Gear Shed


Do Bug-Repellent Cell Phone Apps Work?

Bug spray seems messy and outdated. Do the apps for Android phones and iPhones really work? What about bug-repellent clothing?

bug repellent

There's got to be a better way. Via Shutterstock     Photo: mrfiza

A:If you’ve followed the Gear Guy column in the last few weeks, you know that I’m a little obsessed with cell phone apps for the wilderness. So when I saw that several popular camping apps claim to repel mosquitoes, I had to put them to the test. For instance, Anti Mosquito - Sonic Repeller from the Pico Brothers has almost a million downloads and thousands of reviews. Mosquito Repellent from Green Mobile has millions and millions of downloads and over 65,000 positive reviews. The idea being that an ultrasonic sound generated from your phone “mimics predators.” You open the app, choose “the optimal repelling frequency” for your area, and then the software makes a powerful high-pitched sound, not audible to humans at most settings. When my kids and I brought the phone into a buggy wooded area, the mosquitoes really did seem to be steering clear of us. And then, when we brought the phone indoors, it really did scare the crap out of our cat.

Sadly, the placebo effect is strong in this one. Several well-designed studies from the last few years show that these apps and other EMRs (electronic mosquito repellents) don’t lower the number of bites to human subjects who held the devices. And, it gets worse. Those initial findings aren’t totally correct. A more recent university study—"Electronic mosquito repellers induce increased biting rates...."—shows that the cell phone apps and other high-frequency noisemakers actually attract mosquitoes to you. Subjects had 33 percent more bites when using the ultrasonic devices.

So the anti-mosquito cell phone apps are effective—just in reverse. On your next outing, if you can induce the partiers in the next campsite to use the app, the bugs will ditch your area and flock to their site.

Or, if you want a more dependable way to prevent bites, put on some bug-repellent clothing. We detail two good options after the jump, shirts from Columbia Sportswear and ExOfficio that have a proven effect on bugs and stay potent for up to 70 washings.

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