Domestic and personal protection measures against malaria exposure either divert host-seeking vectors to other hosts or kill those attempting to feed. Here, we explicitly model mosquito host-seeking processes in the context of local host availability and elucidate the impacts and mechanisms of pyrethroid-treated bed nets in Africa. It has been suggested that excitorepellent insecticides could increase exposure of unprotected humans by concentrating mosquito biting activity on this vulnerable group. This worst-case scenario is confirmed as a possibility where vector populations lack alternative hosts, but an approximate 'break-even' scenario, with users experiencing little overall change in exposure, is more likely because of increased mosquito mortality while foraging for resources. Insecticidal nets are predicted to have epidemiologically significant impacts on transmission experienced by users and non-users at levels of coverage that can be achieved by sustainable net distribution systems, regardless of excitorepellency or the ecological setting. The results are consistent with the outcome of several randomised controlled trials, predicting enormous reductions in transmission at individual and community levels. As financial support, technology and distribution systems for insecticide-treated nets improve, massive reductions in malaria transmission could be realised.