Permethrin Soak Method Guide

Permethrin Soak Method Guide

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. Before you begin, be sure to read all labels and documentation that comes with your Permethrin solution to determine if it is legal to use for this purpose in the United States. If in doubt, read the MSDS or call the manufacturer and ask.

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.

Long-Lasting Insect Shield Permethrin Treatment

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 at 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.

Yes. It is worth paying Insect Shield to treat your clothes with a longer-lasting Permethrin treatment, especially if ticks and Lyme Disease are a concern. I regularly send them pants, shirts, gaiters, and socks to be treated. They don’t treat underwear and you have to treat your gear yourself. As for gear, I don’t bother, although you could convince me that it’s worth doing on a hammock or a tent floor.

Permethrin with High Concentrations of Petroleum Distillates

You want to avoid buying permethrin with Petroleum Distillates in it. These can leave a greasy film on any gear or clothing you treat with it, which is most unpleasant and may cause skin irritation. We can vouch for Sawyer’s Permethrin, with is premixed to the right concentration for treating clothing and gear, and Martins 10% Permethrin Concentrate (having used them many times on my own gear and clothes).

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

Soaking can be more convenient if you have bulky items (like a tent or hammock) or you want to treat or many articles of clothing. Soaking is also likely to provide 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.

Martins Permethrin 10 percent
Martins Permethrin Concentrate

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. Concentrated permethrin solutions are also available in many feed and hardware stores but you want to be careful to avoid any permethrin or permethrin that includes petroleum distillates. (See below)

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 them 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. Many concentrated Permethrin solutions come with a built-in measuring cup 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.

I recommend wearing protective gloves when working with Permethrin in any concentration, 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 labeled and disposed of as recommended on the product label by the manufacturer.

 

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. But you can add more if it’s needed to soak the item as long as it’s diluted to the same 0.5% concentration.

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 (some people hold Permethrin Parties to do this with friends), 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 leftover Permethrin that is complicated to safely dispose or store. It also prevents the accidental inhalation that mist if you spray rather than soak your garments.

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. Just let it air dry.

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.

How should you dispose of unused Permethrin solution?

If you have leftover Permethrin solution, please don’t pour it down the drain. Permethrin is deadly to fish and harmful to people if ingested in its liquid form. The safest way to dispose of it is to let it evaporate. You can also store any remainder in a bottle for future use.

Liability Disclaimer: The author of this article and website is not responsible for 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. 

Updated 2021.

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15 comments

  1. Thanks for the info. I saw your advice that treatment lasts 6 weeks or 6 washings. Are the washings in cold water? Should I put them in the dryer or drip dry them like in the application phase?

  2. I use permethrin on bandanas for my dogs to keep ticks away.
    Seems to work well.
    My dogs have always been my best hiking buddies.
    Ticks here in the northeast are a huge problem.

  3. I use Martins in the 36.8% strength. 1 tablespoon of this added to 12 ozs of water makes a 1.5% solution (math confirmed by a pharmacist/hiker), which is what the military uses. Even though the label says “contains petroleum distillates”, I’ve been using this for years and never found it to leave a greasy residue. It stinks at first, but once the distillates evaporate, the vast majority of the smell goes away. The petroleum distillates are what allows the permethrin, which is not soluble in water, to dissolve. If you use a brand which does NOT include petroleum distillates, be sure to shake your spray bottle or stir your soaking tub frequently, otherwise the permethrin will separate out (since it’s not a true solution). I also think the petroleum distillates allow the permethrin to bond to the clothing better than a simple water-based emulsion would.

    Also, I prefer to wash the garments using cold water and NO detergent, which believe it or not seems to get the dirt and dried sweat out well enough.

    I definitely agree with wearing protective gloves, doing this OUTSIDE, and ideally wearing a face mask (anybody got one of these?) and standing up wind from the clothing as you spray. This stuff is a neurotoxin until it is dry, but once fully dried is considered safe. I also agree with not putting this stuff in the washing machine!!

    FWIW, there’s a LONG discussion on this topic at http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8017183

  4. I’m just curious, my back sweats a lot while backpacking no matter what kind of pack I use. I can’t stand Deet on my skin or clothes. I bought Sawyers to spray on my clothes. But I am wondering if permethrin will be absorbed in my skin, and even more so if I soak them. Any thoughts or advice ? Thanks

    • It won’t be absorbed by your skin. Once it dries that first time after application it’s bonded to the fabric. I regularly wade/stream cross in permethrin-treated pants without issue or loss of efficacy. I would suggest sending them out to Insect Shield however for longer lasting treatment that will surviuve 70 washings.

      • Great article and perfect timing. I have been pulling ticks off my GSD (who loves to bushwack!!) for two months; and my wife developed the classic halo around an imbedded tick I found on her back side. She just finished her doxycycline script but not without huge side effects.
        When I hiked the AT, I treated all clothes and my gear with military grade permethrin , what we treated our uniforms before deployment. I recommend against this; imagine how bad a thru-hiker smells. Now triple it with military grade permethrin. It really was a “solo” hike for me!!

  5. Every time I think of doing this, I re-read Silent Spring, which describes just what such nerve agents do.

  6. i had lyme disease last year and that is something you definitely want to avoid. I lost the entire month of July 2020 laying on the couch moaning and lost 14 lbs. the studies show this works. I did not find another tick on my since starting doing this to my clothes. Today I am retreating for this year.

  7. Advice please, I seem to be a “tick magnet “. I can be with 10 people walking in the woods and I will be only one with ticks and they grab on quick. I’ve been told Carbon Dioxide our bodies give off attract ticks. Well I’ve used everything on my body on my clothes and I still will be only one with them. I mean multiple ones. Any ideas please I love the outdoors.

    • Just wear long pants and gaiters. Permethrin helps kills them if they latch onto your clothing before they can bite you.

    • There are many options on clothing pretreated with permethrin. I was hiking with my brother in law in a place Arkansas that should have been named Tickville. I watched large, hungry ticks crawl up my pants and once they got to knee level, they started walking in circles and fell off. If you use gaiters or tuck your long pants into your socks, you get the satisfaction of watching them croak on the outside of your garment, rather than the inside.

      There are ways to manage the tick scourge. Permethrin works! I love dead ticks!

  8. Philip do you treat your hat and headnet also?

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