Non-toxic ways to protect your home from 4 major pests
In the fall, as the days shorten, and the cold weather descends upon us, we retreat indoors, where sometimes we have to contend with an upsurge in creepy crawlies, such as house centipedes or the multicolored Asian lady beetle, as well as other bugs that form a year-round threat, such as the dreaded bed bug, which, in recent decades, has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in North America and other parts of the developed world.
When faced with these bugs, how do we hold true to the same pesticide-free stance we strive to use in our yards and with our vegetables? Here are some environmentally friendly tips for handling these small, but potentially upsetting invaders.
It can be a discomfiting experience to see one of these creepy crawlies emerge from a baseboard and run across your floor. After all:
- They can be quite large (they can live as long as six years and get larger with every year that they live).
- They are fast.
- They look scary.
But should we fear these bugs?
- They don't carry disease.
- They don't eat your food.
- They won't infest your closet.
- They don't eat wood beams or otherwise destroy your home.
- They are shy, and try to avoid contact with humans, i.e. they will not climb into bed with you and nip at you while you are sleeping. Rather, they will do try to avoid you at all costs. That is why we so often see them running – they are running away from big scary you!
Some say that we should see house centipedes as bearers of information. House centipedes can be indicators of two other issues:
- Humidity – House centipedes prefer a humid environment. Their presence in your home may indicate a moisture problem.
- Other bugs – House centipedes are carnivorous. If they are surviving in your home, it is by living on other bugs, some of which may indeed pose a more serious threat, such as bed bugs.
So how can you tackle a house centipede "invasion"? Make it a less hospitable environment for them.
To start, reduce the humidity in your home:
- fix leaky taps
- keep bathrooms and basement areas well ventilated
- remove carpeting from damp areas
- use a dehumidifier
Reducing moisture has the added benefit of making your home more energy efficient, since it takes more energy to heat up air that contains a high proportion of water vapor. In fact, a lot of the environmentally friendly measures that you can take to pest-proof your home – sealing cracks in siding and around windows and doors – have the added benefit of increasing energy efficiency.
Another way to rid yourself of house centipedes is to focus instead on eliminating their prey, arthropods such as spiders, bed bugs, termites, cockroaches, silverfish, ants, wasps, moths and flies. You can take your own (environmentally friendly) steps to eliminate these creatures from your home, or simply be grateful to your resident house centipedes for providing their natural pest control services free of charge.
Takeaway: House centipedes may look intimidating, but they are neither dangerous nor destructive, and they may help you keep your home of other more potentially problematic invaders.
Multicolored Asian lady beetles
This ladybug species that is native to Asia was brought to North America to control aphids in trees. Eventually, it was able to establish itself. Over the past twenty years, it has overtaken native ladybug species.
It is said that no two multicolored Asian lady beetles look exactly alike. They can be yellow, orange or red. Some have black spots, others have faded spots. Some have lots of spots, some have almost none. Some have spots that form a distinctive “M” shape, others don’t. If you have an infestation of ladybugs, none of which quite resembles the other, it may be a sign that you are dealing with this invasive species.
In the fall, the multicolored Asian lady beetle looks for somewhere to hibernate, preferably somewhere that resembles the south-facing cliffs they winter at in their native Japan. They tend to congregate on light-coloured outdoor walls that face the sun. But they can also slip through cracks in siding and window frames to take up residence – sometimes in fairly large numbers, in the hundreds or even thousands – in your home. All it takes is an opening 2.5 mm wide!
To prevent an invasion from occurring, be careful to seal up any cracks. Make sure that windows and doors, including the garage door, close tightly, even as the temperature drops.
If an invasion does occur, resist the urge to squash the multicolored Asian lady beetle. Squashing or otherwise stressing out a multicolored Asian lady beetle can cause it to release a sticky substance that smells bad and leaves stains. Instead, it is recommended to vacuum an infestation, and release the beetles back outside, even into the cold.
Takeaway: The best way to prevent a multicolored Asian lady beetle infestation is to take precautions by sealing any entry points into your home. Again, this will help you with energy efficiency.
