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In the air, carpet, counter or cupboard, every home shares its resources with these tiny, often unseen invaders. Pesticides are available for most common household insect pests, but these potent chemical compounds may be more harmful to you and the environment than the pests.

You’ll notice that one nontoxic remedy is mentioned in most of the pest problems listed below: diatomaceous earth (DE). DE is not that well known, yet we think DE should be the first line of defence for insect problems in the home since it is non-toxic, inexpensive, safe for use around kids and pets, and broad spectrum. To learn more, read our article: Diatomaceous Earth: Non-Toxic Insect Pest Control for Your Home and Garden

Here are some natural, non-toxic ways to control household insect pests.

Ants

The first line of defense is to remove the attractants: keep counters free of crumbs and sticky spots. Cover the sugar and put the honey jar in a plastic baggie. Cut off water sources such as drips or dishes left soaking overnight.

If the ant invaders persist, try these simple measures:

Soapy Water

Keep a small spray bottle handy, and spray the ants with a bit of soapy water.

Cucumber

Set out cucumber peels or slices in the kitchen or at the ants’ point of entry. Many ants have a natural aversion to cucumber. Bitter cucumbers work best.

Mint Tea

Leave a few tea bags of mint tea near areas where the ants seem most active. Dry, crushed mint leaves or cloves also work as ant deterrents.

DIY Natural Repellents

Trace the ant column back to their point of entry. Set any of the following items at the entry area in a small line, which ants will not cross: cayenne pepper, citrus oil (can be soaked into a piece of string), lemon juice, or cinnamon or coffee grounds.

DIY Ant Bait

Mix one liter of water, one teaspoon of Borax, and one cup of sugar. Soak cotton balls in the solution and place them in a small yogurt container with holes punched in the lids to allow ants access. Place container in a location where ants are present. Ants will carry the bait back to their colonies where it will eventually kill the colony. Important: use indoors only; this must be kept away from pets and children.

Nightlight

Leave a small, low wattage night light on for a few nights in the area of most ant activity. The change in light can disrupt and discourage ant foraging patterns.

Garlic

Ants on the deck? Slip a few cut up cloves of garlic between the cracks.

Diatomaceous Earth

For long-term, nontoxic control of ants, sprinkle diatomaceous earth where ants congregate.

Dust Mites

Microscopic dust mites are everywhere in the home: in our beds, clothing, furniture, bookshelves, and stuffed animals. For people with allergies or asthma, dust mites are a serious problem.

Here’s how to reduce the dust mite population in your home:

Cleaning

Vacuum mattresses and pillows. Wash bedding regularly at 130 F (55 C) or higher. Detergents and commercial laundry products have no effect on mites unless the water temperature is high. Wash stuffed animals in hot water and place in dryer on hot for at least 15 minutes. Freezing will also kill dust mites but won’t remove allergens.

Bedding and Mattress Covers

For people with allergies to dust mites, dust mite bedding, pillowcases, and duvet and mattress covers are available with zippered, allergen-impermeable encasings designed to block dust mites. Check these periodically to ensure no rips are present. Avoid fabric-covered headboards.

Decluttering

Keep books, stuffed animals, throw rugs, and laundry hampers out of the bedroom of allergy sufferers. For children, store all but a few favorite toys away and rotate out periodically.

Diatomaceous Earth

Dust your mattress, rugs, bedding, and surrounding area with diatomaceous earth. Leave for 2-3 hours or overnight if possible before vacuuming up. Food-grade diatomaceous earth will reduce dust mite populations (along with bed bugs and fleas) and isn’t harmful to humans.

Humidity and Room Temperature

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, dust mites thrive in humidity higher than 70%. Measure your bedroom’s humidity levels and use a dehumidifier if necessary. Dust mites also prefer temperatures between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 25 degrees Celsius), so keep your bedroom’s temperature below this range.

Tannic Acid

Tannic acid neutralizes the allergens in dust mite and animal dander. Dust problem areas with tannic acid powder, available at health food stores and pet centers.

Heating Ducts

Cover heating ducts with a filter that can trap tiny dust particles smaller than 10 microns. Avoid using humidifiers. Dust mites thrive on warmth and humidity.

Cockroaches

The best defense against cockroaches is a clean kitchen and bathroom. If roaches are a problem in your home or apartment, vacuum well and wash the area with a strong soap. Dispose of the vacuum cleaner bag in a sealed container.

