Worthless Natural Home Remedies For Pest Control
Just a quick internet search for anything related to pest control results in all sorts of worthless advice. It does not matter what the problems are, the answers all seem to be a handful of the same “natural remedies”. Before you decide to prolong your issues with internet remedies, please read on.
I am a professional nuisance wildlife trapper and licensed pest control business owner. I started in 1993 and I have seen a lot of things. Some things, I would have expected would have gone out of style after people realizing they either do not work or cause more problems than they solve. The same “home remedies” that were being highly suggested 25 years ago are still being being pushed online today.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for using natural remedies. What concerns me is how loosely the word “natural” is used. Many people are under the impression that because something is natural, it is harmless. Or conversely, if something is not “natural” it must be dangerous. And then there are people that think anything labelled as an insecticide must cause cancer.
And then there are those unqualified people that recommend solutions based on the fact that they ARE NOT intended for use as a pesticide. Like they have a secret product that was intended for something entirely different but rather than use something solely intended for use on your situation, you should go out of the box and use their secret, albeit worthless product for your problem.
Let’s go through some of these things and figure out what is right, wrong or just a bit of gray.
Do Natural Remedies Actually Work?
Yes, there are some natural remedies that actually work, however there are many caveats. Unfortunately, all too often when pest situations are presented online, there is always someone…normally multiple people…that say things like “Just put out mothballs!” or “Don’t hire an exterminator, just use boric acid!” There are countless answers out there with things ranging from peppermint oil to boric acid to mothballs to fox urine…even humane urine and more.
Well, there are cases where things like these work but aside from the caveats, many of these stories are anecdotal. In fact, nearly all of them are anecdotal.
Pest Control Anecdotes
Anecdotes are stories that are hearsay or otherwise unreliable in truth. Our lives are full of anecdotes, those in the field of pest control hear them nearly every day. For example, one of the most common and obvious would be of a person, we will call him Jed, sees a snake cross the sidewalk in his front yard. To chase the snake away, the Jed puts out mothballs in the front yard. Two months later, Jed is on Facebook as sees a friend that recently saw a snake in his yard. So our Jed says “Just put out mothballs, it worked for me!”
This is an anecdote and one of the biggest traits of an anecdote is that it is not scientific. The truth is that most of the time (there ARE exceptions) people only see a snake once and then the snake disappears to never return again. Jed could have done anything; he could have cast a spell with a magic wand on the snake and he most likely never would have seen it again. The mothballs had nothing to do with the snake never being sighted again. This is just one example out of many…and I do mean many…
Are “Natural” Pesticides Better?
We have this notion that natural pesticides are better, or at least more safe. We confuse “natural” with “safe” and unfortunately, they do not always go hand in hand.
Most of us are on board with not putting unnatural things in our body, at least on purpose and as little as necessary. However, according to Assistant Professor at National Taiwan University, Matan Shelomi there is often a higher risk in using natural pesticides rather than natural pesticides.
When someone asks if something is “natural” or “organic”, I believe what they are really asking is, “Is this safe for me, my family and my pets?”.
For example, cyanide is “natural” and even found in almonds, apples and apricots. But cyanide is also deadly. So if you were to have an exterminator out and you told him that you didn’t want any of those “dangerous chemicals” in your house…would you be okay with an application of cyanide? Probably not.
That may sound absurd but some of the deadliest poisons are “natural” and some of the safest pesticides are synthetic.
One theory I have is, what does the label look like? Marketing plays a key role in what people believe pesticides are and are not.
For example, look at the product below. It’s Ed Rosenthal’s Zero Tolerance Herbal Pesticide. It HAS to be healthy and safe, right? I mean, it’s named after a guy named Ed. It says “Herbal” on the label and it is even compliant with OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute). How can you not go wrong with all of that?
