When it comes to dealing with any bug infestation at home, most of us immediately reach for a handy can of bug spray. But just one whiff of a squirt of spray may clue you in to what scientists have been saying for a long time now – the pesticides in these sprays can harm more than just pests. For example, when used frequently, DEET, the most common of these insect repellents, can cause side effects ranging from blisters on the skin to nerve damage.1
It’s even worse if you have kids around. Case studies suggest that children should not be exposed to DEET and must keep as far a distance as possible. Repellents containing DEET have been known to cause respiratory distress, encephalopathy, and seizures in children.2
It’s important to switch to natural ways to get rid of bugs precisely for these reasons. Natural products have far fewer side effects than their chemical counterparts. Whether it’s pesky mosquitoes you want to get rid of or stubborn bedbugs, here are a few ways to deal with such household pests naturally.
Getting Rid Of Mosquitoes
Mosquitoes are not just an irritation, they can cause wide-spread disease, including vector-borne illnesses, and even epidemics, such as malaria, dengue, and the recent Zika virus.
1. Mosquito Nets
Of course, the best prevention against malaria is to prevent mosquitoes from biting you in the first place! The most effective way of keeping mosquitoes out is with a simple mosquito net.3 Mosquito nets have holes large enough to let air in but small enough to keep mosquitoes out.
Using long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets: In line with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, the use of long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets (LLIN) has become an important prevention strategy in countries prone to malaria outbreaks.4 The mosquito repellent properties of several plant products have been extensively studied over the years but there are certain limitations with their use in LLIN. Most of them wash away in water and cannot be easily fixed on the textiles. Trials are still being performed to find the best ways to infuse nets with plant products.
2. Essential Oils
The oils of several plants can be used as mosquito repellents, including citronella grass, lemon grass, eucalyptus, lavender, neem, thyme, holy basil, geranium, peppermint, kakronda, and toothache tree.5
A field trial in Canada tested the efficiency of 3% citronella candles and 5% citronella incense in protecting individuals from mosquito bites. The use of citronella oil significantly reduced the number of mosquito bites in people. However, it was observed that plain candles were also quite effective in reducing mosquito bites. Researchers assume that it was the heat, light, moisture, and carbon dioxide produced by the plain candles that drew mosquitoes away from the test individuals.6 But what works in citronella’s favor are compounds such as citronellol and geraniol in the essential oil. Both of these have a pungent odor and can keep mosquitoes away.
Three DIY Mosquito Repellent Sprays You Can Make At Home
- In a 2 oz amber spray bottle, mix 8 drops each of rosemary and lemongrass essential oils, 4 drops of geranium essential oil, 1 tsp of castor oil, and 1–1.5 tsp of water. Shake well and spray all around the house to repel mosquitoes. The amber color of the bottle protects the light sensitive essential oils from oxidation and possible deterioration in quality.7
- In a 16 oz spray bottle, mix 20 drops each of citronella oil, lavender oil, tea tree oil, and eucalyptus oil, 1/2 tsp of vegetable glycerin, and 14 oz of witch hazel or vodka (yes, vodka). Shake well and spray around the house to drive mosquitoes away.8
- Make a mix with 4 ml of neem oil and 10 drops each of spike lavender oil and lemon eucalyptus oil. Moisten your palms and take a few drops of this mix. Rub your palms vigorously and apply all over your exposed skin. In addition to repelling mosquitoes, the essential oils also mask the strong smell of neem oil.9
Saying Sayonara To Bedbugs
Anyone who has ever had a bedbug infestation knows how stubborn they can be. What’s more, there is reason to believe that they can spread over 41 diseases to humans!10
1. Heat Treatment
Although bedbugs are resistant to most pesticides, they are extremely sensitive to a rise in temperature. One study found that by increasing the temperature to 48 degrees Celsius around the infested furniture, nearly all bedbugs could be eliminated. Circulation and containment of the heat are crucial to the success of this kind of treatment. Polystyrene boards have been found to be quite effective in creating a treatment space and containing the heat.11 Such treatments are, however, best carried out by a professional exterminator. The exterminator will have the necessary equipment to create a heat treatment space. Depending on the size of the room and the degree of infestation, heat treatment can take 6–8 hours.12
Most successful integrated pest management (IPM) programs for bedbugs include vacuuming, encasing infected items in zippered compartments, heating, steaming, and freezing – all are not always necessary in every case.
Oils And Other Low-Risk Products
Eucalyptus oil, used as a spray on infested areas, is typically effective against bedbugs. Commercial products containing essential oils such as citronella, clove oil, cedar oil, eucalyptus oil, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, and peppermint oil work well too. Some studies also recommend dusting the infested area with low-risk pesticides such as silica gel and diatomaceous earth (DE). Dusts such as these spread easily too from bug to bug.13
Make Your Own Bedbug Repellant
- In a spray bottle, take 10–20 drops of eucalyptus essential oil and add a little warm water. You can also add a few drops of lemon essential oil if you like. Spray on mattresses and bedding to eliminate bedbugs.
