EWG’s 2018 Guide to Bug Repellents
July 17, 2018

EWG’s 2018 Guide to Bug Repellents : Treated Clothing: A Safe Option?

Is Treated Clothing a Safe Option?

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, clothing and gear treated with 0.5 percent permethrin may be a good way to prevent tick bites.1 However, as with all other bug repellent options, permethrin-treated clothing has its pros and cons.

Permethrin is not technically a bug repellent – it is an insecticide meant to kill ticks and insects on contact. It is neurotoxic and has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a likely human carcinogen. It is highly toxic to the environment, especially to fish and other aquatic life. But a 2009 revised exposure review by the EPA states that “permethrin factory-treated clothing is unlikely to pose any significant immediate or long-term hazard to people,”2 including toddlers, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Efficacy testing indicates that permethrin-treated clothing offers a higher level of protection from ticks, but a lower level of mosquito protection than that offered by repellents applied to the skin. In a pilot study, 16 North Carolina state employees in outdoor occupations chose between treated clothing or repellents. The group that used repellents received 62 tick bites. Among the group who wore treated clothing, one person had one tick bite.3 The University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center recommends the use of repellent clothing instead of repellents applied to the skin.

ExOfficio, the manufacturers of BugsAway clothing, claims that the bug-killing effect of its clothing lasts for 70 washings.

Permethrin-treated clothing can be more convenient compared to skin-applied repellents since it does not need to be applied directly to your skin. Use of permethrin-embedded clothing is useful in areas infested with mosquitos and ticks with high disease risks, and where other repellents are less effective.

If you choose permethrin-treated clothing, use the products with caution, read labels, and wash all treated clothing separate from other clothing.


1 Preventing Tick Bites. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, May 16, 2018. Available at www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html

2 Repellent-Treated Clothing: Safety of Permethrin in Factory-Treated Clothing. Environmental Protection Agency. Available at www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/repellent-treated-clothing

3 M.F. Vaughn and S.R. Meshnick, Pilot Study Assessing the Effectiveness of Long-Lasting Permethrin-Impregnated Clothing for the Prevention of Tick Bites. Vector Borne Zoonotic Diseases, July 2011, 11(7):869-875. Available at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21395420