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

Julie

Further Information

64 COMMENTS

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 ?

  9. 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.

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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. 🙁

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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??

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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

  24. Chickens. Chickens help a lot with all types of bugs. Flies, gnats, ticks. They get to free range and peck…plus you get eggs as a bonus!

  25. Wanting to try mixing vinegar, dish soap and some water in a sprayer and spraying my lawn. Don’t know if it will kill lawn or not. Same mixture in bowels in house work OK.

  26. i live in gnat capital too. glad i went to this site to get info i will be trying some of these products.
    judy in new orleans

  27. I would be curious to know if anyone has ever tried supplements to ward off gnats. If garlic in pots helps, would eating garlic or taking garlic tablets work too? I had a friend say that B1, taken every day would work but it hasn’t for me. I really hate smelling like some of the stuff mentioned above, just to be outside.

  28. To the lady who used the beer, how long did this last and how big of an area did it protect? I feel sorry for you folks in Texas, if your rain keeps up you won’t have any gnat problem because you won’t have any home or ground where you have to deal with them. The reports on the news have been TERRIBLE. I also agree with the woman about the bats. Here in the states we have NOTHING that can be considered the infamous “vampire bat” or ANYTHING to fear from them so the ones we do have ARE the good type. It’s just like spiders, they actually eat many “bad bugs” yet millions kill spiders for no reason at all. A swarm of bats can polish off MILLIONS of insects per night. The American public needs to install on their properties just as many bat houses, owl boxes, and butterfly houses as they do bird houses and bird feeders. I’m getting ready to try SOME of these suggestions but I don’t hold out much hope. Forget the vanilla on a big scale, I’m a hobby baker and spend a LOT of money for very good vanilla and I’m not going to waste it on a bunch of bugs. The dryer sheets are a joke. I tried those one very bad summer when I was doing a great deal more gardening than I am now and I’ve never seen anything so useless. I must have looked liked an idiot too as the gnats were STILL so miserable even with the sheets and I had one hanging down over my face basically held on by a baseball cap. The insect control invention folks seemed to create something for stink bugs pretty darn fast, perhaps if we make as big of fuss about gnats as the country did about stink bugs they might invent something sooner rather than later. What I can’t figure out is WHY mine are so bad right now. I live in the east part of “western Maryland” as the region is known, about an hour northwest outside of DC and Baltimore, actually about 7 miles from Camp David and we NEVER have gnats this early in May and this bad. Additionally we’ve not had lots of rain, in fact, we’re short for the spring overall. I have NO standing water or damp areas around, I haven’t a CLUE what brought them here now, that’s the worst of it, I have no place to fix or treat. Is there a treatment that can be put on the yard as a whole? I certainly understand people’s frustration with these bugs. I think gnats are just about THE most annoying of all outside bugs because they do get in the mouth, most, eyes, ears, etc. Good luck everyone!

  29. I had a really bad problem with these gnats for a while. I was told to use NEEM OIL, I bought it and tried it and to my surprise it actually worked. No more swarms of gnats. There a couple that linger but i am going to do another dose and get rid of them all. Also you can use it on all types of plants and fruit trees.

  30. Most of people’s suggestions are cosmetic (deet, for instance) rather than addressing the root of the problem.
    If you live near a golf course, the question for the facility manager is not whether to tell guests to put vanilla on the brim of their hat, it’s how to rid the golf course of the gnats. We’re talking large scale spraying of….something…that will not kill the grass.

  31. Wow, ok so read all comments posted and some I have tried. I live in Carrollton,tx now. My apartment backs up to a field/ greenbelt, and the other side I have a golf course. When I first moved in I had more of a wasp and spider problem, which a friend told me to do 1/4 white vinegar and 3/4 water n spray bottle and spray premitor. Which I tried n really seemed to work.she said to repeat either every week or ever other week. Then last night I went outside and I had my porch light on and I had a swam of gnats surrounding my light. I immediately sprayed my white vingar/water mix which did kinda help for a second and then sparyed some flying insect raid which definitely killed them. But tonight I had the same problem all over again, so I tried apple cider vingar because it had helped me at another time with indoor gnats from my sink, and no luck. I have realized the are attracted to my patio light,and I kill them but they keep coming back. I need to find something to keep them away, plus I have a dog so need something that will not harm her at the same time. a few things I had read from other comments that I havent tried but im going to try is mabey the beer, saw something about a certain type of light bulb, and possibly the neem oil, or villnila. And all else fails ill just buy a fan. Im not so much worried about them on me as I am about swaming my patio/light. So any for sure suggestion to help with my specific problem are much needed.
    Thank you!

