How to Get Rid of Chiggers on Skin, In or Around Home

Immediately after identifying chigger bites, head to the shower

How to Get Rid of Chiggers

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

If you, family members, or pets have itchy bites but don't remember seeing an insect, it could be chigger bites. Chiggers are mites in their immature stage, which can lurk in your backyard in tall grass, weed patches, and damp spots underneath trees. They might be anywhere you venture outdoors where there's brush or thicket combined with moisture, such as along stream banks. They live all over the world but are most problematic in the American South, Southeast, and Midwest. 

Chiggers cause itchy bites that can last for several days. A common misconception is that chiggers burrow under the skin, but this is not true—the itchy red spots are simply an allergic reaction to the saliva of the bites of these tiny pests.

Here's how to remove chiggers from your body, control them on your property, and prevent bites from occurring.

What Are Chiggers?

Chiggers, also known as red bugs, harvest lice, or harvest mites, are the larvae of certain mites of the Trombiculidae family. There are dozens of genera within this family, and hundreds of species, but the chiggers in your landscape are limited to those species native to your region. In North America, most chiggers are from the Trombicula genus, especially the T. alfreddugesi species. The species native to North America generally do not spread diseases.

How to Get Rid of Chiggers on You

If you've been outside and think you've been exposed to chiggers, shower immediately with soap when you get back indoors. Chiggers don't attach to the skin right away—they wander around first. They can live on human skin for up to four days. However, they do not usually last longer than one to two days since their bite causes people to scratch and rub them off their skin.

Launder all the clothes you were wearing immediately on a hot washing cycle. Washing with hot water and detergent, followed by a hot drying cycle, will eradicate chiggers on your clothing.

How to Prevent Chigger Infestation on Property

There is no practical way to rid your landscape of chiggers completely—nor would you want to. Such methods would probably require copious amounts of chemical treatment, which would also harm pollinators and other helpful insects.

However, you can significantly reduce chigger populations by eliminating brush and areas of long grass. Good sun exposure to all areas of your landscape will dramatically reduce the number of these insects.

What Do Chiggers Look Like?

Like spiders and ticks, chiggers are arachnids—but extremely small ones. Adults get to about 1/60 inch in size. The red-colored larvae of chiggers are so small—only 1/120 to 1/150 of an inch—that you can barely see them with the naked eye. If you do, they will look like dust particles—though you may see them move. If you see tiny red spots moving across a sidewalk, it's likely chiggers.

In cooler climates, late spring and early summer are prime times for chiggers, but in warmer, humid climates, chigger larvae can be present year-round, as they produce up to five generations per year.

Signs of Chigger Infestation

The only accurate indication that you have a chigger problem is when people or pets develop maddening, itchy bites—without seeing the biting offender. After the mite eggs hatch in the spring, the fast-moving six-legged larvae climb onto low-growing vegetation and wait for suitable hosts to come along: cats, dogs, rodents, reptiles, birds, and humans.

The larvae attach to the skin of their host, preferably soft skin, and inject their saliva into it. The digestive enzymes in the saliva liquefy the host's skin cells, which causes the typical chigger rash and intense itching that starts three to six hours after the chiggers have attached to the skin. Most bites occur around the ankles and sometimes waistline areas if walking in tall brush.

If not removed, chiggers remain on the human skin for about four days. When done feeding, the chiggers drop off to grow into nymphs and adults. In this later stage, they no longer prey on their hosts but live on to continue the cycle.

While the bites can leave itchy welts, they are not dangerous. However, intense scratching of the bites can open the skin to secondary infections.

Dealing With Chigger Bites

According to the Texas Cooperative Extension, a shower should give some relief to skin reactions to chigger bites (chigger dermatitis). DEET-containing products are your best bet to keep chiggers away. If you get bitten, avoid scratching and combat the itch with common at-home remedies you use to stop itching.

Chigger bite
Chigger bite John Brandauer / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

3 Ways to Get Control of Chiggers

Control the Environment

You can control chiggers by making your yard less attractive for them—chiggers like moist areas with dense vegetation. Prune your trees and shrubs to let in more sunlight and decrease humidity. Regularly mow your lawn closely around trees, shrubs, and edges between garden beds and woody or naturalized areas.

