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Permethrin Soak Method Guide

You can buy a pre-mixed Permethrin soluton like Sawyer Permethrin or dilute a highly concentrated form with water if you need to treat bulky gear or many clothes in order to save money
You can buy a pre-mixed Permethrin solution like Sawyer Permethrin (left) or dilute a highly concentrated form like 10% Martins Permethrin (right) to save money if you need to treat bulky gear or numerous clothing items.

Permethrin is an insect repellant and insecticide that bonds to fabric and can be used on your clothes, tent, or hammock to prevent Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, or the Zika Virus by killing ticks, mosquitos, and insects that land on your stuff. The liquid Permethrin application techniques discussed below are only for treating clothing or outdoor gear and are not intended for human or animal use.

Soak or Spray: Two Ways to Apply Permethrin to Clothing and Gear

There are two ways to self-apply Permethrin to clothing, tents, and hammocks: spraying or soaking. Spraying your clothes or gear is a convenient way to treat them with Permethrin if you have a limited number of items. To learn more about the spray method using pre-mixed Sawyer Permethrin, see Treating Your Clothes with Permethrin. Soaking your clothes in Permethrin is the second way to treat clothing or outdoor gear and can be useful when you have bulky or a large number of items to treat. I explain how to do this below.

Permethrin treated clothing kills the ticks that land on it as long as you retreat your clothing periodically to maintain its effectiveness
Permethrin treated clothing kills the ticks that land on it as long as you retreat your clothing periodically to maintain its effectiveness.

How long does Permethrin Treated Gear and Clothing Remain Effective?

Both methods of Permethrin self-application, spraying and soaking, remain effective for 6 weeks or 6 washes. You can prolong the effectiveness of self-applied Permethrin by storing permethrin treated gear or clothes in black plastic bags (since sunlight breaks down Permethrin) or by hand washing items because the agitators in washing machines also accelerate its decay.

There’s anecdotal evidence that soaking your clothes with Permethrin instead of spraying is effective longer, but there isn’t any publicly available laboratory to support that conjecture. It’s just common sense that soaking will penetrate both the inside and outside of a garment, while spraying it will just cover the outside.

If you want a longer lasting treatment that will last up to 70 washings, you can send your clothing to a company called Insect Shield which has developed a proprietary process for Permethrin application that lasts longer than what you can do a home. I have no idea what they do that’s different, which is probably why they keep it a trade secret. Here’s a link to the Insect Shield order form that you use to send clothing you want them to process. The prices are listed on the form.

You can also buy Permethrin treated clothing off-the-shelf from many manufacturers.

Why would you soak clothes with Permethrin instead of spraying them?

Soaking can be more convenient if you have bulky items (tent or hammock) you want to treat or many articles of clothing. Soaking is also likely to provides better coverage than spraying, including the inside and outside of garments than spraying which may miss spots. If an insect avoids the outside of a garment and makes it to your skin, there’s a good chance that it will still be killed if the inside of your clothing has also been pre-treated with Permethrin.

Martin's Permethrin 10%
Martin’s Permethrin 10%

What is the most economical way of soaking gear and clothes with Permethrin?

While you can soak items in the pre-mixed 0.5% Permethrin Solution sold by Sawyer, it is more economical to buy a highly concentrated Permethrin solution like Martins 10% Permethrin and dilute it down to the recommended 0.5% strength solution recommended for treating fabrics.

While often intended for veterinary or agricultural use, highly concentrated Permethrin solutions diluted to a 0.5% Permethrin concentration are thought to be as effective at killing insects as the pre-mixed 0.5% Sawyer Permethrin solution. No one knows definitively in the absence of laboratory testing, although anecdotal accounts from many people suggest this to be the case. Follow all manufacturer product instructions and use at your own risk.

How to dilute concentrated permethrin.

If you choose to dilute a concentrated form of permethrin like Martin’s 10% Permethrin, you need to reduce it to the 0.5% concentration recommended for clothing treatment. A 32 ounce (1 quart) size bottle of Martin’s 10% Permethrin comes with a built-in measuring cup which is useful for this process.

I prefer bagging up the clothing I plan to treat with Permethrin in 1 gallon freezer bags before pouring the Permethrin solution over them and letting them sit and soak.
I prefer bagging up the clothing I plan to treat with Permethrin in 1 gallon freezer bags before pouring the Permethrin solution over them and letting them sit and soak.

If you use a 10% Permethrin concentrate, you want to dilute it with 19 parts water and 1 part of 10% permethrin concentrate to produce a 0.5% Permethrin solution. For example, if you wanted to make a gallon (128 ounces) of a 0.5% Permethrin solution using water and a 10% Permethrin solution, you’d mix 6.4 ounces of 10% Permethrin solution with 121.6 ounces of water. If you do this using a 1 gallon plastic water bottle (shown above), you’d pour off 6.4 ounces of water and replace it with 6.4 ounces of the 10% Permethrin concentrate. Shake well to mix it up.

