If you have a pest problem, before calling in the pros first learn what
you can do on your own. This article describes the most common household
pests and offers tips for eliminating them. Except for termites and bedbugs,
you should be able to cure most pest problems with a modest amount of effort
and without hiring a pest control service.
If you need expert assistance, our ratings of area pest control services,
shown on our Ratings Tables, will help you find it. Several were rated
superior overall by 80 percent or more of their surveyed customers, but
some received such favorable ratings from fewer than half of their surveyed
Prices for household pest treatments also vary widely. While some companies
charge $150 or less for a single visit, others require customers to sign
up for long-term contracts that cost $400 or more.
Dont assume youll have to pay more to get good work: our evaluation revealed
no relationship between prices charged for household pest treatments and
Of course, the biggest waste of money is paying for service you dont need.
To avoid that, dont contract for expensive pest control work without getting
at least a few inspections and proposals. If you suspect you have a termite
problem, its especially important to get several inspections because some
companies have been known to recommend treatment when there is neither
an active infestation nor serious threat of one.
Be wary of entering long-term contracts. For most household pests, a single
well-done treatment should do the job. Many companies provide free re-treatments
if needed within a 30-day period. You are likely to save money by buying
a single treatment and taking a modest chance that you will later need
to pay for a follow-up visit or two rather than contracting up front for
For termites, consider paying annually to extend your guarantee for two
or three years after treatment. After that, if you have had no further
evidence of infestation, you will probably save by letting the guarantee
lapse. Just keep an eye out for termite signs (see description in this
article) and invite a company out every couple of years for an inspection/estimate
(which some companies perform for free).
Check the guarantees offered by companies you are considering. Will the
company pay for pest damages or just re-treatment? How often will the company
come to inspect at no extra charge? And what do you have to do to keep
the guarantee in effect?
Ask about the safety precautions the company will employ when using pesticides,
and how you can minimize your exposure to them. Although the pesticides
in use today are supposed to be less dangerous to humans and the environment
than older generationsfor instance, some chemicals are designed to interfere
with the molting process essential to insects but not humansthe less youre
exposed to pesticides the better.
A key change in the pest control field is the increased use of poisonous
baits, as opposed to spray treatments. Baits keep the poison confined,
and many bait formulations work by getting the insects to take the poison
back to a nest where other insects are killed. This leads to destruction
of total colonies or populations, rather than only the insects that come
into contact with areas you spray.
In the termite field, however, consider carefully the pros and cons of
bait systems, as compared to the traditional use of chemical barriers around
a structure. Companies offering termite bait systems will want you to sign
up for regular monthly or quarterly visits for as long as you want protection
to continue, at considerable annual cost to you. And, of course, if any
sign of infestation is found among bait stations, the company will likely
urge you to pay for further work and continued monitoring.
Whatever company you use, make sure its best technicians do your work.
Ask for a certified pest control applicator, a technician who has successfully
completed training and passed a state-required test. Many companies dispatch
technicians who are not certified applicators. If you like an applicator,
note his or her name so you can request the same person for future visits.
Because we share our world with a mind-boggling number and variety of creepy
crawlies, its almost inevitable that at some point youll be sharing your
home with some of them. When it happens, youll want them outnow! We describe
strategies for getting rid of your pests and keeping them from coming back.
And so that you can get the best help when you need it, we have ratings
of area pest control services for quality and price.
If you have household pests, the last thing you probably want to do is
to read about them. But knowing how to identify them, how they live, and
how to get rid of them will help you determine what you can do yourself,
choose professional help if needed, and deal with any professional you
A few general steps will help you avoid or control most pests. Cutting
off access to foods, reducing or eliminating excess moisture, closing off
cracks and other small entry points, and keeping your home as clean as
possible significantly reduces the likelihood of a serious pest problem.
These simple measures will also make you less likely to need pesticides
that could be hazardous to your family or pets.
If you must resort to chemical warfare, take proper safety precautions
and find out about possible health effects. If you use a professional,
find out up front about how long the house must be vacant after application,
and how long the chemicals will be potent. Be skeptical about safety claims
and insist that any company follows safety precautions.
Beyond these basic guidelines, determining what needs to be done will depend
on the specific pest.
The pests least welcome in many homes are cockroaches. The four most common
types of cockroachesthe German, Oriental, Brown-banded, and Americanare
All types of cockroaches hide during the day in sheltered, dark places,
emerging at night to forage for food and to mate. They will eat just about
Cockroaches lay their eggs in out-of-the-way places in leathery capsules
which are relatively invulnerable to pesticides. Depending on the species
and prevailing temperature, the eggs hatch in 20 to 70 days. German cockroaches
carry their eggs until about a day before theyre ready to hatch.
What Harm They Do
For the most part, the damage from cockroaches is emotionalthe revulsion
at finding them in food, underfoot, on clothes, around furniture, or in
appliances. But evidence also indicates that roaches may contribute to
allergy problems and that microbes on cockroach legs and bodies may be
deposited on food and utensils leading to food poisoning, gastrointestinal
disorders, and other illnesses in humans. In addition, since they eat starch
and glue, cockroaches may damage fabrics, garments, books, and other items.
How to Stop Them
The best approach to controlling cockroaches is sanitationeliminating
food, water, hiding places, and breeding places. Caulk cracks and crevices
where cockroaches can hide. Cut off access to garbage and dry pet food.
If you discover cockroaches, locate the infestations and focus your control
efforts on those areas. Sticky traps that catch the cockroaches that enter
them can be useful. If you arent sure where your cockroaches are coming
from, find out by placing these traps around your house. But traps alone
are not likely to control any but a very minor roach infestationespecially
of German cockroaches, which multiply rapidly.
Bait stations, such as the popular Combat, Maxforce, and Raid baits, are
much more effective control measures. Baits have slow-acting poisons; faster-acting
poisons are less effective because roaches become wary of them. The roaches
feed on the bait and slowly die, in some cases passing along poisons to
other roaches that eat their fecal matter.
Since cockroaches breed in places with free-standing water, kitchens and
bathrooms are good places for baits, usually next to walls along baseboards,
in corners, under sinks, in cabinets, and near plumbing fixtures. Place
a substantial number of baits in areas where the roaches travel or the
roaches may not discover them. Some sticky traps contain pheromones that
attract roaches; placing baits near such pheromone-treated traps may increase
the chances that roaches will find the baits.
Baits wont yield immediate results; it may be a week or so before they
begin to reduce populations. Also, baits are not likely to attract female
cockroaches carrying eggs, because these females do little feeding and
avoid open spaces.
In addition to traps and baits, boric acid powder is also effective. This
dust should be blown into cracks and crevices, or lightly spread in areas
where powder will not be an appearance problem and humans will not come
into contact with it. You can also apply the powder behind window and door
frames, where pipes pass through walls, on closet and bookcase shelves,
on and behind baseboards and molding strips, and behind loose wallpaper.
