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Sawyer Permethrin Insect Repellent Treatment for Clothing, Gear, and Tents

rated 5.0 of 5 stars
photo: Sawyer Permethrin Insect Repellent Treatment for Clothing, Gear, and Tents insect repellent

I have used DEET and other products since the early 1980s, but Permethrin treated clothes are much more effective in tick prevention based on my experience in tick-infested areas. Sawyer Permethrin can keep ticks from landing and biting, and can actually kill them on your clothes. It is the repellent I depend on for work and recreation—effective and easy to apply.


  • Doesn’t damage gear like DEET
  • Extremely effective against ticks
  • Safe if used as pre-treatment for clothes
  • Lasts for multiple washings
  • No exposure to stronger concentrations


  • Not as effective against mosquitos
  • Doesn’t absorb well into water resistant fabrics
  • Can be dangerous if not handled properly
  • More expensive than mixing your own solution

A recent forum thread reminded me I hadn’t reviewed bug protection products that I planned to write up last year.  With today being excellent gear-treating weather for the spring Permethrin application, I decided to finish this review while my clothes dry.

My Reviewer of the Month prize last year included Sawyer Permethrin and Picaridin, both of which I have been using for a while before that. I have posted a separate review of Sawyer Picaridin, but wanted to mention it here as it is an integral part of my overall bug defense system in combination with Permethrin. 


I have consistently used Sawyer Permethrin for the last 5 years as my primary defense against ticks. I mostly used DEET products prior to Permethrin, for tick repellent as well as for mosquito/flies. I have treated complete sets of backpacking clothes and multiple sets of field clothes for work, where I have the most tick exposure.

I live and play in the humid Southeast where bug season can be extensive, and many different species of ticks present throughout the year in some areas. I often have to go into tick-infested areas—it is not uncommon to be counting ticks by the tens, as they are an everyday hazard of my line of work.

Product Description and Use:

Sawyer sells Permethrin in multiple sizes of trigger, pump, and aerosol sprays. This review is of the pump spray that I was provided as a reviewer prize by Trailspace. The active ingredient is a 0.5% concentration of Permethrin. The bottle comes in multiple sizes but all seem to have the same concentration, so selection should be based on the amount of treatment you need.
20170409_105857.jpgSawyer makes the following claims on its website:

  • Effective against ticks, chiggers, mites and mosquitoes for up to six weeks.
  • One treatment will last up to six washings or six weeks before clothing has to be treated again
  • If you treat your tent, you can expect full potency for up to 40 days of direct sunlight.

Application is relatively straightforward, but you must follow the directions to protect yourself from harmful effects of exposure. Permethrin should be applied outside when there is no wind and before clothes are worn (I have seen folks spray the aerosol on themselves like other bug repellents!). After treatment let the clothes hang for two to four hours (depending on humidity).
You should avoid contact with skin and eyes during application phase—I take this seriously as you can see...

Application Process

I find the application process pretty easy. It does get a little tiring pumping the trigger to spray if you are treating multiple outfits. That is where a mix of your own or transferring it into a pump sprayer would ease things, but I find it not worth the effort. I know others in my industry (natural resource professions) who mix their own solution and pump spray or soak.

I prefer not to handle this stuff too much, so the spray method works for me. Soaking will produce a lot of waste product that I do not want to hassle with proper disposal. This stuff is definitely potent and therefore should be taken care of with precautions. I don’t let the dog or kids (when they lived at home) near the spray area, but once it dries it is harmless. Cats are the exception—it can cause significant damage to their nervous systems when in solution but supposedly harmless after drying.
20170409_105914.jpgHere is a quick video of the treatment of one side of a shirt:


I have found that Permethrin dries relatively quickly—within the 2 to 4 hour time frame they suggest. I do question the effectiveness of it bonding to water repellent clothes and don’t usually treat those. You can see in the photos below that it beads up more on my water repellent pants than my standard hiking ones.

I also have treated my tent in the past, but stopped doing that for the same reason. Although Sawyer suggests tent treatment as an option, I am not confident that the water repelling nature of the tent would allow for effective bonding, or longevity. Seems like a lot of work when bug netting could be put into play!


Sawyer Permethrin is the only tick repellent I use in both my profession and recreation. After years of being covered with DEET and still finding ticks all over me, Permethrin pre-treated clothes have drastically reduced this occurrence. On the odd day at work when I go in the field without pre-treated clothes I can immediately tell the difference. It’s like they have been waiting for me to slip up!

While I still get the occasional tick crawling round, it is difficult to tell how many were repelled by the Sawyer Permethrin treatment. I have watched on a lunch break as a tick has crawled onto my shirt and then slowly curled up and died (I shouldn’t have enjoyed watching that so much but I hate the little critters—and I forgot to film it!). 

I cannot stress enough how much this has helped me in my work, as well as backpacking. I have had days in the field when you had to look down every other step to brush ticks off your pants, but that isn’t needed with Permethrin. It’s not fool-proof, but it’s the next best thing.


