I admit that this is not intended exclusively for the great outdoors.

In truth I rarely venture into areas that are wild and overgrown with vegetation, tending to stick to more sub-urban excursions. And a large part of it comes down to having a moderate phobia of flies (a fear sufficient to endanger driving).

Often I find myself faced with my most common of nemeses (both outdoors and in the office (insect screens installed but the smaller ones still get in)).

I could try bug spray - but not only is it less effective against faster and/or smaller flies - its a very short term solution with an ever-replenishing supply of the pests. Not to mention the health impact of spray (I swear some bug sprays include ingredients causing feelings of paranoia - more notable when used indoors)

I could use DEET products - except that I have had allergic reactions to anything other than mild doses (so I mainly apply to hairs rather than the skin these days). that and their effect doesn't quite cut it for keeping them away.

To make things more complicated, I simultaneously cannot stomach use of swatters.

Considering how easy it is to repel mosquitoes, is there no way to keep the flies at bay?

Failing this, is there perhaps a health-friendly way to exterminate the buggers from a distance?

  • 1
    is your problem specifically flies? houseflies? blackflies? are mosquitos ok? gnats? serious question because houseflies, for example, are rare in the wilderness and common in suburbia. Commented May 28, 2014 at 14:22
  • Well... my country's wilderness environment is measured in kilometers - so I would say the houseflies mainly. The kind that go zipping all over the place and deliberately crash into your head for the moisture (shudders) - alternatively hoverers that repeat variants of the same square or triangular flight path (very technical way to describe them - I know ;). I think that the spaces are small enough here to say that houseflies can be found anywhere - including the shoreline.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 14:29
  • 1
    The thing to address is the unrealistic fear of flys. Maybe a psychiatrist can help (I don't know how phobias are normally treated). Commented May 28, 2014 at 14:34
  • In truth my irrational fear (phobia) has greatly improved through the use of mental exercises. I have turned the fly from predator into foe for the most part. Having a can of bug spray really helps my sense of reassurance because I 'can' "defend" myself. My senses are quite honed to detect the presence of the pests and my bursts of bug spray are sparing but effective (less so against the faster/smaller/never settle ones). I also don't fancy drug treatments and neither am I a fan of "immersion techniques" (facing your fears) as a means of dealing with it.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 15:25
  • 2
    @OlinLathrop - it takes years for some people to overcome phobias. Worse, some appear to result from physical damage to the brain. A common cause appears to be damage from autoimmune reactions to strep throat (scarlet fever back in the day.) Once the anti-anxiety feedback neurons are destroyed, there really isn't a psychological solution to the phobic anxiety, especially if the afflicted is surprised.
    – TechZen
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 17:02

4 Answers 4


Common houseflies are attracted to decomposition of meat and sugar. People who find themselves the specific targets of flies often smell sweet to flies usually because they use some kind scented hygiene products. Diabetics in ketosis can also attract them in theory.

To my knowledge, flies do not drink directly. Many insects have trouble drinking water because at their scale, the surface tension of water can entrap them. In in dry areas, you seldom see insects drawn to fresh water. More often, you see them drawn to some liquid with lots of biomatter in it e.g. cow urine. It looks like they're drinking but they're really trying to eat. Plus, the biomatter lowers the dangerous surface tension.

Insect get their moisture from food and the air. If you find flies targeting your sweat specifically, then its likely they perceive it as sweet or containing ketones from the breakdown of proteins in the body. Switch to unscented hygiene products and avoid perfumes.

There are a lot of passive traps that use rotting fruit for bait and you can use those to reduce fly population in an area.

However, most effective area defense for a home and even a vehicle would be the type of fly bait sold to protect cow barns. You have to buy it from agricultural supply. You usually use it around, but not inside of house but because it has an attractive aroma for flies. That's unnoticeable in a barn but not the living room. It's harmless to mammals unless consumed in large quantities and it has no transfer risk. (It's designed to be used around valuable and/or food animals.) I found this highly effective when we had an outbreak of flies here a few years back.

DEET won't help against houseflies because it jams the CO2 receptors for insects like mosquitoes that hunt mammals. Houseflies do not have those receptors.

