It turns out that your stinky socks may deter your hostel-mates, significant other, and often yourself, but are irresistible to blood-sucking mosquitoes. Attracted by a compound of 8 chemicals (primarily carbon dioxide and octenol) that combine for a pungent cocktail in our shoes, mosquitoes are 4 times as likely to go for smelly feet than elsewhere in the body. There is now enough data behind this phenomena that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $775,000 to developing traps with feet smell as the lure.

colorful wool socks

You, however, don’t have to wait for a trap when you can make your own – or at least use the latest research about the mosquito olfactory system to give yourself some relief from their itchy bites.

When You’ve Got Room To Breath

Mosquitoes use their noses – in a sense (receptors are found around the abdomen) – to find out where you’re hanging out. That long-range detection system is then tuned to the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide and other smells in the immediate area. The mosquito is looking to get the best blood meal for the risk it takes of being smashed out of existence by swatting hands.

  • A mosquito’s sense of smell is about 30 meters (100 feet) wide; so if your concentration of pests in that radius is low, your best bet is to eliminate odor, not intensify it. (More on that in the next section.) When you do have a bit of space to work with, or have other bodies attracting mosquitoes with you in the same room (like a hostel dorm) you can mislead mosquitoes at close range.
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By wrapping duct tape, with the sticky side out, around a pair or two of your worst smelling socks you may be a 75% less attractive mosquito target than others sleeping in the same room. This method isn’t completely effective but it can divert a number of hungry mosquitoes to the duct tape trap rather than the back of your neck.

In Empty Rooms, Go Mosquito Stealth

When you’re staying in a dormitory with several other human beings, you can essentially guarantee that your collective smells will have already broadcasted the blood-buffet you represent to mosquitoes nearby. When you’re the only human around however, it doesn’t hurt to mask your scent to reduce the number of mosquitoes that can pile in through an open window overnight.

bottle of smirnoff vodka

What’s the answer in a bottle for mosquitoes you ask? Vodka, which can kill smells, stinky feet, mosquitoes and your sobriety if there’s enough left over.

3 of the 4 great travel uses for vodka can help you mask your smell, effectively reducing the number of mosquitoes who will pick up on where you are sleeping. Vodka, when sprayed on socks, kills the bacteria that makes them smell like gross feet. Vodka can also be used to actually clean your feet, disinfecting them at the same time. Finally, if a mosquito happens to be bold enough for a face-on confrontation, one good spritz will send them to mosquito heaven.

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Repelling Who You Want To Attract And Visa-Versa

Depending on how far you want to take your mosquito protection, knowing the effect that foot odor has on the pests can at least help you plan where you leave your dirty laundry. Sealing your dirty clothes in plastic bags can make you slightly less attractive to mosquitoes and less repulsive to other human beings who you may be sharing a room with. Finally, there are countless things you can use duct tape for so that roll in your backpack isn’t likely to go to waste on your next trip.

[top sock photo by bark]