Catch a Buzzzzz: Insect Proof Clothing Off The Rack

Nearly all the famous name outdoor retailers are offering "Buzz Off" treated clothing this year: everything from pants to hat. The trademarked "Buzz Off" treated fabric offered is advertised as "repelling" several biting insect types with a natural pesticide originally derived from flowers. TreeHuggers might be wondering if this could be a real blessing or just a reason to buy more "stuff". More questions come to mind: does Buzz Off treatment really "repel" flying bugs; and, must one also wear DEET repellant on bare skin if it does not?Traditional DEET mosquito "repellant", in stores since the late 1950's, does not repell. Instead, it randomizes the flight pattern of approaching mosquitoes by partially de-activating antennae-based heat and C02 receptors. As everyone knows, strong liquid DEET generally smells unpleasant, destroys some paints, dissolves the surface of plastic sunglasses and some synthetic fabrics, makes you feel nauseous if you get it on your lips, and is dreadful to put on first thing in the morning. No one wants a DEET solution on nice clothing (compare to Buzz Off treated clothing which generally is nice to begin with).

Long ago, deep-woods TreeHuggers figured out a good DEET work-around. The general practice is to soak a long sleeved cotton sweatshirt or windbreaker with DEET "repellant" and store in a polyethylene bag. Works best if it's a size too big so the sleeves drape down to the first knuckle level. Also in the bag is a DEET drenched hat with a floppy brim and a cotton neck scarf. Make sure not to soak the inside of the sweat band of the hat as that is in direct skin contact. Especially important if the sweatband is made of plastic.

The obvious shortcoming of the deep-woods trick is that its no good at all on the golf course or outdoor social function. Kids won't comply. And its not likely to be handy when the bugs appear unexpectedly. For these situations the Buzz-Off technology sounds ideal.

The active ingredient in the "Buzz Off" treated fabric is permethrin, a synthetic version of the naturally occuring pyrethroids that are extracted from the East African pyrethrum flower, a chrysanthemum. When a bug flies close to a Kenyan-grown pyrethrum flower it falls limp on the flower almost instantly. If the bug has not fallen on top of the flower, there's a good chance it will recover and crawl/fly off shortly. Gardeners Note: first generation seeds from the African pyrethrum flower, grown in the US, produce blooms with insufficient pyrethrin to have the same bug knockdown effect.

Here are some health effect and precautionary statements from a permethrin material safety data sheet (MSDS), referring to a 1% (dilute) solution coming into direct skin contact.

"Mild skin irritation is possible by overexposure of skin".
"Harmful if swallowed or absorbed through skin".
"Wash thoroughly after handling"
"Remove and wash clothing after use".

For the much stronger 40% permethrin solution of the "Insect Repellant Clothing Application, Kit" for military use, the following warnings statements are offered on the material safety data sheet (MSDS).

"EYE: MAY CAUSE TEARING AND BLURRED VISION.
SKIN: MODERATELY IRRITATING. INHALATION: SHOULD NOT CAUSE PROBLEMS AT
NORMAL TEMPERATURES, BUT THE
INHALATION OF THE VAPORS AT ELEVATED
TEMPERATURES MAY CAUSE NASAL AND RESPIRATORY IRRITATION
. INGESTION: CAN CAUSE IRRITATION OF THE STOMACH AND INTESTINE, POSSIBLY VOMITING.
THIS PRODUCT IS TOXIC TO FISH".

Sound scary? The US Environmental Protection Agency has permitted the Buzz Off commercial clothing application after extensive review. The permethrin used is likely to be micro-encapsulated to retard evaporation and to reduce skin exposure. Keep in mind the relative risk of contracting the mosquito born West Nile Disease or encelphalis, tick borne Lyme disease, and so on. Life in the outdoors is full of risk tradeoffs.

Low concentration permethrin sprays (not the military kind) are sold for consumer clothing application but those sprays would not have lasting efficacy like the Buzz Off treated clothes. Enterprising TreeHuggers may wonder if it would be possible to treat their clothes with a commercial permethrin solution and have it last for many washings.

The US Navy ENVIRONMENTAL AND PREVENTIVE MEDICINE UNIT SIX lists the procedure for long term clothing treatment in their guidance publication. The military guidance document recommends open-air application of a 40% solution strength permethrin product, under direct supervision of a licensed pesticide applicator only.

OK TreeHuggers, since we are looking at fashionable sporting wear for Buzz Off, not uniforms, and because the strong (40%) permethrin solution appears to pose some very nasty hazards with direct liquid exposure, lets forget treating our own clothing for long term repellancy! Its not worth it to avoid having to "embark and dispose of aerosol cans" and save a little money. Caveat: the low strength single use spray might be an ok alternative to buying special purpose repellant fashions.

Repellant? According to an extensive field trial reported at backpackgeartest.org, Buzz Off clothing prevents bug biting through what you wear, but does not help with bare skin per se. There would seem to be little vapor deterrent in the manner of DEET. So...if the Buzz Off branded item looks great and the bugs are not too bad....you decide. Keep in mind that if the mosquitos in particular are bad you'll want some DEET around for exposed skin.

This TreeHugger has a full closet and is going to stay with DEET only for the time being.

by: John Laumer

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