Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Control Gnats Outdoors


Gnats tend to congregate in mulch and shrubbery.

My back yard is infested with gnats, and it’s driving me nuts! I have a dog, so I want to be careful about what products I use. Could you please help? -Trisha

While we frequently use the word “gnats” to refer to any number of tiny winged insects (such as biting midges, punkies, and no see ums), true fungus gnats are small nonbiting insects that are drawn to wet, rotten organic matter where they lay their eggs and soon hatch into larvae. In general, they are relatively harmless creatures, but their incessant swarming is annoying enough to drive even the toughest of gardeners indoors.

Like mosquitoes, gnats can be difficult to control, because the problem may go beyond your property line. It’s pretty hard to deal with any insect in your own yard if they’re flying in from a nearby lake or farm, and some parts of the world seem to be overrun during the warmer months.

A little vanilla extract on the brim of your hat acts as a “natural” gnat repellent.

Take these steps to make your yard less inviting to gnats:

  • Keep your garden free of mold, fungus, and rotting plant debris. Pay particular attention to shady areas with poor air circulation. Put your compost pile as far from the house as you can, cover your trash cans, and keep fallen debris cleaned up.
  • Amend your garden soil to improve drainage.
  • Occasionally rake or turn your mulch to allow sodden, moldy layers to dry out.
  • Avoid overwatering, and allow enough time between waterings for the top layer of soil to dry out.
  • Water in the morning to avoid overnight fungal growth.
  • Make sure you have no standing water in gutters, drainage areas, or low spots.
  • Keep birdbaths and water features clean.
  • If your garden still has naturally damp areas, you can top dress the soil with an inch (or less) of sand, to discourage gnats looking for moist soil.
  • Use sodium light bulbs in outdoor areas to reduce attraction at night.

Mulch is great for holding in moisture, but it shouldn’t be moldy or soggy.

To address existing infestations, here are some other ideas:

  • BTi (Bacillus thuringiensis v israelensis), also known as Gnatrol, is a bacteria that effectively kills gnat larvae. It is most suitable if you can identify specific areas where gnat larvae are actively hatching and feeding.
  • Beneficial nematodes and predatory insects can provide long-term control of larvae once established in the garden.
  • Traps including liquid traps, sticky traps, and electronic insect devices can help control gnats in areas where the adult insects are swarming.

Gnat Control Tip

You can reduce populations of gnats in infested areas with an easy, inexpensive homemade gnat trap. Put out a bowl of vinegar and add a few drops of dish soap. The gnats will be attracted to the vinegar but will be trapped by the soap. If you prefer, you can put the solution in a jar, and punch some small holes in the jar lid.

    Homemade gnat control trap.

  • Repellents: DEET, citronella, vanilla, pine oil, and dryer sheets are commonly used to repel gnats. You can also use fans on your porch to keep the air moving and discourage hovering swarms. There are also a number of repellent sprays, lanterns, and granules on the market that claim to repel gnats with varying degrees of effectiveness or toxicity.
  • Chemical controls: Foggers, sprays, and insecticides designed for flying insects will work with gnats, although they’re not particularly effective in preventing future infestations. Prevention is more effective, and less toxic, than chemical controls.

A variety of organic gnat control products, including repellents and predatory insects, can be found at your local garden center or at online retailers such as Planet Natural and Golden Harvest Organics.

If you’re not sure what sort of insect you’re dealing with, or if you’re being bitten, you may find it helpful to contact your local agricultural extension service for advice specific to your region. Information and helpful photos about identifying gnats and other flying insects can be found at doyourownpestcontrol.com


Further Information

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28 Comments on “How to Control Gnats Outdoors”

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  1. Tessa Smith Says:
    April 28th, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Southwest Georgia has got to be the gnat capitol of the world. Please, will someone invent a product that will finish these bugs off once and for all. Little children cannot play outside, horses’ eyes are infected, dogs suffer too. I cannot even walk to the mailbox without a net over my head. They go in your nose, ears, eyes. Not just one, but a swarm of them. When anyone here has visitors from another area, they cannot believe that we live with this plague. The gnats come out as soon as the temp reaches 70, which can be as early as February. And they don’t go into hiding til Nov or Dec. Most of the people here are family farmers and have tried to come up with ‘get-by’ solutions. Please, we need professional help.

  2. KW Says:
    May 17th, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Dear Tessa…why not take a plastic jug of white vinegar/add dish soap/replace cap and punch a few holes around top with an ice pick or small nail//place in trouble spots and change as neccessary. I think it’s worth a try.

  3. Mikel Says:
    May 25th, 2012 at 11:37 am

    There is a product that does work! It’s called Swamp Gator. You can buy it at Walgreens or Home-depot. It does only last for about an hour and then you will need to reapply but for going on walks through the neighborhood or going to the dog park it works great.

