How to Get Rid of 14 House Bugs — the Nontoxic Way

Creepy crawlies are a homeowner’s (or renter’s) worst nightmare. They mean no harm, though — they’re just doing their thing.

Luckily, there are proven methods that prevent, discourage, and treat bug infestations in the home that don’t involve spraying the whole shebang with toxic chemicals. Because who wants to live in a poisonous fart cloud?

Although often effective against home invaders, artificial pest repellants, sprays, baits, and poisons can be dangerous, if not lethal, when people (not to mention pets) ingest or touch them. To be honest, when it comes to some pesticides, you’re better off with the damn bugs.

Exposure to pesticides can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system, disrupt hormones, and even contribute to the development of some cancers.

Even relatively benign pesticides can be dangerous if they’re handled or operated incorrectly.

Household chemicals have damaging side citrus heights pest control pros effects for the environment too. Pesticides can find their way into groundwater or a river, lake, or ocean and contaminate the water sources for people and animals.

Once in the environment, pesticides can cause damage to plants and animals, as well as unsuspecting humans.

Good thing there are alternative ways to debug a home, right?

From essential oils to nontoxic household cleaning products, we break down everything you need to know about keeping pests away in a more humane, environmentally friendly, and healthy way.

Keep ‘em out

A buggy infestation can’t ruin your life if it never happens. *taps temple* That’s science, pal.

Here are a few basic tips to deter critters of all kinds from setting up camp anywhere in your home.

Clean up

Pests love a good snack, so keep food under wraps to prevent your home from turning into the next trendy spot in the buggy club scene (if that seems like an alien concept to you, there’s a record producer purely called The Bug, so it could happen).

  • Store flour, sugar, and other dry ingredients in sealed bags or glass or plastic containers.
  • Take out the trash often, and store outdoor garbage cans (with secure lids) far from the door.
  • Don’t leave pet food out overnight.
  • Clean up spills and crumbs right away.
  • Wash dishes right after a meal, and don’t let food-encrusted plates and bowls hang out throughout the house.
  • Regularly recycle old newspaper, cardboard, and boxes. Bugs love to burrow in these warm and cozy materials.

Not only will this make your home a more pleasant place to be, but bugs will stay the eff away.

Stay dry

Mosquitoes and cockroaches are particularly drawn to bodies of water, so keep the house dry whenever possible.

  • A full sink is basically a cockroach swimming pool (come on, guys, sauna’s closing), so drain that water as soon as the dishes are done.
  • Wipe puddles or spills that form pools of water. Plus, nobody will slip and hurt themselves! No cockroaches + no ouchies = double victory.
  • Fix leaky pipes, sinks, appliances, and bathroom fixtures so they don’t drip water.

Yeah, mozzies and roaches! And stay back!

Be Mr. or Ms. Fix-It

Remember when you said you’d repair that hole in the wall or door? It’s time to make good on that promise. (Ugh, we know, we know.)

A tiny hole or rip is an open invitation for pests of all shapes and sizes to come strolling in and saunter around like they own the place.

  • Patch or replace holes in screens and walls, especially around windows and doors.
  • Get out the caulking gun and seal up cracks and openings around baseboards, windows, and pipes. You should be caulkin’ so much they start to call you Macauley. That’ll show those home invaders!
  • Store firewood and mulch piles far away from the house’s foundation. Bugs can easily travel between the two environments. Try to keep at least 30 feet between pile and house, if possible. Thank you very mulch.
Know your bugs

While every geographical region has its own pesky pests, here are 14 of the most common home invaders.

This list is arranged in alphabetical order to make browsing easy. For each pest entry, we’ve included info about:

  • what they look like
  • where they reside
  • what they eat
  • what dangers they present
  • how to get rid of them

If these simple solutions don’t work (sometimes those unwanted houseguests can be stubborn), it’s probably time to call in the professionals. But it’s 2020, and we can’t always afford the professionals. So here’s how to DIY your gigantic “f*ck off” to the little beasties in your life.

