Treating your Clothes with Permethrin

Permethrin is a pesticide that you spray on clothing to kill black flies, ticks, and mosquitoes but has no harmful side effects on humans if used properly. It is the active ingredient used in Insect Shield and Buzz Off clothing and kills bugs when they land on your clothing. You can buy Permethrin Spray in liquid form and spray it on your own clothes to the same effect. This self-applied form lasts for 4-6 washings. Permethrin was developed by the U.S. military to protect soldiers from insects in the jungle.

You can buy Permethrin Spray on Amazon. A big bottle comes with a spray adapter and will cover 4 complete sets of clothing, including shirts, pants, and socks. You’ll want to read the directions carefully before applying it, but it’s not difficult to do. You need to spray it on the clothes you plan to wear hiking or for any outdoor activity in a windless but well-ventilated place like a garage. Let them dry for a few hours and you’re all set.

I’ve been spraying Permethrin on the clothes that I wear for spring and summer hiking in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 10 years. This has included long sleeve shirts, convertible hiking pants, gaiters, and hiking socks. When you spray the Permethrin on, you want to position the sprayer 6 to 8 inches away from the clothing you plan to treat. Pay particular attention to the cuffs of long pants and shirt sleeves where ticks will try to attack you. It’s also a good idea to spray it on your hat or to buy one that’s already been treated with Permethrin like the Outdoor Research Bugout Brim Hat. 

Permethrin is EPA approved for use as an insect repellent when applied to clothing and other textiles.
Permethrin is EPA approved for use as an insect repellent when applied to clothing and other textiles.

Sawyer’s Permethrin Spray (24 oz) is pre-mixed to the correct concentration so you can apply it to clothing without any preparation. JT Eaton also sells a gallon-size of pre-mixed Permethrin, which is much more economical if you have a large amount of clothing to treat.

I can attest to the effectiveness of Permethrin Spray particularly against mosquitos and ticks. I rarely ever get bitten as long as I wear long-sleeved permethrin-treated shirt and pants when I go hiking in the forest. I love having the sun on my arms and legs as much as the next guy, but I’d rather cover up than catch Lyme disease, which the CDC believes is now 10 times more prevalent than previously reported.

More about Permethrin

As a treatment for clothing, Permethrin clothing insect repellent does not harm fabrics and is odorless after it dries. Use Permethrin on clothing by itself or with skin-applied repellents to create the ultimate protective, armor-like insect barrier. Permethrin-treatments on clothing are non-toxic to humans and are registered for use by the U.S. EPA.

The active ingredient, Permethrin, is a synthetic molecule similar to those found in natural pyrethrum, which is taken from the chrysanthemum flower. Not only does this product repel insects, but will actually kill ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, mites and more than 55 other kinds of insects.

Permethrin insect repellents are for use with clothing, tents, and other gear. During the drying process, it tightly bonds with the fibers of the treated garment. It will not stain or damage clothing, fabrics, plastics, finished surfaces, or any of your outdoor gear.

Permethrin is a contact insecticide, meaning that kills ticks or other insects when it comes in contact with them. It uses the same active ingredient used in hair shampoos for head lice. When applied to clothing the Permethrin binds to the fabric eliminating the risk of over-exposure to the skin. As a clothing, tent, chairs, or sleeping bag application, Permethrin is very effective at keeping ticks from attaching to you and at reducing the mosquito population in your camping area. While ticks usually find you at the ankle level (be sure to treat the socks and pants) they can also climb bushes and find you at a higher level so be sure to treat your shirt as well if you are around bushes and concerned about ticks.

Sweating and exposure to water do not significantly deteriorate the application. It is primarily the agitation of a washing machine, which deteriorates the Permethrin application as it knocks the molecules loose from the fabric. For best results, Sawyer recommends hand washing and air-drying. When using a conventional washer and drier, use the gentle wash and dry cycles. Loss due to the drier is limited compared to the detergent and washer agitation. Dry cleaning removes the Permethrin from the fabric.

Permethrin Spray can last up to six weeks including through six weekly washings. All treatments are non-staining and not greasy. Always follow the directions for use on the package label. Factory pre-treated Permethrin clothing however, lasts for 70 washings and is far more convenient if you don’t want to spray your own clothing.

Updated 2020

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  1. It’s actually NOT a natural plant compound, permethrin is a synthetic version of pyrethrin (the natural one).

    • You obviously did not read properly; please re-read the above as it clearly states:

      “The active ingredient, Permethrin, is a synthetic molecule similar to those found in natural pyrethrum, which is taken from the chrysanthemum flower.”

