How to Avoid Chigger Bites

Three Parts: Avoiding Areas with Chiggers * Keeping Chiggers Off Your Body *Keeping a Chigger-Free Yard

Chiggers, or red bugs, are not insects, but rather the larva of mites. Chiggers can be found in outdoor areas similar to those inhabited by ticks. Unlike tick bites, chigger bites are unlikely to carry a disease. They are, however, itchy and long lasting.  You can avoid chigger bites by taking certain precautions when spending time outdoors. Chiggers are usually too small to be seen with the naked eye, so getting to know the habitat and behaviors of chiggers is the best way to avoid their bites.

Part 1

Avoiding Areas with Chiggers

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    Avoid spots where chiggers are commonly found. In the United States, chiggers are most common in the humidity of the Southeast and the Midwest. Chiggers thrive on warmth and moisture. Avoid walking through brush, tall grass, and weeds. Avoid marshes, swamps, and wooded habitats with rotting leaves and stick piles.

    • Chiggers often wait in the underbrush and low shrubs to attach to small animals, which are their natural hosts. Stay away from bushes and vines that might brush against your body and deposit chiggers.
    • Chiggers rarely move very far from the sites where they hatch, resulting in patches of chiggers in damp and warm areas.
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    Sit strategically. Avoid sitting or lying directly on the ground during the summer months. Instead, bring a folding chair or blanket to spread beneath you. Avoid perching on stumps or logs. Instead, sit on an object that is dry and hot, such as a rock that is warm from the sun.
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    Plan activities when chiggers are least active. Chiggers are most likely to bite in the afternoons of the spring and summer, when the ground temperature is between 77–86 °F (25–30 °C). They become inactive below 60 °F (15.6 °C), and die when the temperature drops below 42 °F (5.6 °C). During chigger season, plan outdoor excursions when the weather is cool or dry.
Part 2

Keeping Chiggers Off Your Body

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    Dress to prevent chigger bites. Wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves when in a chigger habitat. Tightly woven fabric with minimal openings provide the most protection. Tuck your shirt into your pants to keep your skin from being exposed, as chiggers often target the waistband area.  Chiggers also target the thin skin on your ankles, around your crotch, under your arms, and behind your knees, so keep those areas covered.

    • Wear shoes and socks to avoid chigger bites on the feet and ankles. If you will be in a particularly high-risk area for chigger bites, such as a marsh or swamp, tuck your pants into a pair of high socks to prevent chiggers crawling onto the ankle.
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    Use a bug repellent as a barrier. Buy an insect repellent containing diethyl meta-toluamide (DEET) or Permethrin at any store that sells camping supplies. Spray an insect repellent that contains DEET around the tops of your socks, your waist, and at your ankles to keep chiggers from getting under your clothes.

    • DEET may be applied to clothing or skin, but should be washed from the skin as soon as possible. Spray a repellent that contains Permethrin on your clothes only.
    • Carefully follow the instructions when using Permethrin and DEET. Permethrin can cause burning or itching if it comes into contact with your skin, and DEET can do the same if left on the skin for hours. DEET and Permethrin are not classified as carcinogenic or non-carcinogenic to humans.
    • Look for lotions and sprays that advertise repelling chiggers or red bugs specifically, in addition to ticks (more about ticks here) and mosquitoes.
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    Apply sulfur. If you are wary of the chemicals in DEET and Permethrin, you can try dusting your clothing with sulfur powder. It will, however, smell like rotten eggs. Powdered sulfur can be purchased at any pharmacy, nursery, or feed store.
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    Shower after exposure. Take a warm shower or bath soon after having been in a potential chigger habitat to wash off any chiggers that may have attached to your body. Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not burrow under the skin, and can be easily brushed or washed off the body. Thoroughly rubbing your skin with a towel also helps dislodge chiggers.

    • Wash your clothing after tromping through chigger territory. You will want to clean any lingering mites off your clothing, as well as any repellent you have applied.
Part 3

Keeping a Chigger-Free Yard

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    Keep outdoor areas well-groomed. Mow long grass to cut down on chigger-infested foliage. Keeping your grass short allows sun to penetrate your lawn, drying out the grass and dirt. Chiggers thrive in moisture and avoid high heat.
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    Treat your lawn with a mild insecticide. Apply a few ounces of dish soap in a gallon of water to areas near bushes to curb the populations of chiggers and other pest populations. Use chemical pesticides containing permethrin, cyfluthrin, diazinon,and carbaryl sparingly, as they may wipe out healthy insect and animal populations.
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    Discourage rodents. Chiggers live on rodents and small animals that live in brush and woodpiles. Remove any brush and wood debris from your yard. Use gardening gloves and wash your skin with soapy water after working. Put up a fence if you have a serious chigger-host problem.

    • Secure the lids of your trash cans to discourage visits from small animals.
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