KEEP PESTS AT BAY
Fleas, spiders, termites, flies, centipedes, ants, bedbugs, cockroaches ... these tenacious intruders won't give up, so we humans have to fight for our living spaces. In the quest to keep their homes clean and bug-free, many people don't want to expose their households to toxins or shell out lots of cash to debug. Fortunately, many homes don't require a professional exterminator to keep pests at bay. There are plenty of cheap, natural ways to control these invaders.
BREAK OUT BORAX FOR ROACHES
For cheap, natural roach bait, use borax (or boric acid) or a mixture of equal parts baking powder and sugar. The bugs carry the bait back to the colony, poisoning the lair. Sprinkle it along floorboards in rooms where roaches appear. (Note: Keep borax out of reach of kids and animals, and consider the baking powder/sugar mix in households with kids or pets.)
Bay leaves, cucumber, and garlic also repel roaches. Another cheap cockroach repellent: catnip. Leave small satchels in areas where cockroaches appear. Homeowners can target individual roaches by mixing equal parts dish soap and water in a spray bottle and spraying directly on the pests.
SUMMON THE NEMATODES
Fight critters with critters. Nematodes are microscopic worms that are parasitic toward larvae or consume larvae, thereby keeping pest populations from growing. They can take down fleas, termites, cutworms, Japanese beetles, sod webworms, and a couple hundred other unwelcome pests. Nematodes are completely safe around people and animals other than insects.
Use Steinernema feltiae (a nematode species) for warmer areas and Steinernema carpocapsae in cooler areas. Consumers can pay less than $60 for 10 million active worms on Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, or find similar prices at a garden supply store. Online reviews suggest these nematodes are worth their weight in gold. Water them down and apply with a watering can or gardening spray to the lawn and alleyways around the house. The recommended rate is 10 million per 600 square feet.
MAKE A FRUIT FLY TRAP
Fruit flies are gross, for sure, but harmless and easily removed. Generally, solutions to fruit fly infestations involve insecticides, or a crafty cone and special oil. But the easiest and cheapest method is pour about an inch of vinegar plus a squirt of dish soap into a plastic cup, glass, or bottle and cover with cling wrap. (An alternative to vinegar is a piece of the rotting fruit.)
Secure the film with a rubber band and poke a few slim holes, and place the trap in the problem area. When curious fruit flies enter the vessel, the cover and sticky dish soap will prevent them from getting back out. We tested this method with basic white vinegar, generic Costco dish soap, dollar store cling wrap, and patience. Within a few hours, all the fruit flies got stuck in the container.
DON'T LET LIZARDS FOLLOW THE BUGS
Small insects and bugs naturally attract reptile predators, so with one pest problem comes another. Fortunately, many household ingredients drive out lizards. Try a spray of water plus hot sauce, onions, garlic juice, or pepper and chili powder. Spray around dark areas (behind cabinets and furniture), windows, and doors.
If the solution doesn't work, rolled balls made of ground coffee and tobacco powder, fly paper, or cheap mouse traps can take care of lizards too. It's preferable not to kill them, though, as they're harmless and control the insect population outdoors.
Finally, it seems a bit voodoo, but it's true that hanging or displaying bird feathers or spreading egg shells around the house, especially near doors and windows, can ward off lizards, who are birds' natural prey and hate the eggy smell (replace the shells every three to four weeks).
PROTECT DOGS WITH ESSENTIAL OILS
Dog owners can protect their pets and homes from fleas without pricey flea-and-tick collars. Mixes of certain essential oils and natural ingredients function as do-it-yourself flea and tick repellants. Recipes generally incorporate rose geranium oil, lemon oil, eucalyptus oil, citrus oil, peppermint oil, or almond oil (about $7 to $13 a bottle). The bottles are small, but just a few drops at a time do the trick. Be sure to avoid any oils potentially harmful to dogs (listed here). Some DIY sprays also involve distilled white or apple cider vinegar. Apply the mixture to a doggie bandana, or spray lightly on the dog's harness and/or coat before venturing outdoors. One other natural way to repel fleas: cedar chips on the lawn.
WARD OFF SPIDERS WITH PLANTS
While spiders help with household insects, such as mosquitos, flies, earwigs, roaches, and moths, arachnophobia may be encoded in our DNA. Many plants and natural oils repel spiders with great success. Eucalyptus, garlic, cilantro, conkers, and Osage hedge balls can be grown or placed in or outdoors to ward off spiders cheaply. Also consider putting chestnuts near windows and doors; spiders find them rank.
To kill a spider immediately, try a spray bottle with a few garlic cloves and water, or peppermint oil and water, or an essential oil of choice with dish soap and water. The pest control information site PestKill.org also recommends citronella candles, a refrigerated blend of tomato leaves and water in a spray bottle, or lemon dish soap mixed with water and five drops of citronella for spider prevention. Spray these natural concoctions near doors and windows.
Professional extermination services can be depressingly expensive, so try natural remedies first. Experts recommend preventive cleaning measures, such as vacuuming mattresses, washing bedding, scrubbing floors with a solution of rubbing alcohol and water, and cleaning doormats regularly.
If bedbugs seem to have spread, use a hot iron on all clothes and bedding. Alternatively, clothes can be soaked in freezing cold water to kill these nasty little guys; they can't survive extreme cold or heat. Next, call on tea tree oil, Indian lilac ("neem") leaves, lavender oil, or black walnut leaves to eliminate the infestation. Natural-HomeRemedies.com has specific instructions.
