Inexpensive glue traps available online and at some hardware stores can catch male clothes moths through pheromones, chemicals that attract bugs to the opposite sex; check sites like eBay, bugspraycart.com, and Saferbrand.com, where you’ll find them for $10 to $20. Moths can also be killed by putting all of your natural-fiber items in the dryer for 10 or 15 minutes. To prevent them from becoming a problem in the first place, cedar and dried lemon peels can help, and eartheasy.com recommends a sachet of bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, eucalyptus, lavender, peppercorns, and wormwood — which, if nothing else, will keep your clothes smelling good. Refresh any natural remedies when their scents start to wear out.
Cockroaches are a sanitation issue, according to Hickey; keep your space as clean as possible and they won’t be attracted to it. Of course, this may not completely eliminate them if you live in an apartment building where you can’t control your neighbors’ living habits. In that case, don’t spray. “Repellent products can spread them,” Hickey says; roaches may leave the area you spray, but they’ll only move on to another. He recommends, instead, using bait traps; roaches that take the poison bait will carry it back to the nest to share, and soon enough you’ll be seeing fewer of them.
In the kitchen, proper storage and food rotation can make a big difference. “If you have a box of Flutie Flakes from 1999 or a bag of flour from the Reagan administration,” says Williams, “you shouldn’t be wondering why you have Indian meal moths.”
Dog and cat food and birdseed are among the biggest culprits for letting in what are known in the industry as stored-product pests, including rice weevils, grain moths, and drugstore and cigarette beetles. Williams recommends storing pet food in hard plastic containers and bird seed outdoors in metal ones, since determined rodents can chew away at plastic bags. That way, if you have an outbreak, it will be contained. It also helps to place naturally repellent bay leaves in various pantry items like sugar and flour. If you do have a problem that gets out of control, try glue traps with pheromones; since you’d be using them inside the house, you wouldn’t have to worry that they would attract more insects, as might happen with outdoor traps.
There are basically two types of flies: trash flies and small fruit flies. You can trap both with simple, cheap homemade devices. For trash flies, cut a 2-liter soda bottle in half and put some bait — raw meat soaked in stale beer works, so does an old banana peel — in the bottom, then invert the top half of the bottle and put it neck down in the bottom half. For fruit flies, pour a little cider vinegar mixed with a drop of dish soap in the bottom of a jar. Cover the jar with plastic wrap with a few holes poked in the top. With both traps, flies fly in but they don’t fly out.
Any such folk method, cautions Sullivan, is “really useful for some people, but others find they don’t work that well.” If you’re one of the unlucky ones, the least toxic way to rid yourself of flies is not to spray but to buy some flypaper for two or three dollars at your local hardware store. It won’t look pretty, but it’ll get the job done.
As Williams mentions, the best way to keep mice and other rodents away is to seal up any access holes. As with cockroaches, though, this works only if you live in a detached house; if your apartment building has rodents, you might find it more difficult, and even in a freestanding house, mice can still find their way in through drains and electrical lines. “They’re little athletes,” says Hickey. “They can climb any surface.” If you don’t mind killing rodents, the safest method is with traps; if you poison them, they, in turn, can poison cats and predatory birds like owls and hawks that eat them. Folk remedies to repel rodents include leaving out ammonia, Bounce fabric softener sheets, cayenne pepper, or cotton balls soaked in peppermint or clove oil; commercial repellents like Bonide’s Mouse Magic, around $10 at your hardware store, can also help, as can catch-and-release traps such as the Smart Mouse Trap from Seabright Laboratories ($11).
Garden slugs aren’t insects, but they can be a nuisance. There are loads of methods for controlling them, starting with mechanical removal. You can also keep them away by surrounding plants with a substance they won’t want to move over, like crushed eggshells or sandpaper, or using copper, which gives them a slight electrical shock when they touch it. Copper barrier tape, which costs $6 to $15 at the hardware store or online, or strips of copper can be useful on tree trunks and in raised beds and container gardens, but make sure to make the barrier wide enough; 6 to 8 inches should do it, according to weekendgardener.net. Lures can also be effective, and include dry pet food, beer, cornmeal, citrus rinds, and a package of yeast mixed with a little honey. Put whatever substance you choose in the bottom of a cup and bury it so that the slugs can get over the rim; keep the bait safe from rain by placing a tin pie plate over it with a few holes cut out as slug doors. Salt kills slugs, too, but can soak into your soil and be detrimental to plants. Continued...