We hate to say it to you, but there are all kinds of ugly, hairy little beasts running around in your home. And we don;t mean your sisters: Rather, these are pests that you're legally allowed to hit with a shoe.
In case you forgot to eat your Wheaties and have no clue what we're talking about, the beasts we are referring to are ants, roaches, mice and any other pests that occupy your home. Most people, whether they realize it or not, have some kind of pest infestation problem. We often don't care because we don't see the bugs. But if your pest control has gotten out of control, we have tons of great advice for some simple ways to get rid of the four major household pests: rodents, cockroaches, fleas and ants.
We know what you're thinking: "What about termites?" Our response: If you have termites, you have to hire a termite exterminator. It's as simple as that. But for the other crawlies, we can help. Read on.
Get Rid of Rodents
Detecting if you have rodents
If you have rats or mice (which are basically small rats), you should try to get rid of them ASAP. Rodents have a notorious history of coexisting with their human hosts--and then spreading disease, pestilence and the Black Plague. Rodents carry harmful bacteria into your house, especially in their hair, urine and little poops that you might unknowingly breathe in or eat. This step will help you empty your house of them. Oh, and in case you're a member of PETA, don't start writing that angry letter yet; we'll teach you how to banish rodents without hurting them too much.
You can usually tell if you have rodents if:
* You see gnaw marks. Rodents gnaw on wood, both to get around the inside of your house and to sharpen their teeth. You can tell how long you've had mice by looking at the wear and tear of the holes: New gnawings are rough, while old gnawings are smooth. * You see urine and/or droppings (a.k.a., "poopie"). Fresh droppings are soft and moist, whereas old droppings are dried and hard. Rodents tend to have "toilet areas"--little corners of your happy home where they prefer to take a load off. They also void their bladders while running, leaving streaks of urine that glow under ultraviolet lights. * You see footprints. How Nancy Drew of you! But if the suckers walked through mud before crawling across your floor or counter, there may be such evidence. The front footprint is 4-toed, and the longer hind print will have 5 toes. * You see damaged goods--like fruits, cereals and meats--in your home with gnaw marks on them, or maybe half a slice of pizza where there was a whole slice before. * You hear little footsteps, gnawing behind the walls and a quiet rustling about the house. You either have rats or burglars. * You see rub marks on the walls at mouse-height level (caused by the oil and grease on the rodent's fur as it shimmies against the wall).
Getting rid of rodents
Rodent-killing chemicals are dangerous for anyone but a pest-control professional to use. If your infestation is intense enough to warrant a mass poisoning, call an exterminator. We must reiterate, it's a bad idea to try to use rat poison on your own; a pet could eat the poison (or the dead poisoned rat). However, there are some ways to get rid of rodents without resorting to rat poison:
Keep all your food sealed. This is a rule that you'll see a lot of in this article; most pests are simply looking for a meal. So don't be a slob, clean up spills, and try not to keep foods (such as bananas) just sitting on the countertop.
Cruelly trap the rodents. There are many kinds to choose from here: snap traps, multicatch traps, single-catch live traps and glue-board traps.
Get some predators. Cats, dogs and ferrets can be used to control a home infestation. Cats will instinctively attack rodents (and possibly bring their severed heads to your pillow), and they're fun to pet, too (the cats, not the severed mouse heads).
Don't get ultrasonic-sound devices. These machines produce an irritating, high-pitched sound (audible only to the rodents) that will supposedly keep them away (and may in the short term), but the pests will eventually become accustomed to the noise and invade a shelter that's rich in food anyway. So don't waste your money.
When you do catch a mouse or a rat, be sure to let it go while wearing gloves, or from a distance (tie a string to the gate). Finally, be super-cautious if the rodent looks to be sick or diseased; in such a case, immediately call Animal Control and let them deal with it. It's their job.
To read about some other non-chemical (but not necessarily humane) ways to kill and trap rodents, check out the CDC's tips. (See Resources.)