In basements, remove trash and apply the powder behind and under washing
machines, and in cracks in walls and floors.
Boric acid powder kills roaches that ingest it, although it is slow-acting
so it may take a week or more to be effective. Because it has a positive
electrostatic charge, the powder clings to the bodies of roaches that walk
through treated areas and is ingested when the roaches groom themselves.
If it remains dry and undisturbed, boric acid powder will be effective
for as long as it is left in place. If it gets wet, the area will have
to be re-treated.
If all of these methods fail to solve your cockroach problem, or if you
need immediate relief of a severe infestation, you or a pest control professional
can add a chemical insecticide spray or dust to your arsenal. The chemicals
most commonly contain pyrethroids (such as, cypermethrin and permethrin),
which tend to agitate, repel, and quickly kill roaches that come in contact
with them. While these chemicals attack the insects nervous system and
may give you a quick knockdown, some cockroaches are resistant to them
and others learn to avoid them. And because the residue of pyrethroid sprays
is not long-lasting, your infestation may soon return as roaches hatch
from eggs which were protected in spray-resistant egg cases.
Although spray forms of pesticides leave no visible residues, dust forms
have the advantage of reaching farther into crevices and other remote hiding
places, and of remaining effective longer.
Before you or a professional uses pesticides in a kitchen area, everything
should be removed from kitchen drawers, cabinets, cupboards, and closets;
stacked in out-of-the-way places; and covered to prevent contamination.
The insides of drawers need not be treated with pesticide if they have
been cleaned, but it is important to treat the sides, backs, and bottoms
of the drawers and the inside of cabinets. Dont replace the removed items
until the spray is dry. Washing treated surfaces will reduce the effectiveness
of the treatment.
Take extra care if you use a spray in an aerosol can. Turn off all gas
and electric appliances before spraying. Do not use more than the amount
specified on the label. Get a container that includes a plastic extension
so that you can direct the spray into cracks and crevices. If you use dust,
you can choose one of a variety of dusters available in hardware storesusually
operated by means of a bellows, rubber bulb, or plunger. Dusts should be
blown into dry areas, since they lose effectiveness when wet. Use a mask
to avoid inhaling the dust.
Regardless of what cockroach control method you use, it may miss some areas
and require re-treatmentusually just on a spot basis. In apartments, continual
treatment may be necessary if all of your neighbors are not as careful
as you are. But once cockroaches are completely eliminated in a detached
house, you can expect to be free of the problem for goodunless a new population
is introduced on bags brought from a store, packaging from shipments, luggage,
or similar items. The exceptions are the Oriental and American cockroaches,
which may find their way in from the outdoors.
From an environmental and human safety standpoint, traps and baits pose
few, if any, risks. Also, boric acid powder has very low toxicity to humans.
Pyrethroid sprays appear to be safer than some of the other chemicals (like
diazinon) used to control cockroaches before the Environmental Protection
Agency restricted their use. From an environmental and human safety standpoint,
pyrethroid sprays have the virtue of decomposing fairly rapidlyusually
within a few weeksand at the concentrations found in aerosol cans, they
are not very dangerous to humans.
But pyrethroid sprays can have powerful, immediate effects on humans if
taken orally in concentrated form (for example, from a jar obtained from
a hardware store with which you are supposed to mix a diluted spray). The
concentrated form can also affect humans through skin contact or inhalation.
Effects of mild poisoning may include dizziness, fatigue, blurred vision,
nausea, and diarrhea. Severe poisoning results in unconsciousness, muscle
twitches, difficulty breathing, and death, if not treated.
Getting Professional Help
If your efforts to improve sanitation and other tactics dont resolve your
roach problem, you can turn to a professional. Professionals have several
advantages over you: greater ability to identify the pest, more knowledge
of its behavior, better equipment, access to stronger chemicals, and more
experience with treatment approaches.
If you do decide to use a professional, you will have to choose between
a contract for regular treatment (usually monthly or every other month)
or a one-shot treatment with additional treatments if infestation continues.
Some companies offer just one arrangement or the other; others offer a
choice. We recommend the one-shot arrangement unless
You have a severe infestation you have had trouble getting rid of in the
The cost of a single treatment plus one or two follow-ups (if needed) is
much higher than the cost of a contract for a series of treatments.
You have American or Brown-banded cockroaches, whose eggs sometimes take
60 to 70 days to hatch, making one-shot elimination especially difficult.
If a pest control operator says you have one of these types of cockroaches,
ask the operator to put this conclusion in writing and show you a specimen
from your home. If you are not confident that you can recognize the cockroach
type from the specimen, ask for a dead specimen that you can keep in a
plastic bag, so the firm knows you can check on the operators species
Be sure your professional provides instructions on preparing the house
for treatment in advance. Preparations ordinarily include removing everything
from underneath sinks, emptying and washing kitchen cabinets, covering
all food that is not tightly sealed, removing kitchen drawers, and, if
bedrooms need treatment, removing bureau drawers and all items from closet
shelves and floors.
While a visit from a family of cockroaches is unpleasant, termites can
actually wreck your place. Fortunately, however, you usually have time
to react before they do grave damage.
Termites feed on the cellulose in wood (or, occasionally, on books and
other wood products). They are social insects, living in colonies that
include queen, king, soldiers, and workers. The most commonly destructive
type of termite in the Puget Sound area, the subterranean termite, nests
below ground to maintain adequate moisture for survival, but the workers
often move above ground to gather food. To maintain the necessary moisture
supply, they must move through completely enclosed corridors, which are
usually in the wood they have hollowed out for food, but may be in mud
tunnels, 1/4 to 1/2 inch in breadth, which they construct up foundation
walls to points of entry into wood.
Heres how to spot termites
In the spring, usually on sunny days following rain, you may see male and
female reproductive members of the colony (swarmers) fly out to start
new colonies. These are the only members of termite society capable of
flight. You may see the reproductives themselves or only their fallen wings
around doors, windows, or light fixtures.
You may see the termites mud tunnels on your foundation walls or on floor
joists overhead in your basement.
You (or a termite inspector) may discover hollowed-out wood by tapping
and probing with a screwdriver.
If you discover termites in your house, in soil around your house, or when
you move dead branches and other debris, most will be white with soft bodies
and no wings. The flying reproductives are brown to nearly black. Because
termite reproductives and flying ants are similar in appearance, homeowners
sometimes erroneously mistake ants for termites. To avoid needless anxiety,
look for these distinguishing characteristics
An ants waist is narrow; a termites is broad.
An ants antennae are elbowed; a termites are not.
An ant has two wings of unequal length on each side of its body; a termites
wings are of equal length.