I have found that Sawyer Permethrin becomes less effective over time. Sawyer claims it will last at least 6 washings, but they specify it should be done delicately. I tend to throw all my stuff in together and therefore don’t follow the washing instructions well, which likely leads to the reduced effectiveness over time. I will try to use it every other month during high tick season and more often if I am out more.

This obviously depends on your varied use, but when I tracked it tightly a couple of years ago (kept a running log of number of washings since treatment) I found that I wanted to reapply after 4 or 5 laundry cycles. Again, I bet it would last longer if you actually followed their washing instructions!


There are multiple alternatives, but the primary competition is Permethrin impregnated clothes, sending your clothes to a service to have Permethrin impregnated into them, or mixing your own solution. As mentioned, I prefer not to handle the concentrated stuff so don’t mind the expense of the Sawyer pre-mixed solution. I also prefer to pick my own clothes out, so don’t usually opt for the ones that have Permethrin integrated into the manufacturing. 

Sending clothes off for this also seems like an effort and extra cost compared to the ease of spraying my preferred clothing occasionally. However, clothes professionally manufactured and treated are likely to last longer.

I have seen recommendations to increase the concentration of the at-home solutions, but find the 0.5% Sawyer strength perfectly suitable. As mentioned above, I spend a lot of time in tick habitat and have seen dozens of seed ticks (nymphs) and others crawling on my legs in the past. Sawyer Permethrin has stopped that from occurring.

Is it 100% guaranteed? No. But it beats pulling ticks out of you—something I had to do on a regular basis after work, which I seldom have to do now.


Overall I feel that there is no easier or better treatment to prevent ticks. If you don’t use this, then consider making your own, buying tick repellent clothing, or sending your clothes off to get treated. You don’t want Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or any of the other issues that ticks can cause!

Source: received it as a sample, freebie, or prize (Trailspace - Reviewer of the Month Prize)

Sawyer Permethrin insect repellent is a proactive way to take action before you get into the bugs that is effective and easy to apply.


  • It is effective against mosquitos
  • Is easy to apply
  • Doesn't seem to have any odor
  • It's the one proactive thing you can do


  • None that I am aware of

Let me first say that I received my Sawyer Permethrin as a gift for being a past Reviewer of the Month here at Trailspace.

As far as bugs go, I think I am average when it comes to how attracted mosquitos are to me compared to other individuals like my wife, who tends to be a mosquito magnet. My normal approach is that when I get into an area where I am starting to be bothered by mosquitos, I don't mess around and just start to apply full strength Deet, and if it gets really bad I throw on a head net.

When I first received the Sawyer Permethrin as a gift I didn't think much about it, but a month or so ago I was planning a trip down to the Sierras to do a section hike on the JMT and since this has been such a wet year and there were reports of a lot of mosquitos in several areas, I thought I would give this a try.  

Being fair skinned and not liking to wear sunscreen, I tend to wear long pants and long sleeve shirts when I hike, so the use of permethrin seemed like a natural fit since my clothes will always be covering most of my skin.

The kit that I used comes with a 12 ounce bottle of permethrin, a spray head that attaches to the bottle, and the application instructions on the package. The package states that the 12 ounce bottle should be able to treat two outfits composed of a shirt, pants, and socks. The instructions also indicate that you can apply the permethrin to other gear like packs or tents.

I applied the permethrin to two pairs of socks, one pair of pants, and the four shirts I typically wear in my layering system and ended up with probably 3 ounces still left in the bottle.


I sprayed all my clothing in my garage and let them hang there until they were dry. When the clothes were dry after the application of the permethrin I couldn't detect any difference in the smell or texture of the fabric.

During the trip that I took these clothes on recently, the place I experienced the most mosquitos was Deer Creek Crossing on the JMT when I stopped for water and a snack.

While I wouldn't call what I experienced at Deer Creek a swarm of mosquitos of biblical proportions, there were a lot of bugs and other people there seemed to be doing some swatting, but I wasn't really having any issues and I didn't think about applying any Deet.

The mosquitos weren't completely ignoring me as shown in the picture below, but they would land and check things out, but tended to fly away without making any bites.


The funny thing with a product like this is that its sometimes difficult to know if it was the product or some other factor that was keeping the mosquitos away.  In this case I really do think the permethrin was effective and I also think that one of the real benefits of a product like this is that after it is applied, it's always working, so while your out on future hikes and thinking that the bugs aren't all that bad, it's really the permethrin still doing its job.

In the end I would have to say that I think the Sawyer Permethrin was effective and would recommend it to anyone looking for alternatives to Deet (which I still think you would need when the bugs get really bad...). I still have a couple of more trips planned and will try and provide an update on if my clothes still have the benefit of the permethrin now that they have been washed a time or two.

