    • Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent and Naturapel’s Picaridin Insect Repellent both contain Polyethylene Glycol (PEG).  Despite the wide use of PEG in the cosmetics industry, it can be contaminated with carcinogens and if used on broken skin, a cause for irritation and systemic toxicity (David Suzuki Foundation). 
    • RangerReady Repellents Picaridin 20% contain propylene glycol, which is a penetration enhancer and found to provoke skin irritations in people with eczema and other skin allergies (ewg.org)
    • Earthkind StayAway Mosquitoes is a Picaridin formula made with small parts of ethanol, glycerin (both non-toxic), and mainly water, but 10% undisclosed ingredients (it could be a fragrance or combination of ingredients). 
  • Murphy’s Naturals is a great choice because this company clearly states that the carrier in their Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellant Spray is deionized water and corn ethanol (alcohol made from corn). 
  • Wondercide has a range of repellants made with different essential oils (for personal scent preferences, not efficacy).  They are safe for kids and adults, with no artificial dyes or fragrances.
  • Anyone who travels or has young children would appreciate the convenience of Aunt Fannie’s Mosquito Repellent Wipes, the ingredients of which are clearly stated on the front of the package.  The main active ingredients are citronella oils and cedarwood oil, with peppermint, lemongrass and geranium.  While cedarwood oil did not fare well alone as a repellent in this study, the combination in Aunt Fannies seems to work as they are blessed in good reviews and sales. 
  • Kinfield’s Golden Hour spray ($22 for 3 oz) is priced at a premium, but its reviews are too good to ignore.  Made of active ingredients citronella oil, lemongrass oil and clove oil, with inactive ingredients isopropyl alcohol, lauric acid, water and vanillin, the scent is light with citrus and vanilla.

Has anyone found any new or different ingredients or products that safely repel mosquitoes?  Let us know!

Photo by Bima Wahyu on Unsplash

The Hidden Danger of Gas Appliances

The Hidden Danger of Gas Appliances 

Ok, confession: I didn’t learn the meaning of the expression “You’re cooking with gas now!” until I was about 25 because I didn’t grow up in a home with a gas stove!  When I learned it, however, I knew I wanted a gas stove in my own home because I like to try new recipes and of course, restaurants had gas stoves.  Gas was supposedly the best.

Fast forward to today—I have had gas stoves in my other homes, and no doubt it is a different method of cooking!  My current home has an electric stove (because it came with the house) but that renovation priority is declining because of new information about the by-products of burning gas.

Burning natural gas or propane in indoor appliances causes particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and formaldehyde to be expelled into the air, which are not adequately vented by exhaust fans. Gas stoves are the largest polluter but gas heaters, water heaters, and clothes dryers all contribute.  A 2013 meta-analysis (analysis of 41 studies) concluded that NO2 indoor air pollution from gas cooking increases the risk of asthma in children by 42% and increased wheeze (breathing difficulty).  Cooking on a gas stove in a small apartment for one hour raises NO2 levels in the air to easily surpass air quality limits set by the EPA and California Air Resource Board, or CARB.  Venting does help lower these levels, but many lower income families use stoves in kitchens that are unvented, though they are illegal.  In another meta-analysis, exposure to NO2 and COPD were positively associated.  

For the benefit of the young to the older members of your household, we hope that you will re-think “cooking with gas”! (and heating with gas, and drying your clothes with gas…)  As for me, my grill outside is working just fine!