Learn how to eradicate pesky pests naturally with Dead Snails Leave No Trails (Ten Speed Press, 2013) by Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor. This comprehensive guide using organic methods is the perfect DIY home pest control solution to eliminate unwelcome visitors in your home and garden. The following excerpt will give you solutions to ridding your homestead of ants, bedbugs and dust mites while keeping yourself, your family and the environment safe from harmful chemicals.
You wake up one morning to find ants all over your kitchen counter. Ants are very opportunistic, and no matter how clean your home seems to be, they’ll keep coming back by the thousands. Don’t worry—help is on the way.
Ant Eradication Ideas and Recipes
To get rid of the ants you see, spray a soapy water mixture or commercial window cleaner on the ants and their trail. Any cleaner with ammonia, alcohol, soap, or pure citrus extract will work, or you can make your own Ammonia Solution. It will kill the ants and break their trail (and clean your counters at the same time).
You can also combat ants by sending poison back to their nest with them. Our simple Indoor Ant Bait is an effective method. This mixture of borax (or boric acid—sold as roach bait—which is very inexpensive and available at most home and garden centers) and corn syrup can work wonders on ants that enjoy a sweet dinner. Warning: Boric acid is a liver and kidney toxin which, over time, can make children and pets sick. A small one-time dose will most likely cause only an upset stomach; however, if your pet is showing worrisome signs of distress, contact the poison control center in your area. Grease ants, which love oily foods, will ignore this bait. If you find your ants are the grease-hungry kind, try the Ant Death Bait recipe—and mix the dry ingredients with lard or shortening until the mixture is crumbly. Make sure you keep this away from pets by placing the crumbly mixture in a small plastic container in which holes have been punched along the bottom to allow the ants access.
Baking soda mixed with sugar makes great ant and roach bait (see the Sweet Roach Bait recipe). Place a tablespoon or so of each in an empty spice bottle with a shaker top. You want to be able to lay the bottle down on its side without having the contents spill out. Place the bottle where you have seen ants or where you think ants are getting into your home, so the ants can go in but the bottle keeps your pets out.
If you can, follow the ants back to their nest. Here you can also use the Ant Death Bait in dry form or the Sweet Roach Bait. Sprinkle a thin layer of either bait evenly around the nest opening. (Don’t make piles that dogs can lick up, as they love sugar.) For easy application, mix the bait with powdered sugar and use a sifter to apply. (You should reserve an old sifter for this purpose; don’t use the same one you use for baking.) The ants will carry the mixture into the nest to feed to the colony, killing those that eat it. Repeat the sprinkling as long as you see ants.
Now that you have found the problem nest, here are a few more options:
• Pour boiling water on the nest to kill the beasts. It won’t kill all the ants at one time, but after a few repeated treatments it should really cut down on their numbers.
• A strong Chile Solution (see the recipe) poured into the nest will not only kill the ants but also make the nest unlivable.
• Sprinkle cornmeal around the ants’ mound opening. The ants eat the dry cornmeal, which expands inside their bodies and kills them.
Getting Rid of Ants
There are several ways to prevent ants from becoming a problem in the first place. One of these ideas might be the solution for you:
• Follow any ant trails to your home’s entry point (such as holes in the wall or floor) and plug the holes.
• Try using mentholated rub, but be sure to test a spot to make sure it won’t stain.
• Dab a little eucalyptus oil, citrus oil, or lemon juice on a rag and wipe it in your cupboards or entry points. You can also soak a string in the oil and stuff it into holes or along a crack.
• Use talcum powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, or boric acid powder (see warning) to sprinkle in windows. Ants do not like to cross powdery substances. Replace if it gets wet.
• Cucumber peels are also thought to have a repellent quality for ants.
• Mint tea leaves or cloves left in areas where you find ants can repel them. Replace when the scent is gone.
• One report states that leaving a light on in the kitchen or bathroom when you are having a problem there with ants can change their foraging habits.
• Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth around the perimeter of a house or garden. For ants, trying to cross this substance is like walking on broken glass. Like the other powders suggested, it must be replaced if it gets wet. Avoid using swimming pool diatomaceous earth. Warning: When using diatomaceous earth, always wear a protective dust mask to avoid inhaling any potentially harmful particles, and never dust when children and pets are present.
Know Your Ant Enemy
Ants are members of the wasp class of insects. There are more than 3,500 species of ants living in nearly every habitat around the world. All of these ants are social and live in colonies called nests or mounds. The colony consists of a queen and female workers. When a nest gets overcrowded (some nests have over a million ants), the queen will produce winged males and females that go out and establish new nests.
Different species of ants, looking for different foods, can invade your home at the same time. The pale pharaoh ant searches for fatty foods; the thief ant prefers protein foods.