  4. Keri Gower Says:
    June 18th, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Here in Missouri, the rains and flooding we have had over the past two months have increased the gnat population to unbearable proportions. Like you Tessa, we are plagued by them. Living in the country surrounded with trees we dont have much wind and the small creeks, ditches, and waterways, keep our area a hatching ground. After reading the posts here and other sights, Ive decided to try using Downey Unstoppable scented pellets….if rubbing a dryer sheet on yourself works, why not spreading these pellets. Ive already went out and applied, so Ill be updating to see if it works, but I completely agree Tessa, there needs to be some sort of continual release product that will free our lawns of these pests.

  5. clint Says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 10:15 am

    keri/tessa, you southerners are not alone, although our season seems slightly shorter, up here in northern indiana ans southern michigan we are swarmed with them also, they love to breed in fallen pine needles… we are a litter grounds for those, and with not a single day of summer below 80% humidity it is very easy for them to breed, i cant stand them dive bombing my eyes anymore… this is driving me nuts….

  6. Jane Carruthers Says:
    July 15th, 2013 at 3:27 am

    I have a few in my garden and feel sorry for you guys being plagued with so many………try The Executioner mosquito swatter from Amazon. It won’t be a cure but makes you feel a whole lot better!
    Jane,birmingham, England

  7. Jane Carruthers Says:
    July 15th, 2013 at 3:33 am

    Skin so softly by Avon is a proven repellant and is used by our armed forces.we use it when we go on holiday to Scotland where the Lochs are breeding grounds for midges. It smells nice and really does work

  8. Joe Says:
    February 22nd, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Sorry but we in the military do not use skin so soft. We are issued repellant with Deet in it. Or for our cloths Permitherin.

  9. Bugged Out Says:
    March 26th, 2014 at 12:38 am

    I live in east central Florida & the yard behind my apartment is alive with no see ums. I’ve raked up bags of leaves and tried to eliminate the prime breeding area, however, there’s a banyon tree out there with a gazillion holes in the trunk, so they will constantly have a place for their eggs !
    No way I know of to get rid of these suckers. I’ve had no see ums biting me day & night INSIDE my apartment for over a month now. ( I do not open the windows, so they’re not coming in thru the screens) It’s horrible. I’ve been using candles, incense, bug sprays, rechargeable and hand held bug zappers, fans & I still frequently end up having to go to my car to get some sleep !!! I can’t survive like this much longer. Why is there no way to do away with these horrible things ?

  10. Joy Wingad Says:
    May 18th, 2014 at 8:01 am

    We have a small terraced area outside our back door, where we like to have breakfast and morning coffee. We have, what look like small flies which hover constantly . Does anyone know what they are and how do we get rid of them. Tried citronella candles and fly sprays but to no avail.

  11. tom Says:
    May 25th, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    The bugs in south Dakota have already started, and they are so bad, not even cloths soaked in 100% Deet even have an effect.

  12. desiree Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    I’ve read and read things that say to use yeast, garlic and so one..so I thought to myself why not, I went inside opened one of my husband’s beers put it in a spray bottle and waalaa! It worked!me and the kids can sit outside without the annoyance and actually enjoy ourselves without the little bugs flying around.

  13. Karen W Says:
    May 30th, 2014 at 11:00 am

    The gnats were swarming bad just a little while ago (mid-morning) & we’re getting ready for a family gathering tonight. So we tried the Vanilla Extract just now & it DOES work. We put a little bit in cups at the deck perimeter, then a little dab on our foreheads, back of necks, behind ears & around our ankles — the gnats still buzzed around, but did not land on us or bite! We even put some on the dogs & it helped them, too! So we’re heading out for a restaurant-size jug! At least we don’t have to worry about harmful chemicals. We’re also plan to put out some vinegar traps. Happy Day!

  14. Cyn R. Says:
    June 5th, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    I live in South Florida and have a lake in my backyard. We are plagued with gnats, no see ums and mosquitoes . Even spiders are an issue now! I was told about peppermint spray for spiders and rubbing alcohol with water for the flying nuances. So far I believe is working!!!! Thank God! I feel like I can finally take back my patio and our dog can finally go outside.

  15. Cheryl M. Says:
    June 15th, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    We live in the mid-southern Texas region and we have had more rain than we had last year but still not enough. However,I guess it’s enough that we are inundated with these gnats! I love outside and my boyfriend works outside. I don’t go outside even though I love it and he has to put pieces of paper towel in his ears and sometimes his nose so the gnats won’t bother him so much. We are trying the vinegar/dish soap today and will let you all know. I had one fly in my eye while in the garden yesterday and I am getting an eye infection. Help!

