Now clothing can swat mosquitoes

Never have you been able to accomplish so much by putting on a shirt.

You now have virtual super powers, just by getting dressed.

New generations of clothing now come with UV protection to block harmful rays from the sun. Sporting goods stores sell incredible performance shirts that reflect headlights at night, dry quickly, or wick away sweat to keep you cool.

Some fabrics even have anti-microbial chemicals such as silver embedded in the fibers, to keep away germs, and thus the stink from working out — mostly. Hunting stores now stock sound-absorbing clothing, lest the deer hear your pants going “vuut, vuut, vuut,” as you stalk through the underbrush.

Now, consider the next frontier in fabric superpowers, and one that people in Florida could like a lot: Clothing that repels mosquitoes.

Repellent fabric

L.L. Bean, Orvis, REI and others have recently started selling clothing that uses synthetic bug repellent in the fibers to scare off mosquitoes, ticks, ants, flies, chiggers and midges (no-see-ums.)

It’s worth noting, outdoorsy types may love the gear, but don’t expect a wide variety of choices for the style-conscious.

“Sure, they keep bugs away, because they’re so ugly,” my wife said, pointing to a mauve women’s, snap-front shirt in the pile of clothes I brought home to test.

More on the fashion issue later.

If you hate bugs, the only question is: Does it work?

Though I write for a living, the words escape me for how to describe my hatred of mosquitoes. I wish them death. Anything that promises to keep them away has my attention.

One of the first makers of bug-repelling clothing is Seattle-based Insect Shield, which markets under its own brand name and sells clothing to L.L. Bean and others under their brand names.

The active chemical is permethrin, a man-made replica of natural repellants found in some types of chrysanthemum. (Maybe we should all wear flowers?)

As a test, I wore the shirts, bandanna and pants near buggy places in town.

Now, it’s hard to prove a negative — that bugs stayed away just because of my super-power clothing. But normally, mosquitoes eat me alive and they would have gone to town on me. Didn’t happen. Hooray!

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates permethrin as a pesticide, and allows its use on crops, livestock, housing, mosquito abatement programs and clothing. It’s also used to treat head lice and scabies. So it’s serious stuff. (Pet owners should check with their vet, because some research suggests even small amounts used in flea control can badly injure or kill cats.)

The U.S. military now treats almost all combat clothing with permethrin, and some government tests showed a 100-percent drop in the number of bug bites through the clothing, compared to non-treated versions, said Ulrich Bernier, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who works in Gainesville.

Bernier bought his own bug-repellent clothing and wears it during research trips to Africa.

“It absolutely works, especially with tics,” Bernier said. Bugs hate the stuff, he said, and essentially get drunk by touching it, and stumble away angry, if not dead.”

One big catch, however. Bernier says the clothing won’t protect nearby skin that’s uncovered. So shorts won’t keep bugs away from your knees or feet, he says. On that point, he differs from the manufacturers, who say it does.

But would people wear the stuff? Yes, we found a super-cute girl’s shirt with a happy little tree illustration, some plain T-shirts and baseball hats. There’s even a classic red paisley bandana.

But the style of other items truly targets the serious-camper genre, with lots of pockets and doodads such as snap-front shirts and sleeves with straps to keep them rolled up. Most pants have zip-off legs to make them into shorts. Fans of old-school Members Only jackets may find these have a certain appeal.

Pricey protection

Which brings us to price.

You pay a premium to fight bugs. Prices vary a bit. But a baseball hat from one company costs $29.95. Men’s convertible shorts/pants cost $79.

Some models combine all the super powers into one shirt: wicking, UV protection, fast-drying, bug repelling, etc., so they offer something more than a $12, four-pack of white T-shirts.

There are some relative deals out there. A T-shirt is on sale at L.L. Bean, discounted from $32 to $26. Insect Shield promises the chemical repellant will last at least 70 washes, though they warn not to dry clean them. For someone such as a camp counselor, hiker or landscaper, it’s definitely worth trying. In Florida during the summer, anything would be.