Precautions. Martin’s 10% Permethrin is a neurotoxin and you do not want to get it on you or inhale its fumes. See the manufacturer’s safety sheet for more information. I recommend wearing protective gloves when working with it, keeping it away from all animals, food, and water supplies, and only using it in a shady, well-ventilated, outdoor area. All of the containers used to hold Permethrin should also be properly labelled and disposed of as recommended on the product label by the manufacturer. One reader has reported a sensitivity to diluted Martin’s that results in a burning sensation on their skin when their garments get wet after treatment. If in doubt, treat a test garment and wear it in rain to determine whether you suffer from this sensitivity. If this is the case, send your clothes out to Insect Shield for professional treatment or spray using Sawyer’s pre-mixed Permethrin.

Pour enough Permethrin solution to soak each item and then let sit for a few hours so that ot fully soaks the material.
Pour enough Permethrin solution to soak each item and then let sit for a few hours so that it fully soaks the material. Sawyer recommends 3 ounces of 0.5% Permethrin solution per garment.

What’s the best way to soak your clothes with Permethrin?

While you can dip your clothes in a large bucket of 0.5% Permethrin, I prefer bagging them individually in 1 gallon freezer bags and pouring a smaller quantity of Permethrin solution into each bag. This eliminates having a large amount of left-over Permethrin that is complicated to safely dispose or store.

I then massage the liquid into the garment and let it sit for a few hours to fully soak through all the layers of clothing, before pulling it out of the bag and hanging it up to dry in the shade. Sunlight breaks down Permethrin, so you should avoid drying Permethrin soaked clothing on a clothesline in the sun.

Once dry, the Permethrin treated clothing is ready to wear
Once dry, the Permethrin treated clothing is ready to wear.

Once the garments have dried, they’re ready to wear. There’s no need to wash them or dry them in a drier before use. Doing so will only begin to break down the Permethrin that has bonded to the garment’s fabric.

Can you soak clothing using pre-mixed 0.5% Sawyer Permethrin?

Absolutely. It can be far more convenient to soak your clothes using Sawyer Permethrin since it’s pre-mixed to the correct 0.5% concentration without having to dilute concentrated Permethrin, safely dispose of contaminated containers, or left-over Permethrin solution. It’s just more expensive.

But you can also save if you buy pre-mixed 0.5% permethrin sprays in larger quantities like the 1 Gallon Size – JT Eaton $averpack with Garment Sprayer. 

Liability Disclaimer: The author of this article and website is not responsible any damage, personal injuries or death as a result of the use of any information, maps, routes, advice, gear or techniques discussed herein. All activities are carried out at your own risk.

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  1. Do you also treat next to skin clothes with this method? Ever had any allergic reaction when sweating?

  2. Question …. this is my first time using this to send my kids to camp. I am going to make a soak for the clothes, air dry them, and then plan to wash the clothes after they dry on gentle cycle and a quick run in the clothes dryer. I read the treatment is supposed to be good for up to 6 washings with the soak …. anyone else wash and dry after treatment/drying and did you still have good results?

    thanks in advance.

  3. understood, but if it says good for up to 6 washings the first washing should be ok, correct?

  4. I just used this method about two weeks ago for packing a week on the AT in CT. Lots of bugs but none on me. No ticks, no chiggers and one mosquito bite. It worked extremely well. coated my tent fly and screen with it and never had a mosquito get in the tent.

  5. The Sawyer permethrin soak says it’s 0.5%, and then says to dilute 1 bottle w/ 2 bottles of water, so final concentration of 0.16%. Does this sound right? And would you then want to dilute the 10% solution to .16% for a soak?

  6. I did the soak method using a diluted Martin’s Permethrin mix. Some of the clothes do have a slight chemical smell (but not petroleum, as some others have commented). I tried to use the 3 ounce method suggested. Maybe the smell is from too much of the solution? None of the bags had any of the solution left after the soak, so an excessive amount seems unlikely. Not a real problem, but in my bathroom where I hang things up to dry after a hike, the smell is noticeable.
    Otherwise, worked as described. Bugs away! Thank you.

  7. I’ve been wondering about the Insect Shield proprietary process for awhile now. The other day, when I was using my vacuum sealer to seal some food, I wondered if maybe they used a vacuum process-that would tend to force the solution into the pores of the clothing and make it more resistant to washing/drying. I know that my sealer is great for marinated meats, so maybe it would work for Permethrin on clothing as well. I wish I had a spare sealer, or a cheap one I could experiment with a bit.

  8. 1:19 rate and 6.4 oz of 10% Permethrin in a gal of water give you a 0.50 % permethrin . To get a 0.05 % you need a 1:119 rate. 0.64 oz Permethrin per gallon of water .