If you find an insect that you suspect is a termite, keep a sample and
have it identified by a competent professional.
How to Stop Them
The first step to termite control is eliminating all contact between the
wood in your house and the soil. If this is impossible, any wood in contact
with the soil must be thoroughly treated with preservative (although termites
might be able to tunnel up the center of treated wood, which the treatment
might not reach). Common trouble spots include wooden steps, trellises,
fences, decks, latticework, and framing around crawl space access doors.
The second step is regular inspectionat least every few years. You can
do your own inspection, but an experienced professional should have a keener
eye. Many pest control services in the area offer free termite inspections.
Some will charge for an inspection that you want only for your peace of
mind, but inspect for free if you request an estimate for treatment or
if you are concerned that there may be an infestation.
The traditional approach to treating for termites has been to create a
barrier between the house and the soil. Usually this is a chemical barrier
made by digging trenches around a homes foundation and pouring pesticide
into themor by pressure-injecting pesticide into the soil through a perforated
rod. Depending on the nature of the infestation and type of construction,
it may be necessary to drill holes through the basement floor or into foundation
wall voids. Naturally, care must be taken to avoid puncturing vapor barriers,
heat ducts, and pipes, and to patch up all holes when work is complete.
For many years, the chemicals used for termite eradication were chlordane
and, later, chlorpyrifos, which created barriers that were effective for
20 to 30 years or longer. But because of environmental and health concerns,
these chemicals were phased out. Currently, two classes of chemicals are
used: repellent and non-repellent.
The repellent termiticides are generally pyrethroids, such as permethrin
and cypermethrin. Termites detect the insecticide and are repelled by itturning
away from your housewithout receiving a lethal dose. Obviously, it is
important to make sure there are no gaps or breaches in the chemical barrier
around your houseand to monitor adjoining structures to ensure that the
repelled termites dont infest them.
Non-repellent termiticides that have come into use in recent years include
imidacloprid and fipronil, insecticides less toxic to humans and other
mammals than the older insecticides but highly toxic to insects. The termites
freely move through the treated soil, coming into contact with the insecticide,
which attacks their nervous system. They may begin to vibrate and may starve
to death. Other termites wont give them needed grooming. As they pick
up insecticide on their bodies, they may carry it back and expose the entire
colony to it.
Although the repellent and non-repellent chemicals currently in use lack
documentation of long-term effectiveness, these newer barrier chemicals
had to demonstrate effectiveness for at least five years to be registered,
and there is good reason to believe that they will be effective for much
Sometimes even a careful professional fails to create a complete chemical
barrier because of some underground formationfor instance, a piece of
wood left in the backfill at construction within which termites can pass
from untreated soil to the houses foundation, out of reach of the pesticide.
Furthermore, a chemical barrier that is complete at one time can be broken
by construction of a new addition, digging in the garden, or even erosion.
The best approach with chemical barriers is to treat your entire house
at once if you have a termite infestation that has never been treated before
or not been treated for many yearsthen do spot treatments if new evidence
of infestation appears.
Bait systems are an increasingly popular approach to termite control. The
usual approach is to place termite traps every 10 or 15 feet around the
perimeter of the structure to attract any termites in the area. While traps
can be simple pine stakes, commercial systems usually consist of special
wood-based materials formulated to be especially attractive to termites.
The traps are checked periodicallymonthly to every three monthsto determine
if termites have begun to eat the material. If so, the traps are replaced
with baits that will continue to attract termites but that contain pesticides.
The pesticides used in the baits are insect growth regulators, most commonly
hexaflumuron, noviflumuron, and diflubenzuron. Termites exposed to them
cannot molt, a process essential for growth. The effect is slow, so the
worker termites take the bait back to the nest where it spreads throughout
the colonys foraging population before the termites notice its effects
on their nestmates. As worker termites die off, the termite colony declines
to where it can no longer sustain itself, ultimately leading to its collapse
Once the infestation is eliminated, baits are usually replaced with traps
which are once again checked every one to three months for new infestations.
The problem with bait systems lies mainly in the unscrupulous tactics used
by many companies that employ them. As mentioned above, the stakes used
are often specially formulated to attract termites, so it stands to reason
that sticking several in the ground around the perimeter of your home will
eventually attract termites. Not only will these companies have you on
the hook for an expensive long-term contract to monitor the bait stations,
but once the baits have done their job these companies can use the evidence
of infestation to sell you a warranty against future infestations.
Getting Professional Help
Although some homeowners do their own termite work, most turn to professionals
whose major assets are knowledge of termite living habits and of residential
construction, specialized equipment, and access to chemicals.
But keep in mind the following factors when dealing with pest control services.
If you dont currently have a termite problem, you will have to decide
whether to take preventive steps. Based on the technical information we
have reviewed, we believe the best way to save money and minimize pesticide
usage is to put off treatment of existing houses unless there is evidence
of active infestation. The relatively minor damage likely to occur before
an infestation is discoveredassuming a homeowner is reasonably conscientious
about inspectiondoes not justify the cost of treatment. (In contrast,
preventive treatment during construction of a new house or an addition
is a good idea.) Some companies will disagree with us on this question.
A common view among companies we have surveyed is that preventive treatment
is appropriate at least for houses that have not been treated in a number
of years, show no evidence of having been treated in the past, or are located
in areas where termites are prevalent.
If a companys inspection determines that you have a termite problem, be
skeptical. If a pest control service provides an estimate and proposes
to go ahead with treatment, have the company indicate in writing whether
it has actually found evidence of an active infestation. If so, get inspections
and estimates from at least two additional companies before going ahead
with treatment. Many homeowners who have had treatment recommended by a
pest control service told us they found out later that there had been no
active infestation. In some cases, the companies had showed evidence of
termite damage but failed to explain that the damage had occurredand the
infestation had been successfully eliminatedmany years earlier. When challenged,
companies may justify their actions by claiming that the treatment is preventive.
Preventive treatment may be a reasonable option, but only if you know thats
what you are getting.
On the other hand, if you doubt the thoroughness or competence of a company
or inspector who says you have no problem, get another opinion.
Although, as weve discussed, profit makes many companies push for the
use of bait systems, used judiciously baits can still be an effective treatment
program. The bait approach has the advantage of limiting the amount of
pesticide released into the area of your home and the environment, and
it is less disruptive than the trenching, drilling, and other measures
required to create a chemical barrier.
Another issue is what to do after a barrier treatment. Companies typically
include in the initial treatment price a one-year guarantee against further
infestations. If evidence of re-infestation is discovered, the guarantee
obligates the company to re-treat. Some pest control services guarantees
also oblige them to repair any structural damage that occurs after the
initial treatment. The company is required to come back to your home for
a checkup a year after the treatment and whenever you detect evidence of
termite activity. Many companies will encourage you to pay additional annual
fees to extend your guarantee. The fee is typically 10 percent to 12 percent
of the initial treatment charge, but some charge a fixed annual fee regardless
of the initial charge.
