Does fire/smoke keep mosquitoes away?


Mosquitoes are some of the worst uninvited guests at any outdoor event. The last thing you need when inviting family and friends over for the evening or a nice cook-out is everyone getting bitten . So, is it true that fire keeps mosquitoes away? If so, what do you need to do and why is it better than chemical sprays or bug zappers? 

Fire and smoke can be an effective mosquito repellent. However, not all types of fires are going to be effective. The main deterrents are smoke and scent. Mosquitoes don’t like to fly around in soot-filled air and dislike certain scents. A scentless and smokeless flame will not be as effective as one that gives off smoke. 

Therefore, is it important to consider some of the pros and cons of different fire-based mosquito repellents, as some will work a lot better than others? Keep the following factors in mind when setting up a fire pit or other solution in your yard. 

  • Smoke-producing fire pits are a better option than gas fires. 
  • The right scent can improve the chances of the fire repelling mosquitoes. 
  • Citronella candles are popular but not always the best approach
  • Alternative solutions with bug zappers and bug sprays are a bad idea. 

Are fire pits better than gas fire for repelling mosquitoes?

To begin with, it is important to understand what it is about fire that mosquitoes don’t like. For us, we see the flames as the most dangerous element because of their destructive power.

For wildlife, smoke can be a more pressing issue. The biggest problem for bugs is the smoke because of the way that the fine particles constrict the air.

The bugs will struggle to survive in this oxygen-depleted air and have difficulties flying through all the debris.

Therefore, you need a fire-pit or campfire situation where you can produce enough smoke to deter bugs from the immediate vicinity. 

Fire pits and outdoor fireplaces with wood materials are perfect because of the type of fuel burned. The level of combustion with wood and plant matter leads to an incomplete burn and the generation of smoke.

Other sources of fire use smokeless fuel, such as a lot of gas fires.

So, if you have one of these installed in an outdoor area, you don’t have to worry about breathing in the smoke, but also won’t be able to deter mosquitoes in the same way. 

What can you burn to deter mosquitoes?

It is possible to improve the efficiency of the smoke by adding scent. There are some scents that we love, such as lemongrass and other herbal aromas that mosquitoes can’t stand.

So, effective scented solutions are a win-win situation. We get a nicer scent and the bugs fly away.

Some types of wood and herbal vegetation will work better in a firepit than others. It can depend on the quality and quantity of the material too. 

There are plenty of natural ingredients that mosquitoes hate.

Sage, rosemary, and eucalyptus all work well and should burn easily on a fire. The two herbs aren’t too hard to come by, especially if you have a good herb garden of your own. All you need to do is take cuttings and burn them on the fire.

You can also dry waste material from pruning your shrubs and keep them for the fire pit. Eucalyptus may be less accessible, but some good eucalyptus logs should have a great effect on the fire and the scent and quality of the smoke. 

One of the more popular options is to use citronella fire logs in fire pits and outdoor fireplaces. They are easy to find, have a good scent, and can help to limit the number of insects flying around.

They are also non-toxic, so fine for use in a family home.

If you don’t want to use citronella logs, there is the option of citronella candles instead. However, these have their pros and cons.

Scented candles vs. fire pits for outdoor mosquito deterrents. 

Scented candles may seem like a good way to use fire to repel mosquitoes. You don’t have to worry about the large-scale fire you get with a fire pit and the smoke produced.

But, you can still burn something and create a scent the mosquitoes hate.

That is why so many people use citronella candles outside. They are affordable and easy to set up. You also get a more gentle and pleasant experience without the hassle of setting up a fire.

Alternative scented candles with eucalyptus and lemongrass could also work well if you can find them.

The problem with scented candles is that they may not be that effective if the scent is mild and there is no smoke.

Smoke is still the biggest deterrent.

You still need to be careful where you set the candles up so they aren’t at risk of being knocked over. Also, make sure they aren’t left unattended.

By comparison, fire pits are much more effective because of the smoke generation and their size.

They are more likely to create enough smoke to see off local bug populations and any addition of scented materials is a bonus. 

Why you should NOT use bug zappers instead of fire-based repellents. 

You may consider the option of a bug zapper for mosquitoes as a way of keeping them at bay. These devices are pretty inexpensive and easy to set up around a patio or porch.

However, they are an ecological nightmare and you should avoid them. For a start, the methods with fire and scent merely repel the mosquitoes and other insects so they go elsewhere and won’t bite anyone.

There is no need to kill them when they are a crucial part of the ecosystem and feed other creatures we love. 

A bigger issue is that these bug zappers are indiscriminate, which means that they will kill anything that lands on them.

This could be a moth, a rare species of fly, or anything else minding its own business. Stick with the non-lethal approach. 

The importance of natural bug repellents over chemical solutions.

Finally, there is the issue of using bug sprays during these social gatherings outside. You might think that an easier option for repelling bugs and mosquitoes is to use a bug spray.

After all, these products are accessible, easy to spray on people and the immediate area, and mosquitoes hate them. The biggest issue here is that bug sprays are highly flammable.

So, if you were to sit out around a fire pit or have a cook-out, you don’t want this sort of substance in close proximity to the flames. There is also the fact that these products are pretty dangerous for humans and animals if they have lots of synthetics and chemicals in them. 

The worst offender is DEET.

This is a dangerous chemical still found in some bug sprays. A study carried out in 2009 showed claims that DEET has the potential to prevent the normal breakdown of acetylcholine.

This is an important chemical in the nervous system that is responsible for movement and muscle activity.

Also, some people that have left DEET on their skin for too long have reported rashes, swelling, and other forms of irritation. This is a big risk for a bug repellent when smoke works just as well.

Of course, sitting downwind of the smoke for long periods isn’t ideal either, but it isn’t too hard to set up a fire pit and seating in a safe manner

Finally, on the topic of natural ways to reduce mosquito numbers, it is a good idea to think about additional ways of limiting mosquito numbers on your property.

Mosquitoes need stagnant water. An aerated pond should be fine, but little pools of water could become breeding grounds. Make the land less attractive to them in the first place. 

Fire with the right scent in the smoke is the best option. 

To summarize, you are much better off going for a solution that is non-lethal and natural for repelling mosquitoes. There is no need to kill them, nor any need to spray hazardous and flammable chemicals everywhere.

Scented candles can work in some situations as long as you are careful with them, but don’t provide the same coverage as a fire pit.

The smoke from a fire pit will do a brilliant job of keeping mosquitoes away while providing the warmth and cozy atmosphere you want from your outdoor social gathering. If you can add scents that mosquitoes hate in the smoke, all the better.

Of course, it is important to be responsible at all times when setting up a fire pit or any other related fire source in your garden.

Make sure that the flames are under control and never unattended. Keep children and animals safe at all times and keep an eye on the weather conditions.

With the right setup and safety precautions, you could find the fire pit allows for bug-free outdoor fun for the whole family.

Mike Pertz

I’m Mike, I’m a full time firefighter/paramedic/diver for a department just west of Cleveland, Ohio and the founder of FirefighterNOW. I’m also a columnist for FireRescue1. If you’re reading this blog my guess is you are interested in the fire service. There's information on fitness, gear, interviews, tests and more. I hope you find what you're looking for.

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