Compare that packaging to the below, RoundUp. Granted, I understand in these examples, one is most likely safe and the other…well, we don’t know. But aside from RoundUp (gyphosate) being in the news for possibly causing cancer, we are drawn to the packaging with a nice looking man named Ed on the label rather than the large corporate feel of RoundUp. We think to ourselves, Ed would never do anything to hurt us, just look at him, all on the label, with a clipboard and everything. Ed Rosenthal’s Zero Tolerance MUST be a safe product, right? Seriously, “Zero Tolerance”? This stuff must be good…and safe.
The other corporate guys don’t even have the guts to put their face on their label, much less a dude with a clipboard. It’s pretty safe to assume they don’t care if you live or die as long as they get your money. And a member of OMSI? Not even close, the guys at RoundUp don’t love you like Ed does.
But here is the truth…natural pesticides can be very dangerous. And synthetic pesticides can be very safe. And a silly, safe looking label is nothing but marketing.
I can tell you that something that most people in pest control think when they hear about “natural products” is that they don’t work. Sure, there are times when they do, but over all, they are not effective.
Below are a couple more examples of the marketing of pesticides. The bottle with the the “Safer” label MUST be safe, it says it on the label…not like that bottle of PyGanic. I mean, who even knows what PyGanic means???
But the bottle that says “Safer”, that’s the one on want for my family. The thing is, they are both pyrethrin. But if I had a customer concerned about using natural products, if I pull out Safer, they would be cool with that. But if I pull out the PyGanic, that may be a cause for concern…but keep in mind, they are both “natural”.
Many people have an idea that pesticides that those horrible, environment polluting pest control exterminators use are synthetic and a tear on the enviroment. However, natural pesticides are used everyday by most pest control companies.
Some very common natural pesticides used by pest control professionals are pyrethrin (From the chrysanthemum plant) and nicotine from tobacco.
There are actually a lot of natural pesticides that come from plants. If you enjoy reading, this might interest you. https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/IND43894204/PDF
I recognize RoundUp/glyphosate is highly controversial for possibly causing cancer. And depending on who you listen to, it may cause cancer…or it may not. But my point is that things are not always as they seem and one should be leary of the source of information.
For example, the EPA says RoundUp/glyphosate is safe while the alternative “Burnout” is organic but carries the signal word “Danger”. In pest control, signal words give a general classification of toxicity of a product. Starting at the least toxic is “Caution”. The next one is “Warning”. Then comes the most dangerous, “Danger”. I am not trying to convince you that RoundUp is harmless but what is interesting are the signal words.
In the case of someone wanting to use a “safe” product when choosing between RoundUp or Burnout, you can have safe but inorganic or you can have organic but dangerous but it may be tough to have both.
Again, I realize there are many saying glyphosate is a carcinogen but at this time, the EPA says it is NOT a carcinogen. The point is, “organic” does not mean “safe”.
What About Oils & Scents
Maybe you are thinking more like oils and scents when you talk about “natural products”; you can have success with some of these but you should have reasonable expectations.
A common product would be peppermint. Peppermint plants and peppermint oil is often recommended for use on many things but keeping mice away is perhaps the most common recommendations.
It’s not that these products are not irritants to most animals and bugs. Many of them are irritants and will work. It is that the volume and consistency needs to be as high enough levels for them to work. In most cases, it is not possible, practical or safe to use oils and scents.
For example, if you go the internet asking for help for getting mice out of your attic, no doubt there will be at least one person that says “Just put out peppermint oil! I’ve done it for years and never had a problem!”
While I don’t doubt that they have never had a problem, the science behind the reason being related to peppermint oil is shaky at best. It is probably reasonable to say she has never had a problem with Martians…so is it safe to say that peppermint oil is also a “natural home remedy for Martians?
We use peppermint oil at Creepy Creatures, Inc. to help get squirrels out of attics. But we use it in a small area, such as the immediate area of the entrance into the attic.
But peppermint oil is quite powerful and one must heed caution when using it. Peppermint oil is a severe eye irritant. It should not be treated like a harmless chemical just because it is natural or organic.
We have experimented extensively using peppermint oil and Essentria EC3 in attics as squirrel and rat repellent. Volume is the key. We knew just applying peppermint oil or Essentria EC3 by hand would not work. We would need to use electric foggers in order to get a decent amount of product applied to the attic.
