9 Everyday Items That Can Help Control Household Pests

Annoyed by ants, gnats, cockroaches or other pests? (Shudder.) Here's how to vanquish them with common ingredients you likely have on hand.
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As a recent renter-turned-homeowner, one thing I took for granted in my apartment days was pest control. It was included in my rent and taken care of while I was off at work, so it never crossed my mind when I moved into my house — until I had to deal with an invasion of ants. Store-bought sprays and baits can be very effective, but what if you have pets or kids and are concerned about their safety? Or what if you want to deal with the problem now without running to the store? Before you reach for the chemicals, try these items you may already have around the house that can help keep ants, roaches, bed bugs, flies and more pests at bay.

Cleaning The Natural, Safe Way

Cleaning The Natural, Safe Way

Learn how to clean without harsh chemicals using natural cleaners like vinegar, baking soda, salt and lemon.


What can’t vinegar do? In addition to being a great cleaning agent, vinegar is effective in deterring many types of pests. Ants despise the smell of vinegar, and vinegar will wipe out the scent trails they leave around the house to navigate. You can also make traps for fruit flies and gnats using apple cider vinegar mixed with a few drops of dish soap. The insects will be drawn to the smell of the vinegar, but once they touch it, the soap will make it impossible for them to escape.


Catnip is a natural cockroach deterrent. You can make a “catnip tea” by simmering catnip in water, which you can then spray in areas where you see roaches. Catnip sachets can also be effective, but avoid this method if you have cats at home.

Essential Oils

Essential oils, such as peppermint, eucalyptus and lavender, can help keep dust mites and bed bugs under control. Just mix of a few drops with water and spritz on bedding, carpets and rugs.


Kill fleas and flea eggs by sprinkling finely ground salt on your carpet, letting it sit for 24 hours and vacuuming it up. The salt dehydrates the fleas and ultimately kills them.

Vacuum Cleaner

If a swarm of ladybugs has invaded your home, the easiest way to get rid of them is with a vacuum cleaner — and you can even release them back outside if you'd like. Secure the toe end of a pair on pantyhose to your vacuum's hose attachment with a rubber band as a trap.

Keeping Garden Pests at Bay

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Friendly Insects

Beneficial insects come in many shapes and sizes, but their numbers can be curtailed by misguided pesticide applications or as a result of inaccurate identification. Many are essential pollinators while others are predators feeding on plant pests and other invertebrate animals. These include ladybugs, some hoverfly larvae, and lacewing larvae, while ground beetles feed on a wide range of soil-dwelling pests.

Photo By: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Biological Control

This is the use of nature’s own armory of predators, parasites, and pathogens to control pests. They are of most use where they can be released into a protected environment, such as a greenhouse. Some nematodes, as used to control slugs and vine weevil, can also be used outdoors, but only when soil temperatures are at or above 41 degrees F. Accurate and early identification is essential to ensure the correct control is used and at the right time of year. If in any doubt, seek advice. In some cases, chemical control may be the only option when you have an infestation, but only apply according to the instructions, especially when spraying edible crops. Be aware that the use of insecticides is likely to kill biological controls and beneficial insects.

Photo By: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited


Barriers are a very useful way of preventing pests from getting to your prized herbs, let alone damaging them. Most are designed to counteract the pest by being uncomfortable to cross or impossible to jump or climb over. Copper tape supposedly gives slugs a small but harmless electric shock, while bands of vaseline or grease make movement difficult for slimy creatures. Take care to remove fallen vegetation as this can create a bridge that will soon be discovered and exploited to the full. Sharp sands, gravels, and ground-up eggshells are used relatively successfully to restrict snail damage. Used on their own, each provides a modicum of protection, but if used in conjunction with biological control and considered use of slug pellets, any damage will be minimal.

Photo By: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Slugs and Snails

These cause massive damage to seedlings and developing leaves. Organic control can be hopeless, but reducing the population using pet-friendly pellets from early spring may enable less drastic methods to be used in future.

Photo By: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Vine Weevils

Adults leave notches in leaf margins and larvae devour roots. Use insecticidal drenches on non-edible container plants, but biological controls are also available. The adults are active at night when they can be seen by flashlight and destroyed.

Photo By: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited


Watch for signs of a growing infestation, including ants rushing around or stems and leaves sticky with honeydew. Biological and chemical controls are available and can be effective, but the former is best reserved for indoor crops.