  32. We just bought a home, interior lot on Lake Conroe, TX. Our back porch is infested with gnats when we go out there. Today I turned on the outside garage lights and they swarmed all over them. I know bugs will always be there but these gnats are insane and i’m not sure why they swarm all over our outside or how to get rid of them or ease them. Please HELP!!!

  33. Try “Bug Soother” – its 100% natural, smells wonderful and you won’t have a gnat anywhere near you for awhile. They have a hard time keeping this product on the shelves here!

  34. I live in coastal Georgia and I’ve tried just about every remedy suggested here but nothing keeps the gnats off of me. I will say that Avon SSS works for me with the biting gnats (no see-ums) but it doesn’t work with the pesky gnats that go for your eyes, ears and nose – those are the ones I can’t seem to repel.
    All the things I’ve read online suggest gnats prefer the scent of some people over others. Unfortunately for me, I must smell wonderful. On the golf course I’m the only guy in my group waving my hands around swatting gnats like a crazy person. The only thing I haven’t tried yet is a hat/net combination, which I will, as a last resort.
    To those of you interested in keeping the gnats out of your yard, you can buy beneficial nematodes from Amazon.com. They go into a sprayer which attaches to your garden hose. They will penetrate the ground and eat the eggs and larvae of many insect pests, including gnats. I believe they have to be applied under certain conditions, like in the a.m. or during cool temps, but the process itself is simple to do.

  35. I have 25 chickens. They are constantly pecking and scratching at the gnats. I figured the chickens would take care of a good portion of the bug problem. They do Great on june bugs. But the gnats are a whole different story. Last season, I had 40 chickens. Lost 5 to gnats getting in their noses and chocking them out. This season just started and I have already lost 10 chickens. I have 50 jars of the apple cider vinegar, soap and water traps scattered out throughout the yard. (2 Acers) I go out every 2-3 days and clean them out and fill again because they are full of gnats. I need a better solution. I was even considering nematodes. Any input anyone?

  36. I haven’t seen anyone comment about using essential oils. I haven’t tried them myself, but I am sure there have to be some recommended recipes out there using some essential oils.

  37. THIS WORKS FOR GNATS FLIES AND MOSQUITOES!!! Its lemongrass and patchouli essential oils mixed together… Its the only way to be outdoors in southwest Georgia! I put it on like lotion before I take one step outside.

  38. Listerine mouth wash..dab some on your skin when you go outside whipe your kitchen down with it and they won’t come in. I saw this on a show about Alaska and tried it and it works! put some on your jack-o-lantern and they won’t eat it. Hope this helps

  39. Get a spray bottle mix 1/2 cup vanilla. 1/2 cup GOLD LISTENINE 1/2 cup water shake it up and spray it on you. It smells like root beer I work at a papermill in the woodyard and this stuff works. Apply frequently

  40. Dryer sheets work great (scented of course)! If you’re working outside, put them in you hat or collar. I put pieces in my hair tie sometimes. Replace as you sweat the scent off

  41. Vicks vapor rub works. I also put a vaporizer with liquid Vicks on the patio. Helps for sure. Amber romance from Victoria secrect also works but smell like a brothel to me. I am allergic and swell badly from bits. If anyone has anything more to do let me know I’m willing to try it.

  42. Flies bugs, and stuff is attracted to soda pop, wine, and anything people drink.
    Keeping all drink container openings covered is a trick that reduces things from finding people.
    Google drink container protector and you’ll find many types, I use Bug Not, works great.