Get Rid of Roaches
The most common pest in the world is the German cockroach, or Blatela Germanica. There are other species (e.g., American cockroaches, Oriental cockroaches), but regardless of the species, they're all pretty gross.
Detecting if you have roaches
What makes cockroaches so unhealthy is that they secrete a fluid that "has an offensive and sickening odor that may ruin food," and "this odor may also be imparted to dishes that are apparently clean" (at least, according to P.G. Koehler of the National Food Database). Besides that, a roach infestation indicates that your home is generally dirty and unsanitary. After all, what's the first impression you have of a restaurant that is crawling with cockroaches?
You can usually tell if you have roaches if:
* You see the suckers. * You find dead roaches in your cabinet or cupboard, under the refrigerator, or in plain sight--or, alternatively, your cat keeps dropping dead roaches it finds on your pillow. * You find roach droppings (particles of black grit, an oily substance) around the kitchen, or in and around cabinets. * You have a garage or an attic, especially a damp and/or warm one. * You have a lot of open food sitting around, standing water (like a sink of dirty dishes), or if you let the garbage pile up.
Getting rid of roaches
According to the National Food Safety Database, there are four effective and inexpensive ways in which you can chemically kill the roaches that are infesting your home:
Sprays. You can choose between residual sprays and total-release sprays:
You have to be very careful using sprays: They can be toxic, and you won't feel particularly healthy after ingesting roach spray. So remove all food, eating utensils and pets before spraying.
Insecticides. You can buy powders or other concentrated insecticides to mix with water and deliver in a compressed-air sprayer. (It's kind of like a water gun.) A bonus to this method is that outdoor species of roaches won't enter through treated doorways or cracks. If you choose this route, you must absolutely consult a professional exterminator.
Baits (a.k.a. roach motels) are readily available, and are highly effective killers of the German cockroach. Products such as Combat and Raid MAX can be placed in the kitchen, the bathroom and other infested areas. Baits are nice because they attract roaches and trick them into taking poison into the walls to the other roaches, and then it kills them all at once. Baits are usually effective for three to twelve months.
Boric acid is applied as a dust in wall voids, paths along which the roaches travel, and other hangouts. It's organic, generally safe and should be used if the rest of your home has already been thoroughly treated for maximum effectiveness. A benefit of boric acid is that cockroaches will transfer dust from roach to roach, reducing a hidden roach metropolis into a ghost town. If you want to know the grizzly details, boric acid eats through cockroach shells gradually, taking anywhere from a few hours to a few days to kill the suckers.
Preventative control. If there's nothing to eat in your home, most roaches will just go away. Roaches like open sources of water and standing mess (like crumbs and things rotting at the bottom of a garbage bag). So to get rid of your roach problem, either make sure you don't leave a mess around, or keep your mess tightly enclosed in thick plastic. Keeping your food wrapped and your dishes clean will probably lead your roaches to look for greener pastures. At the very least, combining this effort with another pest-control method will be highly effective.
Predators. Many people claim to have never seen a roach in their home that their cat or dog wasn't in the process of killing. While you can't depend on a cat, dog or ferret to completely eliminate a roach infestation, they can keep the outside populations that you see moving at night under control. Also, the sheer joy of watching a beloved pet get his claws on a nasty bug is pure catharsis.
Get Rid of Ants
Detecting if you have ants
An ant is a relatively harmless pest. However, you will not have one ant; you will have thousands. Ants will eat (and contaminate) your food, get into your walls and bite you (depending on the species). Besides that, they're annoying--that's reason enough. The difficulty with ant control is that they're incredibly hard to get rid of, because there are so many of them.
