Friday, October 5, 2012

The Things that DON'T Go Bump In The Night - DIY Pest Repellents

When you purchase a 150+ year old home that has been over grown for years, and empty for several months, one expects to find LOTS of pests.  I thought I had adjusted my expectations, I was wrong!  Fortunately I developed an arsenal of all natural  DIY remedies to solve our household pest problem!

I should have known when we found a frog taking a swim in the toilet the first morning that I was in for a bumpy ride, but even that didn't clue me in to the breadth of the 'invasion'.  It turns out that LOTS of scary things DON'T go bump in the night - but prefer to creep around quietly while you sleep.  As we've battled back the creatures that CREEP in the night, (and tried to avoid filling the home with toxins while doing it) I've come up with a few DIY projects that may help you do the same.

Frogs:  I have no advice!  This little guy showed up only once, (Perhaps he was on the neighborhood welcome committee.) so after evicting him and ensuring the bathroom screens were firmly in place we saw no more of him.   It makes me wonder how long he had been living in there.  He should have been listed under 'existing tenants' on the disclosure I think.   As a preventative measure I hacked down a ton of ivy that looked charming climbing our brick facade, but also played host to lots of creepy crawlies.


Spiders:  This house was under full spider attack when we arrived.  The yard is somewhat wooded and very overgrown, encouraging LOTS of spiders in the area, and the windows (while new) had never been caulked leading to a full blown invasion.  First: Caulk your windows!  I know that sounds obvious, but these little dudes are skinny, and far more calculating then flying insects that bump against screens hoping to get lucky.  We took two approaches to fend off these beasties, one inside and one out.

Outside we used a product called Diatomaceous Earth, which is a natural substance that is made from ground fossils.  I know, this seems strange, but it works.   My understanding is that the powder is so fine that it penetrates the exoskeleton of spiders and other insects and that results in death.  :(  I honestly feel a bit bad about this, but at the time (after waking to a spider on the bed two nights in a row) I was desperate.  I sprinkled this stuff around the entire perimeter of the house both around the soil  level and up on the window sills.  My vigorous application left the house looking like it had dandruff, but I really think it helped cut back on the insects that found their way in.  Pros:  All natural and non toxic (It's even used IN dry food products in the US which is comforting but a bit scary at the same time.) Inexpensive and easy to apply.  Cons:  Appearance (It left the house looking like the 'before' guy in a dandruff commercial, but this could probably be avoided with a more careful application than my frantic dousing.)

I found this stuff to be very effective, all things considered.  I noticed a few dead ants even as I was spreading the stuff, and it did seem to create a barrier around the house.  I worried that it may wash away after a rain, but it seemed to stick around and maintain potency for quite a while. 

   ***As a side note, I wore a mask when putting this stuff out.  Any powder fine enough to explode spiders from the inside out seems like something I don't want in my lungs.  Please look for warnings on packaging, especially for indoor use or if you have kiddos.

Lemon Essential Oil, Citrus limon, Italy 5 ml
Inside I explored a lot of options before settling on what I figured was the most natural (and probably also least aggressive option).   As you might guess, certain natural oils repel spiders naturally.  Oils including those from citrus fruits, lavender, peppermint, citronella, cinnamon, tea trees and cloves can all be used to dissuade them from hanging around.  I chose to stay in the citrus family of oils since this is a scent my husband likes, and it smells inherently clean.   I bought several bottles of extract from Whole Foods and also some scented oils from Bath and body.   You can also find them on Etsy searching for postings like this

 I heated some in an oil warmer regularly (my thought was this was a good way to spread the smell throughout the house) and sprinkled drops along our base board heating.   I also BOMBED the area under our bed with oil - I was NOT willing to wake up to 8 beady eyes one more time!

Aside from sprinkling oil around the house you can also use the following recipe:

DIY Spider Repellant Spray:   Mix 5-8 drops of extracts or oils into a small spray bottle with HOT water and a drop or two of detergent or dish soap.  I found that the detergent and use of heat both allowed the oils to mix more evenly in the water.   Pros:  Inexpensive, natural and makes the house smell great.  Cons:  Effectiveness.  Probably not the most through or effective way to eliminate a major infestation, but over time it worked for us.  (And nobody grew a third arm from nasty chemicals.)

Spider Assassin: As a final layer of protection against the spiders, we (inadvertently) turned the dog into a trained spider assassin.  Every time she killed a spider I gave her a treat. Now, anytime she hears my trademarked 'I just saw a something creepy' squeal, she comes running.  I highly recommend this method of pest control.  

Millipedes:  In addition to the spider invasion we battled, we also found ourselves up against a particularly devious millipede variety. (Ok, I can't be sure if they are millipedes or centipedes, I googled it once and figured out the exact variety but the images scare me so I'm not going there again.)   Anyway, this little guy is long (2") and black and shiny with tiny legs you can't really see so it looks like it moves like a snake.  Millipedes are gross, but I realized this guy had an extra dose of gross when I squished one on my first night alone in the big abandoned, bug  infested, creaking, howling house.

It should be noted that as we moved into this place, anything that could have gone wrong HAD, so I was reacting to most things from a 'worst case scenario' standpoint.  Due to the age of the house and the level of disrepair and neglect I was pretty convinced that at some point we would have an electrical fire.   These thoughts were not completely unfounded since one the light switches in the great room sported a note that said 'Do not switch on, smells like smoke.'  Anyway, my first night alone in the new place and I encounter this slithering centipede in the hall outside the bedroom door.  I squealed (I don't remember making a sound, but playing the odds, that probably happened) and squished it, leaving the body for my husband to deal with in the morning.  Shortly after I stared smelling a VERY STRONG odor of burning plastic.  The kind of smell I would associate with an electrical fire.  I unplugged EVERYTHING I could find and waited in the dark all night for the spiders to carry me back to their lair.   It was only in the morning that we realized that the deceased centipede was actually the source of the smell.   It turns out these little guys spray when startled (like a skunk) and if you squish them they smell even worse.

The Remedy:  I can't say I have anything in particular in place to repel these guys.  Being insects with exoskeletons they fall victim to the Diatomaceous Earth, and perhaps they are dissuaded by our citrus smells as well. I can say that even our trained assassin has learned to stay away from these stinkers.  My best advise if you come across one,  carefully transport it outside without alarming it.  The lingering odor they cause makes killing them NOT worth it!

Our final Creature Feature is the Weevil! 
When we moved into this house we were relegated to a VERY primitive kitchen set up in a damp basement. Click HERE to learn more about how I keep pantry pests at bay. 

I hope that some of my research and remedies have been helpful to you!  Do YOU know any remedies that I should be using?  Comments welcome!

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