Permethrin Clothing Treatment: A DIY Guide

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Tick season is going to be especially bad this year. More ticks = more tick bites = greater risk of contracting Lyme Disease or another tick-borne illness. And as I noted in my last post, permethrin clothing treatment is your best bet to keep ticks away.

Of course, you can buy clothing commercially treated with permethrin for both adults and children. If you’re a grownup who spends a lot of time outdoors (camping, hiking, gardening, etc.), then commercially-treated clothes are a super investment.

You can also send your favorite outdoor attire to InsectShield and have them apply permethrin to your clothes for you.

But given how quickly kids outgrow clothing, you may prefer to DIY permethrin clothing treatment on their summer attire.

I recently tried this, and so far we’ve been very pleased with the results.

About DIY Permethrin Clothing Treatment

Applying permethrin to fabric on your own at home is different from buying commercially-treated clothing in several ways.

  • Buying commercially-treated clothes is generally more expensive; an entire outfit (top/bottom/socks/hat or bandanna) can easily add up to $100 or more, especially for adults.
  • However, commercially-treated clothing retains its insect and tick repellency for the life of the item (60-70 washings).
  • DIY permethrin treatments on clothing only last 6 weeks/6 washings. Ideally, you need to wash the clothing separately on the gentle cycle (or by hand), because wash-cycle agitation will strip the repellency from the clothing faster.
  • However, for the cost of one permethrin-treated shirt, you can buy enough spray to treat multiple outfits.
  • Especially if your needs are more short-term (a single summer camping trip or vacation-in-buggy-surroundings), DIY-treating clothing your family already owns can be easier, faster, and more cost-effective.
This was only about half the clothing I treated recently; as soon as I laid it all out, I realized my 24-ounce bottle wasn’t enough.

Getting ready to apply permethrin

First, figure out what you want to treat. Gather it all and pile it up.

  • Think not only tops and bottoms, but also hats/bandanas (head coverings), backpacks, etc.
  • And don’t forget footwear! Mosquitoes may fly, but ticks crawl – usually upward starting near ground level. So make sure you treat not only your clothing, but also your socks and shoes.
  • Besides the girls’ clothes for day camp (which are all labeled with nametags anyway), I bought them a new 6-pack of gray sport socks to treat. Ticks will be easier to spot on these socks than the girls’ everyday black/navy/brown school socks. And the fact that the new socks are different than their others means it will be easier to keep track of which ones are the treated socks.
I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping. Waited til this bottle came and then just treated everything all at once.

Then count up how many “outfits” or “items” you have, and do the math. (A pair of socks or shoes counts as one item; an “outfit” = two items.)

  • You’ll need 3 ounces of liquid permethrin to treat each “item.” Even if it’s tiny kids’ clothing. Permethrin clothing treatment success depends on applying three ounces to each item, regardless of how large or small the item is.
  • At first I bought a 24-ounce spray bottle of permethrin, enough to treat 8 items/4 outfits. But as I quickly realized, this wasn’t enough if I was going to do three day-camp outfits per girl, plus socks/hats/shoes/backpacks.
  • So I then bought a one-gallon spray container – enough to finish treatment #1, with leftover to retreat halfway through the summer, once the initial six weeks’ protection period has ended.

Tips for applying permethrin

What you’ll need, besides the clothing and the spray:

  • A calm day outside – no wind. You need to do this in a well-ventilated area.
  • A place to do the spraying, and a nearby way to hang the clothes while they dry.
  • At least a day between when you’re doing the treating and when you plan to wear your newly-treated items.

I laid out my stuff to spray on a back deck, and started a stopwatch on my phone. After spraying the side facing up on each piece for 30 seconds (as per the directions) I flipped over each piece to spray the other side. Then I spread out the clothes just inside the door, on the drying rack that usually holds the girls’ snow-covered gear in winter.

In contrast, my friend Iris hung each item to spray on its own hanger and sprayed them, one at a time, just outside her garage with the door open. As soon as she’d treated each piece, she hung it on the wire shelving at the back of her garage to dry overnight.

The “overnight” part is important. The sprays we used each said they should be dry in 2 hours, or 4 in especially humid conditions. It wasn’t particularly humid where we live during the week that Iris and I were doing this recently. But the clothes took a lot longer than 4 hours to dry completely. (Maybe because applying the required 3 ounces per item on smaller kids’ attire = more liquid on a smaller space = longer to dry?)

Other tips to consider

  • Have cats? Keep them far away from this process! Apparently liquid permethrin is highly toxic to cats. (Once it’s dry, it poses no danger to them.)
  • To preserve the effect of the treatment for the full 6 weeks, you’re supposed to store the clothing separately, in a black trash bag. Given how humid summer can be, I opted instead for a non-transparent plastic bin with a snap-on lid. (This will also make it easier for Daddy, who was working when I did the treatment, to dress Essie in her treated outfits during her week of day camp when I’m at a conference.)
  • I also noted the day I did the first permethrin clothing treatment on the kitchen calendar, and set a digital reminder on my phone for the six-week mark. That way, I won’t forget when it’s time to reapply permethrin to get us through the rest of the summer.

Have you done your own permethrin clothing treatment at home? How did it go? Let us know in the comments!

 

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