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How to Get Rid of Pests

From raccoons to carpenter ants, mosquitos to ticks, these tips from Family Handyman Field Editors and experts show you how to get rid of persistent pests.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

How to win the war against pests

Getting rid of bugs, insects and critters in and around your home can take weeks or months of experimenting with commercial and home-brewed solutions. We asked our network of experts and Field Editors for their top tried-and-true solutions to help you finally win the war against some of the toughest pests around.

Bait is best to kill ants inside

Experts agree that baits work best. Ants take bait back to the colony, eliminating thousands of ants, including the egg-laying queens. In addition to Combat and Advion gel bait, the University of Kentucky extension service also recommends Raid Ant Bait II, Terro Ant Killer II, Advance Maxforce and Optigard Gel.

Baits can initially invite more ants into the house. You may be tempted to spray these buggers with insecticide. DON'T. Let the ants take the bait back to the colony, and be patient! Experiment with different gel products if one doesn't seem to be effective. They all have different active ingredients and food components.

Spray on a bug barrier

Spectracide Bug Stop claims to provide nine months of indoor bug control. Annihilator Insecticide Premise Spray lasts for 30 days. Both kill bugs on contact. These products are toxic to bees and fish, so don't use them around gardens or ponds. You can find both products at farm supply stores, home centers and online.

Hydraulic cement stops ants cold

Get hydraulic cement at home centers and hardware stores. It hardens fast, so mix it in small batches.

Kill slugs with corn meal

Cornmeal is one of many pet- and kid-friendly slug remedies. Others include:

Escar-Go! and Sluggo products, which contain iron phosphate.

Crushed eggshells, pine needles, diatomaceous earth and other abrasive materials sprinkled around plants.

Tin cans filled with a few inches of beer sunk into the ground, which attracts slugs and drowns them.

Slugs will also shelter beneath a board or an upside-down pail. Set one out each evening and you can kill a bunch of slugs each morning.

Hang soap to repel deer—and squirrels?

Wildlife control expert Stephen Vantassel says it's hard to know if soap causes deer to stay away.

“Soap can contain animal fat that has been shown to deter deer. But the effectiveness of repellents is related to population pressure. If there are lots of starving deer, repellents won't work, period. If there are only a few deer, repellents will cause them to munch on the neighbors' bushes.”

Vantassel recommends a study he found on effective deer repellents at icwdm.org/handbook/mammals/Deer.asp. His top suggestions for deer control include an electric polytape fence (available at farm supply stores and online retailers) and noisemaking devices.

As for squirrels, Vantassel thinks it's the movement of hanging soap that frightens them away.

Got carpenter ants? Call a pro

We're all about DIY, but carpenter ants (and termites) are pests that can cause serious structural damage to your home, and their nests can be difficult to locate. We recommend not messing around. Call a pro.

If you're determined to try DIY termite and carpenter ant control methods first, visit bugspray.com or domyownpestcontrol.com for products and information.

Outwit raccoons

Raccoons are surprisingly clever and bold. Discouraging them often takes a rotation of different deterrents.

Keep your bins in an enclosure or secure them to a metal stake or other anchor so they can't be toppled.

Set up bright, motion-activated flood lights.

Place a heavy object, such as a cinder block, on top of trash can lids.

Get a dog!

Cedar oil repels ticks, fleas and mosquitos

Plant oils such as cedar oil, lemongrass oil and others evolved to protect plants from insect damage. The EPA considers cedar oil a safe pesticide in low concentrations (higher concentrations can irritate the skin and be toxic if ingested). Cedar oils are also often used in flea sprays for pets.

Spraying cedar oil diluted with water on your lawn and shrubs can repel insects. However, the Colorado State University extension cautions that spraying horticultural oils might damage certain sensitive plants or trees or those under drought stress. For more information, visit www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05569.html.

Suffocate ants with soap and orange oil

Drenching ant mounds with dish soap alone can be effective. But according to the Penn State Cooperative Extension service (extension.psu.edu), a method showing even more promise for a wider variety of ants (including fire ants!) is drenching ant mounds with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and orange oil.

Orange and other citrus oils contain d-limonene (citrus peel extract), which destroys the wax coating of an ant's respiratory system. A Texas A&M extension study had success drenching fire ant mounds with 1-1/2 oz. of orange oil and 3 oz. of liquid dish soap per gallon of water. You can buy orange and other citrus oils at farm supply stores and online.

“Set-and-forget” fly and mosquito spray

The Country Vet Metered Automatic Mosquito & Fly Spray Kit can be mounted on a wall or set on a shelf. It dispenses a pyrethrin-based insecticide every 15 minutes and is safe to use around food, people and pets. It can be used effectively in areas around the house where flies and mosquitos are a nuisance, such as sheltered porches, patios and decks. It's available online from sources like qcsupply.com.

Seal out stinkbugs

Stinkbugs are on the rise in many areas and causing serious damage to fruits and vegetables. They don't bite or cause structural damage, but in the fall they seek shelter indoors.

According to the University of Maryland extension experts, sealing your home is the best control: caulking, foundation sealing, weather stripping, door sweeps and other measures. If they do get inside, experts recommend vacuuming them up (although your vacuum may stink for a few days afterward).

Repel wood ticks with dryer sheets?

We can't confirm whether this works. Maybe the ticks are laughing so hard at the getup shown in the illustration that they can't get a good grip on your leg when you pass by.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Caulk gun
Insecticide sprayer
Metered bug spray dispenser

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Ant bait
    • Bath soap
    • Bug barrier spray
    • Bungee cords
    • Caulk
    • Cedar oil
    • Clothes dryer sheets
    • Corn meal
    • Hydraulic cement
    • Liquid dish soap
    • Orange oil
    • Weatherstripping

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