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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9 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 ?

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