Toxic-free ways to get rid of bugs
Check out our tips on how to get rid of these bugs from your home without using toxic chemicals.
The best ways to keep these critters from invading your home are to seal potential entry points and reduce exposed food and water. Pesticide sprays should not be used because they contaminate the air and deposit on surfaces such as kitchen counters, children’s toys, and rugs where children play. Spraying also doesn’t address the cause of the problem, so the pests will often return.
In most situations, critters that have managed to find their way inside your home can be controlled physically:
- Ants: vacuum, mop up with soapy water
- Spiders: vacuum, sweep, catch and release (place a jar over it, slip a card underneath, and carry outside)
- Flies: swat, use sticky flypaper or lure flies with bait or pheromone traps
For roaches, the principal method of control is to reduce food, water, and possible harborages. If a harborage is found and is accessible, it can be washed down and vacuumed. Boric acid is particularly useful in cracks that cannot be easily plugged, and commercial bait products used inside sturdy traps can be selectively placed where roach activity is highest. Other chemical insecticides are available in tamper-resistant bait stations to reduce exposure to children or pets. Chemical controls will be most effective in conjunction with the environmental modifications.
For more information, please see our Fact Sheet on Spiders, Cockroaches, Ants and Flies (PDF).
The first thing to do when you suspect a carpenter ant infestation is to try to locate the main colony. Seventy-five percent of all main nests are located outside the structure, where there is abundant moisture. There can be one or more satellite nests located in nearby structures such as, unfortunately, your home. If all nests can be located and removed, stray ants captured, access points caulked, and all damaged wood replaced, no chemical treatment is required.
To prevent carpenter ants initially and to make sure they don’t return, eliminate sources of moisture, store firewood properly, and maintain trees and shrubs. If chemical control is necessary, less-toxic boric acid and eugenol-based products can be placed into wall voids. Bait products that tempt ants with various food attractants have recently become available. These products are attractive to the ants and can be carried back to the nests, slowly decreasing the population. They should be used in bait stations or in crack and crevice applications to reduce potential exposure to people or pets. Many pesticide applicators will propose a perimeter spray, usually more than once, to prevent reinfestation. We don’t recommend this approach because it is ineffective if the nest isn’t removed, and unnecessary if it has.
Fore more information, please see our Fact Sheet on Protecting Your Home from Carpenter Ants (PDF).
Pantry pests include various species of moth and beetle that can contaminate flour, pasta, bread crumbs, and other food staples. There are many preventive measures you can take to keep your foods pest-free. Do not purchase broken or damaged packages of food materials, and inspect foods for possible infestation at the store or when you bring them into your home. Store susceptible foods in dry, well-sealed containers (plastic bags are not sufficient), or in the refrigerator or freezer. Clean up food spills promptly, and clean storage areas regularly and keep them as dry as possible. Cracks and crevices that may harbor food pests should be caulked or repaired.
The first indication of an infestation is usually the appearance of small moths flying about or the presence of beetles in or near food packages. Other telltale signs are webbing in tight places of a package or tiny holes in the container. If you find infested food, discard it, and if it was stored in a container, wash it well. Inspect other containers as well, and clean the storage area with a mild soap or detergent. Make sure that all containers and surfaces are dry before restocking items.
A good way to detect Indian meal moths that may remain in the house after cleaning is by using pheromone traps. These traps release sex pheromones that attract and trap adult male moths. They will not attract the females, but if the males are caught before they can mate, this may reduce the population somewhat. If you catch some moths, food packages need to be inspected again in order to find the current infestation.
For more information, check out this University of California IPM website.
Moth infestations are easier to prevent than to control. Inspect any used clothing or furniture carefully for moths before bringing them into the house, and vacuum frequently to remove accumulations of lint, pet and human hair, dirt, and other organic debris. Store clothes in airtight containers such as cedar chests or in bags that have been sealed with tape to keep moths out, but always be sure to clean your clothes before you store them.
Another option is to wear your clothes at regular intervals or to shake them out and expose them to the sun instead of sealing them away each summer. This will destroy and knock off most larvae before they can do any damage. Moth larvae can only digest animal fibers, but acrylic, silk, polyester, and cotton can still be damaged as moths cut through the fibers to get to wool, stains, and organic debris. Dry cleaning is very effective at killing moths in all stages of development and so is any type of hand washing. If shrinkage is not a problem, running clothes through the dryer kills moths too. High heat (in excess of 99 degrees F for one week) will destroy all life stages of the moth, and freezing can also kill moths if it is done properly. Unfortunately, cedar chips, dried lavender, peppercorns, cayenne pepper, eucalyptus leaves, and hellebore do not repel clothing moths.
Mothballs or other chemicals should be avoided. As much as 95-100% of a typical commercial moth control product may consist of the toxic chemicals paradichlorobenzene (“para”) or naphthalene, which can be dangerous to small children and contribute to poor indoor air quality.
For more information see our Fact Sheet on Clothing Moths (PDF).