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Treating your Clothes with Permethrin

Permethrin is a pesticide that you spray on clothing to kill black flies, ticks, and mosquitoes but has no harmful side effects on humans if used properly. It is the active ingredient used in Insect Shield and Buzz Off clothing and kills bugs when they land on your clothing. You can buy Permethrin in liquid form and spray it on your own clothes to the same effect. This self-applied form lasts for 4-6 washings. Permethrin was developed by the U.S. military to protect soldiers from insects in the jungle.

You can buy Permethrin on Amazon. A big bottle comes with a spray adapter and will cover 4 complete sets of clothing, including shirts, pants, and socks. You’ll want to read the directions carefully before applying it, but it’s not difficult to do. You need to spray it on the clothes you plan to wear hiking or for any outdoor activity in a windless but well ventilated place like a garage. Let them dry for a few hours and you’re all set.

I’ve been spraying Permethrin on the clothes that I wear for spring and summer hiking in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 10 years. This has included long sleeve shirts, convertible hiking pants, gaiters, and hiking socks. When you spray the Permethrin on, you want to position the sprayer 6 to 8 inches away from the clothing you plan to treat. Pay particular attention to the cuffs of long pants and shirt sleeves where ticks will try to attack you. It’s also a good idea to spray it on your hat or to buy one that’s already been treated with Permethrin like the Outdoor Research Sentinel Brim Hat. 

Permethrin is EPA approved for use as an insect repellent when applied to clothing and other textiles.
Permethrin is EPA approved for use as an insect repellent when applied to clothing and other textiles.

Sawyer’s Permethrin (24 oz) is pre-mixed to the correct concentration so you can apply it to clothing without any preparation. , which is much more economical if you have a large amount of clothing to treat.

I can attest to the effectiveness of Permethrin particularly against mosquitos and ticks. I rarely ever get bitten as long as I wear long-sleeved permethrin-treated shirt and pants when I go hiking in the forest. I love having the sun on my arms and legs as much as the next guy, but I’d rather cover up than catch Lyme disease, which the CDC believes is now 10 times more prevalent than previously reported.

More about Permethrin

As a treatment for clothing, Permethrin clothing insect repellent does not harm fabrics and is odorless after it dries. Use Permethrin on clothing by itself or with skin-applied repellents to create the ultimate protective, armor-like insect barrier. Permethrin-treatments on clothing are non-toxic to humans and are registered for use by the U.S. EPA.

The active ingredient, Permethrin, is a synthetic molecule similar to those found in natural pyrethrum, which is taken from the chrysanthemum flower. Not only does this product repel insects, but will actually kill ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, mites and more than 55 other kinds of insects.

Permethrin insect repellents are for use with clothing, tents, and other gear. During the drying process, it tightly bonds with the fibers of the treated garment. It will not stain or damage clothing, fabrics, plastics, finished surfaces, or any of your outdoor gear.

Permethrin is a insecticide, meaning that kills ticks or other insects when it comes in with them. It uses the same active ingredient used in hair shampoos for head lice. When applied to clothing, the Permethrin binds to the fabric eliminating the risk of over-exposure to the skin. As a clothing, tent, chairs, or sleeping bag application, Permethrin is very effective at keeping ticks from attaching to you and at reducing the mosquito population in your camping area. While ticks usually find you at the ankle level (be sure to treat the socks and pants) they can also climb bushes and find you at a higher level so be sure to treat your shirt as well if you are around bushes and concerned about ticks.

Sweating and exposure to water do not significantly deteriorate the application. It is primarily the agitation of a washing machine, which deteriorates the Permethrin application as it knocks the molecules loose from the fabric. For best results, Sawyer recommends hand washing and air-drying. When using a conventional washer and drier, use the gentle wash and dry cycles. Loss due to the drier is limited compared to the detergent and washer agitation. Dry cleaning removes the Permethrin from the fabric.

Permethrin can last up to six weeks including through six weekly washings. All treatments are non-staining and not greasy. Always follow the directions for use on the package label. Factory pre-treated Permethrin clothing however lasts for 70 washings, and is far more convenient if you don’t want to spray your own clothing.

