How Effective Are Electronic Insect Repellents?

Electronic insect repellents that utilize electromagnetic, sonic and/or ultrasonic energy are devices marketed to attract customers who want to keep the insects and bugs at bay in their home and office environment. These devices claim to produce electronic or ultrasonic sounds that supposedly repel or drive away the insects. Although electronic insect repellents are strategically marketed and made available for commercial reasons, the actual effectiveness of the product on repelling mosquitoes, cockroaches, fleas, spiders or any other bug is questionable.

Supposed Effect

Electronic insect repellents are marketed as a safe alternative to the chemicals and pesticides that result in resistant bugs and a polluted environment. They are sold with unreliable positive customer testimonials that could have resulted from a placebo effect, since some people tend to believe what they want to believe. However, the supposed insect repelling effects of these acoustic devices have no concrete scientific backing. These repellents may work when complemented with other insect control methods such as traps, good sanitation practices, and proper clearing up of entry points or nesting places.


EIRs emit sonic frequencies similar to that of sounds made by male mosquitoes to repel females as the females mate only once in their lifetime. The presence or absence of handheld electronic mosquito repellent device mimicking male mosquito sounds showed no effect on the landing and subsequent biting of a female mosquito on human skin, according to the 2007 review "Electronic mosquito repellents for preventing mosquito bites and malaria infection" published in the Cochrane Library, by Enayati et al. The Cochrane report analyzes the data from various field-based studies and draws evidence-based conclusions that EIRs simply don't repel or drive away the insects as claimed. An EIR device that claimed to produce the frequency of dragon flies, an enemy of the mosquito species, did not repel the malaria-transmitting insect either, as reported in "Evaluation of an electronic mosquito repelling device with notes on the statistical test" in J. Florida Mosq. Control Assoc., by Schreiber et al., 1991, and in the article "Anti-mosquito buzzers, advertising and the law" in Wing Beats by Curtis, 1994.

Inference on Ineffectiveness

The device makes use of acoustic tendency of the insects and bugs and promises to provide frequencies that repel them. However, the sonic frequency of most devices is much higher than that of the sounds from the wing beating of a natural male mosquito, therefore causing no repulsive action in female counterpart, as observed by Clements in 1999, in an article titled "The Biology of Mosquitoes Sensory reception and behaviour." The frequencies emitted by certain EIR devices are similar to those made by mosquito-eating bats, but the product has no effect on mosquitoes as the bugs simply do not seem to relate to the idea.

Scientific Basis

The ineffectiveness of EIR is concluded from the fact that the alleged repulsive effect is not backed up by any credible scientific data; this shows they do not actually work as claimed by the product manufacturers. Studies in laboratory trials and field tests have demonstrated that female mosquitoes do not repel the device buzzing sound as claimed by the device manufactures, as reviewed in the Cochrane report. Another research infers that female mosquitoes have weak sensitivity toward any sound as mentioned, according to the Science Daily; this simply questions the fundamental behind the device action. From research data results of Huang et al., published in the "Journal of Stored Product Research" in 2002, scientists infer that electronic repellents might be used in birth control of moths; but there is no evidence to prove their repulsive effect on moths or cockroaches as reported in "Insect Science" by Huang et al. in 2006.

About the Author

Hailing out of Pittsburgh, Pa., David Stewart has been writing articles since 2004, specializing in consumer-oriented pieces. He holds an associate degree in specialized technology from the Pittsburgh Technical Institute.