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Pesky No More

Safer ways to defend your home

Having critters in your home is no fun. A really bad infestation can drive you to thoughts of flea foggers, ant sprays, moth balls, rat poison, and antibacterial products–toxic pesticides! But we advise keeping a cool head. There are plenty of ways to drive out pests without fouling your nest. Sierra Club Green Home explains how with this safe indoor pest control guide.

Safe Indoor Pest Control

“Pesticides” is a broad term. It includes products that kill, repel, or block insects (insecticides), weeds (herbicides), fungus (fungicides), and even bacteria, viruses, molds, and other micro-organisms (antibacterials and antimicrobials). “By their very nature, most pesticides create some risk of harm,” the EPA says. “Pesticides can cause harm to humans, animals or the environment because they are designed to kill or otherwise adversely affect living organisms.” One study found lifelong hyperactivity in laboratory animals resulted from a single dose of organophosphate pesticides on a critical day of fetal brain development.

Undaunted (or unaware), 80% to 90% of Americans use pesticides in and around the home. Those who have children are taking the biggest risk. When they use indoor pesticides for indoor pest control, they often leave residues on floors where children play and sit. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that 50% of our lifetime exposure to pesticides occurs during the first five years of life. Young children are particularly sensitive to these poisons, which can cause immediate harm and increase the risk of illness later in life, including cancer.

Why live dangerously? Here’s a step-by-step guide to minimizing your use of poisons when you’re plagued with pests.

Top Tips

At home

  • Know your pest. Do a little research before you attempt indoor pest control. Knowing the name of the critter that’s bothering you will help you come up with a non-toxic solution that really works.
  • Build barriers. Prevent pests from coming into your home in the first place. Block their entrances by caulking holes, using door sweeps, and keeping door and window screens in good condition.
  • Take away their food and drink. Eliminate the sources of food and moisture that may be attracting pests. Keep sugar, flour, cereal, and pet food in sealed containers. Remove water sources by, for instance, fixing leaky pipes and removing standing water. To prevent mold, eliminate excess moisture, fix leaks, ventilate, and use exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms. If you have a persistent mold problem, you might also look into the possibility of a dehumidifier.
  • Go non-toxic. See what non-toxic options are available for your particular indoor pest control problem.
    • Soap has been used as an insecticide and antibacterial substance for many years. Just add about 2 teaspoons of liquid castile (vegetable-based) soap to a gallon of water. (Any soap containing fatty acids will work, but liquid castile soap is recommended to avoid other toxic ingredients.) Put this mixture in a spray bottle, and-presto-you have a solution to your ant problem that is virtually non-toxic to humans and mammals unless ingested. If you add some peppermint scent, you’ll discourage the ants’ brethren from following in their footsteps. Cayenne pepper also deters ants, and lemon eucalyptus oil will keep the silverfish away. For bacteria, soap and warm water is just as effective as an antibacterial product.
    • Use a fan. A breeze will keep mosquitoes at bay.
    • For moths, store clothing in air tight containers. Mothballs are typically made of naphthalene, a possible carcinogen, and moth crystals are made of paradichlorobenzene, also a possible carcinogen. Instead, use sachets of cedar chips or lavender to deter moths. If you do have an infestation, try pesticide-free sticky traps.
    • For termites, prevention is key. To prevent subterranean termites, clear wood debris, wood piles, and stored lumber from around your home, including your crawl spaces. Don’t stack stored firewood against the home. Make sure there’s adequate clearance between the wood portions of your home and the ground, and install metal shields. For drywood or dampwood termites, keep structural wood dry. Fix leaky pipes, make sure downspouts direct water away from your home, and don’t overwater shrubbery close to the home. A mist of 1 cup liquid soap, preferably vegetable-based, in 4 to 5 cups of water, will kill insects in crawl spaces and around your home’s perimeter, but termite infestations may require expert intervention.
    • Fruit flies reproduce in wet or moist fermenting organic matter, so your drain, the compost bucket, and your fruit bowl all look like prime real estate to them. To control them, get rid of what’s attracting them. If you suspect it’s food in your drain, tape a piece of waxed paper over the top of the drain. If you see fruit flies accumulate on the paper in a day or two, remove the paper and pour boiling water down the drain. If that doesn’t work, try ½ cup of baking soda, followed by ½ cup to a cup of vinegar. Let the drain fizz for 5 minutes, then chase with boiling water. For a garbage disposal, run ice cubes made from vinegar through it to clear off any gunk that may be allowing fruit flies to breed.
    • Live-capture traps for rats and mice. For rats and mice, the most environmentally-friendly option is reusable traps. They trap the animal without killing it, so it can be returned to nature.
    • Sticky traps for insects, rats, and mice. If you are not able to set mice and rats free easily, there are also sticky traps (although these kill the animal). For insects, there are some great pheromone-laced sticky traps for pantry moths, for example. They use a sexy scent to lure male moths into the trap, interrupting the breeding cycle.
  • Use the least-toxic chemical option. If you must use a chemical pesticide, choose the most environmentally friendly option that targets your particular pest. The “signal” words on labels can give you a good indication of how poisonous a product is: “caution,” for instance, is milder than “warning,” which is milder than “danger.” To reduce exposure, always choose a gel or solid over a fogger or spray.
  • Use chemicals with care. If you need to use a pesticide, ventilate the area and clean all surfaces after you’re finished. To prevent accidental poisonings, store pesticides in a safe and secure location.

