Our entire family was covered in itchy, red bumps after a picnic in the grass. We didn’t even notice any bugs while we were out! What could have been the culprit?
After some careful detective work, we discovered the source of our discomfort: chiggers! What are these irritating biters, and how can we avoid them in the future?
- What Are Chiggers?
- Where Do Chiggers Live?
- When Are Chiggers Most Active?
- Are Chiggers Dangerous?
- How Do I Get Rid of Chiggers Outdoors?
- How Do I Get Rid of Chiggers Inside?
- Why Do Chiggers Bite?
- What Does a Chigger Bite Look Like?
- How Do I Treat a Chigger Bite?
- How Can I Prevent Chigger Bites?
- How Can I Prevent Chiggers?
What Are Chiggers?
Chiggers are a part of the arachnid family. They are known by many names, including harvest mites, harvest lice, and red bugs. No matter the name, their bites are a pain!
Only the larvae actually bite. These baby mites are microscopic at only 0.3 millimeters long. If you can get a glimpse of them, they’re red or orange-colored. They hatch, then hang out in the grass, waiting for a tasty meal.
Where Do Chiggers Live?
Chiggers live in almost every country in the world! They like grassy areas with tall weeds or grass.
When Are Chiggers Most Active?
Chigger larvae hatch during the spring and continue to do so until early fall. That’s a long stretch of biting potential! Their favorite ground temperature is between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. They don’t tolerate cold and will die once it reaches 42 degrees Fahrenheit.
Are Chiggers Dangerous?
Though their bites itch like crazy, chiggers do not carry diseases like ticks or mosquitoes. At least that’s one less thing to worry about!
How Do I Get Rid of Chiggers Outdoors?
Keep Your Lawn Neat
A mowed lawn is the first line of defense against chiggers! If you remove their hiding spots, they are less likely to stay. Keep grass mowed, weeds pulled, and bushes trimmed.
Find the Chigger’s Favorite Spots
If you find a suspected chigger hot spot, place a piece of black paper on the ground. Wait a few hours, then check it. If there are a lot of small red or orange dots on the paper, those are most likely chiggers.
Use Diatomaceous Earth
Once you’ve identified chigger hot spots, they can be treated. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the ground. A fertilizer spreader works well for a widespread application. Focus on bushes, weeds, and tall vegetation.
Diatomaceous earth looks and feels like a fine powder to us but it has microscopic jagged points that pierce bugs’ exoskeletons when they walk through it. It is also poisonous if they ingest it. Reapply the diatomaceous earth regularly until all signs of chiggers are gone.
Diatomaceous earth is an organic, all-natural pest solution but it should still be handled with caution. Wear a mask and gloves when handling it.
Apply an Insecticide
Combining diatomaceous earth with an insecticide should eliminate a chigger infestation. Make sure the pesticide you choose specifically lists chiggers on the label. Not all insecticides work on chiggers. Pesticides containing bifenthrin are most effective against chiggers.
Pesticide granules can be dispersed with a fertilizer spreader over a large area. Follow the instructions on the label. Always wear long sleeves and pants, and a mask and gloves when handling fertilizer. Reapply every 2-3 weeks.
While pesticide granules usually work best on a chigger infestation, this spray presents a more natural solution with cedarwood oil. It claims to be a safe alternative for yards with pets and children. Always follow all the instructions on the product label, and handle all pesticides with care.
Call a Professional
Chiggers can be stubborn! If you have tried everything, and are still getting bit, it’s time to call in a trusted exterminator.
How Do I Get Rid of Chiggers Inside?
Chiggers can catch a ride on your clothes or pets and come inside your home. If you suspect you have unwanted hitchhikers, leave your shoes outdoors.
Immediately wash all clothing in hot water. Temperatures over 125 degrees Fahrenheit will kill chiggers. Take a hot shower to wash off any remaining bugs.
Gently wipe pets when they come indoors. Bathing your dog in a flea or tick shampoo like this one may help deter chiggers.
Heat will kill chiggers in carpet or on furniture. Use a steam cleaner that reaches temperatures of at least 125 degrees Fahrenheit to steam clean fabric and carpet. A vacuum works well to pick up chiggers on hard surfaces.