You can also try the following remedies:

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is a safe alternative that can be sprinkled in areas where roaches congregate, especially hidden areas such a cabinet tops and behind appliances. Harmless to people, the tiny particles cut the waxy exoskeleton and kills the insect within 48 hours. For a week or so after the treatment, the dehydrating insects will search more actively for water. Therefore, do not be surprised if you see roaches more often after the treatment. Most roaches should be killed within two weeks of application. Learn more or purchase diatomaceous earth.

Catnip

Catnip is a natural repellent to cockroaches. The active ingredient is nepetalactone, which is non-toxic to humans and pets. Leave small sachets of catnip in areas of cockroach activity. You can also simmer catnip in a small amount of water to make a “catnip tea” which can be used as a spray to apply around baseboards and behind counters. This natural repellent should only be used in homes without cats!

Soapy Water

Keep a spray bottle of soapy water on hand. Spraying roaches directly with soapy water will kill them.

DIY Trap

In an empty one-pound coffee can, place one or two pieces of bread that have been soaked thoroughly with beer. Set a ramp leading up to the top and line the inside top edge with Vaseline. Place in areas known to have roach infestations.

Boric Acid

It is a little known fact that roaches like high places. If you put boric acid on TOP of your kitchen cabinets (not inside), if space allows between ceiling and cabinets, the roaches will take the boric acid to their nests, killing all of them. Boric acid is toxic by mouth so keep away from children and pets.

Other Deterrents

Leave bay leaves, cucumber slices, or garlic in the affected area as deterrents. Non-toxic roach traps are also commercially available.

Fleas

Fleas usually gain entry to your home through your pet or visitors’ pets. For every flea on your pet, there may be as many as 30 more in the pet’s environment. For flea problems in the home, the best line of defence is twofold: first, put an electric flea trap in the area your pet frequents the most; complement this by laying out diatomaceous earth (DE) in your home’s more discreet areas.

Read more on these and other non-toxic flea treatments below:

Nontoxic Flea Traps

Nontoxic flea traps are available commercially. These traps are inexpensive and very effective, providing exceptional flea control without toxic chemicals. Simply plug the trap into an electrical outlet: the trap’s heat and light will attract fleas 24 hours a day.

Diatomaceous Earth

For long-term nontoxic control of fleas, sprinkle diatomaceous earth where fleas may occur. You can also rub diatomaceous earth into the fur of your cat or dog.

Shampoo

Bathe and comb your pet regularly. Use mild soap, not insecticides. If fleas are found on the comb, dip the comb in a glass of soapy water.

Citrus for Dogs

Citrus is a natural flea deterrent. Pour a cup of boiling water over a sliced lemon. Include the lemon skin, scored to release more citrus oil. Let this mixture soak overnight, and sponge on your dog to kill fleas instantly. Do not use citrus oil on cats.

Pet Food Supplements

Add brewer’s yeast and garlic, or apple cider vinegar, to your pets’ food. However, it’s not advisable to use raw garlic as a food supplement for cats.

Cedar

Cedar shampoo, cedar oil, and cedar-filled sleeping mats are commercially available. Cedar repels many insects including fleas.

Vacuuming

Fleas in the carpet? The carpet should be thoroughly vacuumed especially in low traffic areas, under furniture, etc. Put flea powder in the vacuum cleaner bag to kill any fleas that you vacuum up, and put the bag in an outdoor garbage bin.

DIY Flea Trap

Trap fleas in your home using a wide, shallow pan half-filled with soapy water. Place it on the floor and shine a lamp over the water. Fleas will jump to the heat of the lamp and land in the water. The detergent breaks the surface tension, preventing the flea from bouncing out.

Fleabane

In the yard or garden, plant fleabane (Fleabane Daisy Erigeron speciosus) to repel fleas. This is an annual growing 16-24″ tall with violet, daisy like flowers.

For more information, read our article: Natural Flea Control

Mosquitos

The first line of defense against mosquitos is to seal their point of entry. Mosquitos are most active in the early morning and early evening. They seek areas of still air because they are hampered by breezes. Close the windows and doors on the side of your house opposite the breeze.

Then try the following solutions:

Removing Water Around the House

Removing standing water sources is the most important measure you can take to curb the proliferation of mosquitos around your house. Change birdbaths, wading pools, and pets’ water bowls twice a week. Keep your eaves troughs clean and well draining. Remove yard items that collect water.

