We routinely use bug spray when we're outside, but with me being pregnant (Zika!) and a toddler who spends tons of time outside (and reacts terribly to bug bites), we really need a way to eliminate the mosquitoes in our yard. We've tried the tiki torches with citronella fuel in the past, and they didn't make a dent in our mosquito problem! Last year we considered various options to control the mosquitoes - everything from paying a regular professional mosquito spraying service (which runs $150-200/month in our area) to having a mosquito misting system installed (starting around $1,500-2,000, plus $200-300/month in misting solution). Given the sizeable price tags of these options, we decided to start with a cheaper DIY option to see how it worked - and luckily, it worked out great and we saved a bunch of money over the professional options.
I've already stocked up on supplies for this year, and we did our first application last weekend. Here's what we use:
1. Cutter Backyard Spray Concentrate
I think this spray makes the biggest overall difference in the number of mosquitoes in our yard - and luckily, it is easy to apply and super affordable. The bottle of concentrated spray screws onto the end of a garden hose and you simply spray it around your yard - grass, plants, flower beds, even the patio surface. We have a fairly small yard and one bottle is enough to do both our front and back yards. Make sure to do it AFTER mowing the grass so maximize the effectiveness. We do try to avoid spraying the plastic Little Tikes/Fisher Price toys in our yard (water table, picnic table, slide, etc.) to limit the direct contact our toddler has with the solution.
It runs less than $9 per bottle and we re-apply every 2-3 weeks - every 3 weeks in spring/early fall; every 2 weeks in peak summer mosquito season. We notice a HUGE difference once we pass the 3-week mark. I just ordered 6 bottles on Amazon, which I expect should last us through most of this year's mosquito season. $50-60 for the whole summer is much more affordable than the other options we considered!!
2. Skeeter Screen Patio Egg Diffuser
We have 4 of these patio eggs around our back patio (where we spend the most time outside). One of our favorite local restaurants has one of these on every single table on their outdoor patio! Although these do not actually kill mosquitoes like the spray above, it does a good job of repelling them from the immediate surrounding area. It comes with a ceramic egg-shaped diffuser, a hanging net, and a bottle of the diffuser oil. You simply pour the designated amount of diffuser oil into the top of the egg (using the measuring cup provided) and it is slowly absorbed into the porous material of the egg. The oil smells kind of like citronella - it doesn't bother us. The bottom of the egg is coated with something to allow you to place it on furniture without the oil leaking through, but we use the (included) hanging net to hang the eggs from the eaves of our patio so they're out of reach of our toddler (both from a breaking-the-egg and a drinking-the-oil perspective). When you stop smelling the oil, it's time to refill - in the heat of Texas summers, this is once every 2 weeks.
We invested in the diffuser kits last summer, which run about $15-16 each, so this year we will just have to buy refill oil for our existing eggs. The bottles of refill oil are 8 oz, which is twice the size of the bottle that comes in the kit, so they last a while (about 10 individual egg refills). For some reason both the patio eggs and refill oil are hard to find locally (only a specialty garden store by my house sells it), so I tend to order on Amazon to save a special errand. This was a $60-70 upfront investment for the 4 patio eggs last summer, and I expect that we'll spend $30-40 on refill oil this summer.
3. Bug Spray
In addition to the preventative measures above, we also use bug spray when we're going to be outside. I initially liked the OFF Family Care Smooth and Dry spray since it goes on dry and non-greasy (and smells good!), but then I had several bottles that clogged up after the first use and had to be thrown away - and bug spray isn't cheap! It turns out the "dry" feature involves cornstarch, which frequently clogs up the whole container and renders it useless (I tried lots of methods to unclog it to no avail!) Since then, I've switched to unscented OFF Family Care in the non-aerosol bottle, which goes on wet but is (mostly) unscented and the bottle doesn't clog! It's only 7% DEET (compared to the 15% DEET in the Smooth and Dry format), so I use it when we're only going to be outside for an hour or so (drawing with chalk, playing with the water table, swinging). I like the non-aerosol bottle for the diaper bag since it has a cap and won't accidentally spray the inside of your bag like the aerosol can will (speaking from experience!)
If we're going to be outside for an extended period of time (backyard dinner party, playing outside all afternoon), I use OFF Active (15% DEET), which goes on wet AND has the typical insect-repellent smell (which I'm not a fan of), but it is effective :) We have tried lots of "natural"/essential-oil-based bug sprays and they are just not as effective as those with DEET (our pediatrician and the AAP agree). Although DEET use is controversial, we make sure to always bathe and wash it off our skin before going to bed and avoid spraying it directly on hands that might end up in mouths!
Since we're expecting a summer baby this year and bug sprays shouldn't be used on infants, we're relying on the preventative measures outlined above and mosquito netting to keep the baby bite-free. We bought this stroller mosquito net a few years back and it has worked well on our BOB jogging stroller.