If you aren't a fan of applying insect repellent to your skin, or it just may not be effective enough in areas crawling with ticks or swarming with mosquitoes, purchasing Insect Shield Repellent Apparel is another option. Insect Shield uses a special process to bind the pesticide permethrin to clothing fibers. The manmade chemical permethrin is similar to one found in chrysanthemum plants, which naturally repel insects. It is actually a contact pesticide that not only repels insects but kills them on contact.
All pesticides sold in the United States must undergo testing to assess their risk to humans and the environment. Permethrin has been registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as safe to use since 1979. This pesticide is commonly used by professionals and homeowners to kill insects, and to a lesser extent on crops (it's toxic to aquatic organisms). Permethrin is also found in lice shampoo and flea dips for dogs.
Permethrin is the only pesticide registered by the EPA for treatment of fabrics. Since 2003, Insect Shield has been registered as safe to use by the EPA, which certifies that the repellent treatment should last for up to 70 washings (the lifetime of a typical garment). You should not dry clean Insect Shield Repellent Apparel, however, to avoid reducing the effectiveness of the permethrin. According to the manufacturer of Insect Shield, permethrin will also remain effective on clothing stored for 10 years.
The EPA says apparel with Insect Shield is effective at repelling mosquitoes, flies, ticks, ants, chiggers and no-see-ums. Permethrin-treated clothing feels and smells like other garments (permethrin is odorless), and there's no hassle with applying and reapplying it like the bug repellers covered in our insect repellents report. Insect repellents containing DEET also need to be washed off the skin after returning indoors, which is another inconvenience. Studies conducted by the EPA showed that there is little concern for cancer or skin irritation from wearing permethrin-treated clothing. In fact, military uniforms are commonly made with permethrin-treated fabric as protection from insect-borne diseases, and soldiers have had no ill effects from wearing these garments daily.
Everyday outdoor apparel with Insect Shield is made by ExOfficio under the Bugsaway brand. They sell shirts, pants, socks, hats and bandanas with Insect Shield. If you wear shorts or a short-sleeve shirt treated with Insect Shield®, you should still apply one of the bug repellents in our insect repellents report to exposed skin for the best protection from biting insects. Although a pair of khaki pants, for example, is quite expensive at $90, you might spend even more than that on insect repellents sprays and lotions for all-day protection over the course of several months. At Amazon.com, one user who wore Bugsaway pants long-sleeved T-shirt and socks "had no ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes or bug problems of any kind," while working in the North Carolina woods. Customers at the Exofficio site recommend the long-sleeve shirt for fishing, and one reviewer says it provided very effective protecting against insects in Ethiopia.
In addition to clothing, Insect Shield is used in outdoor gear, such as tents, camp chairs and sleeping bags. The manufacturer of Insect Shield says permethrin will remain effective on gear that's exposed to six months of outdoor weather, and washable items will retain the permethrin for about 25 launderings. You might also consider buying Sawyer Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent (*Est. $8.50 for 6 oz.) and applying it to clothing and gear yourself; however, you must make sure the garment or gear dries completely before touching the treated material, as permethrin is not safe to use on the skin.