What we found was that fogging attics with peppermint oil or Essentria EC3 had no obvious effect on squirrels, rats or raccoons living in attics. We wanted it to. We really wanted it to work but it just did not work.
In fact, we have experimented extensively with organic products in looking for effective ways to get raccoons, squirrels and rats to vacate attics.
However, we have had some great success using a technique I call “Nudging”. Nuding is used when squirrels and raccoons are in an attic. Rather than trapping, we put out an array of things that make it difficult and uncomfortable for the animal to enter and exit to the point that she takes her babies and moves out. This is a far better method than trapping or the use of one way doors.
When we nudge, we use peppermint oil and a variety of different kinds of urine. We know the process works, we just don’t know which part of it works or is it the entire process as a whole? We have experimented with using only oils and urine with little to no success. In fact, any success would be chalked up top anecdotal.
What is interesting is that when I look online I found all sorts of people that claim to have astounding success using things like peppermint and mothballs to get animals to leave.
Yet, since 1993 I have had countless people call and say they have tried those things and many more with NO success. But there has to be some truth to the success, right? We have tried and tried and tried with no measurable success in using mothballs, peppermint, urines and more.
Most people do not know it is illegal to use pesticides not in accordance with their label. Mothballs are not labeled for use as an insecticide. However, mothballs are included in pesticides for most people. Mothballs is made of a toxic substance called “naphthalene”. Naphthalene is a possible carcinogen, more so RoundUp. But yet, this is perhaps the most common “natural home remedy” for nearly any pest issue.
There are many pesticides that use naphthalene. Perhaps the most common product with mothballs/naphthalene is Snake Away, obviously intended to keep snakes away. While sulphur is the primary ingredient in Snake Away, it is the strong smell of the mothballs that comes through.
Some of these companies will use the same products but with a different name for different pests. Some of these products use other natural irritants such as cayenne pepper. Regardless of what it is and what the marketing of the label says, the supporting evidence is very, very, very, very lackluster.
In my business of nuisance wildlife management and being in Florida, we get many snake calls. We also hear about other companies selling “Snake Repellent Programs”. These “programs” can sell for $200-$500 or more. People feel good about them because often times they come with a guarantee.
“We will treat your property with snake repellent for $500. If you see more snakes, we will come out and re-apply the snake repellent for free!” Some of these companies tell people they have a secret formula that is “guaranteed to make snakes run away!”. B.S. They are using Snake Away or another common snake repellent.
But like I mentioned before, there is little to no evidence of these products working. But the companies slinging snake repellent programs know that snake sightings are normally a one time thing. This makes it nearly impossible for them to not make money on the naivety or the public that hires them.
But what if the customer sees another snake? Easy, since the company charged so much for the treatment, they can easily afford to go back out and treat the area again…because the odds of the person seeing the snake a third time is less than them seeing it the second time. It’s a game of statistics and it favors the pest control company putting out the repellent.
I know I may sound skeptical. It is not that I am skeptical; I am beyond skeptical. I used to be skeptical, now I just know it is bunk.
Like the other products, I have tried and tried to use products like Snake Away, Critter Away and such…with no results. I would honestly explain to callers that there are rarely any solutions guaranteed to work but if they would pay for the product, we would apply in so that we could personally say if it worked for us or not. We have ZERO results that we could scientifically credit to any of these products. We do, however have cases of black racers that we sighted multiple times, applied snake repellent multiple times and continued to see the snake.
But let’s not get too far into confusing organic, natural, safe and effective. There are so many variables when dealing with ad hoc anecdotes. I am not suggesting that natural products do not work. I use many in my own home. What do caution against are putting too much credence in the internet claims of non-professional, non-scientific stories from someone that thinks the pest control world is running some scam because they put some peppermint oil out and their ants disappeared…thus, everyone needs to fire their pest control company, stop buying “toxic pesticides” from stores and just put out some peppermint oil and boric acid.
