Eleven years ago, we published a brief report of a quirky hack: Turning on a kids’ bubble machine is said to keep mosquitoes at bay. And this weekend, I saw the same idea going viral on TikTok. But does it really work?
Snopes, for the record, is stumped. There is no reason to believe it would work, they conclude, and I partially agree. Bubble machines are not listed in any public health organisation’s mosquito avoidance tips, for example. There’s also no special power that soap has over mosquitoes; Snopes was more definitive about that. But I think I see what’s going on here. The key component of any bubble machine is a fan.
If you’re not familiar with these gadgets, they’re just an automated version of what you do with a bottle of bubble solution and a handheld wand. The machine has a small fan that blows air, and rotating series of bubble wands that are dipped into a soapy solution and passed in front of the fan. (It’s like a wacky invention you’d see in a cartoon, except it works.)
This means that if you sit immediately in front of the bubble machine, you may be pelted with bubbles, but you’ll also be surrounded by a gentle current of air. I doubt that this is enough to provide significant protection from mosquito bites, but it does provide a grain of plausibility. If we’re taking bets, I would expect a bubble machine to work better than a citronella candle, which I would expect to barely work at all.
Fans help because mosquitoes are notoriously poor flyers. Not only do they have a hard time flying into the wind, they also rely on scent to detect their prey (us). This works best when we are surrounded by our personal clouds of carbon dioxide and body odor. A strong breeze disrupts these clouds, making us harder for mosquitoes to find and harder to get to.
I’m not going to sit out on my porch with a bubble machine and see how many bites I get (especially since the local mosquito population seems to have already begun its seasonal decline), but I suspect it would provide some protection. You would have to sit directly in the stream of bubbles to benefit, though. At that point, you’d be better off running the machine without any bubble solution, and just letting the fan be a fan.
After all, the airflow from a bubble machine is pretty weak compared to the power of a good-sized box fan. As we’ve pointed out more recently (and with better scientific evidence than the bubble-machine rumour), a box fan and an application of EPA-registered mosquito repellent are the only two things that will reliably keep bugs away from you while you enjoy some porch beers on a late-summer evening.
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