  9. What method do you use to treat gear (tents, hammocks, packs, etc.)?

  10. Can it be safely used on kids? The chemical on the clothes will have direct contact to skin. Hopefully nothing will be breathed in after the clothes are treated. Any insights?

    • No. It’s intended for use on clothing, not kids.

    • Everything I’ve read so far indicates that after drying it will be safe, even for kids. I’m not a doctor, so this isn’t medical advice, but as another commenter says, it’s basically a dye, and won’t leach out any more than the dye will leach out of your t-shirt. I don’t know if that’s scientifically true, but it seems to describe how permethrin is said to work by all of the sources I’ve checked so far. That said, I have seen a variety of people question whether specific formulations used to apply permethrin are safe for skin contact, especially the ones that weren’t designed with human skin in mind.

      Overwhelmingly, every warning and caution I’ve seen has been about the wet form, or about residues or leftovers after it dries. Even the stuff that is specifically sold for use on clothes. You’re not just spraying your clothes with liquid permethrin, the liquid is a chemical that is used to help the permethrin bond with the cloth fibers or whatever else it’s being sprayed on. It’s quite reasonable to say that fluids that weren’t intended to be sprayed on people might have harsher chemicals in them that would cause skin irritation, etc, or even have eventual long-term health consequences.

      It can’t be THAT bad if they’re spraying it around homes (the typical use for those highly concentrated forms of permethrin) but there’s a difference between spraying something on your baseboards and staying away from it until it dries, versus spraying it on your skin, or spraying on something that will be touching your skin for prolonged periods of time.

      Most of the time when people say “solvent”, they mean something along the lines of acetone. I’ve had acetone on my skin (hands) dozens of times. I stop doing what I was doing to rush to clean it off… but that doesn’t mean I waited until I got home that night to clean it off.

  11. There is a lot of mis-information in this discussion.
    1) Permethrin acts as a dye. As such, it will reduce in concentration as it is bonded to the fabric in question. You cannot use any excess at .5% in a baggie on another garment after 4-24 hours. The water is only a vehicle for carrying the permethrin, it stays, but the concentration will reduce as permethrin bonds to the substrate. .15% is approximate for nylon pants, .05% would be more typical for a cotton T-shirt.
    2) The best way to dispose of permethrin solutions is to spray it on your hiking cloths. IFF you have excess, you can spray the foundation of your house or, on your concrete floor in the cellar. You CAN pour it onto the hot pavement in bright sunlight. UV will break down permethrin.
    3) Using a 1% solution on your hiking cloths will insure they are treated to 20-50 washings. A re-dip of .5% will be needed after 5-6 washings. Do it stronger and it will last longer. Many things effect the dye time: Heat, Pressure, Type of cloth, Concentration, Type of vehicle.
    4) It does not leech out of clothing and well dyed items anymore than the color on a cotton T-shirt does. It is safe to use crossing streams once it is bonded to your cloths.
    5) KEEP it away from Cats, fish, amphibians. It will pass through a sewage treatment plant…do NOT pour it down a drain. Do not spray it wet on your skin. Again, dyed clothing is OK.

    4) It is not a repellent. But, mosquitoes, ticks and other biting insects will loose interest after about 30secs. They have a rudimentary survival instinct. Voracious mosquitoes/deerflies, it will NOT stop…think of it as revenge.

    • I most interested in Permethrin’s properties for bed bugs. Going on the Camino Portuguese in Sept/Oct and using light wt sleeping bags/liners with our own pillowcases. Soaking sounds the most effective way to treat but what about a back pack? When on the camino I hand washed by sports t-shirts, socks and underwear everyday,(only had 2 changes). Bed bugs are the biggest fear on the Camino. No problem with ticks or mosquitos because we aren’t in the woods.

  12. I am a fool…I used a bucket with about 1 and 1/2 gallon of mixture suggested (.5%). I left the clothes soaking for about an hour and then wrung them out. There was considerable amount of mixture left in the bucket. I began to panic and rinsed them thoroughly with water in a clean bucket twice, wrung them out again and then hung them to dry. I am concerned now that this is way too much solution. Have I ruined my clothes? Anything I can do to reverse this since I used such an excess?

  13. Put 6 ounces in big bag with 2 sets of carharts in the bag is that to much of the product

  14. I have a large warm bright orange hunting jacket as well wool overalls …would you recommend the soak method? I would probably need to make a 5 gal amount to soak this much. Thanks

  15. Do you treat all the clothes you wear, including underware? OR just outside layers?

    Thank you

  16. Quick question: if you look at the packaging on the Martin’s Permethin it appears to be labeled as not to be used on clothing. Is it possible that the formulation is not the same as Sawyers and will not last through washing of the clothes?

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