The Bug Zapper: Everything You Need to Know 

 February 15, 2020

By  Lisa Hanel

What is a Bug Zapper?

Also known as an electric insect killer, electrical discharge insect control system (or electronic insect control system) or insect electrocutor trap, a bug zapper is a device that uses UV light to lure and kill flying insects. 

The device is built with a light source responsible for attracting insects to an electrical grid. The moment an insect gets into contact with a couple of high voltage wires on the grid, it gets electrocuted. When insects get electrocuted, a distinct onomatopoeic zap sound is generated and that’s where the device obtained its name.

How Does a Bug Zapper Work?

Insects can tamper with fun outdoors. They either suck your blood or eat your food. Pesticides, extensive traps, and citronella candles help fight mosquitoes. But, in this article, we’ll focus on electronic bug zappers.

The electrical device lures insects with light and uses electricity to kill them. Knowledge of the different parts of a bug zapper is key to understanding how it works.

Harrison L. Chapin and William F. Folmer created the first bug zapper. It was patented in 1934. Although the bug zapper design has been consistent over the years, it has improved in safety and the technology it uses to attract insects.

Components of a Bug Zapper

Basic bug zapper components include the following:

  • Screens or Wire Grids – Two wire meshes enclose the light bulb. They’re electrified to kill insects that get into contact with them.
  • Light Bulb (s) – Fluorescent light uses neon, mercury or black ultraviolet light to attract insects.
  • Exterior Casing/ Housing – Made from electrically-grounded metal or plastic, the housing holds the different components of the bug zapper. It usually takes the shape of a cylinder, a lantern or a large rectangular cube. It may also come in the form of a grid to protect animals and children from getting electrocuted.
  • Transformer – This is the component responsible for electrifying the wire mesh. It steps up the 120 voltage power input to at least 2,000 voltage output.
  • Catch Tray – Holds dead insects.

The transformer increases voltage at a minimum of 2,000 volts across the two wire mesh grids responsible for electrocuting insects. A gap or space exists between the two grids, approximately two millimetres, the typical size of an insect. 

The wire mesh network houses the light bulb that attracts insects. Ultraviolet light is more effective in attracting insects because it reveals the flower patterns better than visible light.

Insects fly towards the light, and penetrates the gap between the couple of wire mesh grids. As a result, the circuit is completed and current flows, electrocuting the insect. The high-voltage flow of current through the insect vaporizes it.

The bug zapper then produces a loud “zzzzz” sound. In just one evening, a bug zapper can attract and kill up to 10,000 insects. They kill mosquitoes and other types of insects. However, mosquitoes don’t get attracted to UV light like other insects

The way bug zappers are designed, they kill all insects that get into contact with the two grids. They don’t discriminate them.

Controversies Surrounding Bug Zappers

Three studies questioned the efficacy of bug zappers against mosquitoes. Researchers at the University of Delaware killed 13,789 insects in a single evening. But, only 31 (0.22%) dead insects were electrocuted mosquitoes. The rest were harmless insects whose killings could result in disturbed ecosystems.

The study attributed these findings to some mosquito species only biting during the day, and the fact that mosquitoes aren’t lured to UV light. The study was conducted in 1996.

Another study was conducted in 1977 by UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory based in Florida’s Vero Beach. The researchers found that 10,000 insects were killed in one night. However, only eight of the dead insects were mosquitoes.

In 1977, another study was conducted at the University of Guelph. According to the research findings, only 4.1% of the dead insects the bug zapper killed were female anopheles (biting) mosquitoes. The study also stated that more biting mosquitoes were present in yards with bug zappers than those without them.

A similar research was carried out in 1982 at the University of Notre Dame. A bug zapper used in the study killed about 3,212 insects, with female mosquitoes making up only 3.3%. According to the research findings, the ultraviolet light on the device attracted more mosquitoes, but only killed a small percentage of their population. As a result, areas with the device had more bites.

The New Octenol Bug Zappers

Due to the controversies, more advanced and effective bug zappers were developed to solve the problems that the various studies presented.

The new bug zapper uses a nontoxic pheromone known as octenol, and carbon dioxide to lure mosquitoes. The pheromone is pesticide free. The devices attracts mosquitoes and kills them. It helps keep yards pest free.

However, studies have also shown that this type of zap bugger only attracts more mosquitoes, but the octenol does little to kill them. It kills only a small percentage of the mosquitoes it attracts; the studies compared it to what a sticky tape strip can eradicate from your house or yard.

Studies have shown that mosquito deterrents such as DEET and limiting their breeding grounds offer effective protection from their bites and the diseases they carry.

