Mosquito-Repellent Clothing for Costa Rica

Post Updated: May 21, 2019

Along with Costa Rica’s gorgeous tropical environment comes some unfortunate pests. Mosquitoes and other biting insects are found throughout the country and are particularly bothersome during the rainy season (May through November). Repellents work well to deter, but sometimes it’s nice not to have to lather up in strong-smelling lotions or sprays. After living in Costa Rica for six years, we have learned a lot about what works to avoid mosquito bites. Recently, we have been trying out specific clothing and seeing what a product called permethrin can do. In this post, we share some information on options for mosquito-repellent clothing in Costa Rica.

Mosquito-Repellent Clothing for Costa Rica

Mosquitoes in Costa Rica

Like most countries in Central and South America, Costa Rica has various mosquito-borne illnesses. Dengue is the most common. Chikungunya and Zika are less prevalent but still something to be aware of. For more information about these diseases, read our post Costa Rica and Mosquitoes: Tips to Prevent Zika, Dengue, and More.

Mosquito-Repellent Clothing

Repellents like DEET and picardin are effective against mosquito bites. (See our Mosquitoes post for our recommendations for repellents). But covering your skin is a great, simple way to prevent bites too. The type of clothing really matters, though, since mosquitoes can bite through many fabrics. Here are some guidelines:

  • Choose tightly woven fabrics that mosquitoes have a hard time biting through, like nylon or polyester. These tend to be hotter so look for venting options, like sleeves that roll up, shirts that unbutton, etc. Avoid cotton and knit fabrics that bugs can easily penetrate.
  • Wear long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and closed shoes with socks.
  • Wear light colored clothing. Dark or bright fabrics attract biting insects.
  • Loose fabrics are better. Mosquitoes can bite right through tight-fitting things like yoga pants.

Following these guidelines as described is not always practical, of course, since temperatures often get into the 80s or higher in Costa Rica. If it is very hot out, use your best judgment. The type of mosquito that transmits many of the viruses, the Aedes, bites feet and legs most often, so closed shoes and pants will go a long way towards protecting yourself. When hiking, we often wear pants and boots and a sleeveless shirt or T-shirt with repellent on top. In the rainy season, when the mosquitoes are the worst, temperatures do cool down considerably so that you can often wear a long sleeve top and pants.

Permethrin

Covering up in itself will save a lot of bites, but for the next level of protection, there’s permethrin. The CDC recommends clothing treated with permethrin as an effective repellent against mosquito bites, even for pregnant women.

Background

Permethrin is actually an insecticide. It’s a broad spectrum, non-systemic, synthetic pyrethroid insecticide that targets adults and larvae of many species of biting insects, including mosquitoes. It has been registered with the EPA since 1979 and is used in a variety of settings. Interestingly, the US military first started using it as a repellent on clothing in 1990. Around that time, the EPA also approved it as a spray for use on clothing and gear by consumers. Then in 2003, the EPA approved the first consumer-oriented, permethrin factory-treated clothing products like you can buy today.

Permethrin works in a unique way. Unlike DEET and picardin, which prevent mosquitoes from landing on you in the first place, permethrin works by killing or incapacitating mosquitoes once they land. So they do land on you, but are then killed by the chemical when they touch your clothing.

Safety

When used as directed, permethrin is supposed to be safe. The EPA’s exposure and risk assessment analysis found that permethrin factory-treated clothing is unlikely to pose any significant immediate or long-term health hazard. The key is that the amount of permethrin allowed in clothing is very low, and also that permethrin is poorly absorbed through the skin. So when you wear clothing that has been treated with it, very little actually gets into your body.

Effectiveness

The CDC recommends permethrin as an effective way to prevent mosquito bites. We have found from wearing our permethrin-treated clothing that we receive fewer bites. Of course, you have to be careful to apply repellent on any remaining exposed parts of your body. And you also have to be mindful that the protection won’t last forever. For clothing that is factory treated with permethrin, most manufacturers give a guarantee of 70 washes. After that, it would need to be treated again.

Mosquito-Repellent Clothing Options – What to Buy

We like to have a mix of clothing, some that has been treated with permethrin for very buggy areas and others that have not treated. You can buy permethrin specifically designed to be sprayed on clothing and apply it to items you already have. You just have to apply it evenly and follow the package instructions. For us, factory treated seemed to be the better option for longevity and it also avoided having to do the treatment ourselves.

