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If it buzzes, squeaks, eats your azaleas and has more legs than you do, chances are you don't want it creeping around your house. Blasting unwanted critters with a potent poison may seem like a satisfying solution to your pest problem, but the same stuff that's toxic to pests is often toxic to people, too -- especially kids. And because pesticides typically treat pest symptoms, and not underlying causes, they often don't work as well as prevention-based alternatives. Here are some general tips for putting a lid on pests; click on the links provided for more specific information.


  
Lawn and Garden Care

Nontoxic pest control works outside the house too. You can manage weeds, plant diseases and garden bugs without having to resort to hazardous chemicals. For example, mowing your lawn frequently at a high height (recommendations vary depending on grass species) will keep weeds from elbowing their way in.

In lawns and gardens, make sure you're growing species that are well adapted to your local soil conditions. And good old-fashioned hand weeding, hoeing and pruning, as well as using organic, slow-release fertilizers, are effective at keeping weeds, bugs and diseases at bay.

If you do decide to use pesticides, opt for spot treatments. Widespread use, including perimeter sprays, can create polluted runoff and wash into waterways. For detailed information on how to handle everything from aphids to dandelions to powdery mildew, see the excellent fact sheets from the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.



STEP 1:Make Sure Your House Is Clean and Dry

Many insects and rodents are attracted to food and water, so start off by making your home less enticing to pests.

  • Wipe up spills immediately with soap and water.

  • Take out garbage daily and keep garbage cans clean of food residue.

  • Keep ripe fruit in the fridge.

  • Wash dishes daily, or at least submerge them in soapy water until you can get to them.

  • Make sure all food and beverage containers outside the fridge or freezer are tightly sealed. Glass jars with rubber seals or plastic containers with tight snap-on lids are better than screw-top jars.

  • Sweep and vacuum your floors regularly.

  • Keep bathroom and kitchen areas as dry as possible. Fix leaky faucets and don't let standing water accumulate.

  • If you have a pet, comb it regularly with a flea comb and wash its bedding frequently. Be sure to vacuum floors, rugs and upholstery your pet comes in contact with regularly. (Click here for more information on pesticides and pets.)


  
For further information

The website of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides is an excellent resource for news and detailed information on specific pesticides and alternative pest control methods for homes, lawns, gardens, schools and communities.

The Pesticide Action Network North America's pesticides database offers information on least-toxic and nontoxic alternatives.

The website of the University of California's statewide integrated pest management program offers fact sheets for managing individual pests.

Beyond Pesticides, a national nonprofit organization, provides a searchable nationwide database of least-toxic pest management companies on its website.

Green Shield Certified is an independent, non-profit program that certifies pest control companies, facilities or buildings that use prevention-based pest control and minimal pesticides.



STEP 2:Seal Entryways

Deny access to new invaders by making sure potential entry points are sealed off.

  • Use silicone caulk to seal any cracks and crevices in baseboards, moldings, cupboards, pipes, ducts, sinks, toilets and electrical outlets.

  • Place screens in front of heating and cooling vents, and repair holes in any existing screens. The average mouse found in homes can squeeze through a hole the size of a dime!

  • Keep vegetation, stacked firewood and other debris away from the exterior of your house so pests can't climb up and in.


STEP 3:Try Chemical-Free Strategies

Now that you're denying pests food, shelter and access, it's time to put the squeeze on any lingering intruders. To solve your pest problems without using chemical pesticides, you can:

  • Vacuum for individual bugs or nests (bugs will usually suffocate in the bag)

  • Lay traps (flytraps, jar traps, pheromone traps, light traps, etc.)

  • Use a swatter


STEP 4:Choose Lower-Risk Pesticides

If problems persist, try these techniques, which will minimize the health risks to members of your household.

  • Dust boric acid on cracks and crevices, which slowly poisons crawling insects like ants, cockroaches and silverfish, but is far less toxic to humans and other mammals. (Still, you should avoid dusting in areas that might result in human exposure.) See www.beyondpesticides.org for details.

  • To control insects and rodents, try tamper-resistant bait boxes -- an effective and safer choice than sprays, powders or pellets, which all spread pesticide residues. Look for one that uses a nonvolatile chemical, like boric acid, and make sure to keep bait stations out of the reach of children. See www.beyondpesticides.org for details.

  • Try insecticidal or fatty-acid soaps, which kill soft-bodied insects like caterpillars, fleas and mites on contact, and are virtually harmless to humans and mammals unless they're ingested. See www.beyondpesticides.org for details.

  • Hire a professional trained in Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which uses physical controls and low-toxicity products to manage pest problems.


STEP 5:Minimize Exposure

When using any pesticide, be sure to limit the exposure of everyone in your household.

  • Avoid frequent, preventative applications. Never exceed the application rate indicated in the instructions.

  • When applying pesticides, follow all precautions listed on the label, such as wearing gloves, masks or goggles.

  • Make sure any baits, traps or pesticide residues are kept out of reach of children and pets.

  • Never dump leftover pesticides in the garbage, on the lawn, or down the drain, where it could contaminate the soil or drinking water. Check with your public works department about how to dispose of hazardous waste.

last revised 7/20/2007

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