Archive for the ‘Natural Pest Control’ Category

What the DEET? Part III: Additional Info and Proper Disposal

Additional Recommendations: Regarding DEET Use On Children and Proper DEET Disposal

DEET Use On Children

I came across some new information on DEET and children today.

According to a 2003 newsletter by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency of Health Canada, DEET should absolutely not be applied to children under 6 months of age, ever. This was not a new recommendation, even in 2003. Furthermore, in children ages 6 months to two years in situations where the risk of complications from insect bites is high (and only in this case) parents may apply a single application of the lowest concentration of DEET (10 percent or lower). In these cases, DEET should never be applied to the hands or face.

With children ages 2-12, Health Canada and the Canadian Pediatric Society go on the advise, apply a concentration of 10 percent of less, avoid the face and hands, and avoid prolonged exposure.

Additionally, thanks to research of daily DEET use on adults over a long period of time, Health Canada no longer accepts for registration solutions of over 30 percent DEET.

This is very different information and stricter advice than what the CDC and EPA tell Americans, and confirms my conclusion that DEET should not be used on children. In fact, since unborn and born children are more susceptible to chemical harm, and adult skin absorbs 60-80 percent of that which it comes in contact through air and applied substances, many sources recommend not using DEET at all since it’s a known safety hazard and safer alternatives including two CDC-approved and all-natural options. Even Health Canada notes nonchemical methods to repell mosquitoes exist.

See my article about DEET use on adults and children for more information.

Additionally, Health Canada endorses additional natural repellents that the CDC including soybean oil and citronella with lavender.

DEET Disposal: What do I do with all these Skintastic bottles?

If you choose to stop using DEET you first have to make an important decision: Do I give my DEET-containing repellents to my friends?

In one case they would appreciate free insect repellent. On the other, if I’m not willing to use DEET why would I wish its effects on my friends?

Giving DEET Bottles Away

I seriously considered disposing of my bottles of DEET, but I decided to give them away. No, I do not want my family and friends using DEET, and even though I know they’ll buy it anyway I don’t want to give harmful chemicals to them, either.

I recently had to make this same decision with paraben and other problematic substance-containing lipstick and hair products I decided to replace. What I did: I directly told the recipients that I had free, partially used products that contained parabens, substances that mimic hormones and are likely endocrine disruptors. If the recipient is okay with this they can have the product for free.

Disposing of DEET-Containing Products

Did you know non-aerosol DEET repellents can go straight into your regular household garbage? They can, according to Health Canada. If you want to recycle the bottle empty the liquid in an absorbent disposable material such as kitty litter and place in your regular trash. Never reuse a bottle which contained DEET. 

Aerosol cans, on the other hand, should never be put in regular garbage as pressurized cans can explode if a fire breaks out, according to, harming workers and firefighters. Take empty cans to a steel recycling facility or, if accepted, put in your curbside bin.

For filled or partially filled aerosol spray cans, first contact your local recycling facility to determine if they have a way to safely drain cans. If they do not, contact your nearest hazardous waste facility. Do not drain cans into the air as the fine mist produced by aerosol cans easily spread can propellants and other hazardous chemicals into your environment.

Discussion Questions:

As one deletes harmful and potentially harmful chemicals from the home, is it right to give these products to friends?

Related Articles:

What the DEET? Safely Repelling Mosquitoes (Part I)

What the DEET? Natural Alternatives That Work : Safely Repelling Mosquitoes (Part II)


What the DEET? Natural Alternatives That Work : Safely Repelling Mosquitoes (Part II)

Effective Alternatives to DEET

citronella plant - by jenniferworthen on FlickrSo, if DEET can cause neurological damage, especially in children and the developing unborn, are we to go unprotected as mosquito fodder, exposed to mosquito-born illnesses such as malaria and West Nile and made to suffer the torment of the itching bites and bumps?

With whole living and natural pest control on the rise, more and more people are turning to natural mosquito and tick repellents. And guess what? They’re effective!

Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

There are four chemicals registered with the EPA and determined by the CDC to effectively repel biting bugs. Of these, the EPA considers two conventional repellents, DEET and picaridin, and two biopesticide repellents, that is, made from natural materials:  IR3535 (Chemical Name: 3-[N-Butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester) Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (or the synthetic version PMD, Chemical Name: para-Menthane-3,8-diol).