Non-Toxic Repellent

Campers often report that the very best mosquito repellent is Herbal Armor, a nontoxic DEET-free repellent recommended by National Geographic.

Citronella Candles

For small areas such as decks or patios, try using citronella beeswax and soy candles. These candles are most effective when placed low to the floor of the deck and in areas where there is little breeze.

Sage or Rosemary

If you’re using the barbeque, throw a bit of sage or rosemary on the coals to repel mosquitos.

DIY Garlic Mosquito Repellent

An effective natural bug repellent, mix one part garlic juice with five parts water in a small spray bottle. Shake well before using. Spray lightly on exposed body parts for an effective repellent lasting up to six hours. Strips of cotton cloth can also be dipped in this mixture and hung in areas, such as patios, as a localized deterrent. Commercially available, garlic-based, all natural mosquito repellent and larvae killer will repel mosquitoes up to four weeks.

Neem Oil

Neem oil is a natural vegetable oil extracted from the Neem tree in India. The leaves, seeds, and seed oil of the Neem tree contain sallanin, a compound with effective mosquito repelling properties. Neem oil is a natural product and is safe to use.

Marigolds

Planting marigolds around your yard works as a natural bug repellent because the flowers give off a fragrance bugs and flying insects do not like.

Mosquito Traps

Safe, nontoxic biological controls for mosquitos are now commercially available. Mosquito Dunks is one example of a highly effective, low impact mosquito killer that’s safe for people, pets, birds, and other wildlife.

Bats

For outdoor mosquito control, bat houses are effective. These also come in triple chamber sizes. Some bat species can eat 500 – 1000 mosquitoes each per might.

Thai Lemon Grass

Cymbopogon citratus, also known as Thai lemongrass, is a natural and effective mosquito repellent. It contains the natural oil, citronella, which is safe and effective; in fact, lemon grass citronella is considered more effective than true citronella as an insect repellent.

You can buy Thai lemon grass at garden centers and supermarkets, and it grows readily into a clump about 15” across and about two feet tall. To use as a mosquito repellent, break a stalk off from the clump and peel off the outer leaves, until you find the scallion-like stem at the base. Bend the stem between your fingers, loosening it, then rub it vigorously between your palms: it will soon become a pulpy, juicy mass. Rub this over all exposed skin, covering thoroughly at least once. You can also make a tincture using alcohol for spray applications. Plantings around the patio will also help repel mosquitoes.

Is DEET Safe?

The active ingredient in most chemical-based mosquito repellents is DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), developed by the US military in the 1940s. This powerful chemical is absorbed readily into the skin and should be used with caution. Common side effects of DEET-based products include rashes, swelling, itching, and eye-irritation, often due to over-application. For safer use, consider the following:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that repellents used on children contain no more than 10% DEET. Parents should assist children in applying DEET-based products.
  • Lotions can be applied more effectively than sprays. Use only a thin layer.
  • Be careful to avoid areas near the eyes or mouth.
  • Wash skin exposed to DEET after coming in from mosquito areas.
  • Minimize exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, if possible.

Recent research suggests that DEET products, used sparingly for brief periods, are relatively safe. Other research points to toxic encephalopathy associated with use of DEET insect repellents. Experts warn that DEET shouldn’t be used in combination with sunscreen because DEET shouldn’t be reapplied often.

If mosquitos bite you, Ditch the Itch is a nontoxic cream that takes the itch out of mosquito bites.

Flies

Flies are a nuisance around the home that bring along with them the threat of germs and disease. The first line of defence is preventing flies from entering your home. This includes sealing up doors, windows, and roof vents, and washing fruit and other produce when it comes into your home to eliminate any eggs it may be carrying. Next, try:

Mint

Mint is an effective fly repellent. Small sachets of crushed mint can be placed around the home to discourage flies.

Bay Leaves, Cloves, and Eucalyptus

Hang bay leaves, cloves and eucalyptus wrapped in small cheesecloth squares by open windows or doors. A few drops of eucalyptus oil on a scrap of absorbent cloth will also deter flies. Leave in areas where flies are a problem.

Basil

Place a small, open container of sweet basil and clover near pet food or any open food in the house. You can also place fresh basil leaves on bananas and other fruit in your fruit bowl to discourage flies from landing there.

