pest control

DIY Pest Control Strategies and Techniques

Try these effective ways to get rid of your nastiest pests.


How Common Household Pests Get In

Although your walls may appear solid, many walls are full of tiny pest passageways. Small insects can sneak through the tiniest cracks, so you may not be able to make your home absolutely bug-proof. But you can seal most gaps, especially the larger ones that let in mice and larger insects. Put on some old clothes, as you’ll have to get on the ground, slink behind bushes and even crawl under your deck to examine your home’s exterior. Take a flashlight and a mirror along. If mice are your main concern, also bring a pencil. If you can slide the pencil into a crack, it’s large enough for a young mouse to squeeze through. Take your time and examine every square foot of your home. The key areas to inspect include wall penetrations, doors and windows, the foundation, dryer vents, exhaust fans, and roof vents.
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Check the Foundation or Siding JointFAMILY HANDYMAN

Check the Foundation or Siding Joint

Inspect the underside of your siding using a mirror. If you find a foundation gap, mark the location with masking tape so you can seal it later.
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Plug Gaps With Mesh

Stuff in a generous amount of copper mesh with a screwdriver, leaving about half an inch of space for expanding foam sealant. Seal gaps with foam.
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Caulk Gaps Between Trim and SidingFAMILY HANDYMAN

Caulk Gaps Between Trim and Siding

Fill gaps between trim and siding with acrylic latex caulk. Keep a wet cloth handy to clean up any stray caulk. Smooth the bead with a wet finger.

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Seal Gaps at Doors and WindowsFAMILY HANDYMAN

Seal Gaps at Doors and Windows

Seal doors, windows, and basement sashes with adhesive-backed weatherstripping. Clean the surface first so the weatherstrip will adhere well.
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Look for Gaps at the Dryer VentFAMILY HANDYMAN

Look for Gaps in the Dryer Vent

Examine dryer vents to ensure the damper isn’t stuck open or broken off completely. Also, check that the seal between the vent and the wall is tight.

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Foam Large Soffit GapsFAMILY HANDYMAN

Foam Large Soffit Gaps

Pull nests from the soffit gaps and then fill these openings with expanding foam. After the foam hardens, cut off the excess with a utility knife.

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Protect Wood From MoistureFAMILY HANDYMAN

Protect Wood From Moisture

Insects and other small pests need to draw life-sustaining moisture from their surroundings, so they avoid dry places and are attracted to moist ones. If the soil around your house, the foundation, and the walls are dry, it’ll be less attractive to insects, spiders, and centipedes. Rake moisture-wicking soil and mulch away from the window frames and low wood. Turn your mulch periodically to help keep dampness down, and keep bushes trimmed back as well.

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Store Pet Food

Store Pet Food

Store pet food in a lidded metal trashcan, as mice cannot climb the slick, vertical sides of the can. Sealed plastic containers are also a good option.
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Mousetrap Technique

Mousetrap Technique

Snap-type mousetraps, when well placed, can be an effective way to rid your house of mice. Snap traps may seem cruel, but compared with a slow death from a glue trap or poisoned bait, they’re a more humane way to exterminate mice. And because you toss the remains in the garbage, there are no dead mouse surprises to encounter later. Common mistakes with do-it-yourself pest control are poor placement of traps and using too few of them. Mice have poor vision and prefer to feel their way along walls. Place snap traps along walls in areas where you’ve seen the telltale brown pellets. For an average-size house, two dozen mousetraps would not be too many. The best technique is to set two traps, parallel to the wall, with the triggers facing out. While mice can jump over one trap, they can’t jump two. Favorite baits of professional exterminators are chocolate syrup and peanut butter. Live traps are best used in pairs in the same manner as conventional mousetraps. Place them back-to-back with the open doors on each end. TIP: Before you sweep up mouse droppings, always spray them with a disinfectant spray such as Lysol. Mice can pass the disease to humans through their waste.
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Spider Solution

You can virtually eliminate spiders in your basement by using a dehumidifier to maintain a 40 percent humidity level and vigilantly sweeping down cobwebs whenever they appear. Keep the basement windowsills brushed clean too. In a matter of weeks, the spider population will die down significantly.