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  1. It’s actually NOT a natural plant compound, permethrin is a synthetic version of pyrethrin (the natural one).

  2. Oh God yes! And SOCKS! Anything you wear–hats and backpacks too (you can skip your undies but I know a guy who just treated his because he was going to be wearing SHORTS). Can also be applied to tents, camp chairs, sleeping bags, mosquito netting, etc.

  3. After I soaked my clothes, I soaked my tent, hiking shoes, hammock, backpack, etc. The runoff from that was getting a little too dirty for treating clothing so I filtered it through a paint filter to remove debris and put it in a spray bottle for later use. When car camping in tick prone areas, I spray the perimeter of the tent.

  4. I know Sati’s comment is quite old, but in case anyone else wonders, permethrin sprayed on clothing (or gear) lasts 6 weeks or 6 washings.

  5. So how is any product supposed to reach it’s intended target? Magic.
    You worry too much.

  6. I’ll just stick with Sawyer Permethrin. I know it doesn’t dissolve my synthetic clothes, so I doubt it will dissolve my synthetic hammock.

  7. I remember Sawyer said that its permethrin products are specially formulated to stick to clothes.

    So, would DIY permethrin method work just as good?

  8. George Leroy Tirebiter.

    Sawyer products are designed to pick your pocket. This post has been beaten to death.
    Every possible question has been asked repeatedly (no offense). The chances of injury from application of permethrin to your clothes, in any concentration, have to be weighed against the Lyme disease your gonna get if you don’t.
    If some of you are looking for an “organic” way to deter tick bites, there isn’t anything as effective as permethrin.

  9. I’m going camping in the British Virgin Islands in march, so am going to treat my clothing with permethrin before I leave. I am planning to rent a tent from the campground where I’m going, so was hoping to find a 3oz can I could bring in my carry on luggage, but I haven’t been able to find a can smaller than 6oz. Any advice where to find?

    • Sawyer doesn’t make one smaller than 6 oz. You might consider bringing a small bottle of the concentrate (and an empty spray bottle) and mixing it when you’re there.

    • Does anybody know if this works scabies

      • THIS VERSION OF PERMETHRIN IS NOT FOR TREATING SCABIES. It is for treating clothing and gear. The concentration is not the same as creams and lotions used for treating scabies, nor is the carrier. This is not for use on skin!

  10. Does anyone know if you can iron clothes after spraying with permethrin? I ironed my husbands shirts and now worry I might have reduced effectiveness of product.

    • You have to make sure the solution has air dried, first. After that, washing/ironing has minimal affect. Sawyer’s website in fact mentions ironing damp clothes to make it “attach” even better to the clothes. Duration does not recommend ironing or any heat, only air dry. Once fully dried, anything goes.

  11. How safe is Permethrin lotion for use on uncovered/exposed skin?

    • Did you mean to ask about SPRAY, and not lotion? This thread is about the permethrin SPRAY used to treat clothing and gear, not the lotion or cream used to treat human lice, etc.
      That being said, if it will help keep you safe, I’ll answer that what I’ve learned about skin with the wet SPRAY solution for clothing is that it is not recommended at all, but the warnings are partly based on safety warning standards. The spray-on solution is not made to be used on skin, so the standard warnings are applied. Another reason is because it is ineffective against insects when applied to skin; apparently it is deactivated by your skin chemistry. That does not make it safe, however.
      There’s over 80 comments in this discussion, a lot of people have put time into finding answers. Tons of good info here, please read. You could also check Sawyer’s website and read the FAQ’s there.

  12. Thanks Lisa. Yes I appreciate the information in the thread and am now well informed on the efficacy of the spray for clothing. I was moving on to the topic of finding a safe and effective lotion, possibly one that contains Permethrin, for exposed skin. I’m traveling to Puerto Rico and want to take the a protection product for exposed skin with me to avoid/repel mosquitos that might be carrying Zica. Thx for any info you may be able to provide.

