Insecticide-Free, Mosquito-Proof Fabric Prevents Bites in Trials

A mosquito biting a person.
Mosquito bites may become a thing of the past thanks to a thin fabric invention by John Beckmann. (Image: Chakkrachai Nicharat via Dreamstime)

Mosquito bites may become a thing of the past thanks to a thin fabric invention by John Beckmann. Beckmann, an entomologist at Auburn University in Alabama, developed a light mosquito-proof polyester fabric that can block a mosquito’s proboscis from penetrating it.

These insects are bothersome and the “deadliest animal on the planet,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC). Mosquitoes are deadly because mosquito-borne diseases cause over 700,000 deaths each year. 

Besides humans, they transmit parasites and diseases to domestic animals, such as dogs and horses. These diseases include dengue fever, malaria, West Nile virus, and yellow fever, among others, and people living in the tropics are at the highest risk.

John Beckmann, assistant professor at Auburn University, has been awarded a grant by the state of Alabama to develop a lightweight mosquito-proof fabric.
John Beckmann, assistant professor at Auburn University, has been awarded a grant by the state of Alabama to develop a lightweight material that blocks mosquito bites while retaining coolness in hot weather. (Image: Auburn University)

Creating a mosquito-proof fabric

Beckmann set out to make lightweight mosquito-blocking clothes after he “got eaten alive” during a canoeing trip. He says the clothes he had bought for the trip couldn’t protect him.

Typically, a cloth is thick enough to prevent a mosquito bite if the proboscis doesn’t reach your skin. So experts have always advised people to wear denim, velvet, or wool to avoid mosquito bites. But polyester, light cotton, and spandex, among other lightweight materials, couldn’t protect you from these bites — until now.

First, the team used computational models that describe the biting behavior of Aedes aegypti, the disease-carrying mosquito. To develop this computational model, they considered the mosquito’s head, antenna, mouth(proboscis), and biting mechanism. They then used their model to test various patterns that could prevent mosquito bites. 

Using advanced knitting technology, Beckmann and his team experimented to find the perfect weave patterns. They needed to make a bite-blocking garment ideal for the tropics and summer — breathable and light. 

How do mosquitoes bite through cloth?

Beckmann says a mosquito’s proboscis is more advanced than most believe. To your naked eye, it may appear like a single needle a mosquito uses to pierce the skin. However, it comprises six needlelike mouthparts — stylets — that enable the mosquito to penetrate light fabric and suck blood quickly.

Unfortunately, people living in the tropics have had to bear the brunt of mosquitoes the most because they also have to wear light fabrics. But this new fabric may be a potentially life-saving invention since it’s a lightweight mosquito-proof fabric that doesn’t affect people’s day-to-day activities.

John Beckmann examines mosquitoes as part of his research on the material to block mosquito bites. (Image: Auburn University)

Do we need mosquito-proof garments?

In the last decade, scientists have genetically modified mosquitoes that can be released in mosquito-ridden areas and sterilize the entire population. But some experts believe mosquitoes have a role to play in the ecosystem, small as it may be. We may eradicate essential pollinators and a food source for some bird and reptile species.

Also, while most female mosquito species suck on human and animal blood, males feed on plant sap, flower nectar, and fruit juices.

Beckmann believes there are better ways to deal with this problem. For example, the fabric offers a better alternative than total eradication or insecticides, which may harm the environment.

The researchers submitted their paper detailing their process, findings, and the benefits of their mosquito-blocking fabric. 

“Overall, we showed that comfortable modern textiles can be engineered to block mosquito bites. Blocking sometimes comes at the cost of comfort but needn’t. Our discoveries give individuals the power to protect themselves from vector-borne diseases in hot climates. The manufacturing process of these textile garments reduces human labor and will not negatively impact the environment,” part of the team’s statement says.

Finding the perfect weave pattern took time, but the team believes this is it. Now, they are continuing to refine their creation, and hopefully, we will see new mosquito-repellent apparel in the markets soon. It will be nice to have clothing that blocks mosquito bites without sacrificing comfort.

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  • Nathan Machoka

    Nathan is a writer specializing in history, sustainable living, personal growth, nature, and science. To him, information is liberating, and it can help us bridge the gap between cultures and boost empathy. When not writing, he’s reading, catching a favorite show, or weightlifting. An admitted soccer lover, he feeds his addiction by watching Arsenal FC games on weekends.