Back when I lived in Boston, I rarely dealt with summer pests—or pests in general. They almost never make their way up a multi-floor building unless you entice them with sweets and other goodies they love so much. After more than half a decade in Los Angeles, I’ve gotten used to the idea of having my home infiltrated by bugs at least once a year. When you live on the first floor in a warm climate, you can’t avoid this sort of thing. Pests just find their way in, and you have to do the best you can to remove them. You can spend a lot of money on this problem, but you don’t have to if you can invest a little more of your time. In this post, I’ll go over what I’ve learned about dealing with unwanted, home-invading insects during the summer months.
Create Your Own Traps
Ever hear the old adage “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar?” It isn’t usually used in reference to flies, but it’s true: when you’ve got flies, get some honey. They love sugar and they don’t weigh much, so if you have a sticky, sugary substance they will touch it, love it, and become imprisoned by it. Of course, you have more than one way to make this happen.
Of all the fly catching options, I love the DIY fly funnel trap the best. It doesn’t look gross, you can put it on any surface, and it takes only about 5-10 minutes to make. The trap consists of a paper funnel that leads flies down into a cup or mug of some kind. Inside, they’ll find honey, sugar, or even old fruit. Anything sweet will work, but honey requires the smallest amount of surface area. I’ve also found it attracts more flies than the other options. Of course, you’ll save on clean up time with sugar and fruit. Once the flies go through the funnel, they can’t figure out how to leave. They’ll soon die and then you can empty out your trap. To make one, just follow these steps:
Pick a cup. Taller cups work best.
Get a sheet of 8.5×11 paper and twist it into a funnel leaving a hole bigger than a fly at the bottom. Regular printer paper works just fine.
Holding the paper cone in place, lower it into the cup to make sure it only sits about half way in. You can go down farther, but the more room you leave under the cone the more sweet stuff you can fit in the cup.
Remove the cone and tape the edge so it holds its shape.
Fill the bottom of the cup with honey (or whatever you prefer).
Put the cone back in the cup and place the cup near your fly problem.
Flies won’t suddenly flock to your new trap, and if you have a lot of ground to cover you’ll probably need at least three of these things. Make the number you require, then wait 24-48 hours. In due time, the flies will find their way inside the cup and die.
While I think this fly trap works best, you can do more with your honey. With a cooked honey, sugar, and water mixture, you can create your own fly paper instead. Of course, this looks kind of gross once the flies start sticking to it, but it can attract more given that you do not have to coerce them into a funnel. If the first trap doesn’t work, give this one a try.
Use Inexpensive Anti-Fly Weaponry
An electric fly zapper works wonders on the pests who don’t allow their sweet tooth to lead them to their doom. They come in the form of thick, electric tennis rackets and turn flies into tiny fireworks. Of course, this only works if you can catch them—and flies are very hard to catch.
Flies prove difficult to grab or swat because they have faster reflexes and a greater range of vision. When you start to swat they can feel the change in the air, see your hand (or weapon of choice) descending upon them, and then move out of the way long before you reach their initial resting place. In order to catch a fly with speed, you need to predict where they will go. You can try all you like, and you’ll impress everyone if you become a fly psychic, but that’s the harder path to take. When you want to kill a fly effectively and maintain a high success rate, you must have patience.
You may have heard the anecdote about the boiling frog. As rumor has it, if you drop a frog in boiling water it’ll jump out. If you boil the water slowly, however, it’ll just sit there until it dies. While modern-day biology suggests this isn’t actually true, the boiling frog principle applies to flies. When you want to kill one through electrocution, you need to move slowly. The fly zappers don’t need to swat at anything—they just need to touch the creatures to work. To kill them, press the zapping button on your racket and slowly move towards the fly. Very carefully lower your racket over its body. When you get about three or four inches away, quickly drop the racket and watch the sparks fly.
This may sound tedious, but you’ll have a higher success rate (and cause less damage to your home) if you move slowly and don’t fling a chunky electric racket at every fly you see. Once you get the hangout of the slow movement, it really only takes about 20 seconds to send a fly to the underworld.
Get Inexpensive Traps for Your Specific Type of Ant
You can’t anticipate every place ants will try to enter your home. While you can easily block windows, they come up the sink and through cracks in the house as well. When they get in, you have kill them or they won’t leave.