Diatomaceous Earth, a natural product available on Amazon for about $22, degrades insects' exoskeletons. For bedbugs, sprinkle this dust along the bed frame as well as cracks in the floor.
GOT ANTS? RAID THE KITCHEN YOURSELF
Step one in addressing that eerie line of ants is to clean up the source of attraction -- food left out, unnoticed spill residue, crumbs, or stickiness. If the sink and counter areas are free of food detritus and standing water, try natural ant repellants such as cucumber, mint, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne pepper, coffee grounds, and lemon juice.
If the marching ants' origin point becomes apparent, dab one of those items (on a watery cotton ball) at the spot and along the ant line. Spray the area with a mix of water and a natural repellant from the list. Afterward, leave a nightlight on in the room for three nights to confuse their foraging habits.
Another option is to place cotton balls soaked in a mixture of 1 liter of water, 1 teaspoon of borax, and 1 cup of sugar inside an empty yogurt cup. Cover with plastic wrap and punch holes. The ants will enjoy the bait inside and return through the holes to their colonies, which will die out. Don't use this trick outdoors or in reach of kids or other animals, though.
CONQUER (HARMLESS) HOUSE CENTIPEDES
With wormy bodies, giant antennae, and many fuzzy legs, these creatures are creepy, crawly, and lightning fast, but they're good guys in the fight on pests. Like spiders, they kill other bugs in the home -- even bedbugs, termites, and roaches -- and they don't carry diseases or hurt people.
Like silverfish (which house centipedes eat), they enjoy dank, dark spots, so use bathroom fans and dehumidifiers to ward them off. Keep the house's perimeter and basement free of wet leaves, damp lumber, or other wet debris. Addressing other pests (the house centipede's food) also helps keep away these unwanted residents.
To get rid of house centipedes, sprinkle silica and borate dust in affected areas. Aerosol cans of hairspray, shallac, and the like will immobilize a single house centipede so it can be removed, but that's not a long-term solution. This is one pest we should perhaps learn to live with.
TERMITES! WHAT TO DO
Termites can destroy buildings and cost tens of thousands of dollars, and a whole lot of inconvenience, to eradicate. It's generally worth trying cheaper solutions before going to professionals. A bait station ($50 at Home Depot) houses boric acid, which is attractive but fatal to termites. Get rid of wood mulch, tree stumps, rotten wood, and fallen trees in the yard, and ideally the termites will find elsewhere to thrive. Finally, termites can't tolerate extreme heat or cold. Liquid nitrogen, which could cost a few hundred dollars to buy or rent, still may be far cheaper than a professional extermination. Alternatively, nematodes have proved effective in destroying termite populations.
For prevention, orange oil and neem oil have been shown to be somewhat effective, but won't work if termites have taken over. Measures taken when building and maintaining a home can go a long way toward preventing a future termite invasion: Be sure the crawl space has good ventilation, without shrubbery or anything else blocking vents, and don't let dirt pile up under porches and steps. Regularly inspecting for termite signs such as discarded wings and mud tubes can help catch a problem early.
BEAT THE MOSQUITO BLUES
Skeeter ladies (only female mosquitoes bite) are attracted to light, heat, perspiration, body odor, and carbon dioxide, which draw them to feed by sucking blood. Keeping doors and windows closed helps, but there are many other natural solutions that don't involve an arsenal of toxic sprays. Cheap candles that work well include citronella, beeswax, and soy. Neem oil, or Indian violet, repels mosquitos, as does garlic oil, so try spraying water-and-oil mixtures around (or on your skin; they're harmless).
When barbecuing, place rosemary or sage on the coals to keep mosquitos away. Surprisingly, planting marigolds can have the same effect -- mosquitoes hate the fragrance. Folks who don't mind having harmless bats around can set up a cheap bat house ($10 at Home Depot). Some species consume 500 to 1,000 insects a night.
ADOPT A CAT
Rescue a pet, gain a companion, and solve a pest problem in one fell swoop by adopting a mousing cat. The term "mouser" refers to a cat naturally adept at hunting and killing rodents. According to the industry site Pest Web, the best feline breeds for mousing include the American shorthair (ubiquitous in shelters), Maine coon, Siberian, Siamese, and Chartreux.
Adoption fees through the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals vary by age of the animal, but they tend to be fairly low. Of course, there's the cost of owning a cat to consider, but for those open to pet ownership already, the whole not-dealing-with-pests thing becomes a bonus perk. A cat's prowling and hunting instincts just might rid the house of pests altogether. Be sure follow certain precautions, though: Don't use a kitten for pest control, be sure to spay or neuter the cat, and stay up to date on vaccinations and annual checkups.
PREVENT, PREVENT, PREVENT
Ideally, preventive measures keep homes safe from pest infestations, saving money and stress in the long term. Routine cleaning is essential. Clutter and stacks of papers or boxes become pest palaces, and a dirty kitchen and exposed food become buffets. Take out garbage and recycling regularly, pick up pet food overnight, fix leaky faucets (and generally keep close tabs on plumbing functionality), and seal caulk cracks or crevices around baseboards.
Outdoors, ensure any crawl spaces are ventilated and don't overwater the lawn -- standing water attracts flies and other pests. After returning home from a hotel stay, consider leaving luggage in the sun (hot car, perhaps) for a few days, or throw everything in a dryer that exceeds 118 degrees for 90 minutes (hot and long enough to kill any bedbug eggs). Know your area and understand which pests are most likely to terrorize your life, so you can have a natural repellant at the ready.