We all have to deal with the occasional six-legged household intruder, but did you know that North American households use almost 140 million pounds of pesticides every year? These products, while effective, permeate your home and may create a living environment filled with toxins and allergens. Choose the healthy alternative and reach for natural substances before the chemicals. Homemade insect repellents are an effective first line of defense, repelling pests before they invade your home, garden or personal space.
The most important step to keeping ants out of your kitchen is to keep all surfaces clean. After preparing food, wipe down surfaces with water or a mild soap mixture. If the ants still come marching two-by-two, try out these natural repellents:
• Black or Cayenne Pepper: Ants hate spicy condiments. If you can identify the insects' point of entry to your home, pour a line of black or cayenne pepper at the entrance. Use pungent, freshly-ground black or red peppercorns. Lemon juice, cucumber peel, cinnamon, crushed mint, cloves and coffee grounds may also serve as an effective barrier.
• Vinegar and water: Fill a squirt bottle with one part vinegar, one part water. If you'd like, add a drop or two of your favorite essential oil. At least once daily, wipe down all surfaces with your vinegar mixture.
• Borax: Mix one teaspoon borax with one teaspoon sugar, and then add enough water to create a paste. Spread the paste on aluminum foil and place near the ants' entry points. The insects will take the sweet-but-deadly solution back to their colony. Note: Place out of reach or young children or pets, as borax may be toxic if ingested.
Sticky traps are an excellent way to identify how and where roaches are entering your home. Once you've discovered their points of entry, repair grouting and caulk cracks. Keep your kitchen clean and all food stored in airtight containers. If you still find roaches, try the following:
• Grease traps: Take an old margarine or cream cheese jar, and smear with butter, margarine or other greasy substance. Place a banana peel – the riper, the better – in the jar and leave overnight wherever you have cockroaches. The insects will climb in, but won't be able to climb out due to the sticky butter. Dispose of pests in the morning.
• Baking soda: Mix 1/3 cup baking soda with 2/3 cup mashed potatoes and roll into balls. When the roaches ingest the mashed potato balls, their stomach will swell from the baking soda, and they will die.
• Borax: Make a mixture of one teaspoon borax, one teaspoon sugar and enough water to form a paste. Place on a jar top, aluminum foil or other surface and leave for up to one year.
Perhaps the most frustrating of all pests, mosquitoes' itchy bites can seriously cramp your summer style. Armor up with the following natural repellents:
• Vanilla Extract: Pure vanilla extract has been shown to ward off a number of biting bugs, including mosquitoes. To use, dab a bit on your wrists, neck and behind your ears. Lavender essential oil also works.
• Citrus peels: Take fresh lemon, lime or orange peels and rub over your skin. You'll smell citrus fresh, but mosquitoes will steer clear.
• Homemade bug repellent: Mix witch hazel with a few drops of eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree or peppermint oil (do not use if you are pregnant) in a bottle and shake vigorously. Lightly mist over exposed skin.
Spiders are excellent bug catchers, so if they're hidden from view, consider leaving them to live as your household bug patrol. If not, try removing them – a plastic container with cardboard slid underneath works well – and relocating outside. If you have a few persistent arachnids, consider the following:
• Soapy Barrier: Mix one pint of water with five tablespoons of natural soap and several drops of strong-smelling essential oils, like tea tree, lemon or rose oil. Spray around spider entry points and their favorite inside areas.
• Baking Soda: Baking soda works well as a spider deterrent. Sprinkle around the exterior of your home, or in strategic spots where spiders live.
Avoid angering or attacking wasps and yellow jackets, as these flying insects release pheromones to call for help, thus making your situation worse. Also dress in neutral colors, since wasps are attracted to floral tones and colors that remind them of other wasps.
• DIY Trap: Take a two-liter soda bottle, and slice the neck and cap off evenly. Coat the neck with honey, jam or a sugar paste and fill the bottom part of the bottle halfway with water and dish soap. Invert the sliced-off top half of the bottle, placing over the water; the water should not touch the honeyed neck. Leave outside. Unsuspecting wasps will come to dine, but once they fall into the soapy water, they won't be able to climb back out.