Chiggers: Separating Fact & Fallacy Plus Crazy Remedies

by Tammy Taylor~

Summer is here for sure in NE Texas y’all.  It’s HOT!  Now I love Texas, but we have some pesky things to deal with here.  The heat & humidity are certainly something to contend with.  And some of the bugs & pests are too.  Out here on the Homestead I’m constantly on the lookout for copperhead snakes, stinging wasps, scorpions, fire ants and to me the worst offender – the tiny chigger.

Oh the chiggers are brutal this time of year.  You stroll out into your pasture to check the cows and before you know it you’re covered with maddenly itchy red bumps.  This discomfort can stay for 2-3 weeks in some cases.  YIKES!  There are many home remedies for chigger bites, and much misinformation as well.  Today I thought I’d address the chigger and its tormentious bite.

Chiggers - we've all dealt with them, right? Oh the misery of their itching which can last for weeks. I've heard some crazy cures, most of them WRONG! #TaylorMadeHomestead

Crazy Chigger-Bite Remedies

Many people think the tiny chigger actually borrows beneath your skin which is causing the swelling & itching.  So they try all manner of remedies to ‘kill’ the chigger in an attempt to relieve the itching.

Now I’ve heard all kinds of wild tales, most of which start with purposely scratching the skin raw to expose the chigger that’s supposedly buried in their skin.  (YIKES!)  Please, please don’t do that – it’s just an open invite to infection!

Some say to spray Lysol on the wounds after they’re scratched raw so you can kill the buried chigger.  Others swear by pouring bleach on the raw wounds.  Yep, you heard that right – bleach.  Wow.

I’ve heard of clawing the bumps open to expose the chigger and then dabbing on clear fingernail polish to suffocate them.

Or once again clawing the bump until it’s raw & open, then pouring alcohol on it to kill the burrowed in chigger.  OUCH!

Chiggers Aren’t Burrowed In

Let me put this fallacy to rest.  Chiggers don’t actually burrow into your skin.  They bite you and inject an enzyme which prepares your tissues for their feeding.  They feed for typically a few  hours before they retreat to digest their meal and continue to their next stage of life.  The bumps you see (and FEEL) are actually your body’s own defenses reacting to the bite.  There really is no live critter burrowed beneath your skin.  Feel better? Good.  I’m glad we could have this talk.

Now, the question is how do you avoid them, and how do you deal with the itchy bumps if you are unfortunate enough to be stricken with them.

Avoiding Chigger Bites

Fortunately there are many easy ways to avoid becoming a chigger’s itchy meal (along with about 100 of their closest friends!)  Some things to remember:

Chiggers like to hang out in places where the ground is shaded such as tall grass, places where leaves are gathered, etc.  So it’s a good idea to keep your lawn maintained.  Although chiggers can still be present in a manicured lawn, they really don’t care for shorter grass.

If you must venture out beyond your yard, keep in mind that after a chigger gets onto your skin it crawls to the tightest space it can reach before settling in for a meal.  Many times that’s your sock lines or the waistband of your pants. So it’s recommended to keep them off your skin that you wear tight-weave fabrics to keep them from going through the cloth. But clothes should be loose-fitting too.

And be sure to cover as much skin as you can – wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.  Button up that collar & sleeves. And some even suggest tucking your pants into your boots or socks.

Powdered Sulfur or DEET Sprays

Of course RancherMan & I are not always able to stay in our yard for our work here on the Homestead.  The bees must be tended to, as well as the cattle & chickens. Fences must be mended and tractor mowing must be done.   There are many times when we must go boldly off the beaten path to work our beloved Homestead.

If I’m only going to the beehives, I’ll simply sprinkle my shoes and pant legs with powdered sulfur.  I administer it like the old-timers do, putting the sulfur powder in an old sock and closing by tying a knot on top.  I just take that sulfur-filled sock and tap it on my shoes and pant legs and I’m ready to go.

And of course when I know we’ll be out in the taller grass pastures, I’ll spray my boots and pant legs with a deet product such as ‘Off’.  To me it’s a helpful product, but I’m not a big fan of chemicals.  So I use it only as a last resort.

How To Avoid Chigger-Bite Itching

So, you forgot to take precautions and you’re afraid you’ll suffer the itchy consequences?  Well if you act quickly you can oftentimes reduce the volume and severity of those chiggers if you immediately take a hot, soapy shower and scrub your skin vigorously with a washcloth.  That should help dislodge the chiggers and wash them away.  If they’ve already injected you with their enzymes you may still get some itchy bumps but at least they will be fewer.