  16. Txles Says:
    June 30th, 2014 at 9:05 am

    I live in Grapevine TX near the lake and it is a huge problem this year. I remember my grandmother having garlic growing in the corners of her flower bed and even in flower pots around the patio. I have done the same. Keep in mind you will smell the garlic at times but it does work with the evil gnats and mosquitos. We don’t have a problem with them…I’m looking for a solution to the crazy ants on the patio that popped up this year with all the rain. I guess it’s better than fire ants. :(

  17. Beth Says:
    July 4th, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Absorbine Jr. Plus works better than vanilla

  18. Wendy Says:
    July 5th, 2014 at 5:38 am

    American soldiers, we salute you for your bravery, and steadfast ways. I personally know when soldiers received Skin So Soft from Avon. It saved the bug problem 100 times over issued chemical. Real soldiers use and love this product because it works. Clean fresh smell and the bugs hate it. A little on a rag, apply to skin. Honest, just try it.

  19. DoktorThomas™ Says:
    July 14th, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Bats are an effective, non-toxic, environmentally sound control for insects of many types. If bat houses were as plentiful as bird houses, insects would be less of a problem. Hysteria and their natural unattractive appearance don’t bode well for this helpful mammal. Blood sucking and human attack for nearly every species is unfounded (all in N.A.). As with many aspects of nature, man’s stupidity has upset the apple cart. Their natural habitat is compromised almost daily in the name of progress. Unlike rats and seagulls, a healthy bat population is a good thing.

  20. Janet Backstrom Says:
    July 23rd, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Wendy, thanks for reminding me about Avons Skin So Soft. If I remember rightly it’s only the original one. I live in a basement flat in Liverpool, UK. My only problem is my stairwell to my front door it was rather dark and damp as it doesn’t get much sun. Not very welcoming a gob full of gnats. I’ll try the vanilla trick but it’s expensive in the UK. So I may have to resort to growing a pot of garlic the cheaper option. Thanks for all the tips.

  21. Punkin Says:
    July 27th, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    I wear BugsAway(formerly Buzz Off)clothing and accessories which I buy online from ExOfficio.com. It works very well because the fabric is impregnated with permethrin- a natural insect repellant. When I wear hats, the gnats don’t bother me or anyone standing within about 5 feet. I have socks, scarves, shirts, pants and jackets. I’ve gifted them to others who have told me they work for them too. My sister sent me an article about the military’s use of this brand after I had been bitten twice by deer ticks. She lives in the south with the gnats and mosquitos. BugsAway® repels mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas, chiggers, ants and midges. You can also buy it from REI, Orvis and Amazon.

  22. arnold casey Says:
    August 4th, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    We live on a golf course in Foley AL and I have tried various over the counter bug sprays: Off, Deep Woods, Avon skin so soft bug guard plus, Cutter, Bounce dryer pads, you name it I have tried it. I wear a sweat band on my forehead and spray it as I play golf. I wear long sleeve long pants sun protection clothing but nothing keeps those GNATS off me. I have also tried home remedy solutions of Vinegar, water Vanilla, nothing works! Some one could make a killing if they could come up with a product that would work. I for one would pay a premium price for a product that would work. Any ideas??

  23. Dan Says:
    August 7th, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    I live in New Mexico, and we have a gnat problem here as well. Most of the year, it’s dry and the gnats aren’t a problem. But when the monsoon season comes, we get most of our annual rainfall and from mid July through August we suffer as much as people in the more humid areas. As the grasses on the mesas green up, here they come. I have no secrets to tell, only that no matter where you live ( except for cities ), know that you are not alone in this misery. Sure makes me wonder how the people of the First Nations could deal with it. Anyway, let’s hope for an early fall.

  24. chzman Says:
    August 7th, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    thank Monsanto for the GMOs these gnats are living on. They’ve become resistant to everything.

  25. Patty Says:
    September 5th, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    I sell and we use faithfully since we are outside Biking, Hiking and yard work SSS BUG GUARD. Works for all kinds of Bugs.

  26. Raven Says:
    October 7th, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    cosmeticsdatabase.org for safety of that and many of the others…Avon’s Skin So Soft ranks an EIGHT out of 10 (with 10 being the most toxic!!) It contains a long list of toxic chemicals including phthalates which are linked to birth defects in boys, endocrine disruption and more.
    You can make your own with vanilla extract, eucalyptus, lavender.
    Also, Badger makes an excellent repellant with no toxic chemicals.

  27. GusD Says:
    November 12th, 2014 at 12:53 am

    @ Joe You surely do realize that you alone are not the sole representitive of the country’s or world’s military population?

  28. Shirley sterling Says:
    November 25th, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    I live in Ft Worth Tx They r terrible they r on my doors and window screens all outside . They get in your hair and clothes . This is the second year I’ve had them how do u get rid of them

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