Lemon eucalyptus oil, which contains the compound Citriodiol (p-Menthane-3,8-diol) is as or more effective than DEET (in fact, Consumer Reports said it was more effective than DEET formulas) without the worries of nervous system and birth defects. In fact, in laboratory studies the animal subjects showed no sign of any adverse affects except for eye irritation, although, I presume for this same reason, lemon eucalyptus oil is not recommended for children under age three.

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect RepellentConsumers online near unanimously said Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, one lemon eucalyptus-based repellant that claims to repel mosquitoes and deer ticks for six hours, worked as or more effectively than DEET, although some disliked its strong lemony smell (which dissipates within 10 minutes or so).

Other Effective Natural-Ingredient Formulas

Several other products contain a mix of natural oils, often including soybean, citronella, lemongrass, and geranium oils. Consumers find them very effective, as well, though it must be re-applied as often as every two hours—a small inconvenience for safety, however.

Badger Anti-Bug BalmThe one I use, certified USDA organic Badger brand Anti-Bug Balm, contains Castor Oil and the essential oils of citronella, cedar, lemongrass, rosemary, and geranium (inactive ingredients: olive oil and beeswax). I tested it first sitting in the middle of a grassy field during an outdoor evening production of Taming of the Shrew and second sitting on a grassy hill while my husband ran an 8 a.m. 5k. Anti-Bug Balm came in the form of a very convenient deodorant-like stick, works better when rubbed around for complete coverage. (It also comes in a tin.)

Though mosquitoes still got quite close to me they did not bite except in areas I didn’t apply the balm. In fact, the second time I used it (after I read to rub it around) I didn’t get a single bite even though I watched mosquitoes flying around there, too. Plus, it made my skin nice and soft, which I’m attributing to the olive oil.

Verdict: I loved it! (though my husband did not; he did not like that mosquitoes still swarmed nearby, unlike with strong concentrations of DEET).

Other Natural Bug-Repelling Products:

Bumble & Bee Organic brand 100% Organic Bug Spray contains soybean oil and eucalyptus and lemongrass essential oils—that’s it. It gets great reviews, and though I haven’t tried it myself I do know that soybean oil is used as active ingredients in products such as Ortho Eco Sense brand Indoor Insect Killer.

California Baby brand Bug Repellant Spray rely on citronella, lemongrass, and cedar oils to keep away insects, and the company is known for its baby-safe products.

What This Tells Me:

If I’m in the woods or in the yard and I won’t be holding a baby I’ll probably use a lemon eucalyptus oil based product such as Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent which I purchased from REI. However, anywhere else—and always on and around children under three—I’ll use my very convenient Badger Anti-Bug Balm or another gentle, natural formula.

Next article: What the DEET? Safely Repelling Mosquitos (Part III) – Part III will focus on disposal of unused DEET repellents

Works Cited

Environmental Protection Agency. (2000, April). d-Menthane-3,8-diol (011550) Fact Sheet. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from Pesticides: Regulating Pesticides:

Fassa, L. (2008). Green Babies, Sage Moms: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Your Organic Baby. New York: New American Library.

Serafini, M. (2002, May 16). Letter from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from Cornell University Pesticide Management Education Program:

Stephens, S. H. (2011, June 3). How To Find Effective, Safe Bug Spray. Practically Green Newsletter .

What the DEET? : Safely Repelling Mosquitos (Part I)

DEET or West Nile: Is There a Safe Option?

My husband and I met a couple of friends at the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis in Forest Park. It was a lovely summer evening, perfect temperatures, slight breeze, colorful characters, fresh lemonade, and Taming of the Shrew. I especially enjoyed the part when our friends’ dog, otherwise quiet and docile, suddenly rushed after two ducks waddling nearby, sending the ducks low-flying across the audience mid-play. It was almost perfect—if only the mosquitoes would leave us alone!

As I readied for the evening pre-play I knew the mosquitoes in the lake-laden Forest Park would be a challenge to the point of disrupting our enjoyment of Taming of the Shrew, but I had already promised myself I wouldn’t use DEET. This was the first time this season I would need to consider using bug repellant. What was in my closet?


