Do I Need To Use Pesticides Inside My Home?
I'm frequently contacted for pest control advice by people who routinely treat their homes, both indoors and outside, with pesticides in order to protect them from "bugs". Often the homeowners don't even know for sure what the target pest is, nor do they really care.
These homeowners have been convinced that if they don't do these treatments, or hire a pest control company to do them at monthly or quarterly intervals, their homes will become infested and may even be significantly damaged. It's like changing the oil in your car every 3000 miles, hype that has been promulgated by so called "quick-lube" oil companies, either you pay now or you'll somehow have to "pay-the-piper" later!
In fact, these routine pesticide treatments are rarely if ever needed, and indoor use of conventional pesticides, in single-family homes, is almost never justified. Frequent use of pesticides indoors may actually expose the occupants to unhealthy residues. All insect and related pests that occur in our homes (see 'Bugs News: Common Household Bugs for a list of common household pests and ways to safely deal with them) can nowadays be safely managed with some combination of sanitation, low-hazard traps and baits, and, in rare instances, new low-toxicity dust and plant-based insecticides. Plus, you don't need costly "maintenance contracts" from the local pest control company.
Sanitation is usually the best and least expensive pest control strategy, and the one most often neglected. By eliminating food and water sources you'll prevent many of the most important household pests like ants and cockroaches. This is especially important in older houses and multi-family apartment buildings where leaky pipes and accumulated debris can be a problem.
Traps and baits are the next most important pest control strategy for homeowners. Traps are very effective for indoor spiders (see Using Spider Traps) like the brown recluse spider. Traps can also be used to detect a small infestation before it gets too large to easily manage. Meal moth infestations can be detected early, or isolated to a particular room, using pheromone traps.
Baits are now available for a wide variety of household pests including nuisance ants, carpenter ants, cockroaches, and termites. Baits work best for the pests that live in colonies because the toxic material is carried back to the colony by foraging "workers". See the pest-specific links above for details.
Plant Derived Insecticides
With the introduction a few years ago of insecticides that are based on natural plant oils, sometimes called botanicals, indoor pest control with insecticides has become significantly less toxic. While I generally shy away from using any insecticides indoors, if you are going to use them the botanical insecticides are the less hazardous, better alternative.
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