Eliminate Cockroaches

Tucking paper bags under the kitchen sink is tempting, but unfortunately, it creates a cockroach condo. Even worse, once the cockroaches move in, they deposit their pheromone-laced fecal pellets. If you have cockroaches, it’s usually best to hire a professional exterminator. You can buy high-quality bait products, but they’re expensive and are only effective if you place them properly. If only 5 percent of the roaches survive your attack, they will completely repopulate in just a few months. For a little more, you can hire a pro who understands the habits of cockroaches and will place the bait in hard-to-reach crevices. Furthermore, a reputable exterminator will guarantee the job.
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The first step in getting rid of roaches is to get rid of their food. Clean up every speck and crumb—from shelves, drawers, pantry, under appliances, under the sink. Store any accessible food in plastic containers. Equally important: Remove the roaches’ water supply. Fix leaky sink traps and drippy faucets. Elevate Rover’s water dish. Eliminate damp dishtowels, sponges, and scrub pads. Sealed bait containers like Roach Motel are most effective. Boric acid pesticide powder also works. Just sprinkle it lightly into all cracks and crevices. It’s long-lasting and relatively nontoxic. Look for it at hardware stores and home centers.

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Box Elder Bug Swarm

When box elder bugs swarm in the fall, you may think they’re taking over your house—maybe even the world! Even though they’re harmless, here’s a solution. Look for major congregations of bugs outdoors and spray them with a strong solution of soapy water. Keep the spray bottle handy, and spray wherever they recongregate.
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Stop Moles From Tearing up Your YardPHOTO BY FOTOSEARCH

Stop Moles From Tearing up Your Yard

Moles can eat their weight in worms and grubs every day, so they find healthy, well-watered lawns—which are full of worms and grubs—very attractive. Tunneling as fast as a foot per minute under the sod, one mole can make an average yard look like an army invaded it. To their credit, moles do a good job of aerating the soil and controlling Japanese beetle larvae and other harmful bugs, and they don’t eat flowers or plants. If you can live with them, they generally won’t cause any serious, long-term damage to your yard. However, if you can’t, you’ll have to do some DIY pest control methods to trap or remove them. The population density of moles is generally no more than three per acre, so catching even one might take care of the problem. Live trapping moles by setting a deep bucket under an active tunnel is sometimes effective. To set up a live trap, dig a hole in the tunnel deep enough to set a 2- to 5-gallon bucket below the level of the tunnel. Pack the dirt around the edge of the bucket, then cover the hole with sod or plywood so you can check the hole daily. The mole will fall in, and then you can take it to a new location. However, the most effective, time-tested method is to set up a spring-loaded prong or choker-loop trap that is activated when the mole pushes against it. For the spring trap, flatten an area of the tunnel slightly bigger than the base of the trap and set the trap over it. Follow the manufacturer’s directions to arm the trap, then cover it with a 5-gallon bucket to keep kids and pets away. Remove it and the mole after it’s been triggered, or try a different tunnel if it hasn’t been triggered after several days. Whether you set up a live or a spring-loaded trap, the first step is to locate the active tunnels. Step on the tunnels you see in one or two spots to collapse them, then check those spots the next day. If the tunnel has been dug out again, it’s an active one, and a good spot to set a trap.
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Keep Raccoons Out

Raccoons will eat almost anything and are always on the lookout for a good nesting site, so our houses, with all their nooks and crannies and overflowing garbage cans and backyard vegetable gardens, are very appealing. Light, water, noise, and chemical repellents may work in the short term, but raccoons eventually learn to ignore them. The best way to discourage these pests is to make your house and garden inaccessible. Try these DIY pest control ideas to get rid of raccoons:

  • Cut back overhanging tree branches and brush so raccoons can’t get onto the roof.
  • Add chimney caps, or replace them if they’re damaged. Fireplace chimneys make great dens for pregnant raccoons. If you hear raccoons in the firebox in the spring or summer, you may need to wait until the fall for the raccoons to leave before capping the chimney, or else call an animal control specialist.
  • Block crawl spaces and other possible entry spots with securely nailed 1/4-in.-mesh hardware cloth. Wait until the fall after the babies are out but before hibernation, or until you’re sure the raccoons are gone.
  • Raccoons eat garbage, pet food, fruits and vegetables, and fish from garden ponds. Make trash cans inaccessible. Cover fish ponds with netting. Don’t leave pet food outside.
  • Protect vegetable gardens, especially if you’re planting sweet corn, with wire electric fencing (consult the manufacturer’s instructions for spacing and wiring instructions). Fencing is available from farm supply stores and Internet suppliers.
  • If raccoons have already made a den in your attic or crawl space, put a radio, flashing lights, ammonia, mothballs, or commercially available repellents in it, then give them a few nights to leave. To make sure they’re gone, stuff the entry with newspapers. If the paper is still in place after a few days, the raccoons have left