DIY Flypaper

Make your own flypaper with this simple recipe: mix ¼ cup syrup, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and 1 tablespoon brown sugar in a small bowl. Cut strips of brown kraft paper and soak in this mixture. Let dry overnight. To hang, poke a small hole at the top of each strip and hang with string or thread.

Nontoxic Flytraps

For outdoor fly infestations, the best trap you can use is the Flies Be Gone trap, now available in our online store. This trap is a safe, non-toxic, pheromone-based outdoor trap used to control flies. Indoor flytraps are also available and can be discreetly placed in your window.

Bed Bugs

The best defense against bed bugs is prevention, and this is easily achieved in rooms that have not yet been infected. If there is presence of bed bugs in a room, then a thorough cleaning and vacuuming is required, followed by preventive measures. Frequent travellers should be especially alert to early signs of bed bugs in the home.

The best defense against bed bugs is prevention, and this is easily achieved in rooms that have not yet been infected. If there is presence of bed bugs in a room, then a thorough cleaning and vacuuming is required, followed by preventive measures. Frequent travellers should be especially alert to early signs of bed bugs in the home.

Bed Bug Spray

If you are sleeping in rooms where you suspect bed bug activity, non-toxic bed bug spray can be applied which kills bed bugs and their eggs on contact. It also acts to prevent bed bug activity for up to two weeks. This spray can be applied to mattresses, furniture, luggage and clothing.

Nontoxic Bed Bug Traps

The first step in controlling bed bugs is to determine if there are bed bugs present in your home or hotel room. Non-toxic bed bug traps use heat, CO2, and a pheromone lure to attract bed bugs to a sticky glue surface. These traps are safe for air travel and can go in your luggage or carry-on bags.

Diatomaceous Earth

The best preventive measure against bed bugs is to apply non-toxic diatomaceous earth in the vicinity of bed bug activity. Be sure to use food-grade diatomaceous earth. Do not use pool-grade diatomaceous earth.

Washing

Wash all bedding in hot water (120 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter). This will kill any bedbugs in the bedding.

Vacuuming

If there is a bed bug infestation, a thorough cleaning and vacuuming of the room is necessary. The most likely hiding places for bed bugs will be small cracks and crevices closest to where you sleep. The mattress and box spring should be lifted from the frame, and after vacuuming, sprinkle diatomaceous earth along the edges of the frame which holds the box spring. Personal items such as stuffed animals, blankets, etc. should be vacuumed and placed in plastic bags for several weeks.

To learn more about controlling bed bugs, read our articles:

Other Home Insect Pests

Wasps

Eartheasy has a separate page about natural wasp control. See Natural Wasp Control.

Moths

  • Cedar chips in a cheesecloth square, or cedar oil in an absorbent cloth will repel moths. The cedar should be ‘aromatic cedar’, also referred to as juniper in some areas.
  • Homemade moth-repelling sachets can also be made using any of the following: bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, eucalyptus leaves, lavender, peppercorns or wormwood.
  • Dried lemon peels are also a natural moth deterrent: simply toss into clothes chest, or tie in cheesecloth and hang in the closet.
  • Natural attractant pheromones have been developed for controlling moths, and are now available as clothes moth traps and pantry moth traps.

Earwigs

  • Diatomaceous earth is a safe and effective way to control earwigs in the home. One application in key spots (bathroom, baseboards, window frames) can be a long-term repellent.
  • To trap earwigs, spray a newspaper lightly with water, roll it up loosely and secure with a string or rubber band. Place on the ground near earwig activity. The next morning pick up and discard the paper in a sealed container.
  • Another method to trap earwigs is to take a shallow, straight-sided container and fill it half full with vegetable oil. Clean the trap daily; the oil can be reused.

Silverfish

Silverfish prefer damp, warm conditions such as those found around kitchen and bathroom plumbing. Start by vacuuming the area to remove food particles and insect eggs. Silverfish can be easily trapped in small glass containers. Wrap the outside with tape so they can climb up and fall in. They will be trapped inside because they cannot climb smooth surfaces. Drown them in soapy water. The best preventive control is to remedy the damp conditions.

Nontoxic silverfish traps are also commercially available.

Stink Bugs

Stink bugs found indoors can usually be controlled with a vacuum cleaner. Attics can harbor stink bugs which migrate in living areas of the home. Diatomaceous earth can be applied in attic areas especially those near openings to the living areas.

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