      • Oceanmom, Lisa is right. It states that Permethrin is a SYNTHETIC molecule and similar to the natural pyrethrum. Natural as nature made it pyrethrum comes from the chrysanthemum flower, whereas synthetic Permethrin is made in a lab.

  2. Oh God yes! And SOCKS! Anything you wear–hats and backpacks too (you can skip your undies but I know a guy who just treated his because he was going to be wearing SHORTS). Can also be applied to tents, camp chairs, sleeping bags, mosquito netting, etc.

    • I’ve just soaked some shirts in permethrin, cotton and linen and am wondering whether I will damage the killer qualities if I iron them when dry? If I hang them on hangers as in spray pic above and if so do I have to throw the hangers out? The soak instructions are so particular about not getting product on skin that I’m not sure how long anything that has been in contact with the solution remains harmful.
      Thanks in advance

  3. After I soaked my clothes, I soaked my tent, hiking shoes, hammock, backpack, etc. The runoff from that was getting a little too dirty for treating clothing so I filtered it through a paint filter to remove debris and put it in a spray bottle for later use. When car camping in tick prone areas, I spray the perimeter of the tent.

    • “When car camping in tick prone areas, I spray the perimeter of the tent.”

      Oh dear god no, please don’t do this. When you spray it onto fabrics like clothes and gear, it bonds with the material and forms its protective layer there. However it is environmentally toxic and can do damage when applied directly to plants, soil, or groundwater. You are quite literally POISONING THE ENVIRONMENT by doing this. Please stop.

      • Permethrin sees widespread use on crops and livestock, and once it dries it is difficult to wash off. It is toxic to aquatic organisms but contamination is unlikely unless you’re drenching your tent next to a river or pond. Not sure why you would want to spray the tent though. The tent itself is a barrier.

      • oh good grief. he is quite literally NOT poisoning the environment. stop being a spaz.

  4. I know Sati’s comment is quite old, but in case anyone else wonders, permethrin sprayed on clothing (or gear) lasts 6 weeks or 6 washings.

  5. So how is any product supposed to reach it’s intended target? Magic.
    You worry too much.

  6. I’ll just stick with Sawyer Permethrin. I know it doesn’t dissolve my synthetic clothes, so I doubt it will dissolve my synthetic hammock.

  7. I remember Sawyer said that its permethrin products are specially formulated to stick to clothes.

    So, would DIY permethrin method work just as good?

  8. George Leroy Tirebiter.

    Sawyer products are designed to pick your pocket. This post has been beaten to death.
    Every possible question has been asked repeatedly (no offense). The chances of injury from application of permethrin to your clothes, in any concentration, have to be weighed against the Lyme disease your gonna get if you don’t.
    If some of you are looking for an “organic” way to deter tick bites, there isn’t anything as effective as permethrin.

  9. I’m going camping in the British Virgin Islands in march, so am going to treat my clothing with permethrin before I leave. I am planning to rent a tent from the campground where I’m going, so was hoping to find a 3oz can I could bring in my carry on luggage, but I haven’t been able to find a can smaller than 6oz. Any advice where to find?

    • Sawyer doesn’t make one smaller than 6 oz. You might consider bringing a small bottle of the concentrate (and an empty spray bottle) and mixing it when you’re there.

    • Does anybody know if this works scabies

      • THIS VERSION OF PERMETHRIN IS NOT FOR TREATING SCABIES. It is for treating clothing and gear. The concentration is not the same as creams and lotions used for treating scabies, nor is the carrier. This is not for use on skin!

  10. Does anyone know if you can iron clothes after spraying with permethrin? I ironed my husbands shirts and now worry I might have reduced effectiveness of product.

    • You have to make sure the solution has air dried, first. After that, washing/ironing has minimal affect. Sawyer’s website in fact mentions ironing damp clothes to make it “attach” even better to the clothes. Duration does not recommend ironing or any heat, only air dry. Once fully dried, anything goes.

    • Why on earth would anyone want or need to iron outdoor clothing?? You are working too hard!
      Enjoy your life and stop ironing. :)

  11. How safe is Permethrin lotion for use on uncovered/exposed skin?

    • Did you mean to ask about SPRAY, and not lotion? This thread is about the permethrin SPRAY used to treat clothing and gear, not the lotion or cream used to treat human lice, etc.
      That being said, if it will help keep you safe, I’ll answer that what I’ve learned about skin contact with the wet SPRAY solution for clothing is that it is not recommended at all, but the warnings are partly based on safety warning standards. The spray-on solution is not made to be used on skin, so the standard warnings are applied. Another reason is because it is ineffective against insects when applied to skin; apparently it is deactivated by your skin chemistry. That does not make it safe, however.
      There’s over 80 comments in this discussion, a lot of people have put time into finding answers. Tons of good info here, please read. You could also check Sawyer’s website and read the FAQ’s there.