When shopping, look for

  • Organic, non-toxic pesticides. Generally, organic pesticides are those that come from natural sources. You can use plant-based natural pesticides with pyrethins, rotenone, or essential oils. Or you can try boric acid or diatomaceous earth, which are also natural products. Just because a pesticide is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe, however. Pyrethins, which are derived from flowers such as chrysanthemums, have been linked with autism. Read labels carefully and follow directions. And don’t put your faith in claims of “environmentally safe,” “environmentally friendly,” “eco-safe,” or “eco-friendly.” They are not regulated terms.


  • Organophosphates. This class of pesticides has been phased out of residential use, but is still found in products for pets. Skip products containing chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon and malathion.
  • Antibacterial products. There’s no reason to use the potentially harmful antibacterial products, and lots of reasons not to use them. Studies have consistently shown that antibacterial products are not any more effective than plain soap and water. The most common antibacterial ingredient, triclosan, has been linked to cancer, developmental defects, and liver toxicity in animals. It also may be a hormone disruptor in humans, as it is in frogs.
  • Sprays. Pesticides that are sprayed into the air should be avoided. They pollute indoor air and coat surfaces, and usually are overkill.

Other Considerations

If pesticides are toxic to us, they can also harm our pets. Carefully select any insecticides you use to control ticks and fleas. Try some non-toxic and less-toxic options before resorting to conventional chemical tick and flea control. Vacuuming regularly catches and kills nearly 100% of adult fleas. Wash pet bedding to drown fleas, and tuck in cedar chips to repel them. (Be careful, though. Cedar can trigger asthma in some kids). Use non-chemical flea traps. For your dog, plain soap will kill fleas if left on for five minutes. Then rinse and comb with a flea comb. Collars with various essential oils can be used to repel fleas, but keep in mind that some dogs’ skin is sensitive to some oils.

Benefits… your wallet
Using ingenuity and simple household remedies can solve the problem with minimum expense.

…to your health
Using fewer pesticide products or skipping them altogether will reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals.

…to the Earth
The manufacture and use of pesticides pollutes the environment. For example, the use of antibacterial products in the home has created “super bugs” that are harder to control than regular bacteria. Triclosan has been found in rivers and streams, and has made its way into breast milk.

Common Mistakes

  • Using whatever is sitting on your shelf. If you have old pesticides in your garage or basement, don’t use them unless you know they are safe. Take them to a household hazardous waste round-up site or similar location. They may contain highly toxic ingredients no longer in use.
  • Hoping the government will protect you against harmful pesticides. In the United States, pesticide law is not a health-based safety law. It balances health and environmental risks against economic benefit.
  • Choosing a broad spectrum pesticide. A pesticide labeled as “broad spectrum” is effective against a broad range of pests-and is probably not the least-toxic option.

Getting Started

Write down various ways you could address your pest problem, and try the least-toxic tactic first.

Use our Green Directory to find a pre-vetted GreenCheck® pest control provider or retailer in your area!

Related Articles

Safe and Environmentally Friendly Pesticides

Natural, Effective Way to Squash Bug Problem


30 Responses to “Pesky No More”

  1. pest control las vegas Says:

    Thanks for nice post !
    When it comes to household pests, cockroaches are at the top of my disgusting list. They are dirty and smelly, and they leave droppings, body parts, and shed skins lying around.

    pest control Las Vegas

  2. Karuna Kasturi Says:

    This article was a great find…I’m about to get a dog and I was scared to buy just any pesticides…but getting an organic Eco-friendly product seems like the way to go. Looks like these products are safe on pets and easy to use. Nice.

  3. James Says:

    Pest prevention is the smart way to go. It requires no harmful pesticides, and no botanicals, which, while less hazardous, still have a pretty large carbon footprint.

