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6 Tips for Natural Pest Control

Don't grab the bug spray! Natural pest control is safer and smarter

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Natural pest control is safer, and often more effective, than chemical pesticides at managing the ants, flies, cockroaches and other insects that want to share your home. Most pesticides to control insect pests are poisons that you don't want around your body, your children or your pets. Worst of all, they tend to linger in the environment long after they've been sprayed. Before you reach for the poison, try these tips for safe, natural insect control -- most of which are based on the principles of integrated pest management, or IPM.

An Ounce of Prevention

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The best way to control pests is to not invite them inside in the first place. Most bugs are attracted to food and water, so keeping your kitchen clean, taking out the garbage regularly, and storing food and drinks in tight containers will deter insects, mice and other pests. Leaky pipes and other sources of water attract cockroaches and other bugs, as does a full bowl of pet food. Finally, repair or replace torn screens, and seal off drafty doorways (which also saves on heating and cooling costs).

Natural Insect Control: Know Your Pests

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The word "bugs" is a general term that could describe any insect or spider -- but not all bugs are created equal. Before you take any steps to control pests, you need to know exactly what problem you have. Many non-toxic treatments, like borax or diatomaceous earth, will work on some pests but not others.

Why Use Chemicals?

For some pest infestations, non-chemical natural insect control can be effective -- and is often less expensive, too. An ordinary fly swatter is a very green way to eliminate flies and other bugs. Vacuuming is another great strategy for getting rid of pests that may live in your carpet or upholstery (they usually suffocate inside the bags). And traps -- like light traps, fly paper, bait traps or pheromone traps -- can get rid of bugs and rodents without spreading around any household chemicals.

Go Non-Toxic First

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If the pest prevention and elimination ideas above aren't enough, first try non-toxic agents for natural insect control. Soap, for example, has been used sucessfully against dozens of different pests for years -- about 2 teaspoons of castile soap in a gallon of water will deter most ant infestations, as will cayenne pepper and oil of eucalyptus. Boric acid (borax) is another great, safe way to get rid of roaches, ants and silverfish. Try mixing sugar with boric acid, and you can get rid of a whole colony of insects. Diatomaceous earth can wipe out fleas. Whichever you choose, use it in targeted areas -- not only is this safer, it's more cost-effective than random distribution.

Choose Safer Pesticides

If you decide it's time to bring out the big guns and use some commercial pesticides, there are choices that are lower in toxins than others. Plant-based pesticides containing pyrethins, for example, aren't exactly "safe," but they are a better choice than organophosphates, which are found in some pet products. Avoid anything listed as containing chlorpyrifos, phosmet, naled, diazinon or malathion. And don't get fooled by ad slogans like "natural," "eco-friendly," or "environmentally safe." Those phrases aren't regulated and mean nothing (after all, even natural poison is still poison).

Use Pesticides Smartly

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Whatever product you're using, use common sense and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Keep your use of any pesticide to a bare minimum, and avoid aerial sprays and foggers except as a last resort. Don't use outdoor or garden pesticides indoors, and when you store and dispose of pesticides, do so in a safe, smart and legal manner -- because they're hazardous waste, don't just throw them in the trash.

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