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Does Insect Repellent Clothing Really Work?

Learn about Insect Shield®—an exciting technology that stops biting bugs in their tracks.
By Brian Gordon, Last edited: 6/17/2019
By Brian Gordon, Last edited: 6/17/2019

About the Technology

Simms BugStopper Guide shirt

Adjusting a fishfinder mount becomes a lot easier when you are not slapping bugs. Shown is the Simms BugStopper® Guide Shirt with Insect Shield®.

If your adventures on the water take you into buggy environments, you are probably familiar with how a pack of hungry, aggressive mosquitos or no-see-ems can put a damper on your fun. Paddling a kayak or casting for bass while these pests have a picnic on your face can be vexing indeed!

Insects Pose Risks

Along with the discomfort and aggravation that insect pests cause, they also transmit disease. In the case of mosquitos, these diseases include Zika, Dengue, Malaria, Yellow fever and West Nile virus. Ticks are well-documented vectors for Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. According to the Center for Disease Control, 2014 saw almost 25,000 cases of Lyme disease alone! Given these facts, when spending time in the wilderness or outdoors, it is imperative to keep insect pests at bay.

Limiting Your Exposure Helps

There are a number of steps you can take to make yourself less attractive to insects. You can of course protect exposed skin areas with a variety of insect repellents. These are available as a cream or aerosol spray. In addition to protecting exposed skin areas, aerosol repellents can be applied directly to clothing, with reapplication necessary after several washings. Aside from the temporary effectiveness of repellents, many people object to their smell. To limit the need for an insect repellent, you can reduce your exposure by wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants in lieu of shorts, but as some of us, including this author have experienced, mosquitos can be extremely aggressive, and in certain locales have mastered the feat of threading their needle-like snouts through the weave of a pair of jeans!

This brings us to Insect Shield® technology, which is now available in recreational apparel.

What Is Insect Shield®?

Insect Shield® is an Environmental Protection Agency registered process first developed in 1996 in response to the U.S. Military’s request for a safe, long-lasting, durable way to bond the insect repellent permethrin to uniforms. Permethrin had already been EPA registered since 1979 as a safe and effective insect repellent. After years of research and development, a process was created by which permethrin is tightly bonded to fabric fibers—resulting in effective, odorless insect protection that lasts the expected lifetime of the garment—which Insect Shield® states to be 70 washings. Today, millions of military uniforms include Insect Shield® technology; and this same technology is now available in garments for recreational activities. Among the most popular are the garments we offer by ExOfficio and Simms Fishing Products.

Does Insect Shield® Really Work?

ExOfficio hooded sandfly jacket

ExOfficio’s Hooded Sandfly Jacket with Insect Shield® surrounds this West Marine associate in a lightweight, breathable, insect-repellent mesh.

Yes it does. Proof of this can be seen in knockdown testing. Knockdown testing is a widely accepted scientific method for determining the efficacy of insect repellent treated textiles. Many agencies, including the World Health Organization, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture use this test. A repellent-treated fabric is placed in an enclosed space containing insects for a specified time period, after which the sample is removed and the insects’ reaction documented. The bottom line: After 70 washes, testing shows Insect Shield® treated fabric to be between 80-96 percent effective against mosquitos and between 95-100 percent effective against ticks. Insect Shield® technology has also been proven effective against flies, sandflies, ants, chiggers, midges and fleas.

Is Insect Shield Safe?

Yes. Here is what the United States Environmental Protection Agency says:

“When evaluating these products in the pesticide registration process, we follow normal risk assessment procedures to determine safety. Our 2009 revised exposure and risk assessment evaluated multiple exposure scenarios for permethrin factory-treated clothing, including toddlers wearing or mouthing the clothing, and military personnel who wear permethrin-treated uniforms on a daily basis. All exposure scenarios showed that permethrin factory-treated clothing is unlikely to pose any significant immediate or long-term hazard to people wearing the clothing.”

Does clothing with Insect Shield® wear, look or
feel any different than other outdoor clothing?

The insect-repellent garments that we offer by Simms and ExOfficio deliver the same features and benefits that you would expect in non-treated outdoor wear. For example, the Simms BugStopper® Guide Shirt includes angler-specific features, such as pockets for fly boxes and a sunglass chamois—all in a ventilated, breathable design that will keep you cool and dry during strenuous angling activities. For the ultimate in a breathable mesh design, check out the BugsAway® Sandfly™ Jacket by ExOfficio. Other than the great features built into these garments, the only difference is odorless Insect Shield® technology, that quickly turns ticks belly up and attacking mosquitos dive bombing into the dirt.

Summing Up

Whether you are planning to paddle up the Amazon River or just want to be comfortable at your next outdoor event, it is important to be cognizant of the health risks that insects pose. To limit the risk, consider wearing garments that include Insect Shield® technology. Contracting Lyme disease, West Nile virus or some other insect-borne disease is no laughing matter. While you won’t be able to entirely eliminate the need for topically applied insect repellents, Insect Shield® technology can help greatly in this regard.