Even pest control companies with struggle with certain pests even when they have the proper product knowledge and accessibility to nearly any kind of insecticide. If the highly researched products do not always work, how much faith should you put in the long shot “natural” products?
My company has a client that is a clubhouse restaurant of a golf course. We got the job because the previous company let a German roach issue get out of hand and they could not resolve the issue. They had perhaps the best known company in pest control working on it and with all of their resources, they could not kill all of the roaches.
The team of maintenance men we on top of things too. There was boric acid powder everywhere. They were treating it with anything they could buy from Home Depot and Lowes.
Up until this time, I did my best to steer clear of German roaches. I was under the impression there were no good products and such an account would be a massive headache. Regardless, we came highly recommended and it was tough for me to say no. I went to work on the account. It was the second worst German roach problem I had ever seen. I hit this place with everything short of a nuclear bomb…but that was going to happen if I couldn’t get it resolved. With German roaches, the goal is not “to get them under control”. They must be eliminated or they will re-establish themselves.
First, I was treating it twice a week (which is a lot). Activity was decreasing but they were still there and they wanted me out twice week. Eventually, we were able to back it down to once a week trips but it was so incredibly frustrating…for about six weeks, everytime I showed up, the staff would report at least one or more sightings. Still much better than the hundred plus they were seeing, but again, we needed elimination, not management.
It wasn’t until a friend of mine with a one man business said “Use Alpine. I use it on all my German roach jobs, it works great!”
I looked into Alpine. I had seen it before on the shelves at my supplier, it was expensive. On top of that, incorrectly assumed that with a name like “Alpine” so it must be “Green” which often translates into “it does not work.”
I wish I knew about Alpine much sooner. Alpine WSG and Alpine roach gel has worked 100% of the time on every German roach job since then. And that country club? We still go out weekly as per their request. But we have not seen a German roach in 8 years since.
Alpine is similar to tobacco based pesticides but I would not call it organic. But the organic/natural products were not working. And it was just a matter of time before a case of food poisoning broke out as a result of the German roaches contaminating food surfaces.
Often, the key factors in whether or not “natural pesticides” will work is based on the size of an area, the population size, resources and harborage attachment.
It may sound complicated but the practicality of it is not. Where it gets complicated is attempting to measure success. For example, Joe Schmoe on the internet says that he had ants and all he did was put out boric acid. Joe commented “Don’t waste your money on that toxic garbage your exterminator wants to sell you, just use boric acid!”
Before you take Joe’s advice, you should consider the species of ants Joe had. What was the size of the invading colony? Why were the ants invading Joe’s home and most importantly, what really made them leave?
Ants most commonly invade kitchens to eat food debris. I would expect that many times someone puts down an insecticide (natural or not), they do some cleaning at the same time. It just makes sense…if you do not want ants, make sure there are no food crumbs.
So lets say Joe Schmoe took some Windex, sprayed the counters, wiped up any food crumbs and sprinkled some boric acid powder around the kitchen. After two days the ants are gone and Joe is quick at work on the internet telling anyone that will listen to save their money! He just discovered the best way to “naturally get rid of ants”. But really, was it the Windex (ammonia) that chased them away? Was it that the food source has dried up? Or was it that these were just foraging ants anyway and they didn’t find anything work staying for?
Bed Bug Natural Treatments
We see this in many areas. One of the most unfortunate situations is with bed bugs. Pest control companies charge a fortune for treatment. The internet is full or home remedies and suggestions of products that are mediocre at best.
Dejected after hearing the price of bed bug treatment by pest control companies, people turn to the internet for “advice”. Soon after, they are buying boric acid, diatomaceous earth and even “Uncle Grannies Bed Bug Power” or whatever you find online.
There is a reason pest control companies charge so much. Bed bugs are very, very tough to deal with. I write more about bed bugs and how to inexpensively and effectively get rid of them yourself here 🙂
Bed bugs should not be taken lightly and the longer you mess around trying to find the cheapest “natural treatment”, the bigger your problem is going to get.