Despite these study findings on mosquitoes, it’s clear that bug zappers are more than 95% effective at attracting and killing other stubborn bugs in your home or yard. It also means that different bug zapping strategies than the use of UV light can be more effective at killing all the mosquitoes a device attracts.

Other Bug-Zapping Strategies

Other bug-zapping techniques can be used to control insects, especially mosquitoes. Human sweat and breath are responsible for attracting mosquitoes. Therefore, some mosquito zappers emit carbon dioxide, moisture and Octenol to attract the stubborn insects. 

Mosquitoes get trapped in nets where they dehydrate and die. The bug zappers feature propane tanks, hence don’t use electricity to kill mosquitoes. According to a certain bug zapper manufacturing using this technique, an entire population of mosquitoes dies in about months because the device destroys females that lay eggs.

Other bug zappers use a chemical that block the olfactory receptors of mosquitoes. As a result, the mosquitoes are unable to “smell” carbon dioxide. Therefore, it reduces mosquito bites and landings.

Destroying breeding grounds for mosquitoes help control their populations. Malathion pesticide is sprayed in large-scale to kill mosquitoes in masses. Broad-spectrum insect repellent contain diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) to repel mosquitoes and ticks, among other blood-sucking pests.

Citronella oil (also found in torch oil and candles) can be burnt outdoors to repel mosquitoes for personal protection.  Citronella wristbands also repel the insects for personal protection.

When using zap buggers, place them in areas where they won’t eliminate the entire population of helpful insects such as bees (they promote pollination). 

Types of Bug Zappers

Bug zappers come in various styles. Some of the most common types include the following:

1. Vertical Light Zappers

These bug zappers have their light bulbs installed vertically. They’re waterproof and thus usable indoors and outdoors. The exterior casing, which houses the light bulb, offers protection from the charged metal grid that electrocutes. 

Vertical light bug zappers come in stylish designs and styles such as lanterns for enhanced aesthetic look.

2. Horizontal Light Zappers

Designed for indoor use, horizontal light zappers are built in large, boxy units. They feature a large mesh grid that only covers the device’s two largest sides. Bugs and insects attracted to the zapper get inside where they’re trapped and zapped. 

Although horizontal light zappers come in varied models, the most effective bug zapper models of this type support 20 watts.

3. Bug Zapper Light Bulbs

Built with zapping elements, these light bulbs are designed to fit into standard power outlets. Due to lack of extra protection such as the exterior casing, bug zapper light bulbs can only be used indoors or in sheltered areas. They can easily be damaged in the rain.

They’re effective in killing insects where they’re used. The bug zappers are usually made for use as a combination porch light despite illuminating dim light. 

4. Electronic Bug Repellent

Designed to plug into wall sockets, the mosquito repellents devices are used indoors. They produce sound at high frequency to deter insects, pests and bugs, especially mice and mosquitoes. However, they’re not effective at repelling flies. 

Unlike standard electric bug zappers, these repellents don’t kills pests, but only scares them off. Although they’re effective and useful at what they do, avoid them if you keep pet rodents. However, cats and dogs are safe around electronic bug repellents because they barely hear the sound produced at high frequency. 

Electronic bug repellents are further divided into three zapper devices as follows:

i)  Battery Operated Zappers – The devices are designed for outdoor activities such as tailgating and camping.  The devices are ideal for use in areas without electricity because they use batteries. They’re lightweight, portable and can be set on a table or hung on trees.

For instance, racquet zappers operate using batteries; swing one at flying insects to kill them as is the case with flyswatters.

ii)  Plug-in Zappers – Most bug zappers are electric-powered. This means you need an exterior outlet to use the device outdoors. Outdoor extension cords can also be used. If designed for indoor use, the zapper plugs into an interior power outlet.

Most bug zappers fall under this category. As mentioned before, you may need an extension to use a plug-in bug zapper at longer distances. Designed for increased efficiency, operating a zapper overnight results in a mass of dead bugs around the device the next morning.

Effective plug-in zapper units feature brighter illumination, atop being large in size. This mean efficiency is directly proportional to the size and brightness of the light bulb. Insects are attracted to the bright light that acts as the lure. Effective bug zapper models also feature the brightest lights.

It can be used both indoors and outdoors, but precautionary care is advised for indoor use. Place yours in a safe place to protect your pets and kids. Also make sure that the area where you place your zapper doesn’t have other light sources to avoid distracting insects.

Bigger insects zapped in the device produce louder sounds that can be noisy. It’s also possible for zapped insects to produce burnt smell.​

iii) Solar Zappers – Solar-powered bug zappers are the most recent and versatile electronic zappers on the market. Use yours at home or on the go. However, you need to put them outside in the sun daily for charging of internal batteries. They auto turn on at dusk to attract, zap and kill flying insects and pests.