1. Ants

What they look like: They have a segmented black-brown body and three legs (plus two long antennae that can look like legs).

Typical ‘hood: Pretty much everywhere.

Home headquarters: They’re fans of nesting in soil next to or under buildings, along sidewalks, or near trees or plants. Ants also love warm, damp locations (think between walls, under floors, or near heating system components).

Fave snacks: Fruits, seeds, nuts, other insects, and sweets.

Danger zone: Some ants can bite or sting, although most home-dwelling species do not.

How to ditch ’em: First, find entry points and seal them with caulk or petroleum jelly.

Natural ant repellants include:

  • cream of tartar
  • pure cinnamon
  • coffee grinds
  • garlic (yes, they’re like vampires)
  • chili pepper
  • paprika
  • cloves
  • dried peppermint

Leave a sprinkling of one or more spice at entrances where ants enter the house to deter the critters from crossing that sacred threshold. Lemon juice and peel are also useful.

The commercial nontoxic ant repellant Orange Guard is harmless to humans and other animals, and drives ants away without harming them.

2. Bed bugs

What they look like: A bed bug has a flat oval body with six legs, about the size of an apple seed. They can be either brown or reddish brown.

Typical ‘hood: They’re found around the world, but outbreaks have centered in the United States, Canada, the UK, and other parts of Europe.

Bed bugs are found in environments where many people cycle through on a given day — this includes apartments, hostels and hotels, trains, buses, and dorm rooms (oh, we know you’ve been in that hostel or dorm room).

They can easily hide in luggage, bags, clothing, or bedding.

Home headquarters: Unsurprisingly, these pests love to hang out in and around the bed. Bed bugs’ small, flat bodies allow them to hide quite easily in seams of mattresses, bed frames, headboards, other bedroom furniture, pet beds, behind wallpaper, in clothing, or any other household clutter.

Fave snacks: Blood. Bed bugs can live for up to a year in between “meals.” This is bad news for people who like to keep their blood inside their body. So, people, then.

Danger zone: Bed bugs don’t transmit diseases and are not considered a public health hazard. However, their bites cause itching, and dealing with an infestation can cause anxiety and insomnia (and, sometimes, a rash on your butt).

In some cases, bed bug bites can trigger a serious allergic reaction, but this is fairly rare.

How to ditch ’em: Unfortunately, getting rid of these little critters is hardly a walk in the park.

  1. First, wash all surfaces where bed bugs might dwell (sheets, pillows, towels, clothing, curtains, etc.) in hot water and dried at the hottest setting for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Next, scrub the mattress with a stiff brush and vacuum it and the surrounding room thoroughly, disposing of the vacuum cleaner bags immediately.
  3. Cover the mattress in a bed bug cover (available at most home goods stores) or toss it if it’s really been infested. Be careful when trashing bed-buggy items. Wrap anything in heavy plastic and packing tape, and label it clearly so others know it contains bed bugs.
  4. Seal up peeling wallpaper and cracks in floorboards to remove future hiding spots, and clear up any household clutter around the bedroom.
  5. Pure essential oils (cinnamon, lemongrass, clove, peppermint, lavender, thyme, tea tree, and eucalyptus) can repel bed bugs from setting up shop in the first place, so spray ‘em in your suitcase before heading out on a trip and before coming home again.

3. Bees and wasps

What they look like: Bees are 1/2 inch to 1 inch in length and oval-shaped, with six legs, two sets of wings, and antennae.

They are usually golden yellow with brown or black stripes, although carpenter bees are blue-black with a yellow furry patch on their backs and usually armed with tools for sanding furniture (they’re not, but, you know).

Hornets have much larger bodies and are usually black and brown with some orange-yellow. Wasps are thinner, with long legs and jagged yellow and black stripes.

Also, bees are vegetarian and wonderful, and wasps are spiteful assholes. But they still have uses in the environment.

Don’t bother bees, and they won’t bother you.