Diatomaceous earth can also be placed indoors. If you suspect there are chiggers in your home, sprinkle the earth around entry points.
Why Do Chiggers Bite?
Only chigger larvae bite. These microscopic pests hide in the grass until someone walks by. They will latch onto clothing and make their way to your skin.
Their sharp, little jaws make a hole in the skin. Once they have a hole, they use their saliva to liquify your cells into a chigger snack. They can stay on the skin for multiple days while they feed. You may not notice them at first but soon those bites will start to itch!
There is a myth that chigger larvae burrow into the skin. This is not true. They remain on the surface of the skin while they feed. You just can’t see chigger larvae because they are so tiny.
What Does a Chigger Bite Look Like?
Since chiggers cannot fly, bites usually show up in clusters around the legs or waist. The skin around the bites will turn red, blister, or may look like a rash.
Intense itching can last for multiple days, and it may take a week or two for the bite site to completely heal.
How Do I Treat a Chigger Bite?
Wash Off the Chigger
Remember, chigger larvae are microscopic. Just because you can’t see any bugs on your skin, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Wash all the bite areas with soap and warm water to make sure the bugs are really gone.
Apply an Antiseptic Ointment
An antiseptic ointment like Neosporin will help the bite heal and reduce the risk of infection.
Use an Antihistamine
An oral antihistamine like Diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benedryl) will help with the itching, swelling, and rash.
Topical antihistamines are available, too. They usually come in an ointment or spray and should be applied directly to the itchy area. I recommend this one.
Rub in Some Ointment
There are many topical ointments available to relieve itching. Doctors usually recommend hydrocortisone cream. A numbing spray, like this, can also provide relief. Camphor and menthol also have soothing properties. A cream or lotion can deliver instant relief!
Cool Water can Relieve Itching
Cold has an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin. A cold bath or cool, wet cloths placed on the bites may bring relief.
Avoid Hot Showers
On the other hand, scalding hot water will only irritate the chigger bites. Avoid overly warm showers and baths until the bite sites have healed.
Watch for Infection
Chigger bites may become infected. Watch for pus, excessive swelling, or red lines from the bite site. If you suspect a bite is infected, contact your health care professional.
How Can I Prevent Chigger Bites?
A bug spray with DEET, like this one, will repel chiggers. If you want a more natural, DEET-free spray, I recommend this one. A spray with DEET is your best bet to keep off chiggers! I recommend using a spray with DEET if you are in an area with a high concentration of chiggers.
Bug-proof clothing is treated with Permethrin. Permethrin kills and repels chiggers, as well as flies, ticks, fleas, and spiders. It is designed for use on treating fabric, like clothing, tents, bags, and other gear.
Permethrin-treated clothing is available. I recommend purchasing pants, like this pair (women’s), or this pair (men’s). Insect shield socks are also a good investment if you’re spending a lot of time in chigger-infested areas. I recommend this brand.
You can bug-proof your own clothing and gear with a Permethrin spray, like this. One can only coat two outfits. However, once treated, the Permethrin may repel insects for up to 60 days. Do not apply Permethrin directly to the skin!
Avoid Tall Grass
If chiggers are a problem in your own backyard, mowing the grass and cutting down weeds and brush will help deter them. If you are out for a hike, you can avoid chiggers by staying on the trail. Chiggers are most likely to be in areas with tall grass.
Do Not Lay in Grass
As tempting as a nap in the grass may be, don’t do it! You may be napping in a chigger nest.
How Can I Prevent Chiggers?
Keep your Lawn Neat
Once your yard is chigger-free, keep it that way! Maintain short grass. Keep weeds at bay. Trim bushes back.
Repel Chigger Host Animals
Chiggers can enter your yard on wild animals like rabbits, reptiles, and amphibians. A fence with netting or chicken wire on the bottom may prevent these animals from entering your yard.
Chigger bites are really irritating! It can be difficult to dislodge these biting pests from your yard. The good news is that it isn’t impossible! Once you’ve identified the problem areas, it should be simple to treat your yard for chiggers if you’re persistent.