  13. Rookie move, under-diluted the first time I mixed up a batch to spray on my clothes. Applied it at 1%, rather than 0.5%. Just on my pants, boots, daypack. (Had done socks, t-shirts, shirts with the single bottle of pre-mixed I’d bought, planning to refill with self-mixed) I see one fellow above mentions going 12-1 (.83%) per military approach, so am guessing I’m not in any real danger.

    Should I watch for skin issues, or any other red flags to using over-treated clothes?? I suppose I may just get some extra time out of it, as he suggests the army does…but wanted to see if anyone had any negative experience from over-treatment.

    • I seriously doubt there would be any issues from mixing it .3% stronger than usual. Not sure if it would last any longer just because it’s a stronger concentration, though, but I can’t find info on what concentration the army uses, or how they “factory treat” it, that makes it last through 50 washings.

      A quick search found some people having bad reactions to it even at recommended strength; no accounting for individual sensitivities.

      After researching this up and down for a long time before deciding to use it myself, in my opinion I’d say you have nothing to worry about (barring any personal sensitivity).

  14. Hi all, Im from New Zealand and my husband and I are going on a cruise to New Caledonia, we will be visiting 4 of the small islands there and apparently the Zika Virus is around, whats the best advice about protection against mosquitos please.

  15. It is essential to let them air dry after treating them, rather than using a dryer?

  16. I have a bottle of permethrin that I know is two years old. Does it have a shelf life or is it still effective and usable?

  17. Dale Christianer

    I treated some clothes yesterday, hanging on the clothesline. I have since read that sunlight breaks down permethrin, so how much would having them dry in the sun reduce the effectiveness?

  18. If one has a large container of more concentrated permethrin, say 10% or 36% as offered on Amazon, how is it diluted for spraying on clothing? What concentration is advised for tents, backpacks, spraying around tents, lawn furniture, etc?

    What is the concentration of permethrin in the Sawyer products that are premixed in the right concentration for spraying clothing?

    • Search on “permethrin soak method” I wrote an article about that too.

      • Thank you for all you information…. we are going on a 53 day cruise around Asia . australia.6 weeks .. New Zealand.2 weeks . Bankok 1 week and then Dubia… this sounds like something i better order and get done…With all the talk about the bugs and the vaccines i have been getting…I don’t want to leave anything out….. so what is the best bug spray…. my papers say over 20%… i ordered something in from the drug store .. waiting… again thank you very much Phillip Werner… sounds like you have been here before…

  19. Re “lasts for 4-6 washings”: there is a footnote there that basically says “unless you use soap or agitation”. I treat my clothes (socks, pants, gaiters) with the stuff every time they’re washed just to be sure. It works.

  20. If I treat my clothes with Permethrin, will it irritate my skin when I sweat as I’m hiking?

    • I’ve purchased Permethrein 10 by Gordons at Tractor Supply. I’ve diluted it to .05 and sprayed it on about half of my kids clothes as they are headed to camp. I had done lots of research and felt comfortable doing this to protect them from ticks/lyme but am also hoping the mosquitos will be kept at bay as well. So I just read the package insert for the permethrin 10 by Gordons and it says specifically not to be used on clothing. But that means in the 10% concentrate form, right? It says it does contain the petroleum distillates, but it smells fine on the clothes I’ve sprayed that are still drying. I do want my kids to be SAFE- from ticks AND chemical sprays both. I am unsure if I should continue using this. Is all permethrin the same? The Sawyers for clothing specifically is expensive for the amount of clothing I am doing. Please advise! Thanks.

      • It should be fine, but I’ve never used their product. I suggest you the manufacturer if you have any concerns and ask for their product safety sheet. Is all permethrin the same – yes (more or less), except for the other 90% of the stuff its dissolved in.

    • Not if you follow the directions to apply it.

  21. Does it have a odor to it

  22. The potential carcinogenicity of permethrin is so far inconclusive. The EPA has classified the chemical as potentially carcinogenic through oral exposure, mainly due to several studies where mice developed two types in benign tumors
    Toxipedia. I’ll pass thanks :)

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