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Struggling With Pests at Home? Here’s What To Do

DIY Pest Solutions, Integrated Pest Management, and More

Everyone wants to have a place to call home, somewhere you can eat, sleep and hangout with your friends and family. But people aren't the only ones who want a home - rodents, ants, mosquitos, flies and cockroaches do too! If you suddenly find yourself with a few new creepy crawly roommates, your default reaction may be to pick up the phone and have an exterminator come into your home to shoo them away.

However, let's first think about what that means for your home and health. Traditional exterminators may use many toxic chemicals to get rid of pests and should be your last resort instead of your first.

Thankfully, there are safer methods to clear your home of pests.

The Issues With Exterminators

Most exterminators will go over the active ingredients in their pesticides and some will go over potential health effects, but that might not give you the full picture. It's super important to do your own research before hiring someone.

Pest exterminators can spray pesticides, herbicides and insecticides throughout the home (either inside and/or outside (16)) which can cause damage to health, particularly for children (13) and infants (8,14).

The most common active ingredients in insecticides are pyrethroids and pyrethrins which have been linked to increased risk of childhood cancer (11). And many insecticides are also composed of organophosphates and chlorpyrifos which have been linked to chronic neurological function (1), and neurodevelopmental issues (8).

If an exterminator tells you the products they use are safe after a couple of hours, that may not necessarily be true. Studies of chlorpyrifos have shown that residues persist for up to 2 weeks after a single broadcast application, with potential exposure to young infants reaching levels 100x greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended levels (15). Residual pesticide exposure is especially important if you have infants in your home, since minimal exposure can result in levels above the threshold of toxicological response in infants (12). Studies show this chronic level of exposure has been linked to risk of childhood leukemia (10).

The work done by pest control professionals - the routine extermination procedure and home treatment such as spraying pesticides - has shown an overall link between pesticide exposures and childhood cancers (10). We definitely don't want these chemicals unless we really have to.

DIY Solutions to Keep Pests Out of Your Home

It's easier than you think to prevent pests! Sometimes simple upgrades to your house or a new product are all you need. Here are some simple solutions for how to prevent pests at home and what to do if you have them.

1. Block Any Entry Points for Pests

Show your home some love. Take a day off and spend time doing the following:

  • Seal gaps and plug holes with copper mesh.
  • Repair torn screens, keep weatherstripping in shape (a.k.a. make sure there are no gaps around doors and windows).
  • Make sure the damper on your dryer vent is properly closed.
  • Trim plants against your house.

Not sure where else pests could be coming from? Sometimes pest control professionals can help you identify their entrypoint and help you plug it up without having to fall back on spraying. Integrated pest management professionals (see below) are especially good at this.

2. Update Your Cleaning Routine

Pests seem to have a sixth sense for clutter and crumbs! A deep clean can help stop these unwelcome critters from getting too cozy.

  • Keep your kitchen sparkling clean by sweeping regularly and be sure to dry up damp areas.
  • Immediately clean up any crumbs or spills from countertops, tables and shelves, and dispose of garbage regularly. Avoid walking around the house while eating, as you may leave crumbs in unwanted places such as your couch, bed or carpet.
  • Store ingredients and snacks properly in containers with an airtight seal to prevent pests from getting inside. While you're at it, check out these tips on how to Stock Your Pantry Shelves With Non Toxic Packaging Materials. If you have a pet, be sure to store away their food overnight.
  • When at the grocery store, inspect packaging for any holes before purchasing to avoid bringing any pests home with you.
  • Check the expiration dates on ingredients before use. Throw out items stored for an extended period of time.
  • Clean up clutter, especially stacks of newspapers, cardboard boxes, and paper bags as these can be a favorite home for pests.
  • Avoid dampness in your home by keeping it well ventilated. Pests thrive in humidity higher than 70% (9). Measure your bedroom's humidity levels and use a dehumidifier if necessary. Here's a compact dehumidifier and a rechargeable dehumidifier.

3. Invest in Some New Products

We did some research and found some recommended safer products to use on your own:

Know When to Call an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Professional for Help

If you live a busy life-style and don't have time for DIY's or if it's too late to take matters into your own hands, don't worry. IPM has your back.

What's IPM? It's a cost-effective holistic approach to eradicating pests from your home by taking into account which pests are in your home, how they got there, why they are there, and where they're coming from. IF chemicals are necessary, then companies will use products that are just as effective on the bugs but safe for humans and pets. But again, always do your own research! Look into any products an IPM company is recommending to make sure it's actually a safer choice or an EPA registered product. Studies have shown success in the implementation of IPM (3). Check out the WSPEHSU's helpful toolkit to avoid traditional chemically invasive pest control.

Here's how to hire a pest management professional who does IPM.

Dealing with pests can be overwhelming and frustrating but it's important to remember you have options! Calling an exterminator to spray your home with pesticides is not the only solution to getting rid of pests. There are better, safer solutions!



References

  1. https://academic.oup.com/jpepsy/article/33/1/91/966989
  2. https://eartheasy.com/insect-dust-diatomaceous-earth-4-4-lb/
  3. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/pdf/10.1289/ehp.6069
  4. https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products
  5. https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/list-pests-significant-public-health-importance
  6. https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/do-you-really-need-use-pesticide
  7. https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/integrated-pest-management-ipm-principles
  8. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/abs/10.1289/ehp.02110507
  9. https://learn.eartheasy.com/guides/natural-insect-pest-control/
  10. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10552-013-0205-1
  11. https://www.nature.com/articles/jes201036
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1532945/
  13. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/136/4/719.short
  14. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/6/e1845?sso=1&sso_redirect_count=1&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR:+No+local+token
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12515682/
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23558445/
  17. https://www.ortho.com/sites/g/files/oydgjc116/files/asset_files/T46024_020301205_LB9902_082117_CFL.pdf
  18. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/ss/slideshow-bugs-in-your-house
Life

Banish Bugs With Our Recommended Insect Repellent Ingredients

Don't be an all-you-can-eat-buffet for annoying critters again!

