Don’t Bug Out: How to Get Rid of Pests without Pesticides


It’s not just baby animals that emerge in spring: A whole host of insects that can eat you out of house and home also come out of the woodwork.

Applying indiscriminate amounts of pesticides used to be the norm, but more environmentally sensitive ways to combat pests have cropped up in recent years.

Here’s a primer for how to take on the toughest bugs:


First of all, make sure your kitchen and the areas underneath your sinks are completely clean, with no food bits that would lure roaches.

One of the most effective natural control methods for roaches is boric acid–a white, organic powder that is deadly to these insects, but is no more toxic than table salt to humans.

Most people apply the treatment wrong. For the powder to work, it has to be laid in a very thin layer on the area where the roaches walk. The key, according to the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology, is “to give the [boric acid] container a shake, then puff a very light dusting of the powder into the area you wish to treat.”


–If you live in California or along the southern coast of the U.S., you may have to contend with drywood termites. Injecting nontoxic orange oil (taken from orange rinds) into walls can soak through the wood and kill the insects and their eggs. Better yet, you don’t have to move out of your house, board your pets, or remove your plants as you would with fumigation.

–Subterranean termites—found in the eastern and southern U.S., and considered the most destructive wood pests—can set up shop near your house in the thousands, excavating narrow tunnels until they encounter wood.

The traditional control method is to apply a liquid pesticide to the soil to make a “chemical barrier” around the building that would thwart all routes of entry. But many termite entry points are hidden, and hundreds of gallons of pesticide must be applied.

The other option is termite baits: Small amounts of a compound made of paper, cardboard, and a slow-acting substance lethal to the insect are “deployed like edible ‘smart missiles’ to knock out populations of termites foraging in and around the structure,” according to the University of Kentucky.

The trick is to get termites to find the baits—once they do, the foragers consume the bait and share it with their nest mates, gradually reducing the colony numbers.


There are many species of ants, each with different control techniques.

Richard Fagerlund‘s book Ask the Bugman! Environmentally Safe Ways to Control Household Pests recommends this non-toxic ant bait recipe: Mix three cups of water with one cup sugar and four teaspoons of technical boric acid designed for pest control.

Wrap three or four jam jars with masking tape, pierce small holes in the top, and smear the outside with the bait syrup. Place the jars where ants are foraging, and soon swarms will appear on the jars and carry the poison back to their colonies.

To get rid of ant piles in your yard, pour hot, soapy water down the entrance to the mounds with a small funnel, Fagerlund advises.

Of course, the best course of action is to prevent bugs from getting in your house in the first place, he adds.

Among his suggestions:

–Keep ground litter, firewood, loose boards, and rocks away from your foundation—such detritus are happy hiding places for scorpions, centipedes, roaches, and other critters.

–Trim bushes and trees back so the branches aren’t touching your house (and providing convenient bridges into your home).

–Don’t use outdoor lights that attract insects.

Lastly, if you decide to go with a professional, the Web sites Green People and Low Impact Living have lists of natural and organic pest-control companies in several U.S. states.

For more pest control tips from the Green Guide:

VIDEO: Garden Pests

Ridding Your Yard of Mosquitoes

How To Control Ants Without Chemicals

— Christine Dell’Amore, National Geographic News environment editor

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Tasha Eichenseher is the Environment Producer and Editor for National Geographic Digital Media. She has covered water issues for a wide range of media outlets, including E/The Environment Magazine, Environmental Science & Technology online news, Greenwire, Green Guide, and National Geographic News.