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Thermacell review: we tested out the no-spray mosquito repellant… – The Sun

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AH, those balmy summer nights. It’s the time for outdoor hangouts with mates, chilled beers on the lawn, epic barbecues… and mosquitoes. Thousands of them, biting at your exposed, sun-kissed flesh.
If you’re the type of person that seems to attract mosquitoes, then you probably would do anything to avoid them. Enter a little device called the Thermacell Halo Mini which claims to put an end to insect bites. It’s no-spray, scent-free, and promises 100% satisfaction. So I put it to the test….
Typically I struggle with insect bites; whether I’m on a London terrace, sitting on a beach or — heaven forbid — camping in a buggy forest, as soon as dusk hits, I get eaten alive.
I’ve tried all the sprays. I’ll admit that some of them are effective. But at best, I feel yucky coating my skin in loads of chemicals. At worst, I’ve ruined a dress after a DEET-based spray left a permanent stain.
Can Thermacell answer my prayers? Time will tell.
Most mosquito repellents I’ve tried fall into two categories: effective-but-yucky chemical sprays that you have to coat over your bare skin (think DEET) and less-effective-but-natural burners, such as citronella-scented candles and oils.
Thermacell sits somewhere in between. The compact and light device is powered by a small butane gas canister and repels insects using mats soaked with a chemical called allethrin. As the device discretely warms (there is no open flame) the repellent is invisibly spread throughout the air, creating a 20m2 protective bubble around you that is meant to keep biting bugs at bay.
I tested my Thermacell on several different occasions in a city garden, sometimes for short periods of just half an hour and once over a full four-hour session.
I found it super easy to use and (drumroll…) I didn’t get bitten the entire time, even with bare legs and arms. Is this success all thanks to the Thermacell? It’s hard to say for certain – it’s possible there just were fewer mosquitoes about than usual – but the results were promising.
The downside to the Thermacell is that it’s pricey to run. Unlike a spray or candle, you don’t just buy it once and be done with it. There is the initial outlay for the device, and then you need to purchase expensive top-up butane and mats to keep it working. It’s definitely an investment, but then again; how much would you pay to avoid getting bitten?
The Thermacell is light, small and discreet looking; exactly what you want from a subtle device designed to keep biting bugs away.
I found it very easy to use, too. All I had to do was screw the butane cartridge into the base, carefully slip in one of the repellent-soaked mats (wash your hands afterwards), and then twist the bottom base a couple of times to get it going.
You know it’s working because you see a tiny orange glow through a peephole on the device’s side. But otherwise, the Thermacell is silent, scent-free, mess-free and, apart from a very faint curl of warm air as the repellent paper starts to heat and do its job, visible-emission-free.
Unlike a powerful body spray, it doesn’t work instantly. Depending on the area and the conditions you’re working in, it takes the Thermacell between 10 and 30 minutes to create its ‘bubble’ and effectively repel mosquitoes and midges.
This requires a certain amount of planning ahead if you really don’t want to get bitten. As someone who only realises it’s mosquito o’clock after I’ve felt the tingle of tiny wings on my skin, I consistently turned it on a few minutes too late. As a result, I’d spend the first 15 minutes of use swatting bugs away, until the Thermacell warmed up. Hopefully, you’re more organised than me.
Theoretically, the Thermacell is highly portable. It’ll be easy to pack for UK camping breaks or road trips to a holiday park abroad. However, because of the butane cartridge, unlike a traditional body spray, you can’t take it on a plane (say, if you’re holidaying in a tropical buggy place).
You also can’t use it in any contained spaces (tents, for example) so you might find that you still need to purchase other repellent methods to suit all occasions.
Testing mosquito repellents isn’t an exact science because it’s pretty tricky to create a controlled environment. I can’t be 100% sure whether the fact I wasn’t bitten was down to the Thermacell itself or other conditions in my city garden, like there being fewer mosquitoes around than usual.
But as someone who normally gets bitten in abundance, I was delighted to note that I didn’t receive a single mosquito bite – nor did I feel any buzzing around my bare legs and arms – once the machine was ‘warmed up'.
The Thermacell is less effective in certain conditions, such as wind. It’s also difficult to know when you’ve left the protective ‘bubble’, as of course, that’s invisible. To be safe, I found myself positioning the device on the ground right by where I was sitting. But I’m not sure how this would play out if you had, say, a garden party with dozens of guests.
I couldn’t honestly say that the Thermacell was more effective than a powerful body spray. But of the burn options I’ve tried – including citronella candles – it was the most effective. I like that there wasn’t an open flame to worry about, too.
At the time of writing, the Thermacell Halo costs £32.75 from Amazon. The price includes the device itself, plus an initial 12-hour cartridge of butane and three repellent-soaked mats, which combined should also last a total of 12 hours (four hours per mat).
After that, you will need to power the device using refill packs – containing a fresh butane cartridge and three more mats – which (again, at the time of writing) cost £7.99 each. Putting aside the faff of having to remember to purchase these, the price quickly adds up: you are looking at spending about £2 per average three-hour Thermacell session.
You probably won’t be using all your butane and mats in one 12-hour sitting, so you may have to keep track of how long you’ve used each mat in order to avoid wastage.
I found that an issue. The mats are supposed to turn white when they have been fully used up – after about four hours – but I found that they turned much more quickly than that. I became unsure of exactly when they were exhausted, and so out of caution started changing them after around three hours. Not ideal given they are expensive.
In my experience, the Thermacell worked a treat. When placing it in the centre of a compact dining area for two people, neither my husband nor I were bitten at all once the device warmed up.
If you want more comprehensive coverage or are moving around a lot in your garden space (say, while hosting a barbecue) you may want to consider buying multiple devices to ensure even protection.
But saying that, you’ll have to consider the cost. At £34.99 initial outlay plus an extra running cost of about 67p per hour (or £2 per three hours), some might prefer to stick to traditional body sprays or cheaper (if less effective) citronella candles.
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