Health Team

Clothes can turn off insects

Posted April 8, 2011

— A new type of clothing made by a North Carolina company acts as an insect repellent.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are testing the effectiveness of the clothing, which is already sold in many outdoor recreation supply stores.

"We are particularly interested in outdoor workers, so there are a lot of state employees, forest rangers, park rangers, who are exposed to ticks all the time," epidemiology professor Steven Meshnick said.

Meschnick teamed up with Greensboro-based Insect Shield to put the company's product to the test.

A small pilot study involved North Carolina Division of Water Quality workers who test water purity in tick and mosquito-infested swamps.

"In fact, there were 99 percent fewer work-related tick bites," Meschnick said. "The only tick bite that a worker got who was wearing the clothing was on his wrist, which is a really strange place for ticks to bite."

A larger, two-year study is testing the clothing on park and forestry rangers.

The clothing works because the repellent permethrin is embedded in the material. That chemical is the same ingredient found in many insect-repellent lotions and sprays, but those products need to be reapplied frequently.

"The good thing about this Insect Shield clothing is it lasts for 70 washes," Meschnick said.

Clothes can turn off insects Clothes can turn off insects

Tests show that very little of the insect repellent in the clothing is absorbed into the skin.

The material has been lab tested against all types of ticks, which potentially carry a variety of crippling or even life-threatening diseases. Researchers said it's 

"Ticks not only are killed by it, but they're also repelled by it," Meschnick said.

He said the clothing is also effective against other biting insects like mosquitoes, which can also transmit disease.


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  • whateveryousay Apr 13, 2011

    My husband bought a brand of this type of clothing a few years ago called Exo-terra. He wore the pants, shirts, underclothes and socks to Africa, and was the only one in his group who was not eaten alive! In fact he was not bitten by anything at all.

  • StunGunn Apr 11, 2011

    This is very interesting. I'm surprised that it's being tested at Chapel Hill; this is something I thought would be tested at NC State College of Textiles, since they do so much of this type of work there. It does seem promising and it seems there are a lot of other possibilities (like medical) chemicals that could be embedded into fabric.

  • hihuwatlu Apr 11, 2011

    "A little" repellent absorbed through the skin is worrisome but it's probably less than what's absorbed when you directly spray your skin with repellent. It's probably safer than being bitten by a several ticks.

  • Malcontent Apr 11, 2011

    I agree. How much is a "little" repellent when it's absorbed through the skin?

  • CrewMax Apr 8, 2011

    Buy repellent - forget state approved clothing that might give the false sense of security and wind up in a lawsuit.

  • ronda1991 Apr 8, 2011

    Very little of the repellent is absorbed into the skin? Who decides how much is "very little"?

  • swampjrd Apr 8, 2011

    I have had the treated clothing for several years now - it is more expensive but clearly lasts much longer than one year. In fact since I spend a lot of time in the field, the clothing itself wears out. To me, the benefit of the clothing clearly outweighs the cost but certainly everyone has to make that judgment for themselves.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Apr 8, 2011

    It will probably be cheaper to buy a year's worth of insect repellant than to purchase a wardrobe of this clothing each year.