Our advice, after youve received a complete professional treatment with
a chemical barrier, is to keep the professionals guarantee in force for
two or three years. If annual inspections reveal no re-infestation during
that period, you can be fairly confident that your treatment has been effective
and avoid paying an annual fee to extend your guarantee. Just take advantage
of a companys free inspection services every couple of yearsor any time
you see possible evidence of termite activity. If a new infestation appears,
it often can be eliminated without treating the entire house, although
a company may believe that partial treatment is not sufficient.
If you are considering extending a guarantee, check the language carefullythe
cost, inspections the company is required to do, whether needed structural
repairs will be covered, and what you have to do to keep the guarantee
Keep a record of all treatments; this will assist a firm treating subsequent
infestations and be a valuable asset when you sell your house.
Mice and Rats
Mice will live in any protected space close to a food supply. If conditions
are right, a mouse will live its entire life within a 20-foot radius. Mature
mice usually weigh under an ounce and are usually less than seven inches
long from tip of nose to end of tail. They can be detected from their droppings,
which are dark brown or black and rod-like, usually less than 3/16-inch
long. A mouses lifespan is about a year, during which a female usually
weans about 30 to 35 young.
Rats can also live in a variety of placesin underground burrows, under
piles of lumber or debris, in spaces between walls, in attics. They are
good climbers and move swiftly. Indications of rat infestation include
burrows, droppings (3/4-inch long, capsule-shaped), and rub marks (caused
by their bodies rubbing against walls or rafters). Mature rats generally
weigh between 1/2 pound and one pound. They live about a year, during which
a female usually weans about 20 young.
Because rats and mice have poorly developed senses of sight and taste,
the freshness of food is not critical to them. Although they have a keen
sense of smell, they are not put off by the smell of humans since they
are accustomed to it. Their sense of hearing is excellent and serves as
a major protection.
Mice are curious. They explore new objects, and are likely to be most interested
in food (or bait) that is moved around from day to day. Rats, on the other
hand, are suspicious.
What Harm They Do
Both rats and mice can spread diseases such as salmonellosis by leaving
germ-carrying feces, urine, and hair in foods. Rats spread other diseases
by biting humans (thousands of persons each year) and carrying fleas that
bite humans. Forms of typhus and bubonic plague are spread when an infected
rat flea bites a human and then defecates on the skin; the causative agent
enters the body through the site of the bite when it is scratched.
In addition to spreading diseases, rats cause fires by gnawing away insulation
on electrical wires.
How to Stop Them
An essential step to controlling rats or mice is to eliminate places for
them to live, sources of food, and sources of water. (Rats, particularly,
need water, while mice often get an adequate supply directly from the food
they eat.) The key, then, is sanitationsealing off access to stored foodstuffs
(including food in cardboard containers) and placing garbage in sturdy,
tight containers. When the food supply grows scarce, rodents begin to kill
one another and migrate to better conditions.
A second important step is exclusion. All openings to your home more than
1/4 inch in size through foundation cracks, around or under door and window
frames, and elsewhere should be closed off with sheet metal, heavy screen,
cement mortar, or other barriers that the rodents cannot gnaw through.
After you take these environmental steps, you may be able to bring a small
infestation under control with traps. The wood-base snap trap is as good
as any. If you want to bait your traps, peanut butter is ideal: it doesnt
spoil easily; it has an attractive smell; and, since it is sticky, it is
hard for rodents to steal it without being caught. Rats are more wary of
bait than are mice, which are naturally curious and like to nibble a little
bit of everything.
Place your traps perpendicular to walls, with trigger ends toward the walls
so that the rats or mice will run over them as they travel.
Although trapping may eliminate a small infestation, you will probably
need poison baits for a large problem. Many poisons, such as strychnine,
that were used against rats and mice for years are now banned because they
represent hazards to humans and pets. The types of poisons most often used
today are anticoagulantssuch as warfarin, Prolin, or fumarin (also known
as coumfuryl)that work in a very different way from more traditional poisons:
they cause internal hemorrhaging. The poisoned rats and mice simply bleed
to death internally. Some anticoagulants have the safety advantage of requiring
daily doses for several days to kill a rodentand even more to affect a
human. Thus, a single accidental dose will not be fatal. Some also have
another safety feature: they contain denatonium benzoate, a substance so
bitter that humans and pets cant stand even a pinch, though rats dont
notice it. Unlike some poisons used in the past, anticoagulants do not
induce bait-shyness in mice or rats. But with the multi-dose formulations,
you must maintain a continual supply until the anticoagulant takes its
If you use poison baitseven the relatively safe typesplace them out of
reach of pets or children. Make a note of each boxs location. For maximum
effectiveness, use fresh bait and smooth the bait regularly so you can
see whether it is being taken. Place baits at a number of locations eight
to 10 feet apart, because mice may never travel more than 10 or 20 feet
and even rats rarely range more than 150 feet.
Getting Professional Help
You can mount the attack on rats or mice on your own; the baits and traps
are available at hardware stores. The disadvantage of calling a professional
is that you probably will have to pay for a series of repeat visits. But
the professional is likely to be more knowledgeable about the pests habits
than you have time to become, and knowledge is very valuable.
Many kinds of ants can be found in housesincluding odorous house ants,
pharaoh ants, pavement ants, acrobat ants, thief ants, and carpenter ants.
Each species has its own preference for food and nesting areas. Some like
grease, others like seeds, still others feed only on other insects. Some
prefer to nest in walls; others prefer to be under flooring or a pile of
papers. Knowing the particular type of ant you are dealing with obviously
helps in selecting baits, applying pesticides in the proper places, and
searching for nests. But identification is generally too difficult for
non-professionals. The one type you will be able to identify is the carpenter
ant, a large ant ranging in color from red to black that hollows out damp
wood to make its home (not to eat), and thus can be spotted by the coarse
sawdust debris deposited near nest openings.
What Harm They Do
While most ants do very little damage and are not a major factor in spreading
disease, most of us dont want them traipsing over our food or ambling
up our legs. Carpenter ants occasionally do a more concrete form of damage:
weakening a house by hollowing out structural elements. Even this species
damage, however, is usually fairly limited.
How to Stop Them
Ants enter buildings seeking food and water, warmth and shelter, or a refuge
from dry, hot weather or flooded conditions. They may appear suddenly in
buildings if other food sources become unavailable or weather conditions
A quick way to eliminate ants is to find their nests and blow insecticide
dust or spray inside. You can often locate the nests by following the ants
movements back and forth to food sources. Nests are often outdoors, sometimes
under boards, stones, tree stumps, or plants. But nests within walls, under
flooring, or in other inaccessible places will require an alternative approach.