- Add eucalyptus oil to your laundry detergent and wash your sheets with it to get rid of dust mites and bedbugs. Avoid this if you have small children, though. Eucalyptus essential oil is very strong and should not be used, even in diluted form, on children under two years of age. It can cause respiratory distress in children.14
- Add 1 tsp each of rosemary and peppermint oils to 2 cups of water and spray the mix on cushions and the floor around the bed.15
- While traveling, it is a good idea to add lavender oil to a tissue and wiping the hotel room mattress with it to repel bedbugs.16
Getting Rid Of Ants Naturally
It often seems that ants are the least bothersome of all household pests. They don’t bite unless disturbed, and they certainly don’t spread any infections. However, they can bore into absolutely anything in the house, eating their way through groceries and any food left outside. So here’s how you can fight them!
1. Essential Oils
Oil extracts of cinnamon leaf are extremely effective against red fire ants, even in low concentrations. The major component of cinnamon, trans-cinnamaldehyde, has a very strong inhibitory effect on red fire ants.17
Natural Techniques To Get Rid Of Ants
- If you have ants marching into your house, you can put 1–2 drops of peppermint, spearmint, clove, catnip, orange, or eucalyptus orange oil on your threshold or wherever their entry point is. Pure essential oil on carpeted, laminate or wooden floors can, however, cause damage so do take care.
- You can also create a mobile barrier by placing a potted peppermint plant near the ants’ entry points and move it around as ants find new ways in. You could also scatter a few peppermint leaves and add a few drops of peppermint oil to them for more potency.18
2. Clove Powder
Clove powder is an efficient ant repellent too. In a test carried out to check the efficacy of clove powder in inhibiting red fire ants, scientists found the powder worked well. Using clove powder around ant colonies was found to repel nearly 99% of them in a span of three hours.19
Some Clove Power Against Ants
You can make a powder of fresh cloves and sprinkle it around ant colonies and their suspected points of entry. Be sure to use cloves that still smell fresh, as old cloves may have lost their essential oils to evaporation.
When it comes to irritation level, cockroaches closely rival bedbugs. Give them a few days time and it seems like they’re everywhere! Cockroaches especially love damp, dark spaces – heck, they may even be the only survivors of a nuclear attack!
Getting rid of cockroaches requires a systematic process of deep cleaning accompanied by the use of natural pesticides. Since cockroaches are often attracted to food leftovers and residues, always begin with the kitchen. Wipe everything down after a meal and never leave waste exposed.
1. Dishwashing Liquid
Among easy home treatments, a mix of water and common dishwashing liquid was found to be effective against cockroaches. The soapy liquid blocks their air passages and knocks them down. The cockroaches ultimately die after 18 to 24 hours.20 So, keep a spray bottle of soap water handy and spray generously if you see a cockroach.
2. Boric Acid Powder
You can also bait cockroaches using a mixture of boric acid and sugar. The sugar attracts the cockroaches to the mixture. When ingested, boric acid is extremely toxic to such insects.21 Sprinkling this powder in cracks and crevices, especially around the kitchen sink, can help get rid of cockroaches. You need to remember that boric acid can irritate the nose and mouth of humans too, so take care to keep the mixture out of reach of children.
Dealing With Other Bugs
There are several other household pests you may not want to deal with. One is the fruit fly, which seems to hover around just about any damp space in the house. A popular home remedy involves taking about half a glass of vinegar or apple cider vinegar and adding a few drops of dishwashing liquid to it. Swish the glass and add some warm water to help mix the liquids. Place the glass at spots frequented by fruit flies. This is an excellent trap for fruit flies – they come attracted by the vinegar smell and are trapped by the weight of the soap.22
Another common bug that can become a menace in huge numbers is the spider. Although spiders do keep our houses bug-free, a spider and its webs can make any place look run-down. Clearing away spider webs and egg sacs as soon as they are spotted is the first step in spider management. Areas prone to spider habitats must be kept free of insects to ensure food scarcity.
Spiders have the ability to taste what they touch and they don’t like the taste of many plants.
Spider Repellant Made Right At Home
- An excellent home remedy for spiders involves using essential oils. Take 2 cups of water, and add 10–20 drops of one or more of the following oils – lavender, citronella, cinnamon, catnip, – and/or citrus oils such as grapefruit or lemon. Use the spray around the house to keep spiders at bay.
- Spiders don’t like catnip either. Grind fresh catnip leaves and mix with water. Soak cotton balls in this mix and keep at spider-prone spots around the house. You can soak the cotton balls in catnip oil too. You can also make catnip sachets by packing dried catnip leaves in some thin natural fabric. Place the sachets around the house to drive away spiders.23
- Spiders also dislike lemons and limes. Mix water and bitter lime or lemon juice and spray wherever required. Placing orange, lime, or lemon peels at strategic spots can keep your garden spider-free too.24
Use Your DIY Bug Repellants Correctly
Take note that not all of these natural alternatives have been studied for skin allergies and other irritations. It may be wise to use gloves when working with sprays of any kind. Of course, essential oils have been studied extensively and there is sufficient information available about their possible adverse effects. If you have young children at home, ensure that these bug repellents are not lying around the house. Ingestion of some of these substances can be very harmful.
