Last updated: April, 2020

Bug Zappers - Do They Work?

They're noisy, they're obtrusive, they're ridiculously popular. One industry expert estimates we purchase 1.75 million bug zappers each year in the US alone. Could the comforting snap, crackle and pop of the classic insect killer hold the answer to your mosquito woes?

How they work

These simple machines are basically just a bright light source (generally UV) surrounded by an electrified grid. This in turn is surrounded by a non-electrified safety screen and enclosed in the exterior housing. Insects, attracted by the bright light, fly into the grid and are killed.

Are they effective on mosquitoes?

Bug ZapperThere's no question that bug zappers kill a LOT of insects. But how many are actually mosquitoes?

Like many of the specialized traps, zappers emit light and heat, both of which tend to attract mosquitoes. However it's important to note that many species aren't all that interested in light, and rely more on other cues to locate their warm-blooded prey.

Two different studies conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame indicated that only 4.1%-6.4% of the insects captured in bug zappers were mosquitoes, and that there was no measurable difference in the number of mosquitoes found in yards with a bug zapper vs yards that had one.

More concerning, bug zappers kill very large amounts of beneficial and harmless insects, such as moths and beetles. These are insects which dine on harmful garden pests and in turn serve as food sources for song birds.

Tips for use

If you decide you do want to try a bug zapper for mosquito control, here are some tips for getting the most out of your purchase:

  • Always run the zapper a good distance away from yourself and your guests. The bright lights will produce a constant swarm of flying insects for a good 10-15' around the device.
  • Keep the device away from competing sources of light
  • An octenol lure strip may make the zapper more attractive to your mosquito population.
  • Keep the electrical grid clean, per the owners' manual.
  • Keep away from flammable materials - fabric, dry leaves, etc.
  • Follow the manuracturer's instructions regarding usage in wet weather

Bug Zappers vs Mosquito Traps

  Bug ZappersMosquito Traps
  • Cheaper to purchase (usually)
  • Easier to maintain
  • Designed to target mosquitoes
  • Weatherproof
  • Can be run 24x7
  • Unobtrusive - most models are relatively quiet to run.
  • Cordless models available
  • Doesn't target mosquitoes well (using an octenol lure can help raise your capture rate)
  • Not effective against day-biting mosquitoes
  • Kills a LOT of harmless and beneficial insects
  • Use with caution in wet weather (follow the manufacturer's instructions)
  • Can spark and cause fires - keep away from flammable materials
  • Noisy, bright lights
  • More expensive (though they keep getting more affordable)
  • Higher cost of ownership (some models)
  • More work to maintain
  • Will also kill some beneficial insects (though not as many as a zapper.)
Make/Model Coverage Features Comments Price Range
Available from:
Available in 3 sizes:

1 Acre
1/2 Acre
1.5 Acres
Non-Clogging Grid
Weatherproof Housing
Economical to operate
Easy bulb replacement
The Flowtron Electronic Insect Killer is one of the bestselling devices on the market. We give it kudos for its non-clogging screen design. It is available in 3 models with different bulb wattages. It does not have an integrated holder for an octenol lure, but it's easy enough to rig something up.
Up to 1 acre
Non-toxic UV light, set on a sturdy flat surface or hang from the included ring and chain, quiet and easy to clean. Cleaning brush included.
The new Black & Decker Electric Insect Zapper is a hot new item for 2020! Featuring industrial-strength performance, the B&D bug zapper protects up to a full acre, with relatively quiet operation and easy-to-replace bulbs.
Up to 2 acres
120 Watt UV Bulbs
Mounts Horizontally or Vertically
Removeable Collection Tray
This is a sturdy, industrial-strength device, designed for use at barns, farms, large areas, commercial locations or near dumpsters. Feedback is overwhelmingly favorable, however the Diplomat is pricey to purchase and to maintain. If you're shopping for home use you will probably be just as happy or happier if you save your pennies and choose one of the low maintenance consumer-model products.
Immediate area
Solar powered, LED or UV light, waterproof, cordless, up to 8 hours of light.
Rid your patio and walkway of pesky insects. Set of 4 attractive, solar-powered accent lights that double as powerful bug zappers. It only takes about 8 hours of moderate sunlight to charge the internal batteries. Waterproof, weatherproof, and easily moved to wherever you need them. Sold in sets of 2, 4 or 8.
On contact only
Electrified racket-style swatter kills insects on contact. Most have some type of on/off safety switch (highly recommended!) Various models, see individual products for features.
Need an upper body workout? Want to feel like you're personally taking on the evil forces of the insect world? Racket style zappers are the modern-day answer to the old-fashioned fly swatter.

Be warned that these devices can deliver a potent shock - use with caution around children and pets. We do NOT recommend these for households with kids who are too young to realize that its' a dangerous tool, and not a toy.