Scent trails left behind by a scout ant provide a chemical connection between the nest and a food source, like your kitchen. The trail lasts for only a few minutes, but that’s usually long enough for the ants to get from the nest to the food.
Scientists have demonstrated that ants are capable of individual learning and of passing on what they have learned. They have demonstrated the ability to remember and recall and to correct their mistakes, which explains why they can be so hard to get rid of.
1 pint water
1 tablespoon ammonia
Mix and spray on counters and windows.
Combine equal parts water, isopropyl alcohol, and white vinegar. Spray on counters and windows. (Bonus: This leaves a nice shine with no streaks.)
Indoor Ant Bait
9 teaspoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon boric acid (see warning) or borax
Combine the ingredients. Place one drop of the mixture on a postage stamp–sized piece of cardboard and place it where you see ants. Let the ants swarm the bait and take it back to the nest, where they will eat it and feed it to their young. The ants prefer fresh bait and tend to ignore bait that is dried, so you may need to replace it periodically.
Hot Chile Solution
2 to 4 sliced hot chiles (serrano, habanero, or jalapeño work well)
Put the sliced chiles into the jar and fill with hot water. Let the mixture steep for at least 24 hours. Remove the peppers and pour the solution into the nest.
Bedbugs used to be the source of old jokes, but no one is laughing now. The number of incidences of bedbug infestations has skyrocketed in recent years. Even going to the movies or changing in a dressing room has the potential of bringing the dreaded bugs back to your home.
How Do I Know I Have Them?
Bedbugs are small but can be seen with the naked eye. Adults are reddish-brown to a darker brown and about a quarter of an inch long. Bedbug bodies are oval-shaped and flattened, which allows them to slip between cracks and bedding.
Bedbugs feed on blood, and generally the first sign of a bedbug is that something has bitten you. Often people think the bite is from a flea and do not think much about it until populations of the bedbugs build up and they are really getting bitten. The bite is actually a puncture caused by the bug’s piercing mouthparts, much like a mosquito bite. Bedbugs are not considered disease carriers, but the bites are certainly bad enough. Some people can develop a skin rash after a bedbug bite, and the bites can be quite itchy. To determine whether you have them, look for the bugs’ excrement or fecal matter, which will appear as dark or rusty spots on mattresses, bedding, or furniture. Check all of the following, using a flashlight and magnifying glass if necessary:
• All joints and cracks in bed frames, headboards, or bed platforms. You may need to dismantle these to get into every crack.
• Mattresses, top and bottom, especially along the seams
• Behind baseboards, switch plates, pictures, and so on
• Under carpet edges, along tack strips and baseboards
• Furniture seams and crevices
• Any dark place in the house
What Can I Do to Get Rid of Them?
Early detection will really help. Once you suspect bedbugs, don’t wait—attack them now. If you don’t want to use pesticides, you can try some of these ideas, but bedbugs will move when disturbed, so eliminating them is often a whole house effort:
• Mattress and box spring covers—some are certified to completely seal a mattress so the bedbugs are trapped. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations, but be aware that generally it will take a year to completely kill all bedbugs inside the cover because bedbugs can live a year without feeding.
• Vacuum like crazy. Pour a quarter cup of boric acid (see warning) or borax into your lint cup or vacuum bag. This will kill any bedbugs you vacuum up. Use your crevice tool to vacuum every nook and cranny you can find. Make sure you vacuum everything in the room, including dresser drawers, closets, furniture, under beds, along baseboards, carpets—everything. Discard the vacuum bags in a sealed plastic bag.
• Wash everything that is washable—clothes, pillows, and so on—in the hottest water and dry on the highest setting that is safe for the fabric. Fabrics that can’t be washed can be put in the dryer on the highest setting that is safe.
• Wash solid surfaces—headboards, dressers, floors, and so on.
• Check the whole house every week for any signs of the bugs.
What If Cleaning and Vacuuming Aren’t Enough?
You may need to use pesticides. There are several home-use dusts and sprays that can be purchased by the homeowner. When using any product that contains dust particles, always wear a protective dust mask to avoid inhaling any potentially harmful particles, and never dust when children and pets are present. Foggers are not recommended, because they are thought to spread the bugs. Many products are designed for bedding, furniture, and household items. Always check the manufacturer’s label and follow it exactly.
Note: For maximum effectiveness, many professionals recommend treating affected areas three times, ten days apart.
If the task is just too much for you, it’s time to call in the professionals. Professional exterminators will complete a thorough inspection and recommend a course of action. These measures may include pesticides, cleaning, or a combination of both. Some companies also do heat treatment. Studies have shown that bedbugs can be killed in seven minutes when heated to 115°F. To apply this treatment, heaters are brought into your home and the temperature raised enough to kill the bugs.
Can I Prevent Getting Bedbugs?
