10 Tips to Avoid Tick Bites

Wood Tick, Dermacentor variabilis, (aka Dog Tick, American Dog Tick, Hard Tick). Adult Female tick on human skin. Northern Ontario, Canada.
S.J. Krasemann / Getty Images

Finding an engorged tick on your body is never fun. Ticks carry diseases, which might make you think twice before your next hike into the woods. You don't have to avoid the outdoors, though. Your first line of defense is avoiding their bites. Follow these 10 tips to avoid ticks—and, more importantly, tick bites—when you head outdoors.

Why Ticks Pose a Serious Health Danger 

Unlike chiggers, cockroaches, and bedbugs, ticks are much more than a nuisance. They can carry and transmit several serious diseases that, untreated, can be debilitating or, in rare cases, even deadly. Not all ticks carry all tick-borne diseases, but of course, it's better to be safe than sorry. If you are in areas with brush or grass at temperatures above freezing, you are at risk of tick bites. 

According to the CDC, many different types of ticks located all over the United States carry disease. Tick-borne diseases include but are not limited to:

  • Lyme disease—a disorder that can cause a wide range of serious symptoms ranging from joint disorders to heart issues
  • Heartland virus
  • Rocky Mountain heartland fever
  • Tick-borne relapsing fever
  • Tularemia

Once you have a tick-borne disease, it can become chronic. Even after treatment, many people have residual symptoms from tick-borne diseases.

About Anti-Tick Pesticides and Repellents

DEET and permethrin are the two most effective pesticides against ticks. In combination with long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts, they can help protect you from ticks. It's important to know that:

  • DEET is a completely different chemical compound from DDT. It has been tested and found to be safe when used according to instructions. It is very important, however, that it not be ingested.
  • Permethrin is a potent pesticide but does carry some risks. Typically, permethrin is used on clothing, boots, and other outerwear. It should not be used on the skin.
  • Veterinary products such as Advantage and Frontline can be applied monthly to cats and dogs and do a very good job of minimizing pest infestations (including ticks). Pet shampoos and coat treatments are likely to be less effective and much messier.

Tips for Avoiding Tick Bites

1. Use a product with 20 percent DEET or higher on both skin and clothing.

Carefully apply the repellent by hand to your face, neck, and ears, avoiding your eyes or mouth. Adults should apply DEET products to young children, and it's important to warn children not to touch their skin. You may need to reapply DEET products after several hours.

2. Apply permethrin to clothing, hiking boots, tents, and camp chairs.

Permethrin products should never be used on skin. It remains effective on clothing through several washings. Permethrin is sold under the names Permanone and Duranon. You can use permethrin on your own clothing, but if you're expecting to need tick-proof clothing on a regular basis you may want to invest in pretreated clothing such as the line of gear sold by Ex-Officio. The treatment lasts up to 70 washings.​

3. Wear light-colored clothing.

You'll have a better chance of seeing a dark tick crawling on you before it makes its way to your skin.

4. Wear long pants and tuck them into your socks. 

Tuck your pant legs into your socks, and keep your shirt tucked into your waistband. In areas where ticks are abundant, consider using rubber bands or even duct tape to create a tick-proof barrier at your cuffs.

5. Don't forget to treat your pet.

Dogs often accompany their humans on the trail, and they are just as likely to attract ticks as you are. Fortunately, once-a-month treatments such as Advantage can keep ticks at bay with relatively little fuss.

6. Stay on the trail.

Ticks are usually found in brush and high vegetation, waiting for a passing host. When your leg brushes through the vegetation, the tick transfers to your body. Walk on designated trails and avoid blazing your own trail through meadows or other grassy or brush-covered areas. 

7. Avoid tick-infested places.

In some places, ticks may be too abundant to avoid, even with the best repellents and long pants. If you venture a few feet into a wooded area or field and find your legs covered with ticks, turn around.

8. Be vigilant—do a daily tick check.

Strip down and search all those places that ticks love to hide: in your hair, under your arms, between your legs, behind the knees, and even in your belly button. Remember that some ticks are tiny, so you will have to look carefully. Ask a friend to check your back, neck, and back of your legs.

9. Put your clothes in the dryer, and tumble them on high heat.

Research shows many ticks can make it through the washing machine, even when you wash in hot water. Most ticks will die during a cycle in the hot, dry air of your clothes dryer, though.

10. Check your pets and your kids before letting them loose in the house.

Ticks can easily drop off of pets and children onto carpets or furniture. Then they can wait there for days for a human being or pet to come along. Be sure to check both pets and children after time outdoors.