You can make your own ant traps, but when you need to resort to mass murder you should spend a few dollars on the professional stuff. It doesn’t cost much and works well. As we’ve previously mentioned, summer ants love sweet and greasy foods. When you go to purchase traps, you want to look for the ones that attract those kinds of ants. Some traps work for both, however, so you can get those as well. Regardless, remain patient. The ants you see out and about need to take the poisoned food from the trap back to the ants in their colony. That process takes time, and then you have to wait for the rest of the colony to eat the food and die. When you have a large ant problem you need some patience. They won’t disappear immediately, but you can knock them out over the course of the week with the right kind of trap.
Use Homemade Preventative Measures
If you don’t yet have an ant problem or want to prepare for the next attack, you can do a lot to prevent ants from coming in. They love windows and a variety of household remedies can ward them off and block them out.
Before you resort to anything fancy, clean your house. Keep it as clean as possible throughout the summer months. Don’t leave food out. Eat dinner at a table so nothing falls into the couch. While you may not find the time to keep a perfectly clean home, do the best you can. You improve your chances of an ant infestation greatly if you give them no reason to come inside. Even if they do venture into the house, cleaning still helps. They leave a scent trail for other ants, so proper cleaning will delete it. One part vinegar and three parts water works as a great homemade option.
With that out of the way, lots of stuff you already have can make your home unappealing to ants. Let’s take a look at the list of common options:
You could probably find a variety other options if you don’t have any of those things lying around, but let’s talk about what works. Chalk, oddly enough, will ward off some ants but it doesn’t do the best possible job. Brave ants will find ways around it and, believe it or not, chalk doesn’t last forever—especially if it rains. If you have kids, it makes for a nice, fun chore to give them. If not, you should start by creating a special mixture to put on your windows.
Take petroleum jelly as a base and mix in mint extract. Ants hate mint and even mint flakes work effectively. Spread a reasonable amount on the outside seams of your windows. So long as you don’t have ants in your home that won’t matter much. They won’t want to cross the threshold because of the mint and the petroleum jelly will make it nearly impossible anyway. The mixture can stop even the most curious and aggressive ants.
You definitely don’t want pests in your home, but if you have a garden you probably don’t want them there either. You don’t necessarily want to kill them with pesticides, however, as they haven’t invaded any personal territory and chemicals could harm your garden. Instead, you should make something natural. Apartment Therapy offers this great recipe:
1 1/2 tablespoons of liquid (biodegradable) soap
1 quart of water
A couple drops of orange or lemon essential oil
What makes it great? I’ll let them explain:
This is by far the spray I reach for most often. It’s easy to make and keep on hand, and should take care of most of those annoying common pests such as aphids, mites, white flies, thrips, and mealy bugs. It kills them by attacking them at the skin, suffocating and therefore eliminating them. I like to add a few drops of orange or lemon essential oil, which is in itself a natural insecticide, especially effective against ants and scale, and it also helps the the spray stick to your plants.
You have several other options for your garden, too, and can get pretty specific. Check out our guide to eliminating garden pests for several more suggestions if you need them.
Not all summer pests invade your home. Mosquitoes like to cause problems outdoors. While nobody likes a bite in the first place, they can carry diseases as well. While you have a very small chance of infection in many areas, you don’t want to get a bite in the first place so you might as well take steps to avoid it. The American Mosquito Control Association doesn’t recommend special sprays or candles, but rather a fan, bug lights, and loose-fitting clothing:
If possible, schedule your activities to avoid the times when mosquitoes are most active – usually dawn and dusk. You should also dress in light, loose-fitting clothing. If you have a deck, light it using General Electric yellow “Bug Lights”. These lights are not repellant, per se, but do not attract mosquitoes like other incandescent lights. Mosquitoes are relatively weak fliers, so placing a large fan on your deck can provide a low-tech solution. Citronella candles have a mild repellent effect, but do not offer significantly more protection than other candles producing smoke.
Ask for Help (If you Rent an Apartment)
Despite your best attempts, you will not magically become an exterminator after reading this post. While I’ve managed to ward off bugs pretty effectively with these methods, some attacks require more effort than others. In those circumstances, you may need to call in for outside help. If you live in an apartment, you should first talk to your landlord.
When you cause a pest problem, you will need to pay for its resolution. If the building, itself, has issues due to poorly sealed windows, food left around the perimeter, poorly-disposed garbage, or other general building issues that you didn’t cause, you can ask for help. Good landlords will do their part to eliminate the issue outdoors. They won’t help much with the bugs in your unit, necessarily—you need to do that—but if they can eliminate the source you have a much better chance of success.
Regardless of the paths you take, don’t let insects ruin your summer. Do your best to eliminate the issue, but get help if you need it. A little money spent to resolve the problem beats saving a bunch but gaining constant frustration along with it.