DEET bug repellantsThe first bottle I pulled was an orange aerosol can of unscented OFF! brand Insect Repellant, 14.25% N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, aka DEET. I quickly recognized the can as several years old and unused since; I long ago realized the obvious dangers of haphazardly spraying pesticides, which are usually poisons, into the air.

The second bottle I pulled was a blue pump bottle of Deep Woods Sportsmen OFF! I had purchased for our honeymoon to the rainforests of Costa Rica. I remember I didn’t want to buy more DEET but I felt I didn’t have enough time to research alternative options before venturing in the rainforest, so I purchased a pump which I felt would have a more direct application than an aerosol and put less of the poison into the air. But, since I was planning to venture deep into the rainforest, I purchased Deep Woods Sportsman, 25% DEET.

The third bottle I pulled was a friendly looking clear bottle with an orange lid and a family on the front: OFF! Brand Skintastic Family Unscented insect repellant. This one targeted families so it must be safer, right? DEET content: 7%.

The last thing I pulled from our closet was a small stick of Badger Anti-Bug Balm which I had purchased last fall from the nearby Green Earth Grocery. The Badger Balm contained no DEET; instead it used castor oil, citronella, cedar, lemongrass, rosemary, and geranium oils in a carrier of extra virgin olive oil and beeswax to repel bugs. It was also USDA Certified Organic. I had used this balm a couple of times last fall with inconclusive results. Was I willing to test the effectiveness of this natural repellant while sitting in the nesting zone of mosquitoes for two and a half hours? Is DEET such a big deal, anyway?

DEET: The Skinny

DEET, chemical name N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, is used in many insect repellents to help consumers avoid biting bugs such as mosquitoes (carriers of malaria and West Nile virus) and ticks (carriers of Lyme Disease-causing bacteria). According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army developed DEET in 1946, and the chemical is currently approved (after a re-assessment in 1998) for skin application by consumers in formulations containing 4-100% DEET. The EPA says that, as human exposure is expected to be brief and long-term exposure is not expected and as long as consumers follow label directions and take proper precautions, they believe DEET does not present a health concern to the general population.

Of course, it’s up to the consumer to figure out who is and isn’t part of the “general population” and what actions and timeframes include “proper precautions” and “brief exposure.”

Interesting, because the EPA also tells us, “There is no safe level of pesticides,” merely acceptable risk.

According to Lynda Fassa, author of Green Babies, Sage Moms, lab tests on animals at Duke University revealed “frequent and prolonged exposure to DEET causes serious brain-cell death and behavioral changes,” and, according to the study researchers, consumers should “use DEET with caution, especially [on] children who are more vulnerable to brain defects that prolonged exposure to DEET causes.”

Furthermore, The Pesticide Information Project  (of Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, and University of California at Davis) says, “(DEET is) beneficial as insect repellents, but have also been associated with dermal and neurological reactions in humans.” Furthermore, in addition to serious skin irritations, “Everglades National Park employees having extensive DEET exposure were more likely to have insomnia, mood disturbances and impaired cognitive function than were lesser exposed co-workers.”

The Pesticide Information Project also cites several cases of toxic encephalopathy associated with DEET use on children, the first involving a 3 and a half year-old girl “whose body, bedclothes and bedding were sprayed each night for two weeks with an insect repellent containing 15% DEET.” This and other cited cases of toxic encephalopathy “was characterized by agitation, weakness, disorientation, ataxia, seizures, coma and in three cases resulted in death.” Two of the deaths included autopsies showing edema of the brain, with one case presenting necrotic lesions in the cerebellum and spinal cord and an enlarged liver with “microscopic changes.”

What does this tell me?

I may choose, on rare occasions, to use very low levels of DEET (5% or less, as suggested by the Pesticide Information Project) if I have to—and if there is absolutely no chance I am pregnant—but I would never use DEET on my children or while expecting or trying to conceive. The risk to the brain development of the fetus or my child is not worth the convenience of readily available DEET, especially when other options are available, as I’ll discuss in my next post.