I would note that in a suburban area, you really shouldn't have large numbers of flies. The two most common breeding areas are unsealed trash cans and the feces of large dogs. Check with your neighbors to make sure their trash is sealed and dog feces are picked up. All this should be done anyway as basic sanitation.

There is a folk preventative in the Southern and Southwestern US that says that plastic bags of water, suspended in the air, seems to drive off flies. It plausible that the in the spectra that flies see in, weighted to the ultraviolet, the refractive qualities of the water and plastic combined might cause a dazzling effect which the flies will interpret as predator motion. It seems to work anecdotally but I don't think anyone has actually bothered to research it scientifically.

However, it might be the only means of fending off flies in a vehicle. The enclosed space precludes pesticides of any kind so some kind of passive defense is required. You could try mounting a plastic water filled bottle to the dash and see if that helps. Bottle must be plastic because class is opaque to UV, so the theoretical dazzling effect won't happen with glass. I would suggest putting some aluminum foil underneath the bottle to prevent an accidental lens effect from concentrating sunlight to a dangerous degree on the dash underneath.

Phobias are a very real and difficult problem to deal with. I wish you luck.

  • Thank you for another detailed take on the matter. In truth the area I speak of is rather densely populated - and regulation is so-so. Dog owners and even horse owners aren't always good citizens, and there is a stray population - particularly cats. So perhaps that in itself would likely be a big factor in the annual repopulation of the pests. Sadly the culture does not really permit direct interaction but I can think of a couple of indirect pitches. The attractant powder pesticide I have seen in action in factories - impressive and forgotten until now.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 19:18
  • Also I recently watched an episode of Mythbusters where they tested the myth that flies would be repelled by a transparent bag filled with water. They placed maggots in the middle section of a sealed,elongated transparent box with sealed sub-sections on each side with a slab of slightly rotting meat & one side also having a water filled plastic bag. Once all the maggots had become pests they dropped the partitions. Flies went both ways but tended to go for the side with the water filled bag - even landing on the bag's surface. They let them die & counted. Myth busted but its a mild attractant.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 19:24

Because I appear to be a midge's favourite food, I have tried many ways to repel them, with varying success, but the single best solution for you, if you can cope with having flies near but not touching you, is the midge suit and hat. Examples below:

This suit from treemeadow.co.uk

enter image description here

And this hat from Gillaroo.co.uk

enter image description here

They stop flies, midges, mosquitos etc touching you. Of course, those bugs that are attracted to animals will still fly around you so this won't necessarily be a perfect solution, but it may help you live within your phobia and acclimatise yourself.

  • I use this approach to garden in blackfly season. Commented May 28, 2014 at 15:07
  • This is certainly one approach to the matter - although the poor Fiancee might not approve of my fashion sense :P Thank you for the detailed suggestion. I can see the hat alone being a big plus while the rest is a definite plus for going further outdoors than the norm (for myself).
    – Avestron
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 15:21
  • Yeah - the hat for me is essential when we go camping on the west coast. Mine is a little bit more fashionable than that one (not much) but there are many types.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 16:09
  • There are also fly nets you can use over whatever hat you like. (Still not high fashion but some combinations might be acceptable.)
    – Willeke
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 15:14

Put out a small glass/bowl of apple cider vinegar and hang one of the sticky Victor fly ribbons over it. You will have a steady collection of the invaders to dispose of.

You could make a car safe version if you cut flaps near the top of an empty water bottle and put a fly ribbon inside. You could put a small sponge in the bottom with the apple cider vinegar but you would need to occasionally add more to refresh it.

  • Yet another use for good old apple cider vinegar. :) Only problem is that I would have problems handling the 'expended' ribbon. But thank you for the suggestion.
    – Avestron
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 19:26
  • use the car safe version and throw the container away too. Commented May 28, 2014 at 22:16

I recommend to go first to a therapist, particularly one specializing in anxiety disorders, preferably one that is familiar with and uses exposure therapy. I know you've already mentioned you are not a fan of "immersion techniques", but professional therapists have a bit more refined skill than what you've probably experienced so far, plus, they can diagnose other treatments that may work better.

You've already acknowledged you understand your irrational fears, and with some help you may be able to overcome them, and can then deal with the flies no differently than anyone else.

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