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
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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
Brian Gough on ant bait
I swear by Combat or Advion ant gel bait (commercial quality, but available online to homeowners). Ants can’t resist taking a taste. After a day or two, the invading ants (and perhaps the entire colony) are gone. I apply the gel to a piece of duct tape or inside a bottle cap for easy cleanup later.
Brian Gough, Field Editor
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
Tom Dvorak on Annihilator
As far as bugs, wasps, Asian lady beetles, box elder bugs, etc., there is a product called Annihilator that I’ve used with great results. I use a 1-gallon sprayer and spray it around exterior doors and windows. It can also be safely used indoors. When bugs walk across it, they drop dead.
Dr. Todd A. Sidel on Spectracide
I’ve used Spectracide Bug Stop for years. It lasts almost a year and kills all sorts of bugs. It is safe, colorless and almost odorless. It can be sprayed indoors or out, on windows and doors, on tent screens and sleeping bags too.
Todd A. Sidel, M.D.
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
Jeff Patterson on hydraulic cement
I used hydraulic cement to fill a large gap in our foundation wall that was allowing ants to get into the house. The cement sets up in five minutes and also stops water leaking into the basement. Double whammy!
Get hydraulic cement at home centers and hardware stores. It hardens fast, so mix it in small batches.
Kill slugs with corn meal
Ann Weisz on cornmeal
I use cornmeal to get rid of slugs. Just put some in a jar and tip the jar on its side in the garden. Slugs eat it but can’t digest it, and die.
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?
Lloyd Lehn on soap
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.
Got carpenter ants? Call a pro
Cameron LiDestri on pros
I’ve had trouble with carpenter ants, and frankly, I’ve had no luck with consumer-grade solutions. I finally called the pros, and one or two applications later, the problem was gone. Sometimes the best solution is to know when to call the experts.
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!
Cedar oil repels ticks, fleas and mosquitos
Chip Leedy on cedar oil
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.
Suffocate ants with soap and orange oil
Ann Weisz on liquid dish soap
I squirt liquid dish soap on anthills. It blocks their airways as they crawl through it and leaves a trail that others get caught in. I got that hint from an exterminator!
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
Jordan Van Moorlegham on metered sprays
We use a special metered fly spray in our house that my parents always used on the farm. You can put the can in a dispenser and it sprays every so often. It does a great job of depleting a fly population in your home. I’d highly recommend the dispenser system for anyone.
Jordan Van Moorlegham
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
Joseph Rocco Gualtieri on caulking
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.
Joseph Rocco Gualtieri
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?
Barry Shoultz on dryer sheets
To repel wood ticks and deer ticks, I unfold clothes dryer sheets and wrap them around the top of my socks and secure them with rubber bands. Not a great fashion statement, but it prevents ticks from clamping onto your pant legs in grassy areas (where they primarily are).
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.
If you continue to struggle with pests in and around the home, check out these additional DIY pest control strategies.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
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.