Women

For bottoms, Jenn loves the fit of these hiking pants from Unitop. They’re very lightweight and flattering. Fabric is mostly nylon (88%) with a little bit of spandex, which helps them stretch when you move. If you prefer a different cut, any kind of nylon hiking pants will work. For something with permethrin, the Bugsaway Damselfly pant is a good pick.

For tops, Jenn loves her Bugsaway Lumen Hoody from ExOfficio. This is a long-sleeve shirt made of polyester (70%) and cotton (30%). The fabric is a mesh weave so very breathable and perfect for Costa Rica. This shirt is treated with permethrin.

Mosquito Repellent Clothing for Costa Rica
Jenn in Unitop pants and the Bugsaway Lumen Hoody

The Sol Cool Ultimate Hoody is another one of her favorites. This is made of polyester with a little bit of spandex for stretch. It provides excellent coverage, with a roomy hood that goes way over the head for particularly buggy areas. The fabric is embedded with xylitol, which is supposed to keep you cool when you sweat. It also has ventilation along the underarms and sides. [Here is a link to a similar shirt with more sizing options.]

Jenn also gets a lot of use out of her classic Columbia button-up shirts (made of nylon). You can wear these on the trail and they also look great on a boat. The sleeves roll up into short sleeves. 

Men

For men, Matt loves his ExOfficio Sol Cool Nomad Pants. They’re super lightweight despite being 100% nylon, fit really well, and look good enough to wear anywhere, not just for outdoor activities. He especially likes to wear them when we go to restaurants at night, to prevent bugs from getting his legs. If you prefer pants treated with permethrin, check out the Sandfly pant from ExOfficio.

For shirts, this simple long-sleeve jersey crew neck is good for hot weather and keeps the bugs away with Insect Shield (permethrin). Matt also likes to throw on his super lightweight Marmot raincoat when it’s cooler out and the bugs are biting. It has armpit zippers to keep him cooler in warmer weather.

Mosquito Repellent Clothing for Costa Rica
Matt in his Sol Cool Nomad pants

Conclusion

There is no 100% effective solution against mosquito bites, but wearing the right clothing can help a lot. We hope that this article gave you some ideas for the best mosquito-protection clothing in Costa Rica.

Post Updated: May 21, 2019

Have a question about what to wear for mosquito protection in Costa Rica? Ask us below. 

Some of the links in this post are connected to affiliate programs we have joined. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Looking for more information to plan your trip? Check out these posts:

Packing List: For a general list of what other clothing you should bring as well as essential gear, check out our packing list.

Money Matters: Wondering what to budget for your trip? Read our Money post for information on how much things costs, currency exchange, and tipping.

Simple Spanish for Visiting Costa Rica: Study this handy list to know basic greetings, how to order in a restaurant, take a taxi, and more.

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18 Comments

  1. Haven’t been getting any Costa Rican news and updates??????
    Signed up again with same email.
    Really been missing you folks, your years are adding up down there.
    I guess that means you still like it there!!!!, duh, of course you do.
    Love and best wishes to you all!

    1. Hi Jane-Ellen, Nice to hear from you! We have been busy with the travel agency side of our business, and also with having a 2-year old (lol!), so haven’t been writing as much. We are starting to get back into it now, though, so you should start getting more posts. I checked and you are still signed up for our newsletter so you should be all set. Our 5 Year update will be coming out soon- and, yes, we still love it here! Take care and thanks for following along.

  2. Hi guys and gal!!!
    Really worried there for a while that something untoward had happened. So glad business is booming and everything is alright.
    Phew, that is a relief, seriously.
    You all look happy, healthy and busy and your son is a living doll.
    I can’t believe he has grown into a walky-talkie now. Remember those days when he napped a lot…….OVER, LOL. The first word my son said was KITT-TEE. Not mama, not nana but kitty. He followed the cat all over the house. Funny and very cute though.
    Tell me the best way to get in touch with you for travel arrangements, etc. Interested in a borderline trip, half rainy season/half high season. I can give you more info later. But I want to plan ahead. Can I bring a small dog(BOSTON TERRIER) or is that a major work up?
    Jane and her wacky sidekick, LOLA, the Boston Terrier

    1. Yes, all is well! Sam is talking up a storm now, it’s so fun watching him grow. That sounds like a fun trip. You can contact us through our itinerary help page. You can definitely bring your Boston Terrier. There’s some paperwork with flying her but it’s not too bad. Our neighbor does it all the time going back and forth to Canada. Looking forward to hearing from you!