  4. James Says:

    There is a good site all about prevention, it is

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    Pixie Gas supports the use of ethical, eco-friendly and safe pest control methods.

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    I read your post about pest control and wanted to mention that I recently launched and have been trying to spread the word. If possible, I would like to discuss helping me out with a link to our new site.

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  9. Bill Sanders Says:

    This is a very balanced article. I’ve gone to many green trade shows and seen the mantra “pesticide free ______”. The blank is usually “lawn”, “home”, “cat” etc. But they don’t realize even an organic pest deterrent is really a pesticide. When people think pest control, they need to realize that many pesticides are actually extremely safe, and offset the damage done by many wood destroying pests such as termites or carpenter ants.

  10. Emily Cassell Says:

    I find this article very interesting and informative. This is the best explanation of having safe indoor pest control. People need to read this so that they will become more oriented on the ways how you they will do a safer way of pest control that would not harm your children.

  11. Green Pest Control Blogs | GreenPestControlFirms.Com BLOG Says:

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  12. Lupe Says:

    I must take issue with your recommendation of sticky traps for mice. There are more humane options including reusable traps that have the added benefit of being more environmentally friendly than throw away sticky traps.

    If catch and release is not an option for whatever reason, please consider using traps that kill mice instantly rather than sticky traps.

    Otherwise, this is a great article – thanks!

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  14. wmv player Says:

    I worried about animals in my garden and I was scared to buy just any pesticides.It’s a perfect article. People should read it so that they will become more oriented on the ways how you they will do a safer way of pest control. I was glad to know we can do it without any harm.
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  15. jasonalonzo Says:

    Thanks for sharing this very informative post. Environment friendly pest control chemicals are absolutely necessary for effective control. Similarly pest control chemical should be safe for both animals and people. It should be effective against all kinds of pest. There are great great services for pest control (Bedbugs control NJ)
    and tips on the internet.

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  18. Green Choice Says:

    People are always looking for safer options, but they need to be careful when using do-it-yourself products for sugar ant control around the home.

  19. Kingston Pest Control Says:

    Greatblog, I visit at least once a week and wanted to leave a comment thanking you for sharing your knowledge!

  20. peter Says:

    The Importance Of Using A Professional Pest Control Company

    Why you should use a professional pest control company.

    The problem with DIY products.

    A lot of people resort to using DIY pest control products when faced with an infestation of any pest. In this economic climate, people are trying to cut back on costs and think that DIY products are going to be more cost effective than hiring a professional pest control company. This is definitely not the case. With pest infestations, using pest control products bought at the store is only going to give you a false sense of security. These products cannot effectively eliminate the pests and keep them away the way that a professional pest control company can. In most instances, using DIY methods serve only to prolong the pest problem which results in more money being spent in the long run.

    The services offered by a professional pest control company.

    When you hire a professional pest control company you are assured that the right chemical will be used to treat your specific pest problem, that the right amount of the chemical is used and that overdosing of the chemical does not take place. The pest control technician is experienced and trained and will ensure that family members, office workers and even pets are not put in any danger whatsoever by the chemicals that are being used. A professional pest control company will treat the pest problem where it originates and not only the surface areas that are visible. This will lead to the effective elimination of the pest problem instead of a temporary fix.

    It is always best to treat the problem as soon as it becomes apparent. If you see a pest occasionally you may not think it is a big problem, however, the problem may be bigger than you imagined. Although you only see a few pests, there could be a large infestation of them out of sight where they are breeding and feeding. If you only treat the problem when you finally see the large number of pests, the infestation may already be at a serious level which will take some time, and a lot more money to resolve.

    The key to getting rid of pest infestations is hiring a pest control company that has been in business for a long time and that has a lot of experience treating a wide range of pests. Working with skilled professionals is the only way to get results quickly as well as results which are permanent.A professional pest control company is also privy to all the public health regulations and are therefore able to work within theseconstraints. A professional pest control company will deliver a great service that is effective, at a price that is affordable.

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    I have recently had some pests in my home and had to get a London pest control company out to my home to fix the problem. They were fantastic and fixed the problem really well, for a great price and they are definitely a company that I would recommend to others.

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    We have developed pest control methods which are best suited to individual environment. Our expertise lies in using the lowest concentration of the right pesticides to get the desired result and which are compatible to the human habitat.

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    Our company is a bed bug exterminator in brooklyn and we cannot use natural pest control methods for bed bugs. Steaming and heat leave no residual around. bed bug treatments must be an exception.

  25. Faith Garner Says:

    Pests became pests due to ecological imbalance.Self pest control will not help if the bed bugs are infesting too much.

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