One key is to cut off the paths ants follow into and out of your house.
Caulk cracks and crevices around foundations to prevent entry from outside.
Because ants prefer to make trails along structural elements such as wires
and pipes, and frequently use them to enter and travel within a structure
to their destination, make sure you block these paths.
Indoors, eliminate cracks and crevices wherever possible, especially in
kitchens and other food-preparation and storage areas. Store food items
such as sugar, syrup, honey, and other sweets in closed containers that
have been washed to remove residues from outer surfaces. Thoroughly clean
up grease and spills. Dont store garbage indoors. Eliminate indoor nesting
sites, including potted plants that appear to be used for nests.
After taking these measures, consider using various types of baits. Liquid
baits come in small tub- or disc-like bait stations; gels can be applied
along ant paths in various locations; and bait granules can be broadcast.
Ants are attracted to the bait and carry small portions of it back to the
nest, where it is given to other workers, larvae, and reproductive forms.
Place baits in many locations where ants can easily find them, but are
not accessible to children and pets.
To achieve distribution wide enough to kill an entire colony, the bait
toxicant must be slow acting. Toxicants used in ant baits include hydramethylnon,
boric acid, and fipronil.
Interestingly, when baits are first applied, you might actually see an
increase in ant activity; thats because the baits seem like good food
to ants, who communicate the availability of the food to the colonys other
ants, which seek it out before the poison takes effect.
If you want a quick knockdown of ants, try one of the sprays or dusts available
at a hardware store. Spray or dust insecticides will either kill the ants
when they pass over them or repel them. Insecticide is usually applied
in a coarse spray or painted on with a small brush. Key targets are
The lower part of window frames and around doors.
Outdoor supports, pipes, posts, and pillars leading from the ground to
Cracks in baseboards, walls, and floors, and around sinks, bathtubs, toilets,
and kitchen cupboards.
Openings around electrical outlets.
The problem with these pesticides is that they may eliminate the problem
only temporarily. The nest survives and continues to produce ants to replace
those youve killed. Sponging or mopping with soapy water, as an alternative
to insecticides, may be almost as effective in temporarily removing foraging
ants because it removes the ants scent trail.
The above recommendations relate to ants other than carpenter ants, which
are a special case. Since carpenter ants are attracted to damp wood, it
is important to prevent water from accumulating on your house. Clean gutters
and downspouts, and cut tree limbs and shrubs that overhang the house.
Getting Professional Help
You can control most household ants fairly easily without professional
help. However, because their nests are often especially difficult to locate
and treat, carpenter and pharaoh ants may require professional attention.
Largely forgotten for decades, bedbugs are back with a vengeance. No one
is certain why and how they made their comeback, but bedbugs are once again
a serious problem in most U.S. cities, including in the Puget Sound area.
Bedbugs are wingless, flat, reddish-brown, oval insects about the size
of an apple seed. They are nocturnal and feed on the blood of warm-blooded
hosts by piercing the skin with elongated beaks. In homes, they tend to
live near beds so they can remain within easy transit of their food supply:
in mattress seams; sheets; furniture; behind loose wallpaper, electrical
wall plates, and baseboards; underneath carpet and rugs; in picture frames;
and in wall and ceiling cracks.
One reason bedbugs so often create major infestations is that they are
difficult to detect early on. Since they are so small and flat, they can
easily hide just about anywhere, their presence usually detected only after
theyve chewed on their landlords a bit. Like mosquito bites, bedbug bites
usually arent painful when they occur, but often form itchy red welts
the day after. These welts vary in appearance from tiny pinpricks to mosquito-bite-sized
bumps to very large welts. Some people have no noticeable reaction to bedbug
Other signs of a bedbug infestation are small bloodstains on bedding (as
victims roll over and squash the bugs in their sleep) and clusters of small
dark brown or black dots on infested surfaces (bedbugs dried excrement).
What Harm They Do
Although bedbugs are known to be infected with many diseases, no definitive
link has been established between bedbugs and the spread of those diseases
(although infections can occur as a result of their bites). On the other
hand, most of us would consider the stress and sleep deprivation that result
from bedbug infestation a health concern.
Except for the small stains they may leave behind on bedding, they dont
How to Stop Them
Bedbugs are notoriously difficult to control; they are incredibly resilient
and can become resistant to pesticides. Bedbugs typically feed every five
to 10 days, but if no food source is available, they can survive for a
year or more without feeding. They are excellent hitchhikers and multiply
quicklyeven one critter or egg sac transported from an infested site on
an item of clothing or in a suitcase can produce a new population in your
bedroom. Because they dont live in colonies, when infestations occur,
the entire area must be treated, possibly several times. Even small infestations
may require calling in a pro.
Unlike many of the pests described in this article, bedbugs wont be deterred
by keeping your home clean. Nevertheless, since clutter provides perfect
bedbug hiding spots, the first step toward eliminating infestations is
to clear out everything in the room but the furniture. Put everything in
airtight plastic bags and seal them before you leave the room; otherwise,
youre just giving the bedbugs the chance to spread to other areas of the
home. Assume that any rooms adjacent to infested rooms also have bedbug
occupants, and follow this procedure in those areas.
Once youve de-cluttered, thoroughly vacuum beds and carpets. Remove electrical
outlet and lighting switch plates, and vacuum the dust and debris inside
(make sure youve switched off the circuit breaker for the area). Pull
carpeting off its tack strips around the perimeter of the room (one side
at a time) so you can thoroughly vacuum baseboards and underneath the edges
of the carpeting. Immediately dispose of the vacuum bag outdoors when youre
Wash everything thats washable in the hottest water it can take (120°F
or higher), and dry at the hottest setting possible. Have carpets and rugs
professionally cleaned (tell the cleaner about the infestation so it is
not spread elsewhere). If a fabric in the infested area cant be washed,
have it dry cleaned; or put it in a clothes dryer on its hottest setting
for 20 minutes.
Once youve cleared out the room, its time to take on any remaining bugs.
Pest control services can use a variety of pesticides to treat bedbugs,
but since they have to treat surfaces where dermal exposure occurs, they
most commonly apply pyrethroids and isopropyl alcohol. Pyrethroid is the
synthetic form of pyrethrin, a toxin produced by certain varieties of chrysanthemums.
