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Even if you’re not hosting a Labor Day party this year, you’re definitely eating outside every chance you still can. While your food, drink, and patio oasis vibes may be coming together perfectly, there is one pretty significant thing to worry about: what to do when the bugs swarm.

Bugs are the ultimate unwelcome BBQ guests, as they can ruin the food you’ve worked so hard on and they seem impossible to keep away. Purchasing a gigantic tent is expensive and inconvenient and bugs can still sneak through the doors. The perfumey smell of mosquito candles can also seep into the flavor of your food, so let’s look at some cheaper and easier alternatives to keep the bugs away from your food during a summer barbecue or other outdoor meal.

Mow the Lawn

picnic tips (how to have a social distancing picnic and is it safe?)

Westend61 / Getty Images

Before you set up your shatterproof plates and slushy drinks, make sure you’ve just cut the grass. Mosquitoes thrive in areas with longer grass and weeds, so a freshly mowed lawn may actually prevent the bugs from swarming en masse.

Related Reading: More Ways to Keep Mosquitoes from Bugging You

Deploy Dryer Sheets

Where there is food outside, there are ants. It’s just science. Keep them away by placing a dryer sheet under each table leg. Dryer sheets smell strong to me, so I can’t even imagine how much they’d repel an ant. Also, if you tend to fall prey to mosquitoes every summer, rubbing a dryer sheet on your clothes works to repel them as well.

Bounce Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets, $7.49 from Amazon

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Related Reading: How to Get Rid of Ants in the Kitchen

Pick Peppermint Oil

Mixing peppermint oil and water and spraying it where you’re going to serve food does wonders for keeping spiders away. And peppermint oil is a subtle enough scent that it won’t really mess with the taste or smell of your food.

Cut Some Cucumber

sliced cucumber


Allegedly, cucumber will keep away wasps and yellow jackets, so if they tend to crash your party, give this a try: place fresh slices of cucumber in an aluminum pie pan and place it on the table. If you’d prefer to put your faith in a commercially available trap, just be sure to set it up at least 20 feet away from areas where people and pets are likely to be.

See the Value of Vinegar

Multi-Purpose AlertVinegar Cleaning HacksAs far as natural bug repellents go, vinegar is one of the most useful things to stock up on. It repels most flies, gnats, and mosquitoes (and indoors, you can also use it to combat those little pantry pests, fruit flies). Outdoors, you can put it on your skin, outdoor furniture, or simply leave it in a jar by your food. White vinegar is the standard, but apple cider vinegar is acceptable.

And vanilla extract is just as effective for the purpose if you don’t have any vinegar at your disposal (or if you’re trying it on your skin and would rather smell like cake than pickles).

Create a Diversion

Sometimes it may be best just to give the bugs what they want: something sweet. Set up a bowl of sugar water or a small plate with a spoonful of jam or jelly far from where you’re serving food. It’s much more likely that the bugs will go after something more sugary.

easy strawberry jam recipe


Light Lanterns

While most people recommend candles to keep bugs away, lanterns are a much better option where food is being served. The smoke and scent of a candle can drift into food, making for an unpleasant dining experience. Lanterns, on the other hand, are just as effective at distracting bugs, and there are a lot of cheap and pretty ones that will create that perfect summer ambiance.

Vela Large Moroccan Blue Glass Lantern, $28.99 from Amazon

Hang this in a handy spot, or simply set it on your table.
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Find Some Fans

Set up one or two small oscillating fans around the serving area. The air will literally blow your bug problem away, and you and your guests get the benefit of a nice cooling breeze!

Cover with Colanders or Mini Nets

You can place a mesh colander over each individual dish. It will be impossible for bugs to get through, and your guests will still be able to see what you’re serving. Or, if you’re feeling a little more fancy, they actually make mini nets that go over each dish. You can buy them online, and they’re actually pretty cheap! Plus, they come in different colors, so you can give each dish its own personality.

Protect your precious food from insect invaders.
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Do Water and Pennies Really Work?

This is probably the oldest trick in the book, but is it actually credible? The theory is, if you put a couple pennies in a glass of water and keep the glass by the food, you’ll be able to keep the flies and mosquitos away. Supposedly, the way pennies reflect light in the water confuses bugs, so they won’t go anywhere near the light. So, if you fill a plastic bag with water and pennies and hang it above the food you’re serving, that should also work—but several sources say it doesn’t.

Still, only one way to really find out…

Invited Guests

Is It Actually Safe to Host a BBQ This Summer?

Header image courtesy of Michael H / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Toniann is a full-time legal assistant who expresses her love of food and eating by blogging for Chowhound. Her passions include spicy foods, hard seltzers, and Ariana Grande. Toniann spends her free time doing bar trivia, playing competitive volleyball, and studying for the LSAT (because foodies can be lawyers, too!) Follow her on Instagram @toniannpasqueralle and Twitter @NOTtoriann.
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