Source: received it as a sample, freebie, or prize (Trailspace Reviewer of the Month)

Easy to use and long lasting this bug treatment really works. If you visit buggy areas or are concerned about ticks at home or on trail this stuff is peace of mind in a bottle


  • Effective
  • Easy to apply
  • Won't harm most clothing and gear
  • Long lasting
  • Safe for children's clothing


  • Very poisonous requiring safe disposal of any remainders
  • OK, that was a reach since I can't think of any real cons

Designed to be used to pretreat clothing and gear to repel ticks, chiggers, mites and mosquitoes this product works as advertised.  After one full season of use I am convinced of the effectiveness of Sawyer's permethrin and will keep using it so long as that remains the fact.

Application is simply a matter of waiting for a day without much wind, hanging the item or items to be treated, lightly dampening items with the product via the spray applicator and then waiting for them to dry. Sawyer claims 42 days of effectiveness per treatment and will last through 6 washes, but as I'm either walking in the rain or sweating in the heat I retreat once a month if I remember.

Once the product dries it is almost entirely without odor. There is a very faint smell which I do not find annoying in the least and really only notice when I'm sniffing to see if I should reapply. I have yet to find any item I have treated which was discolored by the process, but I would recommend testing first on a small hidden area just in case.

The info on the container says the 24oz bottle is enough to treat four complete outfits but that seems very conservative to me. I treated my own shirt, pants, hat and socks three times last year, some clothes for Mrs Stranger and The Tot as well as treating clothing for three other people who came on trips with me last year and that left about a third of the product remaining. I may have been under treating but based on how well it worked I'm thinking they may just be avoiding setting their specs too high.

As mentioned the product is safe to use on children's clothing which is great if you have kids who like to roll around on the ground. Our back yard is a forest filled with ticks so I have found the permethrin useful at home as well as on trail given Lyme Disease concerns. Now that EEE is moving into our area I think we may start treating more of our clothes we wear outside the house this year.

There are other brands of permethrin out there but having tried the Sawyer I don't feel much need to try them.  This stuff works as advertised and definitely far better than I expected. On last year's trips I never had to resort to using a head net and only used bug repellent one time.

Keep in mind my trips were all here in Maine where bugs are certainly not a minor annoyance so if it works here it will probably work where you go. Personally I'm sold and will buy a bottle each year unless something better comes along.


Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $15

Oddly I have been hiking and backpacking through my life but never started to use Permethrin until about 4 years ago. From what I can see it is amazing and I absolutely suggest using it as intended. It gives some peace of mind from ticks that otherwise is not there.


  • Does what is says. Confirmed that it works and works well.


  • Maybe a little expensive but will pay the price for the benefit without question.
  • Must be applied and then must dry.
  • Can not use on the spot.
  • Wears out over time with washing.

A friend just sent me a notification of a new tick-borne disease in our area.  As we were discussing it, the first thing that came to mind was repelling ticks and with that Permethrin instantly came to mind.

I went backpacking about a year ago just as spring was ending.  With that I came across several stagnant pools of water and could see the mosquitoes fill the air around them.  As I walked by I saw them hovering about a foot in front of me.  I had treated the hat I was wearing with the stuff. So while it says kills on contact I suspect it does but it also repells.  Also at one point while sitting at camp I saw a tick rolling around on my pant leg.  Not crawling but rolling.  Apparently affected by the treatment.  I flicked it off.

I am very worried about ticks in general.  For a while I thought about not going to areas where they might be.  Essentially giving up outdoor activities. I've heard too many horror stories of people who get Lyme disease and never recover fully from it.  Not long ago I also heard of a disease given by infected ticks that makes you allergic to red meat.  I dislike ticks and would be completely fine if they found a way to exterminate all of them.  Every living thing on the planet with little exception seems to have a place in nature where if it were removed completely it would affect something else in a negative way.  I've not found anything like this for ticks.  They seem to have no place in nature other than to be a parasite.

Anyway long story short, Permethrin makes it so I can go where I want with little concern.

One con?  If used as instructed its supposed to be safe.  However its hard for me to imagine how something this effective can actually be that safe.  Still, I'll take the difference between what a tick can do to you to an as-of-yet unconfirmed worry with Permethrin any day of the week.

I highly recommend this stuff and will not be caught hiking or backpacking without it applied to my clothes.


Various repellents over decades, Permethrin itself about 4 years plus or minus.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: Dont remember

Love, love, love this stuff! Keeps bugs and ticks away. No smell for hunting. Lasts many, many days on treated garments and gear.


  • Does what it is supposed to do
  • Keeps disease-carrying ticks and bugs away


  • No bad things to say

This is a MUST for the outdoorsman or outdoorswoman! Much better than stinky, dangerous DEET. Can also use on pets.


I use Sawyer Permethrin on my clothes/hunting gear/tent, etc. and Sawyer Picaridin lotion on my skin. THE BEST!!!

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $12

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