But there is a solution and pest control companies do not want you to know about it. It works 100% of the time and it is what pest control companies use, including us. You can see our ratings if it didn’t work, we would not have rating like that!
Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe there is any sort of conspiracy within the underbelly of the pest control world…at least of which I am aware. Though I am small fish compared to the large pest control company. It’s not that I think anyone is trying to keep information from you about how to properly treat your bug or animal problem, it’s just that they are not in the business of telling people how to solve their own problems.
Imagine you have bed bugs and you call Joe Schmoe’s Pest Control. The fine folks at Joe’s will tell you that they will send a crew out to take care of your bed bugs for only $1500. After you pick your jaw up off the ground you ask them if there are any less expensive alternatives. Sadly, Joe Schmoe’s Pest Control says “Sorry, no. Heat treatments for bed bugs is $1500.”
On top of that, for a heat treatment, you must leave your home for hours. Pets, plants and even the kiddos must vacate. There is a chance that some of your stuff gets melted.
Add to that, there is a chance that a few of those little bed bugs will seek refuge in cooler areas to escape the heat.
So yes, heat treatment is “natural”, but it may not be your best option. But bed bugs are not a normal pest. Bed bugs ruin your mattress. They ruin your furniture. Bed bugs literally eat you while you sleep. Do you really want to trust “that guy’s” advice on the internet…possibly waiting days to see if your natural boric acid treatment worked?
But they do have the option of telling you cheaper and effective ways. But businesses are not in the business of giving free advice on how to treat their problems. It’s not nefarious, it’s just business.
Now let’s say you call up Joe Schmoe’s competitor Jack Schmitt’s Pest Control. Jack tells you that they have a “safe” solution that is much better than Joe Schmoe’s heat treatment. As we know, “safe” is a funny word in the world of pest control and when the word is used by a licensed pest control professional, they better be sure of it.
They have a product that is a “Trade secret” that works wonders. It is 100% safe. You do not need to leave your home and it can last up to a year…no bed bug will survive their treatment. But they way they sell it, this is something only the professionals can use and they will “professionally treat your home for only $1200”
Again, after you pick up your jaw from the ground, you ask “Are there any less expensive alternatives?”
“No, I’m sorry. Bed bugs are tough but you can trust us to take care of it.”
But the truth is, the product is expensive. But it is not that expensive. Part of it is that some people are impatient and call to have a second treatment. Sometimes it’s needed, other times just a bit more time is needed…so the pest control company has to price is a callback visit.
Another part of it is that what the market demands. For example. Jack Schmitt has been getting rid of bed bugs for $500 and he is crazy busy working insane hours trying to keep up with all of the bed bug calls. Jack also hears that Joe is selling bed bug treatments for $1500. This makes Joe feel like he is leaving a lot of money on the table. So Joe raises his price to $1200 and is making more money with fewer customers. There is nothing wrong with this, it is how business is done.
So circling back around to the “safe product” Jack Schmitt’s pest control company uses…it is not their job to tell you that the product they use is called Crossfire. It is not their job to tell you that you can buy the exact some product on Amazon.
But they said it was “safe”, right? Well, it is made by what looks like a huge multinational conglomerate chemical company, you know…the kind of company that thrives on giving people cancer while they make billions.
On the other hand, at some blog post about “Killing Bugs Naturally” you read about an amazing product called “Uncle Stinky’s Bed Bug Boric Acid Killer”. On the label is a dude holding a flower with a squirrel on his shoulder. The stuff must be good, I mean, his name is Uncle Stinky. No one named Uncle Stinky would lead you astray, must less give you cancer that those evil guys over at BLA BLA Chemical, Inc.
But Uncle Stinky’s is “natural”…Crossfire is…well, it’s close. It is a neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are similar to nicotines, which is of course derived from the tobacco plant…which is “natural”. So it may not be natural, but it is close.
More importantly, Crossfire is safe and it works. Those are the two most important words that most people are looking for.
