Jackie Dana on September 7, 2016 5 Comments Commercial bug sprays get the job done fast, but our homes and environment pay a hefty price for overuse of insecticides, which can poison beneficial insects and wildlife. When you use sprays and foggers indoors, you also run the risk of making pets and children sick. Fortunately there are lots of easy to use natural alternatives that actually work to repel and kill insects. Next time you get bugged and bitten by mosquitoes or when the ants on your counters are driving you crazy, you might check out some of the following options. Using Plants and Herbs to Repel Insects Quite a few plants have insect-repellent qualities. There are a number of essential oils that will do the job, and a few living and dried herbs also can keep bugs away. Try mixing a few drops of any of the following essential oils in a spray bottle filled with water, or add to a damp cloth, and wipe your counters and sinks. You can also place cotton balls with a couple drops in your pantries and cupboards, or add a couple of drops to a bandana and tie loosely on a dog (do not apply essential oils to pets’ skin or fur without consulting with a veterinarian). Not only will bugs head the opposite direction, the oils will make your home smell fragrant and clean. Clove Lavender Any citrus oil, including lemon, lime and sweet orange Mint, including peppermint and spearmint Rosemary Thyme You might also look for products containing cedar oil or shavings. These sprays, shampoos and pet bedding are great to both repel and kill fleas and other biting insects. They are safe to use on both cats and dogs, and they smell great too! For mosquitoes and flies, you can’t go wrong wtih lemon eucalyptus, rosemary, tea tree, and neem essential oils. You can add a few drops to hand lotion to make your own insect repellent, but do not use eucalyptus or tea tree oil on pets (tea tree oil is particularly toxic to cats). Some plants will also repel mosquitoes even as they grow in your garden. Consider planting lemongrass, catnip, rosemary, lemon balm, citronella, scented geraniums, mints and marigolds around your patio or deck, or in planters and hanging baskets. These plants will add color (and in some cases, culinary bonuses!) to your yard as well as keep the bugs at bay. Tuck sprigs of rosemary and bay laurel leaves in your cabinets and under your kitchen and bathroom sinks to repel a variety of insects from food, paper products and clothing. 1. Fleas For anyone who has pets, you know summertime is flea season. If you know fleas are going to be an issue, get a head start in the early spring by spraying your yard and outdoor runs or kennels with beneficial nematodes. These tiny parasites are safe for the environment and will control the outdoor flea population, significantly reducing the need for pesticides or flea medications on your pets. Throughout the spring and summer, also be sure to keep your lawns mowed and trim back all weeds, as this will help keep flea numbers down (and also help control mosquitoes and other biting insects). For treating fleas on your pets, there are a few easy things you can try. Giving dogs a bath with non-toxic flea shampoos can substantially reduce the flea population in your home. Many people swear by Dawn dishwashing detergent as the best flea shampoo out there. When you give your dogs a bath, suds them up and leave the shampoo on for at least 3-5 minutes. Rather than subject your cat to a bath, try using a flea comb to safely remove the majority of fleas. You can drop them into a cup of soapy water or diatomaceous earth to kill the fleas after you pull them from your pet’s fur. Indoors, regularly vacuum and wash all bedding and other areas pets sleep, and you can significantly reduce the number of active fleas, as well as their eggs. You can also sprinkle pet bedding with diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is a fine white powder that is made from fossilized aquatic creatures, and contains significant quantities of silica. While entirely nontoxic to pets and humans, it kills fleas and other insects by getting into the areas of their exoskeleton and dehydrates them. Once you apply the powder, leave it for a few hours to kill fleas and then vacuum it up again. 