Keep Chiggers in Check

July 11, 2013 | By | Comments (14)

A chigger on the prowl for skin. Photo:

Are you ready for chiggers? Chiggers are ready for you! So unless you enjoy having itchy red bumps eat up your ankles this summer, Grumpy suggests you continue reading.

My first encounter with these nasty, invisible demons came as a kid when I was outside playing with my cousins in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Kids being kids (meaning careless and stupid), we saw no need to wear shoes while running around on the sandy soil and pine straw that cover the Sandhills region of the Tarheel State.

Then my legs started itching something fierce. I looked down to see my ankles covered in red welts the size of Red Hots Candy. Each welt looked like it had a tiny hole in the center. When you squeezed it, clear liquid came out and then a scab formed. Barf.

Red Hots

Remember Red Hots? Photo:

Convinced that chiggers has bored into my skin, my mother insisted I paint over each welt with clear nail polish to suffocate the little sucker. (Oh, you’ve done that too?) It did absolutely no good, of course, but the placebo effect made me feel better.

So What Are Chiggers?
Glad you asked. Chiggers (Trombicula sp.) are arachnids, relatives of spiders, mites, and ticks. The ones that actually bite you are the teeny-tiny, red larvae about 1/150-inch in diameter or almost too small to see. After they feed on you, they drop to the ground and change into non-annoying adults whose only job is to mate and produce eggs.

Burrowing under your skin is not what causes the itchy welts. Chigger larvae don’t burrow. Instead, they inject saliva to dissolve skin cells and consume them (unlike ticks, they don’t drink blood). Your body responds with an allergic reaction that forms an itchy, scabby feeding tube. By the time you reach for the nail polish, the chigger is long gone. Fortunately, chiggers don’t carry diseases as ticks and mosquitoes do.

How Can I Avoid Chiggers?
Your best defense is to create an environment that chiggers don’t like. Chiggers prefer shady areas with plenty of moisture. They hang out in brush, pine straw, Spanish moss, and tall grass and weeds. They’re most active during warm afternoons.

So make your yard the opposite of this. Cut grass low. Pull the weeds. Remove thick underbrush. Let in more sunlight and air.

What about using pesticide? Well, you could spray your yard with a product designed to kill fleas and ticks. If you’re an organic gardener, try dusting the area with garden sulfur (provided you don’t mind it smelling like rotten eggs, that is).

However, spraying is rarely necessary if you’ll do one simple thing. When you go out into the yard, apply an insect repellent containing DEET to shoes, socks, exposed skin, and clothing. Make these tiny vermin prey on someone else.


  1. Shirley Smith

    I just bought the blue Listerine and have slathered it all over my chigger bites: BLESSED RELIEF!
    Years ago we moved from north central Dallas and a miserable life with chiggers. Since then until this year, we have had no chiggers. But, oh, NOW we do. It has taken a while for me to accept this truth. πŸ˜–.
    So we have returned to the past as of this morning: OFF Deep Woods Insect Repellent by each outside door. We lived that way for sooooo many years. It was nice to live here without chiggers, but they have arrived with a vengeanceπŸ˜–πŸ˜–πŸ˜–πŸ˜–. Youch.
    THANK EVERYONE FOR YOUR HELPFUL POSTS!!!! I am in LOVE with blue Listerine as of the past half hour. And each door now has its OFF sentinels!!

    May 31, 2016 at 8:05 am
  2. Drew

    It’s pretty helpful knowing what environments that chiggers like. It can help you prevent creating that kind of environment for them in your own yard. Thanks for the great advice!

    July 7, 2015 at 10:02 am
  3. PFG

    Deet will not hurt anyone if used properly, and works much better than any ‘natural’ remedy. Do not apply directly to clothing for certain materials… best to apply directly on your skin;
    +spray some in the palms of your hands and wipe your face and neck with the solution.

    June 15, 2015 at 1:30 pm
  4. Steve Bender

    WHERE ELSE can you learn to apply blue Listerine to chiggers bites to make them stop itching, except the Grumpy Gardener? Gary, some readers say that have found picardin to repel chiggers as well.

    July 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm
  5. Sue Miller

    The Dirty Little Secrets of moving to North Carolina — poison ivy (tons!), nasty thorny vines tough as barbed wire, ubiquitous mosquitos, AND chiggers!
    I am so allergic to chiggers (and NEVER have seen one) that the top layer of my epidermis seems to ‘dissolve’ around a bite — that’s how I can tell them from mosquito bites!
    The best thing for removing that appalling itch is mentioned on several blogs and really works!


    Yes, the mouthwash!
    Apply with a cotton ball.
    Instant relief.
    Cheap in BIG bottles at Costco.

    July 15, 2013 at 7:19 am
  6. Arthur in the Garden!

    I hate chiggers/redbugs! Very itchy. I find that spray with an insect repellant before working in the yard and garden is the best way to prevent tick, mosquitos, and chigger bites!

    July 14, 2013 at 3:33 am
  7. Roberta Lynn Hofmann Knight

    Mix some Noxema Medicated Skin Cream with baking soda to form a paste. Will stop the itching & swelling instantly! We do this for all bug bites & sting’s.

    July 12, 2013 at 8:54 pm
  8. Gary Allen

    I don’t know what you want besides to quit itching Carolyn. I for one found a site a while back which actually has a formula for stopping the itching. They quite literally saved my legs from the chainsaw.
    You can check them out . I’d tell you but the read is well worth the few bucks you pay if it. It is more than just an itch treatment but covers just about everything to do with chiggers. I recommend them every chance I get. Hope this help you.

    July 12, 2013 at 9:05 am
  9. Carolyn Herrell

    What can or do you apply to the bites, if you get bit?

    July 12, 2013 at 8:12 am
  10. Gary Allen

    Nice article. However dangerous information is being tossed out there to the individual sufferer. DEET is not good for man or beast. it is highly toxic and dangerous. Symptom vary from user to user and may take years in cases to even become evident but it range all the way to very serious nerve damage and death. It is especial toxic for small children. If it is to be used at all do not apply to the skin at all. Apply only to the outside of clothing. There are plenty of natural repellants a body can use on the skin without applying DEET. Good luck and again, nice article.

    July 12, 2013 at 1:23 am
  11. Hope

    How funny! I have my nail polish ready after taking pictures of Spanish Moss today. hmmm…Great!

    July 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm
  12. Take A Look Thursday: Legend of The Spanish Moss | Reclaiming My Narnia

    […] Keep Chiggers in Check ( […]

    July 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm
  13. Barbara West

    Thanks for the chigger memories. The clear nail polish made mine itch even worse. The only redeeming thing about this treatment is that it gave me more to scratch. Did you pick blackberries with us? Mama had some glorious vines in her yard.

    July 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm
  14. Carolyn Choi

    Thanks for the public service announcement on chiggers, Grumpy. Wish I had read that when I first arrived in North Carolina. It was a warm December two years ago and the grass was still growing so I decided to mow the lawn. Unbeknownst ( is that a word ?) to me I was covered with chiggers that set about making a meal out of me. Long story short I ended up at the doctor’s office with hives all over . Doc took a biopsy and said it was chiggers and that my immune system had kicked into overdrive. It took several months before the welps went away. And they left scars that lasted for a year. So now I take your advice and spray my feet and clothes with Deet . So far so good.

    July 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm

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