Signal Words [Revisited]
Going back to the signal words, they are “Caution”, “Warning” and “Dangerous”. You will find these warnings on nearly EVERY pesticide on the market. You will even find these warnings on many household cleaners.
Crossfire has NO signal words…that means that the good people at the EPA have done extensive research on Crossfire and have found (which again, is VERY unusual) that it is safe to be used according to the label.
But is that the catch? As long as you use it according to the label, it is safe and the label MUST have some crazy limitations and restrictions, right? Nope. Crossfire is not only safe to be applied to your mattress and furniture, it is intended to be applied to things where you not only sit but sleep too.
In the event that you are here because you have a bed bug issue and were looking for a natural AND cost effective solution, ask yourself if you have the time to see if boric acid works? Do you want piles of boric acid scattered all over your home? Do you want to be inhaling the boric acid that you put on your mattress? Do you want your mattress to continued to be soiled by bed bug poop (which is really just your blood digested and turned to fecal matter)? Or if you have already bought a new mattress hoping that will fix the problem, are you prepared to see it soiled after a month of thinking your bed bugs were gone?
In case you are wondering, Hot Shot Boric Acid powder from Home Depot has the signal word “Danger”. Remember, it goes from mild to stronger, “Caution”, “Warning” and “Danger”. Home Depot’s Hot Shot product has the signal word of “Danger” while Crossfire has NO signal word.
Even other products that sound less commercial, such as Zap-A-Roach has a signal word of “Caution”. Zap-A-Roach looks like those other products we trust…like Uncle Stinky’s Magical Bed Bug Powder.
These are questions you will need to ask yourself. And if the answer is that you want a product that is safe AND cost effective, as long as you are willing to do the work, go to Amazon and pick up some Crossfire.
Choosing a product that you are comfortable with and that works can be tricky. I urge you to not be fooled by confusing “natural” with “safe” and especially, don’t be fooled by sneaky marketing selling the image of natural but use the exact same stuff as the other people.
If you are looking for general maintenance around the home, feel free to stick with the natural and organic things like peppermint oil around the house. But keep in mind, even peppermint oil carries a signal word of “Warning”.
Professional Advice For Do It Yourself Pest Control
Here is a general rule, here are four products that will handle the most common pest issues. We use them at my company, Creepy Creatures, Inc.
If you are looking for general maintenance with little to no outstanding issues, use Essentria EC3 occasionally around the house. It leaves a strong smell of mostly rosemary. Most people are okay with this, others do not care for it. In higher doses it can be an irritant.
If you have ants, use Alpine WSG
If you have a roach issue that needs addressing, put out some Aline gel or Alpine WSG.
Alpine is an incredible and safe product when used according to the label. Alpine WSG is dry and gets mixed with water. It is very, very easy to use but you will need a sprayer. Alpine will kill all species of roach and all species of ants.
There are ant gels and roach gels. Alpine roach gel should work on all roaches however, ants can be more finicky. If you have ants that are feeding on carbs and you put out a protein bait, the ants will walk right by it and vice versa.
However if you put out Alpine WSG, it does not matter what the ants are feeding on, they all will die. And the great thing about Alpine is that it is transferable (boric acid is highly less transferable, if at all), meaning if a roach walks through Alpine, it will die, but not immediately. Roaches like to live in tight quarters and they groom each other where they pass along the Alpine. This means all the other roaches will die. And if a stray roach come by and eats one of the dead roaches, that roach will die too…and that does not happen with boric acid.
If you have bed bugs, Crossfire will knock them out, safely. It too is transferable. And since bed bugs love to congregate, that means you only need a few to come into contact with Crossfire, they go back and do some congregating and all of the bed bugs die! Plus, it has a residual for up to a year, so it lasts a long time 🙂
I hope this helps sort out some of the controversy of natural vs. organic vs. practical vs. what actually works. There are some great products, some natural, some synthetic and some that usually work as intended.
Doing your own pest control is typically not complicated and there is rarely a need to keep an arsenal of pesticides. As long as you know what you are treating, what you are treating it with and have reasonable expectations, you will have success at being pest free!