Do you have any other go-to methods for dealing with household pests?
|↑1||Robbins, Philip J., and Martin G. Cherniack. “Review of the biodistribution and toxicity of the insect repellent N, N‐diethyl‐m‐toluamide (DEET).” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A Current Issues 18, no. 4 (1986): 503-525.|
|↑2||Briassoulis, G., M. Narlioglou, and T. Hatzis. “Toxic encephalopathy associated with use of DEET insect repellents: a case analysis of its toxicity in children.” Human & Experimental Toxicology 20, no. 1 (2001): 8-14.|
|↑3||Bradley, A. K., A. M. Greenwood, P. Byass, B. M. Greenwood, K. Marsh, S. Tulloch, and R. Hayes. “Bed-nets (mosquito-nets) and morbidity from malaria.” The Lancet 328, no. 8500 (1986): 204-207.|
|↑4||Wanzira, Humphrey, Henry Katamba, and Denis Rubahika. “Use of long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets in a population with universal coverage following a mass distribution campaign in Uganda.” Malaria Journal 15, no. 1 (2016): 311.|
|↑5||Raja, A. S. M., Sujata Kawlekar, Sujata Saxena, A. Arputharaj, and P. G. Patil. “Mosquito protective textiles-A review.” International Journal of Mosquito Research 2, no. 7 (2015): 49-53.|
|↑6||LINDSAY, L. ROBBIN, GORDON A. SURGEONER, J. D. Heal, and G. J. Gallivan. “EVALUATION OF THE EFFICACY OF 37O CITRONELLA CANDLES AND 57O CITRONELLA INCENSE FOR PROTECTION AGAINST FIELD POPULATIONS OF AEDES MOSQUITOES.” Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association 12, no. 2 (1996): 293-294.|
|↑7, ↑8||Brown, Kathy. “Homemade Insect Repellents: Organic DIY Repellents to Keep Biting and Creeping Insects Away From You.” PublishDrive, 2016.|
|↑9||Berton, Hélène. “The Essential Guide to Natural Skin Care: Choosing Botanicals, Oils & Extracts for Simple & Healthy Beauty.” Llewellyn Worldwide, 2012.|
|↑10||Burton, George J. “Bedbugs in relation to transmission of human diseases: Review of the literature.” Public health reports 78, no. 6 (1963): 513.|
|↑11||Pereira, Roberto M., Philip G. Koehler, Margie Pfiester, and Wayne Walker. “Lethal effects of heat and use of localized heat treatment for control of bed bug infestations.” Journal of economic entomology 102, no. 3 (2009): 1182-1188.|
|↑12||Understanding Bed Bug Treatments. University of Minnesota.|
|↑13||Quarles, William. “New IPM methods for bedbugs.” IPM Pract 34 (2015): 1-9.|
|↑14||Young, Kac. “The Healing Art of Essential Oils: A Guide to 50 Oils for Remedy, Ritual, and Everyday Use.” Llewellyn Worldwide, 2017.|
|↑15||Billings, Samuel. “The Big Book of Home Remedies.” Lulu Press, 2013.|
|↑16, ↑18||Worwood, Valerie Ann. “The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Revised and Expanded: Over 800 Natural, Nontoxic, and Fragrant Recipes to Create Health, Beauty, and Safe Home and Work Environments.” New World Library, 2016.|
|↑17||Cheng, Sen-Sung, Ju-Yun Liu, Chun-Ya Lin, Yen-Ray Hsui, Mei-Chun Lu, Wen-Jer Wu, and Shang-Tzen Chang. “Terminating red imported fire ants using Cinnamomum osmophloeum leaf essential oil.” Bioresource technology 99, no. 4 (2008): 889-893.|
|↑19||Kafle, Lekhnath, and Cheng Jen Shih. “Toxicity and repellency of compounds from clove (Syzygium aromaticum) to red imported fire ants Solenopsis invicta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae).” Journal of Economic Entomology 106, no. 1 (2013): 131-135.|
|↑20||Szumlas, Daniel E. “Behavioral responses and mortality in German cockroaches (Blattodea: Blattellidae) after exposure to dishwashing liquid.” Journal of Economic Entomology 95, no. 2 (2002): 390-398.|
|↑21||J.L. Capinera, Encyclopedia of Entomology, Springer Science & Business Media, 2008.|
|↑22, ↑24||Billings, Samuel. “The Big Book of Home Remedies.” Lulu.com, 2013.|
|↑23||Ford, Dionna; O’Brien, Mandy. “Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxin-Free Recipes to Replace Your Kitchen Cleaner, Bathroom Disinfectant, Laundry Detergent, Bleach, Bug Killer, Air Freshener, and more.” Ulysses Press, 2014.|