It’s amazing how fast a nice outdoor gathering can turn into an annoying nightmare. Pretty soon everyone is swatting themselves and each other in an effort to stop pesky mosquitoes and other bugs. If a fire pit can help you keep bugs away, it’s probably worth the investment.
Fire pits are enjoyable for other reasons, too, so it’s something to consider. But before you buy a fire pit, you want a definitive answer to the question: Do Fire Pits Keep Bugs Away?
The answer is yes. And no. It depends on the fire pit. Gas fire pits, for instance, don’t generate much smoke (if any). If you’re looking for a fire pit that can keep bugs away, a wood-burning pit is the way to go. Plus there are several things you can add to your fire to help keep the bugs away if smoke alone isn’t doing the trick.
Read on to discover why and how fire pits keep bugs away— and the simple things you can do to multiply that repellent power.
Why Don’t Bugs Like Smoke?
The reasons why bugs don’t like smoke are not completely known. There are many theories out there, but few of them have been fully tested and vetted. One study, done in Papua New Guinea, found that burning certain organic materials repelled different types of mosquitoes by up to 79%. Otherwise, there’s not a lot of scientific evidence as to why fire and smoke repel bugs.
The most obvious reason for smoke’s bug-repellent properties is pretty obvious when the wind changes and smoke blows in your face. It stings the eyes, makes it hard to breathe, and often comes with little bits of ash that can get in your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Now, I know that bugs are built differently than humans, but it still stands to reason that smoke will irritate even the smallest of creatures.
Another reason has to do with heat. Obviously, bugs tend to stay away from flames because their instincts are honed. And that old adage about smoke and fire is relevant here. To bugs, smoke means heat and heat means fire— and “fire bad.”
Heat from a fire also tends to create a small thermal pocket. Hot air rushes from the fire and up into the atmosphere because hot air is less dense than the surrounding cold air. So, if you’re a winged insect, you probably don’t want to get swept up into a current of hot air and smoke. It may not damage you, but it will certainly take you off course.
Certain Plants and Wood
Finally, there may be naturally-occurring properties in the wood and plants we burn that are released into the air. While we don’t know exactly why bugs don’t like certain types of burning plant material, we know they tend to work. Think of a citronella candle you can use to repel mosquitos. More on this later.
What Kinds Of Bugs Don’t Like Smoke?
Nearly every kind of bug will split the scene if it senses smoke or feels extreme heat. For most bugs, smoke means fire, and fire means death.
The Bee Example
A good example of this is the tactic beekeepers use to harvest honey or inspect the hive. They pump smoke into the hive to make the bees manageable. But, why does this work?
For one, when bees sense smoke, they assume there is a fire nearby. So, in an effort to salvage some of their hard work, they start consuming large amounts of honey. They want to take as much honey with them before they flee so they can start anew somewhere else. When bees are full of honey, they become slow and docile.
Another reason that smoke helps keep bees under control is the effect it has on their pheromone communication. When bees are under threat, as from a fire, a hungry bear, or some pesky kids, they release pheromones that tell the hive to attack. Smoke, however, masks these pheromones and keeps the bees from swarming.
So, we can assume that other bugs that communicate with pheromones instinctively want to stay away from smoke if possible.
Wood to Burn That Repels Bugs
Even though bugs tend to keep away from smoke, there are certain types of firewood you can use to keep away the most dreaded of all backyard insects: mosquitos. These types of wood tend to work very well at keeping mosquitos away. Unfortunately, they may not be available locally. Still, chances are you can order some online if you so desire.
Eucalyptus oil is well-known for its mosquito-repelling properties. So, if you have a eucalyptus tree nearby, you can burn the bark, wood, and leaves to help keep mosquitoes away from your gathering.
As an added bonus, eucalyptus wood smells good and burns really hot, for those cold winter nights. But, don’t use it in your indoor fireplace because it’s notorious for leaving gunk in your chimney. If you do use it in your backyard fire pit, know that it does tend to spark more than other woods. Use a spark screen if you have one!
Pinion wood is great for keeping mosquitos away. It’s got a nice pine smell that many people enjoy, so it’s a favorite for backyard fire pits.
This is a pretty common and popular firewood, so you should be able to find it locally. You can check your local big-box home and garden supply store. Chances are a nearby establishment will have it. If not you can buy it here on Amazon. Even throwing one pinion log on the fire can help clear the mosquitoes out.
Plants to Burn to Repel Bugs
If you don’t have access to the pinion or eucalyptus, you can always try burning one of these plants to naturally repel mosquitoes. You can try these either dry or fresh. Many of them can work either way. And you want a good amount to do the trick. Some of these are herbs that you may have in your spice rack, but you’ll want to get a good amount for it to be effective, save the herbs for your dinner!
Lavender is a beautiful and sweet-smelling flower that mosquitoes seem to hate. Toss some on your fire and enjoy some mosquito-free time.
Really anything with a strong minty smell can keep flying bugs away. Again, it’s also a nice treat for our human noses.
The scent of lemongrass seems to keep mosquitos away. You can plant it for added protection around your yard and toss some in when you have your fire pit roaring.
You’ve heard of citronella candles, but did you know that you can plant citronella plants to help keep mosquitoes away? The oil of citronella plants is used for many things, and you can benefit from the plant itself by burning it in your fire pit.
Lemon balm has a nice lemon scent and grows nice little white flowers. Since this is a part of the mint family, it can definitely help keep flying insects away. But beware, because lemon balm can grow fast and free. If you plant some, do it in a separate container so it doesn’t take over.
Sage has been used for centuries. Ancient Egyptians used it to treat sore throats and stomach problems. Native Americans and some other cultures used it for spiritual cleansing and to promote healing. You can use it in your fire pit to help keep pesky mosquitoes away. Plus, it smells pretty great.
The smoke from burning some rosemary can also help keep insects away. All these strong-smelling plants tend to keep bugs away when you burn them.
Cedar bark is another good way to repel mosquitos. You can burn cedar wood if you want, but throwing cedar bark on your fire seems to do the trick. You can use cedar chips, as well.
Other Ways to Keep Your Outdoor Gathering Bug-Free
Below are a couple of other ways you can help keep your gathering relatively insect-free.
Natural Insect-Repellent Fire Starters and Logs
You may be able to find citronella logs in your local home and garden store. These are like fire-started logs with citronella added to help you repel mosquitos. They’re out there, but they can be hard to find, on occasion.
You can also try burning dry coffee grounds to keep insects away. The strong smell is thought to be the reason that coffee grounds work. You can either toss them in the fire or burn them on their own.
As you can see, fire pits do keep bugs away. There are plenty of ways to repel mosquitos in your backyard, but smoke is probably the biggest. This is why gas fire pits aren’t effective at repelling insects; they don’t generate smoke.
Nothing is going to be 100% effective, but that’s just the nature of being outside. If it’s the difference between swatting a mosquito every 2 minutes and only swatting one every 20 minutes, I’d say it’s worth it. But, of course, wood-burning fire pits are great for many other reasons. The fact that they repel insects is an added bonus.