When properly diluted, pyrethroids are generally harmless to humans but
lethal to many types of insects. They also dissipate relatively quicklyafter
one or two days, sunlight and air break down the compound. The problem
with pyrethroid treatment is that some bedbugs have become resistant to
Isopropyl alcohol is an effective bedbug remedy that kills bugs on contact
and evaporates quickly, leaving minimal residue and therefore little chance
of dermal exposure. The drawback is that without any residue, the agent
wont stick around long enough to kill the bedbugs that survived the previous
treatment. But even one treatment should knock down a bedbug infestation
to manageable levels; and since its dehydrating effect also affects bedbugs
eggs, repeated treatments, along with washing and vacuuming, should eventually
Before applying isopropyl alcohol, open windows wide for ventilation. Spray
the solution on all surfaces in the room, especially mattresses, headboards,
and box springs. Because isopropyl alcohol could discolor some wood stains
and leathers, test it on a small out-of-sight area before applying it to
wood furniture, shoes, etc.
Since bedbug infestations are so difficult to control and destroy, many
people hire professionals to tackle them. Unlike with many other pests,
bedbug problems may require a contract for multiple treatments, since a
single treatmentor even a couple of treatmentsoften will not eradicate
Ask any company you consider to describe in detail what it will do and
how it will do it. Request a written guarantee that lasts for at least
a year and a commitment to return and re-treat as many times as is necessary
to eliminate the infestation. If subsequent visits are to be billed on
a per-visit basis, get the details in writing.
Heres what you can do to minimize your risk of bedbug infestations
If you spot signs of bedbugs, act right away. The faster treatment begins
the better chance of quick success.
Dont buy used mattresses. Buy used upholstered furniture only from trusted
Reduce clutter. Doing so will eliminate hiding spots.
In hotel rooms, place suitcases on luggage racks when packing and unpacking;
never set luggage on hotel beds.
Upon returning home from a hotel stay, unpack your clothes directly into
a washing machine and inspect your luggage carefully for signs of bedbugs.
Store luggage in an area of your home that is not adjacent to occupied
If you suspect you may have a bedbug infestation, use light-colored sheets
for a few days and inspect them regularly for signs of bedbugs (described
Fleas are very small wingless insects capable of jumping seven to eight
inches vertically and more than a foot horizontally. They ordinarily live
on pets and suck blood for nourishment, but when large numbers are present
or no animals are available, they can and do feed on people. Pets infested
with fleas scratch and bite themselves constantly, producing soiled, roughened
coats and skin irritations. A fleabite on humans appears as a small, hard,
red itching spot with one puncture hole in the middle. Bleeding may occur,
and itching may continue for as long as a week.
Eggs are laid on the host animal. Since they are not attached, they may
fall onto rugs, furniture, or bedding, where larvae stay until they reach
What Harm They Do
In addition to causing insufferable itching and even severe allergic reactions
in some individuals, fleas are also carriers of serious diseasesboth plague
How to Stop Them
Frequent grooming of pets reduces the chance of a flea infestation. Medications
can also be used as preventive measures or to eliminate minor flea problems
or prevent new ones.
If medication doesnt do the job, remove pets bedding and wash or destroy
it. Vacuum cracks and crevices, rugs, upholstery, and other areas, and
immediately discard the vacuum bag outdoors. Mist upholstered furniture
lightly with a non-staining flea spray, and spray floors, baseboards, carpeting,
and cracks. Use a spray that contains an insect growth regulator: methoprene
or pyriproxyfen. Also spray outdoor kennels and yards, where pets can be
re-infested except in very cold weather.
Sprays with insect growth regulators prevent metamorphosis in fleas (and
other insects). Since metamorphosis does not occur in humans, dogs, and
cats, these sprays appear to be very safe. The sprays dont kill mature
fleas, since they have already passed through metamorphosis, but they can
stop the development of flea larvae.
Pantry moths are not dangerous, but they are a nuisance and hard to eliminate.
Youll meet them when you open a kitchen cabinet or pantry door and they
flutter out and around the foodyou may have imported them in grain products
that contained larvae. As they breed, their larvae infest foods such as
cereal, flour, and grains.
To eliminate a pantry moth infestation, thoroughly clean the infested area.
Seal food in plastic bags and discard them outside in the trash. Vacuum
all cracks where grains might have spilled. If you are changing residences
and have had a problem with pantry moths, be extremely careful not to introduce
the pests into your new home.
These large bees look alarming, but they are valuable pollinators and pose
no threat to humans. Sometimes confused with bumblebees, they are about
one inch long, with hairy thoraxes and legs but hairless abdomens. The
males cant sting; the females can sting, but wont. The females, which
are particularly concerned with their nests, can be seen in flowers searching
for pollen or entering or emerging from large entrance holes in wood.
To prevent carpenter bees from nesting in your home, avoid building external
structures with their favorite softwoods: southern yellow pine, white pine,
California redwood, cedar, Douglas fir, and cypress. Cover exposed wood
in vulnerable areas with paint or varnish, or metal or fiberglass materials.
You know you have carpenter bees when you see them and by telltale sawdust
where they have been drilling into wood. A single bee wont cause much
damage, but the broods that follow will expand the tunnel and may cause
structural damage. Because woodpeckers are attracted to carpenter bee nests,
woodpecker damage may signal the presence of the bees.
To kill the bees, carefully apply an insecticidal spray or dust designed
for flying insects, complying with the safety precautions on the label.
Alternatively, close off the nest or replace the damaged wood. Apply a
temporary repellent such as almond oil or almond essence around the nest
until you can make physical alterations.
With talk of West Nile Virus and the introduction of new species into many
areas of the U.S., mosquitoes have been on our minds. Pesticide spraying
programs are of limited and short-term effectiveness because they do not
affect larvae. They also kill beneficial insects and natural mosquito predators
such as dragonflies and beetles.
The most effective personal repellents contain DEET, a commonly used but
controversial chemical applied directly to human skin and clothing. However,
DEET has been linked to toxic reactions ranging from skin disorders to
seizures, and its useespecially on and by childrenhas been challenged.
Insect repellents that contain 30 percent active-ingredient DEET are as
effective as those with higher concentrations. In fact, Canada has banned
insect repellents with DEET concentrations higher than 30 percent. Also
avoid using products that mix sunscreen (which must be applied liberally
and frequently for maximum effectiveness) and insect repellent (which should
be applied sparingly and infrequently).
Various products claim to eliminate or reduce the presence of mosquitoes
in yards and other areas. Californias Statewide Integrated Pest Management
Program has this to say about them:
There is a vast array of other products marketed to repel mosquitoes,
most of which are ineffective. These include wristbands that contain an
aromatic repellent, ultrasonic emitters, electric grids, electronic repellers,
aromatic plants (the most common one is the so-called mosquito plant, Pelargonium
x citrosum), incense coils, vitamins (B1), and mixtures of brewers yeast
and garlic. Researchers have shown that all these methods are of little
or no value in repelling mosquitoes. Oil of citronella, which is extracted
from Andropogon nardus, has long been claimed to repel mosquitoes. Burning
citronella candles or mosquito coils works best if there is relatively
little air movement, but these products are only for use outdoors, which
makes them mostly worthless. Electric bug zappers that are used to kill
pest insects are probably counterproductive because many of the insects
caught by these traps are those that prey on mosquitoes.