2. Mosquitoes Mosquitoes aren’t just an itchy nuisance. Health officials warn of Zika and West Nile viruses spreading in the US. For cats and dogs, there’s also the added concern of heartworm, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. With these illnesses becoming more common in the US, it’s imperative that you protect yourself and your family from mosquitoes and their nasty bites. There are some easy things you can do outdoors to reduce mosquito populations. Be sure to regularly drain any standing water on your property. Water often collects in potted plants, wheelbarrows, tires, children’s toys and playscapes and pet bowls. For ponds and birdbaths that are meant to hold water, you can use mosquito dunks or granules that contain a bacteria that is nontoxic to birds, fish, and other wildlife, but prevents mosquitoes from breeding. Keeping your lawn mowed will help with mosquito issues. Even better, consider inviting mosquito-eating bats to your property with low-profile bat houses that can be easily installed on your house or fencing. A safe alternative to bug sprays when spending time outdoors is citronella oil lamps and candles. Mosquitoes can’t stand the smell of citronella, and a few of these can make your entire patio safe for your next cookout or pool party. And when you absolutely need repellent, reach for products that utilize lemon eucalyptus oil, which many studies show is as effective as DEET for repelling mosquitoes. 3. Bees and Wasps While mosquitoes get most of the attention, there are a number of other flying insects that you don’t want interrupting your next picnic. Stinging insects like bees and wasps may be nuisances, but they are actually beneficial insects for the environment. Because of that, it’s important to leave them alone whenever possible. Many people want to kill wasps who build nests in their doorways and under eaves or swarm on the porch. Instead of reaching for bug spray, consider making your house less appealing to them so they find another place to call home. You can make a simple homemade repellent spray that will discourage rather than kill these helpful insects. Fill a spray bottle with water, a couple squirts of Dawn dish soap, a few drops of peppermint oil, and a pinch of powdered cinnamon and cayenne. Spray this mixture around your entryways and anywhere else these insects like to buzz around. If you have an active and unwanted bee hive or wasp nest on your property, rather than destroy it, call out a professional beekeeper or natural pest control company that can attempt to relocate the nests rather than kill the insects. 4. Ants, Grain Moths and Weevils Several species of ants find their way into our homes in search of food or water. While it can be difficult to get rid of them even when using commercial products like ant bait, the good news is that there are much cheaper and easier options. Because ants use their sense of smell to find food, you can disrupt their plans by cleaning your countertops and walls with a 1:8 mixture of vinegar and water to which several drops of peppermint or orange oil has been added. This mixture is a great everyday cleaner and will make your ant problems a thing of the past. If you get ants or other insects and bugs in your pantry, especially in your dry goods, sprinkle cinnamon, cayenne pepper or diatomaceous earth (or a combination) in the corners and along your floorboards. You can also put bay leaves in bins with flour, pasta, grains and cereals. It’s a great idea to invest in tightly-sealing plastic containers for items you keep in your pantry such as flour, granola and cereal, and will keep your food fresh for a long time while preventing tiny insects from getting into your food. If you still have issues with weevils in your flour, try storing it in the refrigerator or freezer. 5. Moths Rather than using mothballs, which are toxic, try making your own repellents by adding dried lemon peels or cedar chips into a stocking and tie it to the rack in your closet. You can even make small individual sachets out of cheesecloth to hang around the neck of clothes hangers. 6. Other Creepy Crawlies To discourage centipedes, roly-poly bugs and silverfish, place cotton balls with peppermint or eucalyptus oil around baseboards, behind bookshelves, and in damp locations. Add bay leaves or sachets with cedar shavings to boxes of papers or books. Many insects, spiders, scorpions and other crawling pests are easiest to manage when you block off their access to your home. Caulk around window sills and doorways, and fill in holes around utility lines or plumbing. If you can’t determine where insects are gaining access, many local pest control companies can provide thorough inspections of your property and recommend improvements. Final Thoughts Not only are these natural pest control options safer for the environment and your family, most are also less expensive and easier to apply than commercial alternatives. For example, although a bottle of essential oil may seem a little pricey at first, when you discover that one bottle will last many years, you’ll realize what a smart investment it can be. Next time bugs get on your nerves, give one of these alternatives a try, and you might not ever want to purchase bug sprays again.