Over one billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the U.S. alone (5.6 billion pounds globally). You might associate these harmful chemicals (with known links to climate change, health risks like cancer, and damage to ecosystems) with pest control.
However, there are ways to safely and responsibly use pesticides as well as other natural and effective methods of curbing your pest infestation. Keeping your home safe and free from household pests does not have to be dangerous for you or the environment!
Read on to discover the safest methods of managing your pest problem.
- The safety of pest control depends on the pest control method you choose.
- Chemical pest control products can be used responsibly but runs the risk of causing harm to humans, pets, non-target organisms, and the environment.
- Biological, mechanical, and natural pest control methods are all safe alternatives to traditional chemical treatments.
The Safety of Different Types of Pest Control
Whether pest control is safe ultimately comes down to the type of pest control treatment you choose for your home and whether it’s used responsibly. Below are the details on which types of pest control are the most safe as well as the do’s and don’ts of responsibly introducing potentially harmful chemicals into your living environment.
Chemical Pest Control
Chemical pest control is one of the riskier options when it comes to curbing your infestation. There are ways to use pesticides responsibly, but exposure to these potentially toxic chemicals always creates the risk of adverse health effects for humans and pets. Pesticides may cause cancer, lead to reproductive issues, or harm your immune/nervous system.
If you choose to use chemical pest control, start by using chemically-treated baits. These small, concentrated amounts of the chemical pose the lowest risk, as long as they are kept out of reach of pets and children.
If the problem persists, try using chemicals not contained to baits and traps, but only apply pesticides to targeted areas rather than spraying them over your entire home. Resort to fogging and aerosols only if absolutely necessary.
Always be sure to read the label, and only choose chemicals approved for use in homes. Wherever possible, choose ready-to-use pesticides (rather than solutions that require mixing yourself).
Biological Pest Control
Biological pest control is a safe and natural method that involves the introduction of the pest’s natural enemy (i.e., a predator, parasite/parasitoid, or pathogen/virus) in order to control the population.
This method is effective when implemented early in the infestation as a preventative method and can even be used to delay an infestation in your yard or garden until after a crucial part of plant development (i.e., flowers blooming).
This method is considered relatively safe for humans and the environment, especially when compared with the use of chemical pesticides.
Mechanical Pest Control
Another safe and effective form of pest control is mechanical pest control. This practice involves hands-on tactics such as using physical barriers and electric wires to deter pests, spraying plants with water to knock pests away, setting traps, using heat treatments, sanitizing and removing debris, growing competitive plants, or solarizing soil (using solar power to heat soil, killing or weakening pests).
This method is considered safe and natural and does not involve the use of harmful chemicals.
Natural Pest Control
“Natural pest control” refers to a variety of alternative home remedies to prevent or curb infestations (as opposed to the use of pesticides). This might include spraying essential oils that act as a natural insect repellent, creating DIY fly traps with honey or apple cider vinegar, displaying fresh herbs like sage and rosemary that deter pests, or spreading other foods and plants known to deter bugs like coffee grounds, banana peels, citronella, white vinegar, cloves, and onions.
Even chalk, beer, and spices like cinnamon, paprika, or garlic powder can be effective at keeping pests away. These natural methods are considered far safer for humans and the environment than traditional chemical methods.
Other Safety Concerns
While your safety, your family’s safety, and your pets’ safety are paramount, there are other concerns to take into account as well when choosing a pest control solution.
Potential Impact on Environment
Some pest control methods, especially chemical methods like pesticides, can have harmful effects on the environment. The production of pesticides releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, and spraying pesticides in and around your home may contaminate the soil, water, turf, or other nearby vegetation.
This poses a threat to biodiversity, and runoff into local bodies of water can even harm marine life. Pesticides may volatilize and become vapor in the air, harming nearby wildlife, or may even “leech” into groundwater, making local drinking water less than safe.
Potential Harm to Non-Target Organisms
Chemical pest control methods may also harm or kill organisms aside from the pests they’re targeting. This may include plants, other insects or animals above the pest in the food chain (such as birds or fish), and even pets.
Measures to Ensure Safe Pest Control
The risks of traditional pest control may sound daunting, but there are steps you can take to ensure that the treatment option you choose poses minimal risk to your family and the local ecosystem.
Hiring Professional Pest Control Services
Hiring a professional pest control service is the most surefire way to ensure your safety. A trained professional pest control technician will be able to determine the severity of your problem and the necessary measures to take. Should your exterminator see it necessary to use chemical pesticides, they’ll be experienced at determining the type and amount necessary to squash the infestation without harming your home or other wildlife.
Proper Handling of Pesticides
If you choose chemical pesticides as your form of pest control, it’s crucial that you use them responsibly and adhere to pesticide safety principles. Always read the pesticide label and ensure that the chemical you’ve chosen is approved for use in homes.
Choose ready-to-use pesticides where possible (as opposed to mixing the solution yourself). Use the pesticide only in concentrated areas: Start with chemically treated baits and traps; then, spray a targeted area; then, resort to fogging only if absolutely necessary. If possible, hire a professional to assist you with pesticide use.
Use of Natural Pest Control Methods
Where possible, choose natural pest control methods first before resorting to the use of harmful chemicals. Depending on the type of pest you’re dealing with, you may be able to use essential oils, food, or plants to deter them.
DIY baits and traps can be made with products like apple cider vinegar. Mechanical methods like physical barriers or heat treatment are also effective and natural options.
Regular Monitoring and Maintenance
The best way for homeowners to prevent a pest infestation from returning is regular monitoring and maintenance. By keeping your home clean and well-maintained, keeping cracks and crevices filled, and implementing a natural pest prevention regimen, you’ll negate the need to resort to chemical pest control in the future.