Chiggers - we've all dealt with them, right? Oh the misery of their itching which can last for weeks. I've heard some crazy cures, most of them WRONG! Wash them off in the shower. #TaylorMadeHomestead

And don’t forget there could be lots of tiny almost microscopic chiggers hitching a ride on those jeans you were wearing.  Be sure to wash all clothing before wearing it again or you’ll just be introducing them to another all-you-can-eat buffet.

Natural Repellents – Asking The Experts

But let’s say you end up with a hefty serving of itchy red chigger bumps.  OH the misery!  I’ve wondered about such natural repellents such as various essential oils or crushing a beauty-berry leaf & tucking it into your socks and waistband.  I refuse to spray insecticide on our lawn because I want to protect bees and other beneficial insects.  I’m really more interested in natural ways to keep chiggers away from my body.

So as I always do when I want to determine fact from fiction I turned to our extension agent (LOVE HER!) about various natural methods.  She forwarded my question to an expert with a doctorate, who was actually no help at all.  My extension agent’s response was:

Dr <name> replied with the following. I was afraid this would likely be the case. As part of the land grant system we can only use researched based information. Unfortunately the work just hasn’t been done on essential oils and other plants as control products:

Dr. <name> Response: “I have no idea about essential oils, other than I know of no scientific data to support their practical use in repelling or controlling chiggers.  If someone wants to be a guinea pig, they could spray one leg with DEET and one leg with essential oil of their choice (there are many); but personally I’d stick with DEET and tucking my pants into my socks.

Same comment about beautyberry as essential oils.  No data that I’m aware of.”

So I don’t know if essential oil has been proven to repel chiggers or if it’s been proven it can help with the itching.  And using botanicals crushed and tucked into your socks?  I have no idea.

The takeaway?

Rest assured, my friends.  I’ll not be applying insecticide to our yard.  Instead we’ll be focusing on keeping the little beasties off our skin.  Here are the methods we use here on the Homestead:

  • Wear loose clothing comprised of dense fabric long-sleeve shirts & pants.
  • Tuck pant legs into boots or even socks.
  • Sprinkle powdered sulfur onto shoes & pant legs.
  • If going into even taller grass of pasture, spray DEET product such as ‘Off’.
  • Stay in short grass whenever possible.
  • If exposed to chiggers, put clothing worn into the pastures directly into the laundry hamper.
  • Take a hot shower as soon as possible, scrubbing skin vigorously with a washcloth.

If we do end up with chiggers and the itching becomes more than we can bear, an allergy medicine containing an antihistamine can help us get some relief.  Although the itching can last weeks, the worst of it lasts only a couple of days so there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

~TMH~

References:

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15 thoughts on “Chiggers: Separating Fact & Fallacy Plus Crazy Remedies

  1. Ken

    So far so good on the permethrin product. It has only been 8 days though and I’ve just washed the carhartts today for the 1st time since application. SIL and I went down to the stock tank last Saturday to shoot and no chiggers. The bottle says it will treat 3 complete outfits. I am only using it on 3 pair of pants, I am using the Picardin product on my ankles and exposed skin, pants up. I’ve only gotten chiggers when I neglect to apply. I will definitely update in a few weeks/maybe the 6 allowed. Regards, Ken

    Reply
  2. Ken

    This year seems especially bad for chiggers on the south side of Hunt County. Seems like I couldn’t go out in the yard without getting bit up. So I am taking action with two new product s I read about. Made by Sawyer (the water filter people), one is clothing/gear/tent treatment. I sprayed Carhart cargo pants and two pair of Wranglers with the stuff 1 week ago. Supposed to last 6 weeks and 6 washings. I am washing the Carhartts today so this test will be going on all summer. Oh, permethrin is the deet replacement. The second product is their Picaridin flea & tick spray. Supposed to last 12 hours. Seems be working pretty good. I can’t remember if I bought these at Academy or Wallyworld. I don’t like to use insecticides either, and have never liked the deet on my skin.

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      RancherMan was talking about this Permethrin product just the other day. Although I realize permethrin is a more gentle option than some of the chemical products, I was initially worried about it being on his clothes and his clothes being washed with my clothing too. I guess the skin contact is what makes me bristle? But he argued that the ‘off’ is sprayed on his jeans now. It’s good to hear someone else is looking at this product as well. Please let us know your thoughts on it, he’s very interested. ~TMH~

      Reply
  3. Evelyn Edgett

    I love that you know the facts about those little demons. I got a bad case of chigger bites last summer, all over my stomach and back (I never thought about sitting in the grass under a tree to cut down some large weeds!). People tried to get me to do all those crazy things you mentioned, and no matter how many times I tried to explain that they weren’t under my skin…drove me nuts worse than the chiggers. Something you might try to treat the itch is to spray them with Vetricyn. It’s made for animals, but I have used it in a pinch to treat tick bites (those teeny little seed ticks that get EVERYWHERE), and it helps. Oh heck, just thinking about this has me itching.