If not charged properly, solar-powered bug zappers deplete faster and thus may work inefficiently. They’re also environment-friendly and ideal for those concerned about using green products.

5. Bug Zappers 

Designed to zap flying insects and pests, bug zappers kill them. The mild electrical shock is lenient on humans, but fatal on pests and insects. Bugs that get into contact with the zapper device get electrocuted and die instantly.

6. Bug Traps

Unlike electric bug zappers, bug traps don’t use electricity to kills bugs, insects and pests. This means, you don’t have to put up with the bad smell of burning insects. They also eliminate popping sounds of insects hitting the grill of a device. 

Bug traps don’t kills insects hence are considered humane. Some models use chemicals to trap bugs while others are designed with a suction scheme that ensnares insects in a vacuum. They’re effective when used indoors and don’t pose safety risks to pests and kids.

Tried-and-true sticky traps are used to catch roaches, flies and other types of bugs. They feature an ultra-sticky surface that attracts insects, pests and bugs, which then get stuck on the sticky areas and die. Use them indoors if your house has no serious pest or bug issues.

Some people don’t like this technique of eradicating pests because other harmless insects and animals such as lizards also get stuck on the sticky surfaces.

Although traps aren’t zappers, they’re worth mentioning because some devices are built with them. If you’re an engineer with knowledge in electrical, electronics and physics, you can easily build a homemade bug zapper at home.

Use your bug zapper properly to gain from your device. Don’t expect too much or less from your zapper. But, make sure yours is properly setup. Also pick the right zapper for your specific environment to benefit from their use.

Specifications of Bug Zappers

Here’re a few specifications of bug zappers you should know:

Coverage Area

UV light with powerful wattage is effective. The higher the wattage, the larger the coverage area of a zapper. This means the light bulbs are bright and insects can spot it from far. Coverage area in outdoor bug zappers is indicated in acreage. 

According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), bug zappers are categorized under “pesticide devices.” However, the body isn’t responsible for regulating the industry. 

Even so it cautions bug zapper manufacturers against false claims. Therefore, it’s wise to read customer ratings and independent reviews, and product labels.

Indoor/Outdoor Models

Some zappers are designed for either indoor or outdoor use. However, you’ll find those usable either indoors or outdoors. Indoors zappers are usually not as powerful as those designed for outdoor use. 

Similarly, outdoor zappers are too powerful to use inside your home. What’s more, outdoor zapper models lack trays for holding dead pests, bugs or insects.

Indoor zappers usually come with UV lights. On the other hand, outdoor lights feature deep purple color; it’s usually distracting. 

Shock Value

Lantern and electric bug zappers feature a plastic cage or housing to protect your fingers from accidental shock. Different zapper devices have varied shock values.

Insect Bait 

Bug zappers are effective at killing most pests, insects and bugs, except mosquitoes. Models meant for zapping mosquitoes come with octenol packets to lure the insects. 

Octenol is a chemical found in human sweat and breath that mosquitoes find irresistible. The bait is sold under “mosquito attractant” and “mosquito bait” labels. 

Other bug zapper specifications include light source (such as UV bulbs), housing or casing, voltage and two wire meshes.

Bug Zapper Accessories

Bug zapper accessories are meant to support use and functionality of the devices. A few of them include the following:

  • Sensors – It auto turns a zapper device on and off at dusk and dawn, respectively. Sensors help save on energy and thus reduces related costs. It’s used in some zapper models.
  • Trays – They’re placed below bottom openings of bug zapper units to hold dead insects falling into them once they’re zapped.
  • Octenol Lure – It’s used to attract mosquitoes for repelling or killing depending on the technique the devices uses. Powerful products contain up to five times more octenol than their counterparts.
  • Extension – Outdoor or indoor extensions also support the use of bug zappers.
  • Mounting Brackets and Poles – They allow for secure mounting of your insect-killing devices outdoors.

Bug Zapper Manufacturers

Various manufacturers develop different types of bug zappers. Some two popular zapper manufacturers include the following:

1. Flowtron

Founded in 1920, Flowtron is a family-owned business that manufactures products for eliminating indoor and outdoor pests. It started operations as Armatron International, a brand responsible for manufacturing automobile radios. Today, the company is known as Flowtron.

Established about a century ago, the innovative manufacturer focuses on developing outdoor products such as Flowtron bug zappers. It manufactured stereo systems and tape players between 1920 and 1960 for use in homes and automobiles. However, it began to diversify its product portfolio to survive stiff competition from the Far East.