Photo By: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Bay Sucker Nymphs

These insects suck sap, causing leaf curling and discoloration. As adults they may be visible, resting on young shoot tips, and should be picked off. Insecticides are unlikely to be effective, but removing affected leaves can help.

Photo By: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Rosemary Beetles

They look beautiful, but are a serious pest of lavender and rosemary. Control by removing adults and larvae by hand, or spray ornamental plants with insecticides and treat culinary herbs with pyrethrum or thiacloprid.

Photo By: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Rabbits and Hares

Such pests can cause severe damage and may even kill young trees and other plants. Tree guards or fencing can be effective, but keep a close watch for gaps. Live trapping can also be used where fencing is not practical.

Photo By: DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited


Fun fact: Spiders’ taste buds are on the tips of their legs, and they hate citrus. Ergo, they won't want to walk on places soaked in citrus. Mix water with lemon or lime juice and spray around doors and windows.


Don’t have any ant baits handy? Try setting out small piles of cornmeal. The ants will bring it back to the colony as food, but they can’t digest it properly, ultimately thinning their ranks. 

Petroleum Jelly

If you can see where ants or other insects are getting into your home, create a barrier with a line of petroleum jelly. You can also try chalk, cinnamon or cayenne pepper.


Mint repels all kinds of critters, including ants, flies, mosquitoes and mice. Leave small sachets of crushed mint — or even mint teabags in a pinch — around the house.

Natural Cleaners for the Kitchen + Bathroom

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Vinegar is by far one of the most versatile cleaning agents. Use it to remove soap scum from the shower. Mix it with borax to get rid of hard-water rings in the toilet. Tape a bag of vinegar to your showerhead and leave it overnight for an easy, sparkly clean; or add a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to your dish soap to eliminate grease in the kitchen.

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Hydrogen Peroxide

You use your toothbrush to clean your teeth, but don’t forget about cleaning your toothbrush. Let it soak in hydrogen peroxide for a few minutes to get rid of any lingering germs. Hydrogen peroxide is also useful on many hard surfaces. Use it to scrub your toilet, trash cans, shower, mirrors and doorknob. You can even mix it with equal parts water for a safe and effective solution for mopping the bathroom and kitchen floors.


The acid in lemons makes them a great natural cleanser. The juice is great for disinfecting kitchen countertops and cutting boards. Cut a lemon in half and scrub your bath and shower to remove soap scum. And if your shaving cream has left a rusty ring in your bathtub, use your lemon half to scrub it away.


Do you have a mold and mildew problem in the bathroom? Skip a trip to the store, and pull out some inexpensive vodka from the liquor cabinet. Spray it directly onto the mold and mildew, and wait 15 minutes. Then use a cloth or small scrubbing brush to wipe it clean. And don’t forget to save a little for an after-cleaning celebration!

Photo By: John Foxx


More than a favorite beverage, brewed tea can be used to clean windows, mirrors and countertops. Spray on your bathroom surfaces just as you would any typical window or surface cleaner. Then, keep your bags to hide in the back of the fridge. They will actually work to deodorize it. And if you need to remove the scent of onion, garlic or fish from your hands, cut a bag open, and wash your hands with the leaves to remove the odor.


Remember that miracle lemon that cleaned the tub? If your dirt stains are particularly stubborn, add some salt to the lemon, and scrub the surface of your bathtub, sink or toilet. Once your salt solution has done the trick, just rinse off any pulp and leftover residue, leaving your bathroom perfectly clean with a lemon-fresh scent!

Baking Soda

Perfect for cleaning counters, sinks, drains, the toilet bowl, soap scum, shower doors, showerheads, and well, pretty much anything in the kitchen and bathroom, baking soda is one cleaning agent you don’t want to be without. For most kitchen and bathroom surfaces, a simple paste made of baking soda and water will do the trick.

Drain Cleaner

Though it is not a natural cleaning solution, exactly, a drain snake is an eco-friendly way to clean out the main source of drain blockage: hair. And if you don’t have a drain snake, you can still avoid pouring harsh chemicals down the bathtub drain by unwinding a wire hanger, hooking the end, pushing it down the drain as far as it will go, and pulling up hair that is keeping the water from draining properly.


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