10 Cheap, Effective Ways to Pest-Proof Your Home

Don’t spend money on costly pest management. You can keep critters away yourself for less.

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Americans are having a problem keeping critters outdoors where they belong, as evidenced by the growing field of exterminators: Pest control employment is expected to grow by 20 percent through 2022 according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But exterminators should be your last resort. If you take steps to create a hostile environment for bugs and other pests, you won’t need to spend big bucks on the bug man.

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1. Seal and repair openings

Check your basement for cracks and gaps, especially where pipes exit through the wall. Go outside and look for openings around exterior outlets, laundry vents and utility meters: These areas are likely to have invitingly large cracks for bugs. Check weather stripping on doors and windows, and repair holes in screens. (I’ve used these screen repair adhesive patches for a quick fix.) Also make an effort to keep your garage door shut.

2. Give your pets a dining space

I left my dog’s pet food in a bowl on the floor once. Big mistake. Bits of food he knocked out of his dish ended up across the room (I must have kicked them) and attracted ants. Make it harder for ants to get to pet food by giving your pet a dining area on a rubber mat. This will make spilled food easier to spot and clean up.

If you’re having an ant problem with pet food left on the floor, put the food bowl into a larger bowl with water in it – the ants can’t cross the moat to get to the food.

3. Keep a clean kitchen

Because just about every unwanted pest is attracted to leftover bits of food, keeping a clean living area is important to keep bugs out. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Keep all leftovers stored in lidded containers.
  • Check for sugar spills near the coffee maker.
  • Wipe residue off containers containing sugary stuff like peanut butter and jelly.
  • Keep fruit out of direct sunlight and check frequently for spoiled produce.
  • Vacuum or sweep regularly.
  • Rinse containers before putting them in the recycling bin.

4. Keep a dry home

Insects love damp environments, so eliminate moisture and wet spots. To eliminate them, you can start by applying caulk to fix leaks around tubs and sinks. In your basement, check for stains on the ground that indicate dripping pipes and inspect above for cracks or loose fittings. Look for water spots in your ceiling that could mean a hole in your roof; in addition to an obvious roof issue, holes can also be an entry spot for bugs.

5. Clean up the yard

Insects are likely to congregate under grass clippings, compost heaps and decaying leaves. They will also use branches touching your home as pathways, so trim branches and shrubbery to keep insects confined to plants. Clean up pet poop, and keep trash bins and compost heaps securely covered and away from your house.

6. Invite birds

Birds are prettier to look at than bugs, and they like to eat them. Consider getting a bird feeder – it’s cheaper than a bird bath and it won’t create a stagnant pool of water. Or you can make one free; check out Audubon.org for six examples. It’s a nice weekend project for the family!

7. Store firewood away from the house

Termites, ants and cockroaches like to hide out in woodpiles and the damp ground underneath. Keep firewood stacked on an elevated surface and stored away from your home. If you have lots of wood, you may want to look into getting a firewood rack, which allows wood to be stacked neatly and off the ground. Otherwise stack wood somewhere like a wheelbarrow or bench and cover it with a tarp.

8. Make a homemade flytrap

I hate fruit flies. They pop up wherever there’s something sweet and seem to linger forever. So after I got tired of running after them, trying to crush them in my clapping hands while yelling “fruit fly!” I took to a more scientific approach.

I’ve tried several homemade flytraps, but I’ve had the most success with this: Add a squirt of dish soap to half a cup of apple cider vinegar in an open container. The flies are attracted to the sweet-smelling vinegar and the soap breaks the surface tension, drowning the fly. Put a few of them around the house where you see the pests, but don’t put them near open windows; it encourages more to come in.

9. Don’t kill mice, trap them

I don’t like killing mice because their dead bodies are a breeding ground for insects and bacteria. Instead, try this simple trap ($7 on Amazon), which has a 4-star average review and is reusable. There’s also this slightly more expensive trap for $13.87, but it has even more positive recommendations and its transparent walls let you see if a mouse has been caught. To prevent mice from getting inside in the first place, plug holes like those found near baseboard heaters and dryer vents with steel wool.

