Avoiding Fleas and Bug Bombs: Keeping Pesky Pests Away Without Chemicals

A few years back, a friend of mine accidentally applied a dog-formulated flea pesticide on her cat. The next day she found her cat dead. The cat’s veterinarian determined that the only feasible reason for the cat’s death was the exposure to the more highly concentrated, dog-formulated pesticide, even though the formula she used was for the lowest weight dogs.

Pets aren’t the only ones at risk from household pesticide accidents. In November, a 10-month old in South Carolina died after his mother used several “bug bombs” during a month of trying to rid the house of roaches. The coroner later determined pesticide exposure as the cause of death (the boy’s mother and older brother were hospitalized and released).

It sometimes seems that pesticides are the only way to combat nasty, persistent pests, but a recent study showed that alternative methods proved to be more effective in maintaining a pest-free home. The study used integrated pest management (IPM), a method involving sanitation, building maintenance, and limited use of least toxic pesticides to rid urban apartments of their pests. After 3 months the residential buildings had significantly lower counts of roaches compared to the apartments treated with pesticides alone. These conclusions showed that actually raising the standards of living in residential buildings by doing simple structural maintenance, cleaning, and using non-toxic pesticides were more successful. The basic practices they used involved filling in holes in various rooms through which pests could enter, steam cleaning surfaces with soap, and using boric acid (a less-toxic alternative to harsher pesticides) to kill remaining roaches.

The Center for Environmental Health website has many tips for alternative ways to tackle pest problems in your home.

For Fleas:

  • Comb your pet with a metal flea comb, available at pet stores. Focus around the neck and base of the tail. Keep a wide container of soapy water nearby to drown captured fleas.
  • Bathe dogs to drown fleas. Use a dog shampoo and increase effectiveness by using a flea comb while the pet is lathered. It is not necessary to use shampoo with insecticide.
  • Vacuum carpets, floors, and upholstered furniture daily if you have a flea infestation. After you vacuum, remove the bag and seal it tightly with masking tape.
  • Do not try to get rid of fleas by spraying around the outside of your house or spraying your entire yard. Spot-treat only the areas where you find large populations of fleas. Fleas will more likely be on an animal or inside your home. Concentrate your efforts there.

For cockroaches:

  • Use nontoxic sticky traps to locate roach habitats. When you find out where roaches are hiding, you’ll know where to concentrate your efforts.
  • Caulk and seal their entry points. Cockroaches often come in through gaps along pipes, cracks around baseboards, cupboards, sinks, etc.
  • Remove food sources. Pay particular attention to areas where grease accumulates, such as drains, vents, and stoves. Make sure all sweet, starchy, and fatty foods are sealed tight. Fix dripping faucets and any other leaks, and make sure your dish rack drains properly.

To learn more about alternative ways to tackle home pest problems in your home, see the Center for Environmental Health’s suggestions for safe at home pest control tips here.