Rodents and other small mammals are the primary hosts for chiggers. By removing piles of debris and brush, you discourage these animals from settling down in your yard and bringing chiggers with them.

Change Your Habits

If you are an environmentally conscious homeowner, you might wonder how chigger prevention and naturalized landscapes go together. Controlling chiggers does not mean that everything has to be manicured. You can still have your pollinator gardens and meadow-style beds and provide shelter for desirable wildlife. Just as with ticks, take appropriate protective measures.

The standard recommendation is to avoid brushing against vegetation, which is impractical for gardeners. Instead, wear protective clothing when working in tall grass, overgrown areas, and brush. Wear long sleeves and pants, tuck your pants into your socks, wear work boots, and tuck your sleeves into gardening gloves.

Treat your clothing with insect repellent. Insect repellents containing DEET are effective against chiggers. You can also try DEET-free alternatives, but check the repellent label to see if the product effectively repels chiggers.

Protect yourself from chiggers with pants and boots
Protect yourself from chiggers with pants and boots Getty Images / RCKeller

Use Insecticides

Unless you have a place in your yard infested with chiggers for consecutive years, spraying insecticides is not usually a good solution. Broad-spectrum insecticides also kill beneficial insects and should only be the last resort.

Chiggers overwinter in the soil, so if you have a chigger hot spot, you might consider spraying the low-growing vegetation with products containing bifenthrin, carbaryl, cyhalothrin, or permethrin for a one-time application in late April through mid-June when the chiggers hatch. Like with all chemicals, read the label carefully.

Spraying the entire lawn is not very effective, as these insects avoid direct sunlight and are usually found only in unkempt areas and tall grass.

What Causes Chiggers?

Chiggers thrive in woody, grassy areas with long grass and brush. Here are the possible causes of a chigger infestation:

  • Shady, moist breeding places like high weeds or leaf piles
  • Plentiful animal hosts—mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians—provide blood.
  • Trash or refuse piles attract host animals like rodents and provide an appropriate breeding ground

Chiggers vs. Jiggers

Chiggers are often confused for jiggers (Tunga penetrans), a type of sand flea, because of the similarity of their common names. The female jigger or sand flea burrows into the skin and lays eggs under the skin, causing an infection. This infection is called tungiasis.

Since chiggers are often confused for an "insect that burrows into the skin," the confusion is likely for jigger fleas. However, it's not a jigger sand flea if you've just got a bite and are in the United States. Jiggers do not live in North America or Europe; they mainly inhabit the Caribbean, Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and India.

  • Bright red arachnid

  • Tiny, almost microscopic (1/60 inch)

  • Bites are often clustered

  • Bites are pinpoint red spots

  • Native worldwide; namely grass or wooded areas

  • Bites commonly occur on legs and ankles; also tight spots like waistbands, bra lines, sock lines, and skin folds

  • Reddish brown flea

  • Small, but visible (1/32 inch)

  • Bites are single

  • Bites are small swollen lesion, with a black dot at the center; can grow to size of pea

  • Native to sandy zones in Caribbean, Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and India

  • Bites commonly occur on feet

  • Do chiggers spread disease?

    Generally, chiggers in North America are not known as spreaders of disease, though in East Asia and the South Pacific, there are types of chiggers known to spread a form of typhus. However, scratching chigger bites can open the skin to possible bacterial infections.

  • How long do chiggers live?

    The entire lifecycle of the insect varies by species and can be as little as two months or as much as 12 months. But the larval stage is where the insect feeds on blood. This larval stage lasts only until the larva succeeds in its quest for a blood meal, at which point it drops off and enters its nymph state on the way to becoming an adult.

    Depending on the climate, the insects may reproduce many times, but in most regions of North America, two or three generations per year are typical.

  • During what time of year are chiggers most prevalent?

    In most areas of North America, chiggers go through two or three cycles, and the period from May until frost is regarded as chigger season, though late spring and early summer are the most conducive to chiggers. In frost-free regions, chiggers are possible at any time of year but will be most prevalent during moist seasons.

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  2. Chiggers. University of Missouri Extension

  3. About Chiggers. University of Maryland Extension.

  4. Chiggers. University of Missouri Extension

  5. Jiggers. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

  6. Scrub Typhus Reemergence in the Maldives. CDC.