The Thermacell Mosquito Repellent line of devices provide a new and interesting way to protect your family from mosquitos. Using the same concept as a citronella candle, this product heats and evaporates a more-powerful synthetic insect repellent to disperse mosquitoes and other biting insects.
Let’s answer the first question you’ll have right off the bat – does it actually work? According to a 2003 study, the Thermacell Mosquito Repellent device decreased the number of mosquitoes within a 24-foot radius by nearly 90%!
In this article, we look at all aspects of the Thermacell products – including why you would need one, how they work, if it’s worth the money, exploring the battery-powered option, and checking out some alternatives that may be a better option for you. Let’s go!
Why Mosquito Repellent?
If the scratchy irritation of dozens of mosquito bites isn’t enough to make you want to use a mosquito repellent, consider this:
Biting insects carry most of the world’s problematic diseases.
From Malaria to Yellow Fever, biting insects like ticks and mosquitos are responsible for over 700,000 deaths every year! While not many vector-borne diseases exist in the United States and Canada, we are not sure how climate change may affect the populations of mosquitoes and ticks – especially what diseases they carry!
You never know when malaria, dengue fever, or any other infectious disease may make its way north. Plus, North America has many cases of Lyme disease and other vector-borne diseases – so it’s just best to be careful and use a repellent!
Thermacell Mosquito Repellent Devices Reviewed
Thermacell’s mosquito repellent devices come in two main varieties – “fuel powered” (butane) and battery powered. The fuel powered devices are their most popular and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. You could choose whichever model fits your needs, but most come down to portability vs aesthetics. They all operate basically the same way and give the same amount of repellent effect.
How do Thermacell Mosquito Repellers Work?
The Thermacell Mosquito Repellent devices are actually quite simple. There are 3 main components. First, you have the case which just holds the fuel and repellent. These can be made to look like lanterns or a portable GPS tracker. It really is just a matter of style and utility.
Second, you have the blue repellent mats. These bad boys hold the pest repellent that we will talk about shortly.
Third, you have the butane tube. The butane is the fuel that is burned in order to activate the repellent.
So how does it all work together? You twist the butane into the case of the Thermacell Repeller, then you place one of the blue mats over the heating element. Turn the device on, butane will start to slowly be released inside the unit. After a few seconds, you twist the “on” slider just a little further until you hear a click. This will spark the butane and viola, you have a tiny controlled fire!
That fire is beneath the heating element that the blue mat sits on. The mat slowly gets heated up and releases the insect repellent into the air for up to 4 hours. The synthetic insect repellent drives away mosquitoes from a large area – approximately a 15-foot radius!
One important caveat to the Theramcell Mosquito Repellers is they take 15-30 minutes to be effective and won’t work well in windy situations. Since this product relies on essentially creating a bubble of insect repellent in a 15 foot area, it takes time to get all of the repellent dispersed into the air. If you have big gusts of wind or a fan on, that will blow the repellent away, making it less effective.
This also means that Thermacell Repellents are not going to be effective if you’re actively moving. These devices are made to be stationary once operating to protect one 15 foot area around them.
How Does Thermacell Repel Mosquitoes?
This device uses butane fuel to heat a repellent pad filled with allethrin. The heat evaporates the repellent into the air, creating a sphere of protection around you and your family. Studies have shown that this method is an effective form of mosquito repellent in the field.
Allethrin is a synthetic insecticide and repellent, derived from a natural molecule found in chrysanthemum flowers. The synthetic version is slightly more powerful and can be made in large batches. Allethrin – and several other synthetic insecticides like DEET and permethrin – has high potency for killing and repelling many biting insects.
Does Allethrin Repel Other Bugs?
All Thermacell products use allethrin, so the potential as an insect repellent goes far beyond mosquitoes. In fact, all of the insects listed below can be repelled with allethrin:
- Biting midges
- And ticks!
Refueling Your Thermacell Device
Refueling your Thermacell Device is simple, though there are two components that must be replaced for continual use. The standard devices use butane as a fuel, which must be replaced approximately every 12 hours (however, see below for the battery alternative). In my testing, I could see the butane running out closer to 8 hours but it may depend on local conditions.