Typical ‘hood: Bees, wasps, and hornets dig temperate climates, although they’ve adapted to thrive in pretty much all habitats. They can be found around the world.

Home headquarters: These arthropods are creative house-hunters! Bees, wasps, and hornets often build nests underground, in trees, in empty man-made structures (barns, cars, attics, etc.), or even chimneys.

They also love sweet stuff and hang out near fruit trees and garbage cans. Mmmm, yes, that sweet, sweet garbage.

Fave snacks: Bees love to munch on pollen and nectar from flowers. Hornets and wasps are omnivorous and eat smaller flies and insects as well as fruit, sap, and human garbage.

Danger zone: Many people are allergic to bee, hornet, and wasp stings. For those with allergies, a single sting can be deadly. For those without serious allergies, the venom from stings can result in painful, itchy, and swollen areas.

How to ditch ’em: Bees, wasps, and yellowjackets are actually quite important for ecosystems (they pollinate plants and crops and manage other pests by preying on them).

It’s best to just let them bee (lol) unless they’ve completely infested a home or are a direct threat to someone with an allergy. A random bee in the room wants no trouble with you.

  1. To remove an active nest, wait for the queen to leave (she’s the big gal) and then fill the nest with dirt to discourage a new queen from setting up shop. (“Eww, this place is nasty, let’s go somewhere else.”)
  2. You can use nontoxic essential oil sprays and containment traps (with bait) to discourage all kinds of flying, stinging creatures.
  3. Fun fact: Since wasps are extremely territorial and will not set up near another nest, hanging a fake nest near your home can keep wasps from moving in nearby.
  4. Simply removing a nest or drowning it in soapy water can be effective, but can be dangerous as insects — especially wasps — don’t go down without a fight (they might just fight you anyway, for the sake of it).

4. Chiggers

What they look like: Well, they’re extremely tiny (smaller than a period at the end of a sentence) and red. Good luck spotting one of ’em on its lonesome.

Typical ‘hood: In the United States, chiggers are typically found in the Southeast or Midwest regions.

Home headquarters: Damp wooded areas or pastures and fields with lots of tall grasses. Chiggers often attach themselves to the tops of socks or waistbands.

Fave snacks: Animal blood. Chiggers are actually the larvae of harvest mites, which are vegetarian when full-grown but parasitic in this specific stage.

Danger zone: Chigger bites are extremely itchy but carry no serious health risks (except an infection derived from scratching).

How to ditch ’em:

  1. Prevent chiggers from attaching to clothing or skin by wearing long layers, using bug spray, and avoiding areas known to house chiggers.
  2. After walking in a chigger-infested area, take a hot shower with lots of soap and wash clothing with hot water.

5. Fleas

What they look like: They’re red-brown, have a narrow body about 1/8 of an inch long (or smaller), with long claws on all six long legs.

Typical ‘hood: All over the world.

Home headquarters: The hair or fur of humans or animals.

Fave snacks: Human and animal blood. To each their own.

Danger zone: Fleabites are itchy and can trigger allergic reactions. Fleas can be dangerous (in addition to simply annoying) in the house because they transmit serious diseases like typhus and tapeworms.

How to ditch ’em: Using special pet preventative medications can stop fleas from latching on in the first place. Once they’ve made it indoors, though, fleas are difficult to remove.

  1. Start by vacuuming frequently (especially in areas where pets hang out) and discard the bag after each session.
  2. Wash pets frequently with pet-friendly soap and hot (not scalding!) water.
  3. Use traps that attract bugs by emitting light and heat.
  4. Natural herbs and aromatics like lemon, citronella, wormwood, and rosemary can also deter fleas. Mix a few drops of oil with water in a spray bottle and spritz dogs every other day.

Note: Use extreme caution with essential oils and pets. While EOs can, in some instances, be used on dogs, horses, and other farm animals (with proper dosage and professional guidance), they should not be used on cats, birds, small rodents, or fish/reptiles.

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