Preventing pests from entering your home may sometimes leave you feeling helpless: No matter what you do, you’ll never quite keep them out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
So, how can vermin be properly given the boot? Dr. Ron Harrison, director of technical services for Orkin Pest Control, advises on the right ways to debug your home.
The friendliest way to keep a home bug-free is to not let them enter in the first place, says Harrison. Be aware of things that pests are attracted to. An open garbage can with organic material or sugars can attract ants, flies and rodents. Mulches in the yard draw ants and millipedes. Stagnant puddles of water can bring mosquitoes and termites.
Also make sure to use products like caulk and steel wool to seal all cracks in floors, walls and other surfaces that are larger than one-quarter of an inch and do regular checks of home insulation in your attic to make sure pests aren’t nesting there.
Pests can invade even if all the proper precautions are taken inside a home. You could go to a store that has a roach problem and carry an insect back in a bag. You might stay at a hotel with bed bugs that attach themselves to a suitcase. You could buy yard-sale furniture that has spiders or termites. Or your abode could just be a warm space for pests to stay in the cold months—each fall an estimated 21 million U.S. homes get invaded by rodents, according to Orkin.
“The animal is finding an opportunity to survive better through the structures that you have,” says Harrison. “We call those ‘occasional invaders.’”
After going outside, inspect your belongings and body to make sure no critters sneak into your home; that way, you’ll be better equipped to prevent them from spreading to places like your bed or closet. If they do manage to gain access, the National Resources Defense Council recommends vacuuming, laying traps and using a swatter to quickly address the problem. Something as simple as a shower immediately after returning from a rural area can help wash off ticks and reduce the chances of contracting Lyme disease by 75 to 80 percent, says Harrison.
Bed bugs are among the toughest pests to evict. The first step is to look for signs: They leave behind black stains. “If you see those around the mattress or headboard, then you ought not stay in the room,” says Harrison. “Always inspect.”
Bed bugs are most active at night, particularly between midnight and 5 a.m. They’re attracted to body odor, so be mindful of soiled clothes. Also, they do not survive the high heat of a clothes dryer, says American Camp Association. When you get home after a trip, wash and dry your clothes immediately rather than have them sit in the hamper for a while.
Harrison recommends keeping suitcases in the garage or attic, so bugs are kept away from the bedroom. If you don’t have that extra space, wrap a plastic garbage bag over your luggage.
There’s a common mistake that many people make when pests invade their pantry: They take all the food out, scrub down the area, and then put the food back. The problem? “It’s the food that’s infested,” says Harrison. “Cleaning the shelf or around the edges won’t do anything because the food source is bad.”
Take these steps to prevent or safely resolve an infestation. Still in need of help? Then it might be time to consider reaching out to an expert. “Partner with pest-control pros who clearly know what they’re doing,” says Harrison. “Talk through [your situation] with them. There are many solutions for each of the different pests.”