So what should you do about the mosquitoes?
Remain indoors in the early morning and evenings, when mosquitoes are most
Consider screening in your porch or deck.
Maintain window screens and doors, and close doors quickly upon entry or
Since mosquitoes lay their eggs in water and larvae live in the water,
remove or regularly drain objects that retain water. Dont forget to empty
trash cans and saucers beneath flowerpots. Clean gutters, birdbaths, and
other areas where water can pool.
If you have a problem you cant handle on your own, there are many pest
control services that will be glad to step in. Weve rated Puget Sound
area companies and branches of companies on our Ratings Tables. (For
more information on our customer survey and other research methods, click
Our Ratings Tables show how CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers
we surveyed rated the companies on several aspects of service. As you can
see, many of the companies received high ratings. At the time of our last
full, published article, fifteen of the companies or branches were rated
superior for overall performance by 80 percent or more of their surveyed
customers. On the other hand, five of the companies were rated superior
by 50 percent or fewer of their surveyed customers.
The most common type of complaint we receive from pest control service
customers is that companies fail to show up for appointments. But we also
often get complaints such as the following
Awful. Nothing they do works, problem returns. Overpriced as well.
We had a maintenance contract with them. Under their supervision we had
an infestation of mice which they were unable to get rid of. They came
regularly but the mice population multiplied. Another exterminator came
and got rid of the mice with one application. We have not had mice since.
After repeated requests, they still did not call ahead before coming
and treating our housewe would just get home and find someone had stopped
by and sprayed outside, when we wanted them to come inside to spray for
ants and to check out back to ensure the rodent trap was in good shape.
I canceled our service, and they continued to come, leaving bills each
We had a contract with [the company] for four years. During this time,
we were never informed of any termite damage and always received clear
annual inspections. When it came time to sell our home, ironically, the
prospective owners hired [the same company] to conduct the inspection.
It found extensive termite damage that they reported to the prospective
Signed a lifetime contract for annual inspection at $100/year. After
several years, [the company] all of a sudden refused to honor the contract,
attempting to sell me new, very high-priced service. Extremely unethical
In addition to customer survey results, for firms that were evaluated in
our last full, published article, our Ratings Tables show tallies of
complaints we gathered from the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington
Office of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period. Where we were
able to, we have also reported on our Ratings Tables complaint rates,
calculated by dividing the number of complaints by our measure of the number
of full-time-equivalent technicians performing residential pest control
work for the firms. The complaint rates take into account volume of work
and the fact that companies that do more work are exposed to a greater
risk of incurring complaints.
Another potential source of complaint information is the Better Business
Bureau (BBB) that serves the Puget Sound area. At www.bbb.org, you
can search for the BBBs report on any company. The report will show the
number of complaints the BBB has received for the company during the past
three years. For any company listed on our Ratings Tables, subscribers
can click a link on the detailed ratings page to go directly to the BBBs
most up-to-date report on the company.
When using the complaint information, keep in mind that complaints are
not always justified; sometimes customers are unreasonable. Also be aware
that some companies are at greater risk of incurring complaints than others
because of the specific types of work they do. And remember that the measure
of business volume we use in calculating complaint rates (the number of
full-time-equivalent technicians performing residential pest control work)
is at best a very rough indicator.
As previously noted, different outfits have different strategies for treating,
or preventing, pest problemsfor example, baits versus sprays or long-term
contracts versus one-time treatments. Some companies are flexible, but
others offer one approach only. Discuss options with each service you consider,
and choose one that offers an approach that makes sense for you.
In pest control, as in most fields, its good to be able to withhold payment
until work is complete. But in the case of termite jobs, some firms require
partial payment prior to completion.
Of course, any company that offers guarantees on either termite work or
household pest treatment is likely to get your money before its obligations
end. In these situations, the main line of protection is a written contract
or receipt specifying the length and breadth of your guarantee. You should
have no problem obtaining a written commitment.
Guarantees are important variables among companies. For work with cockroaches
and other household pests, many firms offer guarantees ranging from 30
days to one year, depending on what you agree to pay. For termite work,
some companies offer a single one-year guarantee, but most let you pay
to extend the guarantee; most companies charge a yearly premium for a years
extension of coverage and a yearly inspection.
For both household pests and termites, guarantees generally cover continuing
service to attack old infestations and new ones while the guarantee is
in force. While guarantees generally cover re-treatment but not repair
or replacement of property, a number of companies offer termite guarantees
that also cover the costs of structural repairs. Be sure to read and understand
each companys guarantee before you select one.
The value of a guarantee naturally depends on the stability of the company.
At the time of our last full, published article, all of the companies listed
on our Ratings Tables have been in business for at least six years,
and several for 25 years or more.
You naturally want the company you choose to send you professionals who
are well-trained in pest control. All companies must have on staff at least
one employee who has taken classes and passed a state test to qualify as
a certified pest control applicator. But a company may employ only one
certified applicator and send out uncertified employees to do the work.
To obtain some assurance that the worker you get has at least minimum qualifications,
tell companies you are considering that you insist on having a certified
applicator do your workand request a certified applicator each time they
send someone to your home. If you need termite service, find out whether
the company will send a certified structural pest technician, who has met
the training requirements and passed the test offered by the state.
Since so many companies provide good service, cost can be a key consideration.
Fortunately, shopping can be fairly easy.
For household pest work, you can often get price quotes over the phone,
and companies that will not quote by phone will almost always come to your
house to give free estimates.
For termites, too, most companies give free estimates, although all companies
we surveyed charge a fee for the formal paperwork required for inspections
for real estate transactions. A charge seems appropriate since the company
may be liable for providing free termite treatment and repairs if it fails
to detect an existing termite infestation.
If your problem is cockroaches or other household pests, our ratings table
provides you some idea of comparative prices. Based on telephone shopping
by our researchers (who did not disclose their connection with CHECKBOOK),
our Ratings Tables show companies quoted prices for treating cockroaches
in a sample house. Our Ratings Tables report: (1) approximate price
for a one-time treatment (or the smallest number of treatments the firm
will offer); (2) guarantee period (length of time company will return without
charge to treat recurring infestations); and (3) charge for a re-treatment
after the guarantee period expires. Note that costs vary widely. For instance,
one company charges $175 for initial treatment with a 90-day guarantee,
while another charges $439 with no guarantee. In general, the companies
that charge high prices for an initial treatment have longer periods of
free follow-up service, compared to companies with low prices for an initial
treatment. Some operators require customers to agree to one-year contracts
that cost $400 or more.