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Ya know Evelyn, I can’t cast any stones… I heard & believed too that the chiggers were burrowed into my skin. It was just common knowledge back then! Who knew it was also completely false. But after hearing recently about yet another crazy remedy that started with ‘scratch it raw to expose the buried chigger’ I knew I needed to write this post. Hopefully awareness is spread so people quit intentionally damaging their skin in an effort to kill a chigger that’s not even there. ~TMH~

      Reply
  4. Sharon

    I had some chigger bites last month from picking wild blackberrys, my hubby told me to spray off on the bites, it worked, no more itch. I was amazed

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Interesting, I’ve always heard deet products are a deterrent, not a treatment for the bites. Thanks for sharing your experiences Sharon. ~TMH~

      Reply
  5. Judith Cruzan

    When we were living in rural central Oklahoma and my husband was working for a construction company who would clear timber and demolish earthen dams, he’d get chiggers so bad his ankles would be solid red. He resorted to wearing dog flea and tick collars on his boots. He’d get the large size and fasten them around the boot on the outside where they would just hang on his boot like a bracelet, nice and loose. He only had to touch them the one time and then they never touched his skin. He’d just slid his boot on, tuck his pants inside and it really helped. He’d take his boots off and leave them in his truck at night so there would be no worry of our toddler getting near them. I like the Vicks idea and I think I’ll tell him about that. He doesn’t have to worry about them much now days unless some neighbor calls and says they can’t find their cat and off he goes traipsing down the overgrown alley.

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Ya know Judith, RancherMan is considering the flea & tick collars on his boots for the reasons you mention – he doesn’t have to touch them and they don’t touch his skin. Awesome idea! ~TMH~

      Reply
  6. Patti

    Hope your husband has a Happy Father’s Day! When we stayed with my Grandparents on their farm in Hot Springs for the summer chiggers were every where. My Grams had us put Vicks Vapor Rub on and I have to say no chigger bites what so ever. It also kept the tick and fleas away too. Today it’s going to be 110 with the heat index and for Northern Illinois that’s hot!! My boys all went fishing and I’m staying in enjoying the air. 🙂 xo Patti

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      RancherMan’s having an awesome day Patti! He’s well loved and the kids & I are very free about expressing that to him – gotta love it! I’ve heard of various camphor/eucalyptus/menthol products doing anything from repelling chiggers to helping the itch, but I couldn’t find any studies on it. Thanks for sharing your experience. Oh, and tell those boys to stay safe in this heat!! ~TMH~

      Reply
  7. candace

    Here in Western Oregon we don’t have chiggers. Thank you God!!! We do have skeeters but that is mostly addressed by not leaving standing water. Even tho I do keep several birdbath type items around for the feathered friends and bees and what not to get a wash and a drink now and then a good splash with the hose and anything lurking gets sloshed away. We do love our frogs and I think they eat the larvae. We do keep an eye out for yellow jackets and bald faced hornets which can be somewhat aggressive if you disturb their nest but they’re easy to spot and avoid. And even tho I hate yellow jackets they are predators and eat other little creepy crawlies.

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      No chiggers? #jealous! But I absolutely love your natural approach to dealing with (or accepting) critters Candace! Oh, and I’m currently testing a non-toxic mosquito control that could be game-changing for the Homestead. I’ll share when the verdict is in! (but I think in your environment you’ll be very interested if it works as advertised) Have fun on your trip, girlie!! ~TMH~

      Reply
  8. Nancy

    I have to admit; chiggers is one thing I don’t miss at all. Kaleigh and I were outside until 8:30 or so and I do have to admit I kind of miss the buzzing cicadas and watching the fireflies. But the fire ants and chiggers, I’m glad to be rid of. I haven’t noticed Kaleigh getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, like she was down there. I had so many natural mosquito repellents I probably could have opened my own store.

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Oh my, Nancy – Last night RancherMan & I came dragging in after dark from the pastures and we sat on the porch swing and watched the moon come up. The crickets/frogs/owls/lightening bugs and more – heaven! (Have I mentioned lately how much I LOVE living here???!!) ~TMH~

      Reply

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