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.
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.
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.
Get hydraulic cement at home centers and hardware stores. It hardens fast, so mix it in small batches.
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.
For the past two years, we've hung bars of Dial soap cut in half in cheesecloth bags around our gardens to keep deer away. We haven't had deer problems since. I'm not sure if the deer simply went away or the soap kept them away.
We also had some unanticipated results. For years some unknown critters (probably squirrels) have been munching on our tomatoes in tomato cages. We started hanging Dial bags on our tomato cages and lo and behold, the tomato-munching critters stay away too.
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.
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.
The local raccoons had learned how to open my garbage containers. After unsuccessfully trying to discourage the varmints with chicken wire caps, tie-down cinch cords and ammonia liquid, I came up with a better solution. I drilled two small holes in the front of the containers and used 48-in. bungee cords to hold the lids on tight. So far, so good.
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!
I spray a mixture of cedar oil and water on my lawn and shrubs. It's organic and safe for kids and pets. It repels biting insects and it also suffocates their eggs. Apply it at night, and in the morning the yard is ready for pets and kids. You can find cedar oil at local farm co-ops, pet stores, online retailers and landscape supply companies.
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.
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.
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.
Stinkbugs have become a huge problem in my area. I was flushing between five and 10 a day down the toilet. We tried traps, but they didn't work and instead attracted more! I finally figured out where they were coming from—my attic. It looked like a breeding ground...they were everywhere!
I got on my ladder and caulked every gap or opening around my house, especially the wood soffit. I'm proud to say we’ve had zero stinkbugs since. Sometimes the best solution is to completely prevent those critters from getting in rather than catching them after the fact.
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).
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.