The Outdoor Products Division was started in 1974 to design, create and manufacture commercial and residential electronic devices for killing insects and electric heaters. The company changed its name in 1980 to Armatron International, Inc. from Automatic Radio Manufacturing Company.

The Flowtron Outdoor Products Division is responsible for manufacturing various garden and lawn products, including fly and mosquito control devices. The company boasts manufacturing facilities in Ft. Wayne, IN, and Malden, MA. The USA-made products are distributed across Canada, the USA and other markets across the world.

2. Hoont

Hoont is a leading manufacturer of indoor and outdoor products for getting rid of pests, rodents, insects, animals, bugs and birds. The trustworthy company designs innovative and functional products for innovative performance.

The company offers its premium products at competitive prices. It’s always looking for cool products to include in its product portfolio. Hoont boasts of an exceptional customer service. 

Customers’ concerns, queries and orders are handled efficiently, and fast. Products are handled with great care from the warehouse to ensure they arrive safely to their intended destinations. 

Run by a team of passionate people with great integrity, the manufacturer has experienced significant growth over the years. It has increased its product lines to include Hoont bug zappers, and customer base over the years.

Maintenance and Cleaning of Bug Zappers

Eliminating bugs from your house or yard is a good idea. Although identifying pests and insects for removal and eliminating them isn’t easy, the right device and approach can yield positive results. The best bug zapper can easily get rid of stubborn pests inside your home or outdoors.

Apart from investing in a good zapper, you need to engage in proper maintenance and care to ensure your device lasts long. The fuse can easily break, hence the need to care for it. It’s a critical aspect of a bug zapper. If it fails, replace it as fast as possible.

Go through the manual to find the location of the fuse on your device. If the lights have failed, inspect the fuse or circuit breaker to find out what needs repair.

Are there sparks between the grids? Make sure the grids have no contact to each other. If there’s any, adjust the grids to remove the contact points. It can result in an effective, secure and convenient device for zapping pests and insects.

Use an insulated screwdriver to wind the grids to fine tune them and get them back to their precise alignment. If the grid indicates low voltage, but the bulb is lit up, make sure the grid isn’t clogged with dirt and grime. If that’s the case, clean the unit.

Certain bug zapper models come with self-cleaning grids for easy cleaning. The user manual can help you understand your bug zapper for easy maintenance and troubleshooting. You’ll also about any special care the unit requires for maintenance purposes.

Check the fuse before using your unit and change bulbs when necessary. Replace the bulbs if they light up, but don’t attract pests, bugs and insects. For outdoor zappers, it could be a sign of weakened black light due to aging. 

Unplug the unit and remove the bulb retainer before replacing the bulb. Fix the new bulb and put the retainer back in place. Check the manual for more details.

Whenever the UV bulb malfunctions, find a replacement part for installation. This applies to other components of the zapper that may fail and require replacement.

Cleaning of Bug Zappers

When is the right time to clean your bug zapper? The devices work effectively if well taken care of. One that undergoes regular cleaning and maintenance can kill many pests. A device clogged with dead or trapped insects and pests becomes weak and reduces in efficiency. 

Clean your entire zapper device regularly to ensure it performs optimally and doesn’t break down. Inspect your zapper regularly to ensure it’s working. The following materials are necessary for cleaning bug zappers:

  • A pair of gloves
  • A bristle brush
  • A vacuum cleaner
  • A garbage bag
  • Canned air/gas duster/compressed air

Don’t clean your device while it’s plugged into a power outlet. Use the bristle brush to remove debris and dirt lingering on the unit. Hold the zapper while brushing off the dirt and ensure all dirt drops into the garbage bag.

Do this gently without rushing to finish cleaning your unit. Make sure the bottom of the device and the cage are properly cleaned. When all visible debris and dirt have been removed, use the vacuum cleaner to clean the grid. 

Alternatively, use compressed air or a gas duster to remove grime stuck on the grid. It delivers high-powered air in bursts to remove all grime stuck on the grid.

Never use water and soap to clean a bug zapper because most of them aren’t waterproof. Doing so can cause your device to malfunction. Do the cleaning outdoors to keep your home organized and clean. Also avoid liquid cleaners.

Moreover, failing to clean the device and bringing it inside your home poses threat to the health and safety of your family. The reason being that most bugs and pests are disease carriers.


Pests and bugs can be annoying. What’s more, they’re disease carriers and thus a health hazard to your family. With the right bug zapper, you can easily get rid of stubborn biting pests from your indoors and outdoors spaces. Check out the buying guide below to help you choose the right bug zapper for you.

Check out our recommended list of bug zappers to find out what’s suitable for your special needs.

Lisa Hanel

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