If your problem is termites, you will have to do your own price shopping.
Termite estimates are almost always made on site and while doing the research
for this article, we were unable to find homeowners with termite problems
for whom we could obtain comparative estimates. Similarly, most companies
are reluctant to quote prices for a bedbug treatment plan without an onsite
A key factor affecting costs is the particular treatment plan the company
offersespecially for household pests, as opposed to termites. If a company
offers only one-time cockroach treatments at $175 per treatment, it will
cost $350 ($175 plus $175) for a single treatment and a single follow-up.
This is substantially more than you would pay another company that charges
$175 for the initial treatment but only $40 or $50 for the follow-up treatment
you may or may not need.
To get the best plan for your situation, press companies to describe all
the alternatives they offer. The least expensive plan is not always the
first one offered and might not be the one that appears on our ratings
Keep this in mind: our evaluation revealed no relationship between prices
charged for household pest treatments and customer satisfaction.
The control procedures we have described should keep pesticide dangers
to a minimumespecially if sanitation and other non-chemical measures are
employed as we have suggested. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
has banned the use of certain chemicals, and allows others to be used only
by professionals and only under specified conditions. If you are concerned
about pesticide exposure, however, you can find information beyond what
is issued by the EPA by calling the sources listed below and searching
the Internet: just enter the name of the pesticide or chemical and the
word safety. A notice that an EPA review is underwayor that researchers
or citizens groups are urging oneis a red flag.
If you turn to a professional, you also gain a measure of protection because
of the certification and licensing standards states have set up in response
to federal requirements. Every licensed company must employ at least one
professional who has passed a test certifying knowledge of pests and the
chemicals used to control them.
For additional protection, observe the following important practices
1. Pay close attention to pesticide labels. Labels tell you:
What protective clothing and other equipment to use.
How to use the pesticide safely and effectivelywhen to apply it, where
to apply it, how much to apply, and what pests it will control.
How to dispose of excess chemicals and empty containers.
When you can reenter an area that has been treated with the pesticide.
How exposure occurswhether by inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, or
How dangerous the pesticide is. There are three key words: danger (a
taste to a teaspoonful can kill you), warning (a teaspoonful to a tablespoonful
can kill you), and caution (an ounce to more than a pint can kill you).
Avoid pesticides with a danger label.
2. Buy only as much pesticide as you need. If you do have to buy extra,
store it out of reach of children and pets. Ideally, pesticides should
be stored in a locked, fireproof place with a warning signand always in
their original, labeled containers.
3. Use only the amount specified on the pesticide label.
4. If you hire a professional, find out exactly what chemicals they are
using. You may have to call the operators supervisor to find out, but
this information will be vital if you must contact a doctor after symptoms
of poisoning later appear. Ideally, have the company give you a copy of
the label for the pesticides they use.
5. In the event of a mishap, call a doctor and/or an ambulance immediately.
If you have the pesticide label, take it with you to the doctor or hospitalit
contains important information on treatment.
For quick advice, call the poison control center at 800-222-1222.
We receive a lot of calls and emails from subscribers asking for information
on green or natural pest control methods. And as you shop for a service,
youll likely run across a number of companies that claim to practice green
or natural methods. Does such a thing exist? If so, is it effective?
To control household pests, you need to prevent them from getting what
they need to live and reproduce. In this article, we discuss several steps
you can take to minimize the risk of infestation for several types of pests.
Most prevention methods require no pesticides: methods like maintaining
clean kitchens and bathrooms, vacuuming frequently, eliminating water leaks,
and sealing possible entry points.
But if an infestation occurs, more drastic measures may be required. As
discussed above, modern pesticides are quite safe if used properly. And
for most pests, there are also non-chemical options. Those most commonly
used by exterminators are used to control
TermitesSome pest control services have experience using microwaves to
cook termites and their colonies. But microwaves are generally less effective
than pesticides, and may damage your homes structure.
CockroachesMany pest control companies consider boric acid a natural remedy.
Thats a rather dubious claim, but (as we note in this article) boric acid
is quite safe to humans if used properly. Other options include sticky
traps (likely to put only a small dent in a moderate or large infestation)
and pyrethrum, the naturally derived form of pyrethroids. (See our section
on treating cockroaches for more details on each of these options.) Some
companies will vacuum infested sites to capture as many bugs and eggs as
possible, and knock infestations down to levels that can be managed with
traps. Peppermint and rosemary oils, which repel or kill many types of
insects, also might control small infestations but have to be applied often.
RodentsCan be effectively controlled by closing off points of entry from
the outside and using well-placed traps. Humane traps are available for
relocating, rather than killing, rodents.
Bees, wasps, and hornetsInstead of using pesticides, professionals can
knock many types of nests to the ground and crush them (obviously, unless
you own a bee suit, dont try this on your own). Peppermint and rosemary
oils will kill stinging insects, but, as one pest control company owner
told us, It will kill them, but not as fast as other productsnot nearly
fast enough if youre the one doing the killing.
AntsCaulking cracks and other access points and using baits should control
most populations. Several effective bait products use non-synthetic pesticides.
BedbugsAs mentioned in this article, isopropyl alcohol combined with washing
belongings in very hot water is highly effective.
Thermal pest control is another pesticide-free option that will kill just
about any type of insect. Companies that do this type of work encase the
home in a tent and pump in hot air until the home reaches 120°F or hotter,
destroying all the bugs and their eggs. But this process is incredibly
expensive ($3,000 or more for an average-size house) and is disruptive
(youll have to move out anything in the home that could be damaged by
the heat and live elsewhere for a few days). Further, the amount of energy
required to heat the home to 120°F seems to us to preclude this from being
a green method.
Dont bother with electronic devices that claim to repel pests with high-frequency
sound waves and similar technology. They dont work. In fact, the owner
of one top-rated pest control company told us he once found cockroaches
nesting on top of an electronic device marketed to repel roaches. He speculated
that the device actually created a nice warm spot for the roaches to nest.
When speaking to companies about natural pest control options, be wary
and skeptical of their claims. Weve found that many companies that claim
to provide natural pest control solutions employ the same pesticides and
methods used in conventional treatments. Weve even heard of companies
that base their claims to being eco-friendly on the fact that they recycle
office paper or drive hybridsnot exactly the commitment to saving Mother
Nature suggested by their marketing materials.
Even if a pest control method is labeled natural or non-synthetic,
read the product safety label carefully. Natural is an ambiguous term,
and non-synthetic pesticides still can be harmful to humans, pets, and
The pests discussed in this article generate the bulk of the work for professional
pest control operators. If you have other pests, or additional questions
about these, you can get excellent advice from the following:
Cooperative Extension Services
Washington State Department of Agriculture
Pest Management Division
National Pest Management Association
Californias Integrated Pest Management Program