One of the best ways to keep mice from infesting your home is to seal all cracks and holes. (You are probably sensing a trend here.) It is said that they can slip through a hole the size of a dime. Unlike the house centipede, mice are interested in your food and do pose a threat to your health, safety and comfort.
- Store all dry goods, including pet food, in glass jars or metal containers.
- Keep the surfaces in your kitchen clean.
- Wash dishes immediately after meals. (Pay particular attention to clearing your toaster of any tempting crumbs. If possible, store it out of reach.)
- Don’t leave your pet’s food or water out all day and night. Serve them, let them eat, and then clear the dishes.
- Put a tight cover on your garbage can and compost bin. Use bungee cords as reinforcements if necessary.
- Store your extra blankets in heavy plastic bins.
- Eliminate any clutter. It can be used as a nest, or become the raw material for one.
Try a little aromatherapy: Mice are reportedly deterred by certain strong smells. Make a cayenne pepper or clove potpourri, and scatter it at strategic points throughout your home. Or soak cotton balls in peppermint oil and place them in the problem areas.
In the country? Attract an owl: Set up a barn owl nesting box. Attracting a natural predator to your property may help you keep your in-house mice population down.
Try a little strategic landscaping: Eliminate hiding places for mice on your property. Keep woodpiles or compost piles far away from your house. Keep birdfeeders well away from your house. Keep bushes that are close to you house well trimmed. Keep tree branches trimmed so that they don’t provide easy access on to your roof.
Takeaway: As with other critters, the best way to deal with mice is to prevent an infestation from occurring in the first place.
You may be tempted, when faced with this newly modern scourge, to resort to using pesticides. But that may not be the most effective way of dealing with a bedbug outbreak. Some experts recommend steaming instead, saying that pesticides cause bedbugs to disperse throughout a building.
But first, a word about prevention…
Preventing bed bugs while travelling
Travellers should take certain precautions against bedbugs, in order to prevent bringing them home:
- Check traveller reviews of accommodations to make sure that there are no complaints about bed bugs.
- Once checked in, check your bed for signs of infestation. Look for bloodstains on the mattress or headboard. Also check around mattress seams for bedbug skins and droppings. You may even see some live specimens.
- Place your luggage in a recycling or compostable bag, and store it off the floor or bed. Consider keeping it in the bathroom, where there are not likely to be bedbugs.
- When you return home, encase your luggage in a recycling or compostable bag before carrying it into the house. Immediately transfer the contents to the washing machine, and – for this time only, we know you normally prefer to save energy – wash your clothes on hot, while you vacuum or steam clean your luggage, taking care to empty the vacuum into an outdoor garbage.
Prevention at home
- Keep your bedframe away from the wall.
- Keep the floor under your bed clear of clutter.
- Cover your mattress and box spring with a mattress protector.
In the case of a bed bug infestation, follow these recommendations, made by Montreal’s own Eco Bug Doctors:
- Resist the urge to switch beds. Switching beds can cause the infestation to spread.
- Place the legs of your bed in containers filled with diatomaceous earth or cooking oil.
- Steam clean the entire bed, including the connecting parts of the bed frame.
- Apply diatomaceous earth to any cracks in the walls and flooring.
And inform your neighbours so that they can immediately implement the same protective measures.
Bed bug sniffer dogs
Not sure if you have an infestation? Look to see if there is a bed bug sniffer dog service in your area. A bed bug sniffer dog can let you know whether or not there is an infestation, and show you where to concentrate your efforts. It can also prevent you from taking action where none is necessary. Hotels and big apartment complexes sometimes use sniffer dogs to help identify problem areas, rather than needlessly treat an entire building.
Takeaway: Some say that the resurgence in bed bugs may be due to pesticide resistance. Pesticide resistance occurs when a pesticide that was previously effective in controlling or mitigating a pest stops working. This leads to another problem sometimes called the pesticide treadmill. The pesticide treadmill occurs when people resort to increasingly toxic pesticides to control pests that have developed a resistance to other less toxic pesticides. By exploring environmentally friendly options of pest control when faced with infestations in your own home, you will be doing the world at large a favour.
Good luck with these pesticide-free alternatives to pest control, and let us know what works for you in our Comments section
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