What's the best way to keep pests out of my home?

Shoo fly! Outta my house! See more insect pictures.
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In the classic 1995 comedy, "Houseguest," stand-up comic Sinbad plays a con man on the run from Mafiosi to whom he owes money. To lay low until the heat's off, Sinbad poses as a long-lost friend to an unwitting suburbanite played by the late Phil Hartman, moving in as a houseguest. Hilarity ensues as Sinbad charms the family with his antics. He goes from welcomed houseguest to unwelcome house pest, once the Mafia men located him at the family's home [source: Rotten Tomatoes].

Pests of the insect and rodent variety aren't always quite so obvious; however, they can be just as irritating. After all, what's worse than waking in the morning and finding that a tick has burrowed into your skin or that a rat has eaten all of your cereal?

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There are plenty of ways to rid your home of critters -- from raccoons to cockroaches -- once they've set up house in your domain. Exterminators appear to be the preferred choice among Americans: The pest control industry in the United States pulls in about $7 billion in combined revenue each year [source: Hoovers]. While exterminators usually come armed with poisonous chemicals that are deadly to pests, these chemicals can possibly be harmful to you. One 2003 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that the average person has at least 13 different pesticides in his or her body, some of which have been linked to health problems like cancer and nerve damage [source: CDC].

But what alternatives are there to pest control? Aside from calling in the exterminator, how can you keep pests out of your home? Actually, a green alternative can be the best course of action. Learn about a very green way to keep your home pest-free on the next page.

Do-it-yourself Pest Control

Pests like rats and insects have an uncanny ability to find entry points into your home you may have overlooked.
Pests like rats and insects have an uncanny ability to find entry points into your home you may have overlooked.
Harold M. Lambert/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The best way to keep pests out is by not giving rodents and insects a chance to gain entry into your abode. HowStuffWorks.com will bet you dollars to doughnuts that if you take a look at your home's envelope (exterior walls, doors, windows and roof), you'll find some surprising points of entry. While you use a door to come in and out of your house, bugs and rodents are much less picky. They'll come in through cracks in your foundation, unsealed windows and gaps between your walls and floors. Not only will sealing these areas with caulk will help keep pests from coming indoors, it'll also help you save on home energy costs.

Despite your best efforts, however, you'll likely find that household pests will get into your home. You can combat rodent and insect pests once they've found a way in by simply making your house as inhospitable for them as possible.

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Insects need food, water and shelter to survive. But rather than turning on the faucet for a cup of water or going to the store for groceries, they look for resources in some places you might overlook. Standing water in a dish beneath a potted indoor plant might as well be a watering hole on the African savanna as far as pests like cockroaches, mice and flies are concerned [source: CDPR]. Look around your house: You may find other places where water is standing. Take away their water source, and you'll find bugs don't like living in your house.

Eating is one of pests' favorite pastimes. In your pantry, boxes of cereal, packages of pasta and bags of cookies provide a dining bonanza for pests. Mice and rats can chew through cardboard packaging -- and you might not even notice they've made a dent in your stash. Keep items like these in hard canisters made of metal or hard plastic to thwart hungry pests [source: University of Arkansas].

Keeping your house clean also cuts down on food sources for pests. Remember that meatball you dropped on the kitchen floor and then quickly picked up and ate when no one was looking? The impact of meat hitting linoleum made sauce splatter in places like the baseboard beneath the cabinet -- which could become a hearty dinner for all manner of pests. Cleaning up your house on a regular basis, especially where food is prepared and eaten, can discourage pests from sticking around. It's a good idea to sweep up crumbs when they spill on the couch or floor and to keep your dishes clean instead of piled up in the sink.

When your house is clean, it also cuts down on places for pests to call home. The old adage about a homeowner never being aware of having roaches until his or her house is clean is true: Stacks of old newspapers and boxes provide great places for pests to hide [source: CDPR]. Try to de-clutter your house and not only will you have more room to breathe, you'll also have fewer pests.

Lastly, be more discriminating in your definition of what exactly constitutes a "pest." Think twice before you squash a spider in your house -- they make wonderful bug killers and generally keep to themselves. In warmer climes, having a lizard around can cut down your household bug population [source: BBC]. Plus, there's no greener way to control bugs than by simply fostering the food chain in your house.

For more information on pest control and other related topics, visit the next page.

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Sources

  • Tucker, Easter H. “Dealing with household pests.” University of Arkansas. 1999. http://www.kidsarus.org/volunteers/Volunteer_Leader_Training_ Guide/1999/PDF/Household%20Pests.pdf
  • “Geckos lick pest control problem.” BBC. September 27, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/devon/3693414.stm
  • “Household pests: Tips to rid your house of insects and rodents.” Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency. December 2001. http://www.pmra-arla.gc.ca/english/consum/householdpests-e.html
  • “Industry overview: Pest control services.” Hoovers. http://www.hoovers.com/pest-control-services-/--ID__144--/free-ind-fr-profile-basic.xhtml
  • “Pull welcome mat in, keep pesky guests out.” California Department of Pesticide Regulation. June 2003. http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/dept/factshts/pull2.pdf
  • “Study finds high pesticide levels in Americans.” Associated Press. May 11, 2004. http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2004-05-11-pesticide-study_x.htm

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