10. Practice mosquito management

Mosquitoes are annoying bloodsuckers that, at best, leave itchy red welts and, at worst, can transfer disease. We discussed ways to ward off the annoying bugs in “5 Cheap Steps to Eliminate Mosquitoes,” like:

  • Get rid of standing water: Mosquitoes lay eggs in stagnant water, so take away their breeding ground by overturning water in open containers and throwing mulch or soil over yard puddles.
  • Place minced garlic around your porch. Garlic’s odor acts as a natural repellent to many insects, including mosquitoes.
  • Adding citronella, eucalyptus, cinnamon or castor oils to sunscreen can repel mosquitoes for when you need to work outside – just be sure to follow the instructions and don’t dump a cup of citronella on your face.
  • When you’re sitting outside on the porch, use an oscillating fan. You’ll love the nice breeze, and wind is a mosquito’s enemy.

What do you do to eliminate bugs at your place? Tell us below or on our Facebook page!

Kari Huus contributed to this report.

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  • Y2KJillian

    Have to agree completely about getting REALLY serious about seeking out the openings and gettin g them closed, permanently! Move furniture, check baseboards, the cracks under doors…the more diligent we finally were, the better the other efforts paid off. (sweet ants)
    We finally learned about (food grade) diatomaceous earth last fall when we had fleas (for the first time in more than a decade). We tried everything and finally discovered and read up on the diatomaceous earth. Now we keep it swept in any cracks near the house (we plugged ALL the actual foundation and floor cracks we could find) and use it on the dogs after they’re dry from a fresh bath. We brushed it into our carpet after thorough vacuuming…for weeks we vacuumed every other day, and finally one day the fleas were gone and so were the ants.
    Diatomaceous earth is essentially CHALK. It dries out the exoskeletons on tiny creatures–but for pets and us, it’s calcium. Food grade is safe to eat (though I don’t think I’d make a meal out of it).
    If you want to be more proactive, you can put a little boric acid (20 mule team borax works fine) in Karo syrup and use it as ant bait…they’ll carry it back to their nests and it will eventually kill them all, but pets might lick it and it can make them ill though they’d have to eat a lot for it to kill them, but how much exactly would depend, and why risk it?
    We paid $200 for an “ant guy” to come the first time the ants swarmed, and he laid out four one-inch lines of what was essentially that–boric acid in clear sugary syrup. I’d expected a lot more–but it did work.
    After we discovered diatomaceous earth, we dusted it entirely around the house outside and even inside, and both fleas and ants are now long gone. Eventually we vacuumed & swept it all up inside–it came out of the carpets black–it absorbed dirt and acted like a kind of dry shampoo, so that was a bonus.

  • bigpinch

    Austin, Texas is notorious for cockroaches; German and large water bugs that will happily move in and torment you until the day you die.
    Every Austin house and apartment I ever lived in was overun with the vermin when I moved in and were nowhere to be seen when I left. I lived in 7 different places in about 11 years.
    The first thing I did, before moving into a location, was to bug-bomb the place with Pyrethrin-based space foggers. Then I’d buy a case of silicon caulk and caulk every opening under the sinks and in the showers and bath-tubs as well as where the walls met, if there was a crack evident. I bought flyswatters and used those for individual roaches until there were no more to be seen.
    The result was a roach-free environment. Pyrethrin is a biological insecticide. Most Pyrethrin sprays are combined with other less effective chemicals but, taken on the whole, they are much less dangerous and way less residual than other petroleum-based insecticides.
    The point is that if you do the job right, the first time, you don’t have to keep poisoning your environment for the rest of your life. I have lived in my present home for more than 30 years. Except for the first Pyrethrin treatment, I have not used an in-door insecticide since I moved in.
    If you expect your apartment or condo to take care of the problem, you will find that their bug treatment will just run the roaches from one part of the complex to another and expose you to pesticides, continually.

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