Visit any Walmart, Target or hardware store, and you’re likely to find almost an entire aisle devoted to insecticides. In these aisles, you’ll find all sorts of cans and spray bottles with big, scary-looking insects on them — from ants to wasps to beetles. They come with many promises, different directions and varying price points, but they all manage to do the same thing in your home — and it’s not always getting rid of pesky insects.
You can probably guess how we at Natran Green Pest Control feel about insecticides: we’re against them except in the most dire of circumstances. At Natran, we feel the health and safety of families, pets and the environment are more important than any insecticide or any infestation. While some people feel that insecticides work better than natural remedies, the additional harm that they can do to the environment and the people in the home outweighs the potential speediness of an insecticide.
Additionally, natural, botanical-based products like the ones we use at Natran work just as well if not better than insecticides. Some people fear these products won’t be as effective against some of the toughest home invaders, but in our 15 years of business, we’ve seen what these products can do in action and how effective they can be on all sorts of homes.
Now more than ever, we believe it is vital that we do all we can to protect the environment in all aspects of our lives. There’s no denying the impact of climate change and how our pollution is poisoning our planet’s most precious resources — the ones rely on to live such as the air we breathe and the water we drink. To us at Natran, being environmentally conscious doesn’t just mean recycling. It’s recycling, using LED light bulbs in our homes, composting and making environmentally friendly decisions no matter what we’re trying to do.
But don’t take our word. Read for yourself about the harms insecticides can do, how they’re not the only way to fight insects in your home and other ways you can ward off insects before it’s time to call in the experts.
What is an insecticide
In a nutshell, an insecticide is a type of pesticide that is mainly used to kill or ward off insects around the home or garden. Some insecticides target more than one type of insect while other focus on eliminating just one.
Insecticides work in different ways depending on the type of insect. Some work to disrupt the insect’s nervous system while others target the exoskeleton. Some insecticides repel insects in order to keep them away.
When you’re strolling through those aisles at Walmart or Target, you will likely find all types of insecticides on the shelves. Some come as sprays, gels or powers as well as baits. Because there are so many different types of insecticides, they can all do various types of damage to families, pets and the environment.
According to the National Pesticide Information Center — a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon State University — insecticides can also hurt non-targeted insects, including ones you actually want around your house and garden. Here are a few facts you might not know about insecticides from the National Pesticide Information Center:
- Mixing insecticides won’t increase the amount of protection around and in your home. In some cases, mixing insecticides can actually hurt their effectiveness and even cancel them out.
- Many insecticides target other insects than the ones mentioned on the label — and that’s not always a good thing. Spiders, bees, lady bugs — they all play vital roles in our ecosystems, and they’re not the insects you want to kill. Spiders, for example, eat pesky flies and mosquitoes around your yard, and if you kill them, you’re going to have a hard time keeping other pests away.
- You don’t always need insecticides to get rid of pests, as we’ll learn more later.
The National Pesticide Information Center has tons of information on pesticides from many reputable sources. For more reading, head to their site.
What are risks with insecticides
Depending on the type of insecticide that you use, your risk of hard to your family, pets and the environment will differ.
First off, it’s important to recognize that any pesticide or insecticide is a chemical, and being a chemical means that it will always impose some risk on the environment and others around it. When you know and understand this, you can take the best steps to minimize your total risk.
To understand the risk of an insecticide, you need to know its expose and toxicity. Exposure refers to the amount of the chemical that gets into the environment or into your system. This can vary depending on the location where the insecticide is used. For example, if you spray the exterior of your home, your personal exposure may be slightly higher than your family’s but still minimal. That’s because there’s so much open air that you probably won’t inhale too much of the chemical, and if you wash your hands immediately after spraying, then you won’t any left on your skin.
However, you could be seriously harming the environment and other non-threatening pests outside. When it rains, that insecticide could be washed into your flowerbeds, harming the good insects living there, and even farther into a water supply.
If you spray an insecticide inside your home, the exposure could be different. If you spray in a bathroom for example, you may inhale more of the insecticide yourself. The closed area means there’s less airflow, so what you’re inhaling is mostly the insecticide. If your spouse or kids are helping you or your pet happens to be nearby, they could be affected as well. Insecticides also linger, so there’s always the chance that anyone else who comes in to use the bathroom could be inhaling harmful chemicals as well.