  3. Piretinas in Spanish. We have a local business in our neighborhood that makes all sorts of cleaning supplies and they recently added an insecticide based on permethrins. Just 3 mil for a liter spray bottle, half that if you buy by the gallon. We don’t use it as a mosquito repellent but it’s wonderful as an indoor/outdoor insecticide with very low toxicity to humans. It also leaves a residue that continues to keep the insects/spiders away, so you are not constantly cleaning up the new cobwebs and such. Company is Brisas Del Valle. You can find their products in the local San Isidro stores or buy from them direct.

  4. We followed your advice published at the time before our trip to CR in November ’17. Took extra measures while we were in CR. We did not get a single bite while we were there. I did see a mosquito in one restaurant and where I really saw them was by the outdoor bathroom in Manuel Antonio Park by the ocean. May have been due to the moisture level there as they were repairing & updating them. I will say going ahead and getting the pretreated permethrin clothing is probably the best option. I thought I’d save a little money buying lightly worn or NWOT clothes off Ebay. Treating the clothing yourself is a little chore but what did not go well was that the chemical left some stains on some of the garments. They were from different companies so I can’t give guidance on what is best, but if you treat yourself be sure to read the directions and hope for the best.

    1. Hi Kirk, That’s great that you didn’t get any bites! Yeah, we’ve tried treating our own clothes too. We actually just used Deet to add an extra layer of protection when it was really buggy and had a similar problem with staining. Good tip to let people know about. Thanks!

  5. Hi there
    We are wondering if you recommend we fly into Liberia and out of San Jose as we plan to visit Montezuma area first and then drive to Dominical area. Also wondering if we can rent a car in Liberia and return to SJO. Finally can you send your recommended car rentals? Thank you so much. Marjorie

    1. Hi Marjorie, If you’re planning to visit Montezuma and Dominical, yes, flying into LIR Airport and out of SJO is the best option to minimize drive times. It is possible to rent a car in one location like LIR and return it to another like SJO. You will just be charged a drop off fee for having different pickup and drop off locations. We work with Adobe Rent a Car here – they’re very reputable and have good customer service and reliable cars. We get 10% off through them and some free extras like second driver. Here’s the link to our Rental Car Discount page with more information. They are transparent with their pricing so when you make the reservation, it will tell you the drop off fee. Here’s a link to their page with the most common drop off fees. Hope that helps!

  6. I will be there the 1st of Feb. for 10 days. This will be my second trip and I am so looking forward to it. Just found this site so will be looking forward to comments from others.
    Thanks,

  7. Hi, we are planning to come for our honeymoon to CR this December. And while booking the trip we totally forgot about Zika virus up there. As newly-weds we are planning pregnancy after the trip and now i have doubt of going there as we understand there is no test that you can take after the trip to eliminate the virus… Maybe you could enlighten more on the situation at the moment? Is there still such a high risk of it? Maybe there are regions better not to visit or you recommend it not to visit all together?

    1. Hi Em, Zika cases are way down this year, and of the cases that Costa Rica has had, nearly all are concentrated on the Caribbean slope. You can see the data if you go to the CR Ministry of Health’s latest bulletin- scroll down to the bottom of our Mosquitoes post for the link. So just avoid those areas by sticking to the Pacific slope and you should have no problems. I am actually pregnant again and not worried about Zika at all.

  8. Hello!
    We are traveling to Tamarindo in December for 9 days. Two teenage boys, along with their active parents. I see a plethora of choices of zipline tours, horsebackriding, etc. Any particular one you recommend? Any park you recommend more than another. We are not renting a car so the transportation will be part of the cost. We love to learn, explore and be active. Also will consider your great recommendations of clothing items to keep bugs and sun off. Any advice HELPS! Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Julie, If you are still needing help with narrowing down tours for your family’s trip to Tamarindo in December, please just reply to this thread and we will send you some more info by email. Thanks!

  9. Hey guys! Would you mind giving me some advice? I’m house-sitting in Bijagua for 4 months from May 2020, and will be alone on a fairly remote jungle property near a river. As incredibly exciting as this is, coming from Africa, I do know I need to be prepared for storms and mosquitos. I’m on a very tight budget. Any advice specific to the region I’m going?

    1. Hi Lisa, Bijagua is rainy but you should be okay with a bug shirt or two and long pants. You will probably find you don’t need these all the time but it would be good to have a few items for when it’s very buggy. Get a good raincoat too. We have some recommendations in our packing post.

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