Being aware of bedbugs and how easily they can hitchhike a ride to your home is the key, but sometimes that isn’t good enough.
• Always check hotel rooms and luggage when traveling. Sprays can be purchased to kill bedbugs on luggage.
• Vacuum out luggage after traveling.
• Use caution when purchasing used beds or furniture. Some local pesticide companies can fumigate items for extra assurance.
• If you or your children come home with a bite, check your clothing carefully and place it directly into the washer. Don’t take any chances.
Bedbugs are parasitic insects that belong to the insect family Cimicidae. The common bedbug Cimex lectularius prefers to feed on human blood. Bedbugs got their name because they like to feed where their victim likes to sleep. They have been pests of humans for thousands of years, but in developed areas their populations were greatly reduced and seldom seen in modern times. Many scientists think that world travel and pesticide resistance has caused the populations to rise.
Bedbugs are about a quarter of an inch in length and often mistaken for booklice or carpet beetles. When bedbugs hatch, they undergo five nymph stages before becoming adults. These nymphs look just like the adults but are smaller and lighter in color. Bedbugs communicate using pheromones or chemicals. These chemicals tell other bedbugs where there are nesting locations and feeding areas, and where to find a mate. Bedbugs seek out carbon dioxide and warmth to find their hosts.
Bedbug usually feed every five to ten days. It takes them about five to ten minutes to completely engorge themselves, much like a tick. We know from studies that bedbugs can go up to one year without feeding, but the average life span is closer to five months.
There is a lot of advertising about having your home cleaned for dust mites, but what are these creatures? Are they really a problem?
People with allergies may indeed be allergic to dust mites, because you can find these tiny microscopic insects just about anywhere in your home. They like to live anywhere dust can be found, like bedding, furniture, carpets, drapes, stuffed animals, or bookcases. According to the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, approximately 10 percent of Americans exhibit allergic sensitivity to dust mites. Symptoms associated with dust mite allergies include sneezing; itchy, watery eyes; nasal stuffiness and runny nose; stuffy ears; eczema; and respiratory problems like asthma. How do you know whether you have a problem with dust mites? If your allergies get worse after dusting your home, that may be the reason, but a trip to your doctor for dust mite allergy screening is the only way to know for sure.
Dust mites do not bite; they live on the dead skin cells and hair we shed. They are common in household settings, especially in bedrooms and kitchens. Dust mites can survive in all climates but prefer warm houses over 70°F, with humidity levels above 50 percent. They must have humidity to live, but they can get it from sources you may not think of—like your breath on a pillow. Areas of the country with high temperatures and humidity have a greater problem with dust mites.
Controlling Dust Mites
Your goal here is to control the allergen (dust mites and their feces) and also the household dust they love.
• Clean weekly. Use a damp cloth or microfiber cloth to dust everything.
• Wash bedding weekly in water at least 130°F. Lower temperatures won’t kill dust mites.
• Remove all carpeting and replace with a hard flooring. This may be very important in a bedroom if the allergy is severe. If this isn’t possible, have your carpet steam cleaned at least once a year.
• Never use a broom or feather duster to clean solid surfaces; that can just move dust around and not pick it up.
• Change pillows from feather fill to a synthetic fill.
• Encase your mattress in a plastic cover. When you wash your bedding, wipe down the cover.
• Drapes and blinds can be dust magnets. Install vertical or other blinds that can be vacuumed or dusted easily. Can’t give up your drapes? Then find ones that can be washed regularly.
• Vacuum with a machine that has high-rated high-efficiency particulate-arresting (HEPA) filter bags or filtering system. Vacuums without HEPA filters can make the problem worse by moving the dust mites around.
• Purchase an air filter designed to remove airborne allergens. Look for ones with a HEPA filter.
• Change your heating or air conditioning filter regularly and replace it with one that traps allergens. Studies have shown that running your air conditioner in hot humid summer months can reduce dust mites by 50 percent.
• Children’s plush toys can be put in the freezer for at least twenty-four hours or washed in hot water to kill dust mites.
Dust Mite Biology
Dust mites are extremely small and thus not visible to the naked eye. You would need at least a 10x magnification lens to see the 250- to 300-micron mite. Dust mites are not insects but true mites, more closely related to spiders. If you manage to see one, magnified, you’ll notice that they have eight hairy legs, an oval-shaped translucent body, no eyes, and no antennae. The dust mite common to the United States is the American house dust mite. There is also a European house dust mite. A female dust mite lays from forty to one hundred eggs. It takes about one month for a dust mite to become an adult. Females can live from two to four months after hatching, but once the males reach adulthood they live only another ten to nineteen days.
Reprinted with permission from Dead Snails Leave No Trails, Revised: Natural Pest Control for Home and Garden by Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor (Ten Speed Press, 2013).