  12. Thanks Lisa. Yes I appreciate the information in the thread and am now well informed on the efficacy of the spray for clothing. I was moving on to the topic of finding a safe and effective lotion, possibly one that contains Permethrin, for exposed skin. I’m traveling to Puerto Rico and want to take the a protection product for exposed skin with me to avoid/repel mosquitos that might be carrying Zica. Thx for any info you may be able to provide.

  13. Rookie move, under-diluted the first time I mixed up a batch to spray on my clothes. Applied it at 1%, rather than 0.5%. Just on my pants, boots, daypack. (Had done socks, t-shirts, shirts with the single bottle of pre-mixed I’d bought, planning to refill with self-mixed) I see one fellow above mentions going 12-1 (.83%) per military approach, so am guessing I’m not in any real danger.

    Should I watch for skin issues, or any other red flags to using over-treated clothes?? I suppose I may just get some extra time out of it, as he suggests the army does…but wanted to see if anyone had any negative experience from over-treatment.

    • I seriously doubt there would be any issues from mixing it .3% stronger than usual. Not sure if it would last any longer just because it’s a stronger concentration, though, but I can’t find info on what concentration the army uses, or how they “factory treat” it, that makes it last through 50 washings.

      A quick search found some people having bad reactions to it even at recommended strength; no accounting for individual sensitivities.

      After researching this up and down for a long time before deciding to use it myself, in my opinion I’d say you have nothing to worry about (barring any personal sensitivity).

  14. Hi all, Im from New Zealand and my husband and I are going on a cruise to New Caledonia, we will be visiting 4 of the small islands there and apparently the Zika Virus is around, whats the best advice about protection against mosquitos please.

    • One ounce won’t cover the clothes. They have to be wet to soak thru. Worst comes to worse they take longer to dry. Don’t be miserly.

  15. It is essential to let them air dry after treating them, rather than using a dryer?

    • yes, using a dryer accelerates the decay of the Permethrin coating. More friction. Air drying is recommended.

  16. I have a bottle of permethrin that I know is two years old. Does it have a shelf life or is it still effective and usable?

  17. Dale Christianer

    I treated some clothes yesterday, hanging on the clothesline. I have since read that sunlight breaks down permethrin, so how much would having them dry in the sun reduce the effectiveness?

  18. If one has a large container of more concentrated permethrin, say 10% or 36% as offered on Amazon, how is it diluted for spraying on clothing? What concentration is advised for tents, backpacks, spraying around tents, lawn furniture, etc?

    What is the concentration of permethrin in the Sawyer products that are premixed in the right concentration for spraying clothing?

    • Search on “permethrin soak method” I wrote an article about that too.

      • Thank you for all you information…. we are going on a 53 day cruise around Asia . australia.6 weeks .. New Zealand.2 weeks . Bankok 1 week and then Dubia… this sounds like something i better order and get done…With all the talk about the bugs and the vaccines i have been getting…I don’t want to leave anything out….. so what is the best bug spray…. my papers say over 20%… i ordered something in from the drug store .. waiting… again thank you very much Phillip Werner… sounds like you have been here before…

  19. Re “lasts for 4-6 washings”: there is a footnote there that basically says “unless you use soap or agitation”. I treat my clothes (socks, pants, gaiters) with the stuff every time they’re washed just to be sure. It works.

  20. If I treat my clothes with Permethrin, will it irritate my skin when I sweat as I’m hiking?

    • I’ve purchased Permethrein 10 by Gordons at Tractor Supply. I’ve diluted it to .05 and sprayed it on about half of my kids clothes as they are headed to camp. I had done lots of research and felt comfortable doing this to protect them from ticks/lyme but am also hoping the mosquitos will be kept at bay as well. So I just read the package insert for the permethrin 10 by Gordons and it says specifically not to be used on clothing. But that means in the 10% concentrate form, right? It says it does contain the petroleum distillates, but it smells fine on the clothes I’ve sprayed that are still drying. I do want my kids to be SAFE- from ticks AND chemical sprays both. I am unsure if I should continue using this. Is all permethrin the same? The Sawyers for clothing specifically is expensive for the amount of clothing I am doing. Please advise! Thanks.

      • It should be fine, but I’ve never used their product. I suggest you contact the manufacturer if you have any concerns and ask for their product safety sheet. Is all permethrin the same – yes (more or less), except for the other 90% of the stuff its dissolved in.

    • Not if you follow the directions to apply it.

