Chiggers are the larval form of a family of mites; they survive by feeding on skin cells dissolved by a digestive enzyme they inject into the skin of their host. This digestive enzyme leaves tiny red welts, and produces an agonizing itch that can last for a week or more. There are many home treatments that promise to alleviate this itch–some work better than others, while others do not work at all. One of these home treatments involves the use of household bleach, such as Clorox®.
There are three variations of the household bleach treatment for chiggers. The first consists of pouring bleach into your bathwater, and then soaking in it for several minutes. The second variation is to spray a solution of bleach water directly onto the area affected by chigger bites, then allowing the solution to dry. And the third is to use a tissue or cloth to dab full-strength bleach onto the affected area, then allowing the bleach to dry.
Household bleach contains a naturally occurring element called chlorine. Chlorine dries skin when it comes into contact with it. With this in mind, the logic behind the household bleach treatment can be traced to the belief that drying-out the welts left by chigger bites is thought to provide relief from the itching.
According to Nina Bicknese, Natural History Biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, using bleach to treat chigger bites is not effective. However, washing with a combination of bleach and water may be an effective treatment for chigger bites. You should apply this remedy immediately after returning from the field.
Household bleach has a very strong odor that can be irritating when inhaled. It can also cause skin burns, even when diluted with water, and this can be very dangerous. Bleach fumes can also cause eye irritation, and if the bleach comes into contact with the eye this irritation is even greater. Because it can be dangerous, you should consult your physician before attempting to use bleach as part of a home treatment for chigger bites.
According to Ohio State University, treatments such as benzocaine, hydrocortisone, calamine lotion, New Skin®, and After Bite® can be effective to reduce the itch caused by chigger bites. Your best line of defense, however, is to prevent the chigger bites in the first place. When spending time in forested areas, wipe yourself with a towel periodically to brush chiggers away before they have a chance to bite, and then shower as soon as you return home. Another preventive measure is to apply an insect repellent. Be sure to apply insect repellent as directed and read all safety precautions listed on product label.