Battling bugs with chemicals and repellents

Mosquito Squad sign in yard. (Photo: WJLA)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) -- All it takes is one bite and the phone lines ring off the hook.

"If you can't walk from your front door to your car without being eaten alive, that's when they call us," said Damien Sanchez, owner of D.C. Mosquito Squad.

Mosquitos are a common problem in the D.C. region (the District recently ranked third on Orkin’s top 20 mosquito cities list) and many homeowners spend a lot of money to try and keep the pests away. The overwhelming majority of Sanchez's customers choose to treat their yards with chemicals, but the number of clients willing to pay 30 percent more for natural sprays like his garlic-based repellant grows each spring.

"Your yard smells like a pizzeria for a little while," said Sanchez, who admits the natural option isn't as effective as the insecticide, but hundreds of homeowners prefer it.

But entomologists like UMD-College Park's Dr. Mike Raupp question the effectiveness of spraying your yard at all.

"You might spray your yard, but go 30 feet into the woods and mosquitoes can easily re-invade," said "The Bug Guy" who writes a blog about controlling insects.

"Mosquitoes don't know a boundary. They can easily colonize and fly several hundred yards from your neighbor's yard into yours," said Raupp.

"That's a common misconception," countered Sanchez. "Treating the yard does create a population depression around you."

Raupp recommends mosquito-proof clothing, some all natural sprays with lemon and eucalyptus, as well as "the gold standard" of popular bug sprays containing DEET. He also urges homeowners to eliminate a mosquito's favorite breeding ground: standing water.

"Unplug gutters, clean birdbaths twice a week, and dump old flower pots," said Raupp. "With these warm temperatures, a mosquito can produce an entire generation in one week."

"I don't want to say entomologists are all wrong," said Sanchez, respectfully rejecting that advice. "All it takes is a bottle cap of water to breed a mosquito. And it's not practical to get rid of every single source of water."

But paying a private pest control company to treat your yard is not cheap. To spray every few weeks between April to September can cost $400 to more than $1,000, depending on the size of your property. Expect to shell out a few hundred more dollars if you choose the pizzeria option; because natural products aren't as powerful they have to be re-applied more often.

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