      • If I don’t have access to outdoor space to dry the clothing once sprayed, could I use our machine dryer and just keep the heat setting on low/air?

      • That will wear down the treatment and coat the inside of your dryer with it. Why not hang your clothes inside.

  21. Does it have a odor to it

  22. The potential carcinogenicity of permethrin is so far inconclusive. The EPA has classified the chemical as potentially carcinogenic through oral exposure, mainly due to several studies where mice developed two types in benign tumors
    Toxipedia. I’ll pass thanks :)

    • Don’t eat it or lick your clothing until it dries. Problem solved

      • The potential for carcinogenity is so far inconclusive . Not just oral, your interest not mne :) . Please read again!

    • …Easy, stay out of the woods and low over growth. Better yet, stay away from the northeast and central east coast states…

  23. Does permethrin cause irritation to skin if you sweat ? Going to a very hot andf humid climate.

  24. Hi SectionHiker, I just ordered some Permethrin Insect Repellant Soak from you this morning, but there seemed to be a hiccup with the flow of the order, it took my bank details and address but seemed to get stuck on a certain web page. Could you please tell me if my order went through as we are going to New Caledonia very soon. My name is Lesley and live at Normanville. Appreciate your feedback on this. As if it didnt go through I need to somehow order this again.

  25. Thank you Philip. My mistake. I ordered it from another website. Many apologies. Lesley

  26. Thank you for this excellent article. I have my Permethrin and sprayed my clothing today prior to hiking. It works great! Now I can hike all summer in my beloved woods and not worry as much about getting Lyme disease again , or all the other nasty diseases they carry!

  27. Seems to me that hammocking instead of tenting would reduce the risks of tick infestations; have any studies been performed to gather evidence about that?

    • I think you’re confusing head lice with natural ticks that live in the forest, and jump on your legs and arm to spread lyme disease. That’s a different problem entirely.

  28. Camping in a forest with our pop-up. Would you recommend treating the canvas, awning, or even bedding?

    • Yep. But wearing treated long pants, socks, a long sleeve shirt, and hat are really your best first line of defense.

    • This study concluded that treating tent canvas provides some level of protection for an entire campsite.

      (Passive Prophylaxis With Permethrin-Treated Tents Reduces Mosquito Bites Among North American Summer Campers)

      The researchers used Boy Scouts as test subjects…I hope they scored some sort of merit badge for their participation.

  29. Does it still work if you apply waterproofing treatment after applying the repellent?

  30. If I get Insect Shield clothing wet while wearing it, then does it become toxic to aquatic life?

  31. Arlene McKinley

    Going to Africa! Can’t find answer to a few questions. I get it lasts 6 weeks through some washings …..but

    1. Should new clothing be washed before treating with permethrin?
    2. How long before going on a vacation can you treat clothing,shoes etc. I don’t plan on wearing the things I buy for our Africa trip before we get there.

    • 1. Doesn’t matter.
      2. As long or as little as you want, as long as its dry before you put them on. Washing reduces the efficacy. Not time.

  32. can you use it as a mosquito deterrent on outdoor covered patio cushions? (sunbrella fabric?)

  33. Thank you for the extensive Q&A. I just want to clarify some things. The bottle says it lasts 42 days or 6 washings, but you say that time does not reduce efficacy, only washings. So which is true: It lasts 42 days or it lasts indefinitely if not washed? If I spray items outside can they air dry inside? Thank you.

    • It lasts in the bottle as a liquid indefinitely. It lasts on your clothes in its dry form for 6 washings.

      • So, where do 42 days come into play?

      • Philip wrote that it lasts “in the bottle…” indefinitely. Once applied, the clock starts ticking.

        I don’t have that label in front of me, but it might say “6 weeks”, which would be 42 days. I’ve heard that the treatment is about 6 weeks or 6 washings.

        Personally, I use the soak method since it’s easy to buy a pint of permethrin in a higher concentration for about the same price as a spray bottle from Sawyer and then mix a few gallons total. I mix what I think I’ll need and what’s left over goes in a spray bottle for treating shoes, tents, etc. that can’t be soaked easily.

  34. Hi,

    Is treated clothing dangerous to cats after it has been sprayed or even after it has been washed?

    I have sprayed my clothes outside and brushed down the area just don’t want to let the cat near there yet.

    Thanks for your advice in advance,


    • Not when it has dried on your clothes or washed afterwards. But in its liquid form, it is deadly to cats. Make sure to read the instructions on the label.

      • Thank you for your swift response Phillip it is much appreciated. I have kept her inside and washed down the area where I sprayed as she sometimes rolls around there. I’l keep her inside for today as a precaution.