  43. I make a cup of strong coffee, add enough sugar to make it on the sweet side, add a little cream and put it into a wide mug about 3/4 full and place it near my problem area in my house. Gnats and fruit flies swarm to it! They love coffee. It works much better than apple-cider vinegar which did not work very well for me. You dont need to cover the mug with anything. They simply love coffee! In 16 hours I have a cup full of over 70 and two are hovering at the moment. I thought I only had a few in my house. I discovered this by chance after leaving my freshly brewed morning coffee for less than a minute only to answer my phone. I returned to find two gnats swimming in my coffee. I thought, “you like coffee do you?” I told my husband not to pour my cup out because I wanted to test whether it was by accident that they flew into my cup or whether they liked coffee. Guess what……..? Good luck with your gnat problem. The story about the dead chickens compelled me to respond to this. I’m so sorry you lost your chickens to gnats. Since it continues to work even with room temperature coffee, perhaps you can put a cup of coffee in an area nearby that will deter them away from your chickens. Let me know if it helps. All the best!

  44. No natz out of Dublin ga keeps gnats,mosquitos and yellow flies away.it works so well that the county buys it for the road crews and mechanics .also keeps fleas off.some people don’t like the smell but it smells good to me.they have big containers and small ones.you can put it on your pets and probably would work on chickens too

  45. I raise chickens, lost quite a few from buffalo gnats, I almost gave up the chickens because of the bites on me and the chickens were suffering from and some die from the bites. 2 years ago read an article and this does take care of them. Get some milk jugs, paint them red, lay them all over your yard, put chain oil on them, do this every 3 days until you get rid of them all. END OF PROBLEM.

  46. Just moved to the gulf coast an in the town of Pass Christian the gnats are consuming. I cant be outside but i am concerned from my lil grands who want to play outside. They are 2 to 6 yr old. Their dad is vondumed by the gnats because he is outside with the kids an he is standing still. Please i need some help for these babies. I have read some of the suggestions an my main concern is what is safe for them. Kids wipe their faces an eyes a lit while sweating an when bugs are on them. HELP

  47. These are notes from my phone’s note field regarding black flies/gnats, I’vw taken over the past few years , these insects are horrific. How come I never noticed them till the last few years, never had an issue with them before. I started taking Zyrtec to help with the itching of the bites and it works very well. It doesn’t matter if you keep your drink covered,, they are attracted to the carbon monoxide we breathe out 😭 Between mosquitoes at night and these gnat/flies during the day, we can’t even enjoy summer. One article said that one good thing is, they’re only here for to six weeks, well that’s a quarter of the summer 😳

  48. Avon skin so soft works good for most insects as a repellant. Mix a small amount with a gallon of water and put it in spray bottles. I use to use it to repel biting flies while boating on Chesapeake Bay years ago.

    • Hi, Joe!
      We used a standard breakfast bowl for the vinegar and added a few drops of dish soap. Of course, this is for controlling gnats in an immediate area. We definitely recommend experimenting with this formula to see what works for your unique space!

  49. I have been fighting no see ums for over a year with no sucsess. They are driving me crazy! I have had three exterminators and they look at me like I have 3 heads when I tell them what’s going on in my house. Two of them told me they had never heard of no see ums. I knew I was in trouble then. I have spent an unbelievable amount of money and things are only worse. My life is falling apart. My husband says I am crazy because they do not bite him. He wants a divorce because we do not even sleep together anymore! I am up all night cause that is the bad bad time. They will not let me sleep. I even have an awful time getting into the shower. I never take my clothes off because they swarm me and it hurts like hell. I think I am living in hell! They chew on my hair and scalp at night. My hair is a mess. In my eyes all the time. I had so many bites I had to go on prednisone 3 times. Some one please help me!!!!!!!!

  50. Please use a jar or jug with small holes for just gnats to go in…it will keep bees from going in and dying. Thanks

  51. imitation vanilla works for me its cheap and safe. I also spray yard guard from hardware from water hose around my door, porch and yard it helped some, I have a citronella plant it does not help. I tried vinegar it seem to attract more bug, zappers help, but use them away it also attracts. So I stay indoors, sadly I too swell badly from them

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