Experts tell how to eliminate pests naturally
Published May 28, 2014
METRO DETROIT — Dealing with creepy-crawlies in the home throughout the year can be a pest. From ants to spiders to mosquitoes, insects can be found living in the nooks and crannies of any home.
While hiring an exterminator can minimize or eliminate infestations, there are natural and organic ways to remove critters — unless you don’t mind living with small friends.
Using natural ways to remove pests begins with prevention, and the first step is house maintenance. Simple fixes around the house can minimize the number of pests in the house, but because of their small size, it’s difficult to keep all insects out of the home. Easy repairs include caulking visible gaps and holes, repairing window screens, adding a screen to windows and doors, removing debris piles next to the house, emptying bird baths weekly and replacing wet wood with dry wood.
“It’s a mechanical thing. It’s cleaning up and preventing them from living around you,” said Brian Rowe, pesticide section manager with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Care outside of the house is also imperative to minimize insects inside the home. Mosquito numbers can be managed by keeping the grass mowed and eliminating standing water, according to Matthew Grieshop, an organic pest management specialist at Michigan State University.
“A cup of water standing outside in the right environment can become a source of mosquitoes,” Grieshop said, adding that anything that holds water, especially children’s plastic toys, can be a nesting ground for mosquitoes.
“The first thing to do is remove those. If you can keep your local environment clear of a good place for females to lay their eggs, you’re going to have less mosquitoes.”
When cleaning the house, vinegar is the No. 1 cleaning solution and can even break down pheromone lines that ants lay down when foraging for crumbs, Grieshop said. Some acids also will dissolve the line, he added.
“We’re not alone on this planet. In all fields of biological science, we’re coming to realize that everything is an ecosystem. … If you have a healthy insect community, it means you have a pretty healthy environment,” Grieshop said. “If you have the occasional ant or spider, to myself, it means I’m not maintaining a toxic environment.”
When taking the biological or organic route in pest management, products are “much less one size fits all” and instead treat a specific, individual problem, according to Grieshop. Insecticides are used widely for pest management because they are broadly active. However, there are alternatives to registered pesticides that require users to think like the pest they are trying to manage.
Boric acid commonly is used indoors and can be added to mop water. Boric acid cuts into an insect’s exoskeleton, forcing water to leak out and kill the pest, Rowe said. It also provides a barrier that insects, especially cockroaches and ants, won’t walk across and can be placed in open creases.
Diatomaceous earth, which is made from the fossilized remains of small, aquatic organisms called “diatoms,” is regulated like a pesticide but is used like boric acid and has the same results. Rowe said that it is important to follow label directions when using diatomaceous earth, just like using any pesticide.
“To an insect, (diatomaceous earth) is like walking on glass,” Rowe said.
While Rowe said he has heard of natural, home remedies, such as mixing dish soap and water to spray yellow jackets or using products with castor oil, he does not recommend them. However, he said, there are some products you can look for on the store shelves that are “safer or less toxic than man-made chemistry.”
When dealing with hornets, one can use certified organic botanical insecticides, but, like pesticides, Grieshop said, do not let a child handle them. Botanical insecticides that contain an Organic Materials Review Institute stamp are “essentially certified products that are, to the best of (OMRI’s) knowledge, in accordance with organic programs,” Grieshop added.
Chrysanthemum extract, which is a neurotoxin, also can be used to eliminate bees, wasps and ants.
For those with fishponds on their property, Grieshop suggested mosquito-eating fish, which will feed on mosquito larvae, or Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a bacterium that is regulated as a pesticide but is not a neurotoxin, nor does it affect people or other vertebrates. As mosquito larvae feed on biomass in the water and pick up bacteria, the bacteria essentially kill the mosquito.
When all else fails and homeowners require pesticides to remove an infestation, homeowners should hire a professional who is from a licensed business and who is a certified pesticide applicator. Rowe’s department at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development registers pesticide use in Michigan, and licenses businesses and certified pesticide applicators.
Rowe said there are companies that are not licensed, nor do they have certified applicators. He suggests requesting certification when a company first surveys the infestation.
For a company to receive a license from Rowe’s department, the business must show two seasons of application experience in over 20 categories — turf, ornamental trees, shrubs, sidewalks, etc. Applicators also are given a self-study manual from Michigan State University and must undergo an administered exam.
When purchasing a topical spray “off the shelf,” read and follow the label directions and review if the pesticide is for indoor or outdoor use. Also, Rowe said, look at what type of insect the insecticide will control or mitigate.
“People have bed bugs and they’re using products registered for outdoor use inside. That’s the worst thing to do, because now you have a contaminant that may break down in natural sunlight but not inside,” Rowe said.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, because pesticides emit pollutants, such as hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds, health problems can be attributed to the pollutants. Some examples listed on the EPA’s website include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat; damage to the central nervous system and kidneys; and increased risk of cancer. Chronic exposure can result in liver, kidney, endocrine and nervous system damage.
“Every pesticide label has a statement that says keep out of reach of children. … If you use it according to label-use directions, you have essentially mitigated the risk of exposure to children,” Rowe said.
However, according to Rowe, possible health risks are why people should hire a pest-control professional who can mitigate any risk.
“I’m the one saying pesticides can be used safely if following the labels,” Rowe said. “People will disagree. … I understand their perspective and at the same time, it isn’t illegal to use registered (pesticides) in Michigan.”
A list of certified pesticide applicators can be found at www.michigan.gov/mdard.
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