        Many thanks,


  35. I don’t have enough of these clothes for a whole load at any given time. Is it really a problem washing them with other clothes that aren’t treated, as long as it’s not underwear?

  36. Saying it won’t damage clothing is bullshit.
    It melts plastic and if you have any stretch fabrics that most likely utilize spandex it can damage that as well as a few other fabrics.

    • Rick – you’re confusing Permethrin with DEET. DEET, the stuff you put on your skin, does dissolve plastic. Permethrin is designed for use with clothing which is why the US Military uses it.

    • I have used a permethrin soak many times, very carefully and responsibly. I keep adding clothes to a bin, soaking completely and drying, then adding more clothes to the bin until every last drop is completely used up. I have used it on so many types of fabrics, certainly many with stretch since that’s all I buy for hiking, and I’ve never experienced any type of damage to my clothes, and I keep clothes for years. The soak does not affect the feel, the color, the elasticity, or anything else regarding the clothes, or my skin for that matter. One thing I find useful is to use a fabric marker and add a “P” to the tag, since I don’t treat all my clothes, it’s a way to know which items are treated (I have a number of pants that are exactly the same so it helps to know which ones I should be hiking in).

  37. If your clothes are mostly dry except for waistbands and double cloth areas can you finish the drying in the dryer?

  38. Will spraying UPF 50 clothing with permethrin degrade the fabric or ruin the sun protectiveness of the clothing?

  39. If I plan to treat a regular t-shirt, should I be concerned about any adverse reactions? The instructions seem to only mention outer shirts, like a button up that you would wear over another untreated shirt. Does it matter as long as I don’t spray the inner part of the clothing?

    • No, it’s fine.

      • Thank you so much for all this information. I have found conflicting advice on other sites about spraying permethrin on a Goretex coat. I have a Northface Dryzzle coat. What would you advise?
        If not the coat, then the shirt, fleece jacket and merino base layer? Safe for beanie and neck guard?
        Thanks again.

  40. Thank you for all this information. I have read conflicting advice about spraying permethrin on a Goretex jacket. I have a Northface Dryzzle jacket. What do you advise?
    If not the jacket, I suppose the shirt underneath and the fleece jacket and merino tee shirt as well as socks and shoes, beanie and neck guard?
    Thanks again.

  41. This might be a bit hyper anxious but am wondering if a product with DEET applied to wrists and on the back of the neck would affect a Goretex jacket if the jacket came in contact with treated the skin.

  42. The label on the Sawyer clothing product says do not treat hats and caps. But there are several references in this thread about treating hats, beanies, neck guards, etc. What is the problem with treating hats?

    Also, should you wear gloves when spraying clothing?

  43. My spray bottle of Sawyers recommends using 4.5 oz of formula per outfit; less than this “will lead to unsatisfactory results”. There are no measurement markings on the bottle, how do i best determine when 4.5 oz have exited the sprayer nozzle?? It is a .5% premixed solution.

    • Go to your local Walmart. But one of their $1.00 empty spray bottles. Make sure it has the .oz measurements on the side. Pour your sawyers in it. Watch the marks. Spray 4ozs on your clothes. Get a calculator if you need it.

  44. Can I spray a pair of leather sandals, will NOT be wearing socks with sandals? Will this be safe to wear without socks? Thank you.

  45. Can you add the sawyer insect repellent in the washer and wash clothes? Or do they need to be sprayed?

    • You don’t want to do that because the waste water is toxic to people, plants, and animals. The permethrin has to dry to became inert. Spraying or soaking the clothes and letting them dry is the only way to make the Permethrin non-toxic. Spraying reduces the amount of waste liquid. But if you soak, you also need to let the excess evaporate. Read the directions on the label.

  46. Does Permethrin work on New Hampshire black flies? What about spraying clothes with DEET?

    • No, it only works on black flies in Vermont and Maine. Smart little buggers. They know exactly where the state line is. Deet just washes out, although it will melt synthetic clothes is you spray enough on.

  47. I bought a sleeping bag liner factory-treated with permethrin. Not for backpacking, but for cabins, shelters, hostels, etc. which may have bedbugs after a bad experience. From what I’ve read, there are many kinds of bedbugs and permethrin is only effective against some of them, but its better than nothing.

    • I used one for the same reason a few years ago. Awkward to pull over your head.

      • I sometimes sleep with a permethrin-treated Buff over my head and ears, but not face. I also have a permethrin-treated head net I wear over a hat, but I’ve never slept in it. I’d rather risk bugs on my face than have fabric soaked in a neurotoxin touch my eyes, nose or mouth. Trade-offs.

  48. Does anyone know a company that you can send your gear to and they will do it for you?

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