For the repellent mats, these start off blue and slowly turn white as they absorb heat and release chemicals. Thermacell says when the mat is all white, it should be replaced which should be roughly after 4 hours.
To replace the butane, first make sure the device is off. Each device has a small viewport where you can check to see if the flame is on. With no flame, simply open the port where the butane goes. Unscrew the empty bottle, and screw in the new one. It’s pretty straightforward, but you must buy the butane cartridges from Thermacell – there is no way to recharge your existing cartridge with your own butane.
When the repellent mat turn white – that means it’s out of allethrin. Turn the device off, and use a new mat to push the old mat out. Be careful, as the old mat and device may still be hot. The old mat may look brownish or burned on the bottom. The company claims that this should be expected.
How Much Do Thermacell Mosquito Repellent Devices Cost?
Actual Thermacell Mosquito Repellent Devices cost anywhere from $24.99 to $49.99, depending on the model, color, and options that you select.
Refills are sold in bundle packs with 12 hours of butane and repellent mats (3 mats that each last 4 hours) for $7.99.
The company even offers a model that can be adapted to the small fuel tanks used for camp stoves. This is a great option for serious backpackers because it adds almost no weight to your pack and you were already planning on bringing the fuel tanks!
The Battery-Powered Thermacell Radius
Thermacell also offers a battery-powered device called the Radius. This device is more compact and has different pros and cons compared to the butane model. It’s also slightly more expensive at $50.
How It Works, and How It Is Different
The device gets the same 15 feet of mosquito repellent as the butane model, but with different means. Instead of a mat that gets heated, the Radius has a reservoir of pesticide and a wick. The battery heats the wick which released the pesticide into the air to create the barrier effect.
Another difference is that the Radius actually uses a different pesticide – metofluhrin. Studies have shown this chemical to be 95-97% effective at repelling mosquitoes.
A single battery charge will operate the Radius for about 6 and a half hours. In terms of replacing the repellent, Theramacell offers those in both 12 hour and 40 hour sizes.
Compared to DEET and Other Repellents
Of course, Thermacell claims that Thermacell products are the best. Let’s see if that stacks up with what has been published in the literature…
One study did indeed find that Thermacell products were at least as good as Off! Clip-on products on their ability to kill and repel ticks. The Off! Clip-on products worked well at a short-range, but the Thermacell products were able to induce mortality at a much longer range. This is likely due to the heating method they use to disperse the repellent, which spread the insecticide over a much bigger area.
However, there are no specific studies on Thermacell compared directly to other repellents on mosquitoes. So, in areas heavily populated with mosquitoes, you may want to go with multiple forms of protection.
In fact, experts recommend that people layer different repellents for the best protection. In their own words:
“[T]he most effective uses of insect repellents are to layer a topically applied repellent, such as DEET or picaridin, on the skin, with permethrin – or other synthetic pyrethroid-impregnated clothing that act as contact insecticides and provide better and longer-lasting protection against mosquitoes and ticks.”
Allethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid, so it should do the trick. Plus, the Thermacell Device heats allethrin, dispersing it into the air so you don’t have to put it on your clothing. However, small wind currents can disrupt the allethrin potency in the air, so you may want additional protection on your skin to drive away any mosquitoes that slipped through the cracks.
Are Thermacell Mosquito Repellents Worth Buying?
If you made it this far in the review then you’ve probably come to a conclusion yourself if the Thermacell Mosquito Repellers are right for your needs, but here are some closing thoughts and considerations you need to think about before buying.
Buy it if…
- You want effective mosquito repellent that you don’t need to spray on the skin
- You want to protect a stationary area, like an outdoor dining area, porch, campfire or picnic
- You understand the device takes 15-30 minutes to be effective
- You want mosquito repellent that doesn’t have a strong scent or open flame
Don’t Buy it if…
- You want mosquito protection while on the go, like if you’re actively hiking or playing an outdoor sport
- You want a completely natural product
- You want to protect a wide area, such as your entire yard
- You don’t want to frequently buy replacement butane and mats