Summer is here! But that means so are the biting insects…. Ugh. Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, and biting flies seem impossible to avoid when the weather heats up. They're really annoying and they can post a pretty big health risk. Mosquitoes and ticks alone can transmit some scary diseases like Zika, Lyme, malaria, encephalitis, and dengue fever. And to make matters worse, a new CDC report shows the number of mosquito and tick-borne diseases are on the rise (1). To help protect yourself against these pesky insects, we're discussing the most effective insect repellent ingredients that are EPA registered (AKA safe and effective) and CDC recommended: DEET, picardian, and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

We know what you're thinking- synthetic chemicals are recommended?! In this case, the risk of disease is a bigger environmental health threat than using these two specific synthetic chemicals. Additionally, there have also been no scientific studies that show essential oils are effective in protecting against insect bites so we can't include them in our recommendations. You can try them and maybe they'll work for you, but there's no guarantee. If you really want our one DEET alternative, non-synthetic repellent recommendation, that has a transparent list of ingredients, and is scientifically proven to keep bugs away, stay tuned!

DEET

DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is considered to be the "gold standard" of insect repellent. It's a good choice if you're outside all day in a high-insect are because it repels the most insects, including both mosquitoes and ticks, and lasts the longest amount of time (2). When applied correctly (make sure to read the label!), there are very few negative reactions from DEET. A product with a concentration of DEET between 20-30% can provide protection from insects for most of the day (3). DEET can be used while pregnant and on children older than two months and has not been found to be carcinogenic. Although some may see dermatitis or an allergic reaction from long-term exposure to high levels of DEET (2) and oral ingestion has been shown to have neurotoxic effects like seizures (4).

Picaridin

Picaridin (icardian) is another repellent ingredient that repels ticks and mosquitoes. It's been widely used in Europe and Australia for years with positive results. A product containing at least 20% picaridin has similar short-term results as DEET, although picaridin does not provide long-lasting protection as well as DEET and has to be reapplied more often (2). Picaridin has not been studied as thoroughly as DEET, but it does not seem to have any major negative health impacts. Although uncommon it can cause skin or eye irritation, so make sure to read the directions when using a product containing picaridin (5).

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (P-menthane-3,8-diol) is a natural oil extracted from the lemon-scented eucalyptus plant (6). It can be an appealing ingredient to people because it's an alternative to synthetic chemicals like DEET or picaridin. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is great at repelling mosquitoes, flies and gnats, but not so great against ticks (2). Products containing at least 30% of oil of lemon eucalyptus have shown to be almost as effective as repelling mosquitoes as DEET, but it has to be applied much more frequently (6). While it is natural, it can irritate the eyes or skin and is not recommended for children under 3 (7). Just a quick note: lemon essential oil and eucalyptus essential oil are NOT the same thing as oil of lemon eucalyptus though, so make sure to look for that exact phrasing in any ingredient lists.

Since oil of lemon eucalyptus is EPA registered and a natural ingredient, we think it's a great synthetic-ingredient alternative! We love Murphy's Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray. It uses 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus as a way to repel those annoying bugs and lists all of the ingredients (ethanol and water). It's super super hard to find a complete list of ingredients in insect repellent products, so we think this is a huge plus.

So which ingredient should I choose?

It depends! Are you in an area with a high amount of mosquitoes and ticks? Are you outdoors for the entire day or maybe just an hour? Do you want to avoid synthetic chemicals or are you okay with it? Are you traveling to a place that has a high rate of diseases like malaria or yellow fever? The EPA has a quiz you can take in order to find the best insect repellent for your needs.

We recommend to always read and completely follow the directions listed on any repellent product you use, and wash your hands after applying a repellent. Generally you want to apply repellent when you're outside while holding the product at least 6 inches away as you spray. While spraying repellent on your clothes is okay (although DEET shouldn't be sprayed on synthetic fabric), it's not a good idea to spray it under your clothes (8). Long sleeved shirts, pants, long socks, and closed toe shoes can reduce the risk of a bite because less skin is exposed.

Now that you're fully up-to-date on the best insect repellent ingredients you can go back to focusing on what really matters: barbecuing, swimming, beach trips, and all of fun activities that come with summer!


References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6717e1.htm?s_cid=mm6717e1

2. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/prevention-of-arthropod-and-insect-bites-repellents-and-other-measures

3. https://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-bug-repellents/ewg-repellent-guide

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=2506420

5. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PicaridinGen.html

6. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pesticides/factsheets/oillemoneucalyptus.pdf

7. https://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/prevent-mosquito-bites.html

8. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/the-pre-travel-consultation/protection-against-mosquitoes-ticks-other-arthropods

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Life

How to Avoid Summer’s Itchiest Pests

The Bugs & Plants Love Climate Change

Summer's officially here, and after some crazy winter weather, we are more than ready to pack up the camping gear for a weekend in the woods or head to the park for a picnic. As we humans keep putting more global warming gases into the air, there's no doubt - it's gettin' weird out there. Did you hear about that day when it was nearly 100 degrees and then snowed two days later ... in Oklahoma? Or when Hawaii got 50 inches of rain in just 24 hours? How about the tick that can make you allergic to meat? While the winters have been crazy, they're also getting shorter and that's changing the way we live, work, and play every day - especially when it comes to the bugs and plants around us. The weird weather stories may grab headlines, but it's the subtle changes around your home that can affect your health. Here's what you need to know about how climate change is making pests and plants more pesky and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

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