Experts say insect-repellent clothing can keep you bug-free this summer

You might want to ditch your citronella candles for protection you can wear.
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By Jillian Ortiz

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Summer is finally in full effect, which means many of us are likely spending more time in our own backyards or on the campground. Barbecues and late-night campfires with family might be on your summer agenda, but these outdoor activities can bring some uninvited guests in the form of pesky bugs.

Though citronella candles and bug sprays are the most traditional means of keeping pests away during the warmer months, it might be time to consider adding some insect-repelling clothing to your summer wardrobe. Many brands are now offering clothing items that promise to keep bugs away, so we reached out to experts to find out how they work.

How does insect-repellent clothing work?

Insect-repellent clothing is treated with permethrin, an insecticide that has been registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for more than 40 years and is the only repellent used to treat factory clothing. You'll often find these clothes labeled as having "No Fly Zone" or "Insect Shield" fabrics.

Kevin Chan, in-house entomologist for national pest control leader Mosquito Squad, told Shop TODAY that Permethrin-treated clothing acts as a contact irritant and is commonly used for camping gear and even military uniforms to help keep bugs away.

Though it can be an investment, the use of permethrin-treated clothing has proven to be very effective in protecting against bugs.

"It repels all flying insects in addition to ticks, and this method of protection is endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)," said David Brown, technical advisor of the American Mosquito Control Association.

How effective is insect-repellent clothing?

Immo Hansen, principal researcher of The Hansen Lab at New Mexico State University (which performs research in the molecular biology of mosquitoes), put insect-repellent clothing to the test in a study on permethrin-treated clothing — and the results were impressive.

"We tested Insect Shield fabrics and found them highly effective in preventing the covered area from being bitten by mosquitoes," Hansen told Shop TODAY.

When applied properly, permethrin binds to the fabric of the treated clothing items, so it can last for plenty of washes without faltering in efficacy, according to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC). The tight binding also means that the insecticide will not be absorbed by the skin, but the EPA recommends washing permethrin-treated clothing separately from non-treated clothing.

Will you still need bug spray?

While bug repellent clothing is an effective shield against insects, experts suggest coupling permethrin-treated clothing with the use of an insect repellent for even better protection.

"It is important to also use an EPA-registered repellent since the permethrin-treated clothing does not protect exposed skin," Chan said.

When looking for a good bug spray, there are a few key ingredients to keep in mind.

"A very effective and very safe active ingredient in spray-on repellents is also one of the oldest ones — DEET," Hansen said. "Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is a very effective ‘natural active ingredient.'"

If you're looking to upgrade your summer wardrobe with some insect-repellent clothing, we found several top-rated options that can help keep bugs away.

Women's insect-repellent clothing

1. L.L. Bean Women's Insect Shield Long-Sleeve Field Tee

L.L. Bean offers a variety of insect-repellent clothing, and this long-sleeve tee is both stylish and effective.

"We utilize the two most prominent technologies – No Fly Zone and Insect Shield – which incorporate the same active ingredient, permethrin (0.52%), that is bonded to the fabric and stabilized to last on the garment for more than 70 launderings," a representative for the brand told Shop TODAY.

2. ExOfficio Women's BugsAway Lumen Hoodie

This lightweight hoodie features Insect Shield technology that repels ticks, mosquitoes, ants and more. More than half of its reviews are from verified purchasers that awarded it the full five stars. "Very lightweight material. Perfect for my needs," one reviewer wrote. "Did a great job repelling the mosquitoes."

3. Orvis Women's Outsmart Tech Tee

Available in three different styles, this tee provides both Insect Shield protection and protection from UV rays thanks to its UPF 30 fabric. The fabric is also moisture-wicking, so you can keep cool on warm summer days.

4. Craghoppers NosiLife Sydney Hooded Top

You can snag the grey marl version of this insect-repellent hoodie on sale for more than 30% off in six different sizes. Aside from acting as an insect-repellent, the fabric also boasts antibacterial properties.

5. Solstice Apparel Women's Insect Repellent Long Sleeve Hooded Tee

Amazon's choice for permethrin-treated clothing for women, this hooded top features No Fly Zone technology and is also UPF treated to provide protection from the sun. The cotton-blend fabric is breathable and stretches with your body as you move.

6. Toad & Co Women's Debug Swifty Breathe Quarter-Zip Sweater

This quarter-zip is perfect for the summer thanks to its Insect Shield fabric, UPF 25+ and odor-control technologies. It features a convenient side pocket to hold the essentials, as well as cuffs with thumb holes for extra coverage.

7. ExOfficio Women's BugsAway Impervia Legging

These versatile leggings are comfortable (and fashionable) enough to wear in your backyard or on the campground. Also made with Insect Shield technology that can last up to 70 washes, these leggings can protect you from mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and other pesky insects. Even better? The fabric is also made with UPF 50 protection and odor eliminating ions for added peace of mind.

8. L.L. Bean Women's No Fly Zone Pants

These permethrin-treated pants are a bestseller from L.L. Bean and can quickly transform into functional shorts by simply unzipping the bottoms. The wrinkle-free pants also feature an elasticized waistband for added comfort.

Men's insect-repellent clothing

1. Mossy Oak Men's Performance Shirt with Insect Repellent

This long-sleeve top features both No Fly Zone technology and UV protection. The polyester-blend fabric keeps moisture at a minimum and also allows for easy movement.

2. Solstice Apparel Men's Insect-Repellent Long-Sleeve Shirt

The sleeves on this 4.5-star rated top are adjustable and can be folded to meet the wearer's desired length. The vented mesh makes for comfortable all-day wear, and No Fly Zone technology keeps bugs away no matter what the day brings.

"Bought for my husband; super lightweight, great quality, seems to keep the bugs away and looks great too," one verified reviewer wrote.

3. Craghoppers Men's NosiLife Cargo Trouser

These protective pants feature plenty of pockets for added convenience and boast many of the same qualities as other protective gear on this list. They're permethrin-treated, quick-drying, antibacterial and offer UPF 50+ protection.

4. Toad & Co Men's DeBug Solaer Hoodie

This lightweight hoodie is treated with Insect Shield and odor-control technologies. It can be worn alone or used as an outer layer on summer nights to protect from mosquitoes and other insects.

5. ExOfficio BugsAway Men's Tarka Long-Sleeve

This simple long-sleeve is functional and easy to style. Since it is made with Insect Shield technology, it can protect you from insects for up to 70 washes while also providing UV protection.

6. L.L. Bean Men's Insect Shield Field Tee

If you prefer short sleeves, this inexpensive tee provides the same protection from insects in a variety of colors and sizes. However, without the long sleeves, an external repellent will still need to be applied to exposed areas for maximum protection.

7. L.L. Bean Men's No Fly Zone Shirt

Another bestseller from L.L. Bean's insect-repellent selection, this shirt features adjustable sleeves for a custom fit. The functional top also provides UV protection that can block up to 98% of the sun's rays while the breathable fabric keeps you cool.

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