The other thing to consider is the toxicity of the insecticide. Not every insecticide that you use will severely damage the environment or your family — but there will be some effect no matter what so keep that in mind. Some insecticides use more poisonous chemicals than others.
Now exposure and toxicity will vary depending on the type of insecticide used and where it is used. Some insecticides use more poisonous chemicals than others, so even if you’re outside or in a larger space such as a kitchen, you could still potentially poison yourself, your family and the environment. The poison may also last longer in an area, especially indoors where it’s less likely that water will wash it away.
Even insecticides that have a low toxicity overall can be dangerous if used in tight, cramped spaces like bathrooms. Since you’re breathing more of it in when you’re in such a small space, you might end up breathing in the same amount of chemicals.
To help you determine the risk of an insecticide, you can check the label for these words and their meanings:
- CAUTION: This product will have a low toxicity level.
- WARNING: This product has a medium toxicity level.
- DANGER: This product has a high toxicity level.
When applicable, always try to shoot for products that use CAUTION instead of WARNING or DANGER. You still need to be careful about where you use these products, but at least the amount of chemicals used will be limited.
In most cases, it’s almost always best to ditch insecticides and pesticides altogether and opt for more natural approaches to pesticides. The National Pesticide Information Center calls this integrated pest management, and it combines a little common sense with scientific principles to help you ward off unwanted pests.
The center first recommends identifying the pest and learning all you can about it. It’s not enough to say that you have ants. What kind of ants? Each type of ant has its own characteristics, building habits, lifecycle and dislikes. If you can learn more about them, then you can take easy steps around your home to make it less hospitable for that type of ant. Some ants seek out moisture, so fixing leaky pipes and sealing cracks near your windows will go a long way to preventing bests without having to spray any time of insecticide.
When researching your insect, you should also identify how it is likely getting into your home. Mice, for example, can slip in through cracks in the walls, but they can fit into holes the size of quarters. If you have mice in your attic, look for small holes around the perimeter and block them immediately.
You can practice integrated pest management around your home with these simple tips:
- Seal all entrances and exits to your home. Add weather stripping to your windows, especially ones in the basement and install door guards to doors with a substantial amount of space under them. Take a look at every door and window in your home and look for holes and cracks. Seal up what you can.
- Put food away in tightly sealed containers. Leaving food out is the easiest way to attract pests once they’re inside. In most cases, putting food away in cabinets is enough, but you may also want to invest in plastic storage containers for chips, cereal and other tasty snack if pests still seem to find their way into your pantry.
- Vacuum often. Your vacuum will pick up crumbs that attract pests as well as eggs that you may not be able to see. Make sure you’re running your vacuum at least once a week and empty it out after each use.
- Clean up your clutter. Clutter in the corners of your home gives pests cover and a place to hide. It may not attract them, but if you already have pests, then you may not see them because if all the clutter.
That’s not all you can do though. Move outside and try these integrated pest management tips:
- Cover your trash cans and keep them away from the doors into your home. Pests will be drawn to your trash no matter what. Keep lids on your trash cans and move them away from the entrances to your home. If you recycle, may sure you rinse out soda cans. The sugary liquid will certainly attract pests.
- Call a beekeeper to remove a hive. You’ve probably heard that bees have been struggling over the years, so if a hive seems to be forming in your backyard, don’t reach for the insecticide. Contact a local beekeeper. Many will gladly come and remove the bees for you. The bees will get a better home, the beekeeper can harvest their honey and you don’t have to worry about getting stung.
- Learn about native plants and which ones will grow best within your yard with your soil. Build your garden with plants that are native to Houston and get your soil tested to determine its health. You may need to add a fertilizer or start composting to give your soil the nutrients it needs to help plants grow. You can even look for plants that are disease-resistant.
The key to keeping pests out of your home — and avoid using insecticides — is to be proactive with your home. Repair it when needed, replace broken or damaged windows and clean often. This won’t stop every pest from getting into your home, but it will go a long way to keep them at bay.
How to know when to call in a professional
When you know you’re doing everything right to keep insects out of your home — and you know you don’t want to use a stronger insecticide — then it’s time to call in the experts.
We at Natran Green Pest Control know how frustrating it can be when you work so hard to keep pests out of your home, and yet, they just keep coming back. Our experts will work with you to determine how insects are getting into your home, what botanical-based products of ours will be most effective and what you can do in the future to stop insects from invading your house.
Tell us: What are your best integrated pest management tips? We want to hear what works for you, so share your thoughts with us in the comments.