How to Get Rid of Ticks

Learn how to make your backyard less tick-friendly and how to remove ticks the right way.

deer tick Ixodes scapularis


Ticks such as this blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis, also called deer tick) will climb on the grass to hitch a ride on their next host. You can make your backyard less tick-friendly by mowing your lawn frequently and keeping tall grasses away from play areas.

Photo by: Shutterstock/Jay Ondreicka

Shutterstock/Jay Ondreicka

Ticks such as this blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis, also called deer tick) will climb on the grass to hitch a ride on their next host. You can make your backyard less tick-friendly by mowing your lawn frequently and keeping tall grasses away from play areas.

By: Paul Cox

I grew up on the East Coast and spent my summer days as a kid playing outside. My mom would insist on checking me and my brother for ticks before we stepped foot in the house, holding us down long enough to run her hands through our hair and check our legs for the little bloodsuckers.

Ticks still give me the willies, and for good reason. Ticks carry pathogens that could result in illness such as Lyme disease and Babesiosis, the incidents of which have increased over the past decade.

While not all ticks carry pathogens, there's no way to know which ticks are infected, says Dr. Angela Tucker, BCE, a specialist in vector and vector-borne disease education and training at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

My mother knew best. Checking yourselves and your animal companions for ticks should be routine after spending time in the woods or areas with tall grass. And while making your backyard tick-free is difficult, there are some ways to make it less tick-friendly.

How to Get Rid of Ticks in Your Yard

  • Mow your lawn frequently. Ticks wait in tall grasses to hitch a ride on a host.

  • Remove leaf litter. Ticks don't like dry conditions.

  • Keep tall grasses away from your home and the edge of your lawn.

  • Remove overgrown shrubs.

  • Keep wood piles in a dry area to discourage rodents, which can carry ticks.

  • Consider putting up fencing to keep out unwelcome animals. Ticks can be brought to your property by wandering wildlife such as deer or domestic animals like your neighbor's dog.

  • Keep your pet from roaming through tall grass. Consult with your veterinarian on a tick preventative for your pet.

  • Separate play areas in your yard from wooded areas or areas of tall grass. Consider a 3-foot barrier of wood chips or gravel.

  • Keep old furniture and trash out of the yard.

  • Introduce sunlight to your landscaping. Ticks prefer humidity.

How to Protect Yourself and Pets from Ticks

"The faster you find the ticks and remove them, the less chance they bite you or your companion animal and potentially transmit a pathogen," says Dr. Tucker. "There is no way to look at a tick and know if they are infected, therefore, it is best to be proactive."

Dr. Tucker says that while there are multiple species of ticks in the US, most of them are of no concern to us. Some to be aware of include American dog tick, which is widely distributed across the eastern US and intermittently in the Rocky Mountains; blacklegged tick, which is also distributed across the eastern US; and the lone star tick, which is distributed across the eastern, southern and central US. See these maps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing where these ticks live.

Whenever venturing into the woods or areas where ticks are likely present, consider these tips to keep ticks off your body and protect your pet.

  • Wear breathable, long sleeves and long pants.

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency publishes a list of registered and approved tick repellents. This tool can help you choose the product based on length of potential exposure and ingredients.

  • Check with your veterinarian regarding products that prevent ticks, moquitoes and/or fleas.

  • Inspect your pet and yourself after activity in areas where ticks could be active, and take a bath or shower. Bathing can help remove any tiny immature ticks that may be on you or your animal companion.

    According to the CDC, check these areas of your body during a tick inspection: under the arms, in and around the ears, inside belly button, back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs and around the waist.

How to Remove Ticks Safely

Dr. Tucker recommends the following steps to remove ticks and cautions against some potential missteps and bad practices.

What To Do:

  1. Using sharp tweezers, grasp the tick close to their attachment (as close to skin as possible), and slowly pull the tick out of the skin. A slow, steady pressure is best.

  2. After you remove the tick, wash the area where the tick was feeding and use an over-the-counter antiseptic on the area. Then use a fine-tip Sharpie to draw a circle around the bite mark, and monitor it for any potential rash.

  3. Keep the tick in a sealable bag, write the date on that bag and keep it in the freezer for three weeks in case you develop symptoms. If symptoms develop, take the tick to a medical professional. See this explainer from CDC on tick symptoms and bites. Animals may seem more lethargic (sleepy) or slow to move around, which is an indicator that they should seen by a veterinarian.

What NOT To Do:

  • Do not twist, turn or tear at the tick or rush when removing a tick as that may leave the mouthparts behind. You do NOT want to break off mouthparts into your skin as that could result in an infection.

  • Do not hold onto the larger side of the tick (back end) as that may introduce pathogens into the bite wound.

  • Do not use fire to try to lure the tick out.

  • Do not use nail polish to suffocate the tick.

  • Do not pick at the bite site as that can lead to secondary infections.

  • Do not worry (but be tick aware and vigilant).

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