You can usually tell if you have ants if:
* You see ants crawling all over your stuff. Fool. * OK, that was kind of smart-assed of us. Sorry. The important thing is to figure out if the source is inside or outside of your house. So when you see the ants, follow the trail and see where they go. You may actually find a nest in the grand tradition of those piles of sand near sidewalk cracks, but more likely, you'll find one in the fundament of your house--maybe in a beam of rotting wood. Or, you might find a crack that leads outdoors, which means you don't have an infestation yet, but just a band of curious invaders psyched about your selection of Doritos flavors. If you find a nest in your house, you should destroy them where they lie. Sealing up cracks to invaders is a bit easier.
Getting rid of ants
As always, take preventive action. Keep food sealed (especially sweet foods). Also, if you ever spill a liquid (such as juice or soda), clean it up right away. The sugar will attract ants like crazy.
Treat the perimeter of your home with dust or a spray. This will keep ants from invading through any of those pesky cracks.
Interior treatments work well inside the home, because they attack the ants in, on and around sources of food. So boric-acid products (effective on roaches) will kill ants, too. The Pest Products People recommend that you use Delta Dust and Drione Dust, applied with a Crusader Duster. Just make sure that you place the dust directly in the path of the ants, as they won't be affected by it if they walk around it.
Ant foggers are easy to use, though they might not reach some of the hidden nooks and crannies.
If your ants have burrowed into wood or foam insulation of your home, you can spot-treat with a product called Bora-Care. This should be used in conjunction with another method, such as fogging. Soak all wood surfaces to the point of wetness to destroy ant colonies inside structures, and to keep them from invading other structures.
Baits are highly recommended for getting rid of ants--just place them along paths the ants use.
For more information, check out Termite.com's ant tips. (See Resources.)
Get Rid of Fleas
Detecting if you have fleas
Fleas are annoying, because they'll ride into your home on your cat or dog, bite your pet, bite you (making you itch and giving you ugly rashes), and then lay eggs in your sweatshirt. Yes, there are different kinds of fleas (some only suck pet blood and some only suck people blood), but you shouldn't take any chances; they may pass disease and are incredibly hard to kill (because they're so small, so jumpy and so sturdily-built).
You can usually tell if you have fleas if:
* Your pets continually scratch themselves. There's an even greater chance if you let your pet outdoors a lot. * You see little specks littered all over your sheets, floor, or socks. Those might be eggs or dead fleas. * You notice that when you wake up in the morning, you have bug bites. * You see little, uncrunchable bugs jumping on your pet and onto you. * You can find flea activity "hot spots" by putting on a pair of white socks and walking around areas you suspect are infested; your socks might show you evidence of tiny eggs or flea carcasses (not to be confused with flea circuses). Also check where you cat or dog hangs out (under furniture, on shelves or on top of refrigerators,)
Getting rid of fleas
Fleas infestations are kinda iffy: They might be localized, or they might infest your entire house, and this will affect how you get rid of them. To figure out what your flea problem is like, place a pan full of water and a bit of dish detergent 5 to 6 inches below a light bulb. The fleas will jump toward the light at night, fall into the detergent solution and drown. Pretty nifty, huh?
Keep them from attacking your pet. Far and away, this is the easiest way to control your flea population. Here's how to handle it:
Foggers. You can get pressurized insecticides in "bombs" or "cans" that dissipate well over an open area, like a basement, garage or dance parlor. Foggers aren't the best solutions for homes, as they tend not to reach under beds and in areas where your pet might deposit fleas.
House sprays deliver directed sprays of insecticide to any area you choose. This kind of product might be dangerous to cats or children, so read labels carefully and talk to your vet and/or doctor.
To find some other information about flea control methods and products, follow the last link in Resources.
So good luck to you. If you get lost or discouraged at any point along this way, maybe you should consider living a Zen lifestyle with your pests. You have enough food and patience for everyone, right? And, if worst comes to worst, you can always move. Wait… pests live everywhere in the world. Drat. Back to square one.
Steve Schneider is an award-winning critic, columnist and humorist with two decades of experience in print and online journalism. He holds a Master's degree in media, culture and communication from New York University.