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An unhealthy sleep - how safe are mosquito coils?

Chemicals in Mosquito Coils

The annual worldwide consumption of the four major types of residential insecticide products are -- aerosols, mosquito coils, liquid vaporizers, and vaporizing mats.

Mosquito coils are burned indoors and outdoors in regions like Asia, Africa, and South America. Mosquito coils consist of an insecticide/repellant, organic fillers capable of burning with smoldering, binder, and additives such as synergists, dyes, and fungicide.

Mosquito coil ingredients

Dibutyl hydroxyl toluene (BHT)
Piperonyl butoxide (PBO)
N-(2-ethylhexyl)-bicyclo-(2,2,1)hept-5-ene-2,3-dicarboximide (MGK 264)
N,N-Diethyl-Meta-Toluamide (DEET)


N,N-Diethyl-Meta-Toluamide (DEET)

DEET is a registered pesticide. It is the most effective, and best studied, insect repellent currently on the market. This substance has a remarkable safety profile after 40 years of worldwide use. It has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Repellents with DEET are used by an estimated 200 million people worldwide each year.

The most common active ingredients in coils are various pyrethroids, such as allethrin, d-allethrin, pynamin forte and ETOC. Octachlorodipropylether (S-2) is sometimes used as a synergist or active ingredient and use of such coils exposes humans to some level of bis-chloromethyl ether (BCME) which is an extremely potent lung carcinogen. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) does not register S-2 for any use, some imported mosquito coils contain this chemical, but their use is illegal in the United States, moreover in places like India S-2 is not banned.

Other compounds, released during the burning of mosquito coils (aldehydes, formaldehydes, fine and ultrafine particles,benzene, benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene are also classified by the U.S. EPA as probable human carcinogens.

Mosquito coils burn for about 8hr without flame and kill or repel mosquitoes. Although they are recommended for outdoor use, or for use in semi-enclosed patios and porches, coils are often used overnight in sleeping quarters.

As a result peoples are exposed to a chemically complex mosquito-coil smoke containing small particles (< 1 µm), metal fumes, and vapors that may reach the alveolar region of the lung.

Burning of one mosquito coil would release the same amount of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 mass as burning 75-137 cigarettes; the emission of formaldehyde from burning one coil can be as high as that released from burning 51 cigarettes.

"Not many people know about it, but the damage done to your lungs by one mosquito coil is equivalent to the damage done by 100 cigarettes."

                                                                       - Sandeep Salvi, Chest Research Foundation Director

To avoid exposure from harmful chemically complex mosquito-coil smoke, usage of natural mosquito repellents is one of the best alternative methods.

Studies have shown that the best natural mosquito repellents usually contain more than just one type of oil.

Essential oils used in natural mosquito repellents

Lemon eucalyptus oil
Geranium oil
Soybean oil
Clove oil
Celery extract
Neem oil


 Bite Blocker, a repellent that contains geranium, soybean and coconut oil, can repel mosquitoes for up to 3 1/2 hours, longer than any repellent that contains only geranium oil.

Fennel - A small study by researchers at Seoul National University in Korea found that spray mosquito repellent containing 5 per cent fennel oil was 84 per cent effective after 90 minutes and a repellent cream with 8 per cent fennel oil was 70 per cent effective after 90 minutes.

Thyme - In one study, carvacrol and alpha-terpinene, two compounds derived from the essential oil of thyme, were found to have significantly greater repellency than a commercial N,N-Diethyl-Meta-Toluamide (DEET) repellent. The researchers suggest that a spray made with 2 per cent alpha terpinene is a promising natural mosquito repellent.

Picaridin - Picaridin is an insect and acarid repellent in the piperidine chemical family. Piperidines are structural components of piperine, the plant extract from the genus Piper that is also known as pepper. The chemical name is 1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-ethylpropylester. Picaridin is an odorless synthetic safe mosquito repellent ingredient that has been proven as effective as DEET in studies against mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, and chiggers. It is also known as KBR 3023 or Bayrepel.


[1] Robert I. Krieger, Travis M. Dinoff, Xiaofei Zhang, Octachlorodipropyl Ether (S-2) Mosquito Coils Are Inadequately Studied for Residential Use in Asia and Illegal in the United States , Available from -


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