Next article: What the DEET? Safely Repelling Mosquitos (Part II) – Part II will focus on safe and effective DEET alternatives 

Works Cited

Environmental Protection Agency. (2007, March 23). The Insect Repellant DEET. Retrieved May 31, 2011, from Pesticides: Topical and Chemical Fact Sheets:

Fassa, L. (2008). Green Babies, Sage Moms: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Your Organic Baby. New York: New American Library.

Pesticide Information Project of Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, and University of California at Davis. (1997, October). Pesticide Information Profile: DEET. Retrieved May 31, 2011, from E X T O X N E T:


Shoo, Fly, Don’t Bother Me, Because I Really Don’t Want to Spray Chemicals in My Home

comic by Geek And Poke: Fruit FliesHow Do I Get Rid of Fruit Flies Without Using Chemicals?

I noticed a week ago that a few fruit flies were buzzing around some herb seedings which my husband planted and which we kept inside our house. They hadn’t found my worm bin yet but I knew that if they did their population would sky-rocket.

Yesterday I had to admit they found it.

It seemed like more fruit flies were around even though a few days earlier my husband had replanted the seedlings outside. I noticed they were zooming around a plant I kept in our kitchen window. Then I looked down.

I swear they attacked my face. Fruit flies were zooming everywhere and a few knocked into my face! They’re prolific but not the smartest creatures, are they?

I was really disgusted. Frustrated and with a bad attitude, I sat next to the bin for a good ten minutes on the hunt. I waited for a fly to get near and then I would swat at it with a wet hand (it’s easier to catch fruit flies when your hand is wet). When I realized my effort was not the most effective I tore myself away, washed the dozen flies off my hand while attempting not to look at them, and scrubbed my hands with all the vigor I could.

Maybe I need a timeout.

I hate fruit flies. I’ve dealt with them before, usually in the summer months when my fridge is full and I have fruit in a basket on the table. Once in college I had a hyacinth plant in which fruit flies made a home. Rather than deal with the flies I tossed out the plant, and they quickly dies out when I removed the fruit and kept crumbs off the table. But how do I get rid of flies living in and around a bin of moist earth and food scraps?

I did not want to use chemicals, especially around the worms, so I went online for answers. I had visited Red Worm Composting before for answers so I visited there first, but I found that other sites basically said the same thing.

Three Steps to Getting Rid of Fruit Flies

  1. Find the source of the infestation and remove all food sources. Is a garbage can sitting full? Empty it. Do you have old bananas in the pantry? Eat them or wash and cover them. If you have a worm bin, remove any undigested food scraps until the fruit flies are gone. Also make sure there aren’t other food sources nearby such as crumbs on the floor or a dirty garbage disposal.
  2. Vacuum all the adults you see. This helps keep egg layers from laying more eggs and is a very effective step in crashing your fruit fly population. Keep a vacuüm nearby for the next few days so you can suck up the adults as you see more.
  3. Make apple cider vinegar traps. Pour some apple cider vinegar into a bowl or cup and add a drop of dish soap. (The soap decreases the surface tension of the water.) Cover the container with plastic wrap and poke a few holes for the flies to enter. It’s amazing how well this works. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar you can use a sweet-smelling alcohol, too. As a matter of fact, El Trapiche, the organic coffee and sugar cane plantation I visited in Costa Rica, used similar traps for beetles; they hung two cups, one inside the other with a bit of space between the two, from trees and filled the bottom cup with guaro, a slightly sweet alcohol distilled from sugar cane. Place the container near the source of flies. Depending on the size of the problem you may want to use multiple traps.

The most important thing is to take these steps as soon as you notice fruit flies in your home.

Immediately after taking these steps I noticed a huge difference in the number of visible flies, now temporarily at zero (I’m very thorough). I also made sure my bin had plenty of bedding by adding a bit more shredded newspaper on top (I vacuumed a bit of it in my effort to get every last adult fly).

Though in my frustration I gave them an extra day of breeding, today I have high hopes that the fruit flies will be completely gone in a few days.

By the way, if you feel like you have little flies crawling all over your scalp and body when you’re finished (like me, eek!), take a shower. Even though the problem is most likely in your head your skin and scalp follicles will feel much more normal and your brain will know those pests are gone!

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