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Non-Toxic Solutions for Pests Around the Home

how to control common insects and weeds without using toxic chemicals

Using toxic chemicals to control pests can harm you, your family, and the environment, and often doesn’t provide a long-term solution.

Here are some quick tips on ways to control commonly found pests without using pesticides. For more detailed information, explore the Washington Toxics Coalition’s Home Safe Home fact sheets.


Weeds

Lawn weeds: Prevent weeds in turf by planting grass species that flourish in the local environment and by maintaining healthy turf (including aerating, thatching if needed, fertilizing with organic products, proper irrigation, mowing higher and leaving clippings on the lawn, and overseeding).
Pull individual weeds with appropriate tools.
Corn gluten may be helpful in preventing weed seeds from sprouting.

Weeds in beds and paved areas: Remove weeds in paved areas by using string trimmers, torching with flame weeders, or pouring hot water on weeds.
Weeds in cracks can be removed manually using weeding tools such as the Cape Cod Weeder and Yankee Weeder.
Prevent weeds in ornamental beds by mulching and planting native low-growing shrubs and ground-cover plants.

Blackberries: Physical controls are best for these prickly invaders. Consistently mowing down all new growth for several years will eventually kill the root system of these hardy plants. Root removal during dormant times (winter) will prevent reseeding.


Insects and Spiders

Ants: To manage ants, block their entryways, eliminate food sources, and remove ant trails with soapy water. Caulk cracks and crevices and seal exterior doors and windows with weather stripping and door sweeps.

Aphids: Proper plant selection, pruning, and fertilization (but not over-fertilization) to strengthen plants can decrease aphid populations. Water sprayed in strong blasts knocks aphids from plants, and sticky barriers around trunks can effectively control ants that defend aphids from predators.

Clothing moths: Inspect any used clothing or furniture carefully for eggs or larvae before bringing them into the house. Store clothes in airtight containers such as cedar chests or in bags that have been sealed with tape to keep moths out, but always be sure to clean your clothes before you store them.
Another option is to wear clothes at regular intervals or to shake them out and expose them to the sun instead of sealing them away each summer. Handwashing, drycleaning, and tumbler drying kills moths in all stages of development.

Crane flies: Maintaining proper irrigation, fertilization, and turf health helps the grass outgrow crane fly damage. Healthy lawns can outgrow populations of at least 25 (and up to 80) crane fly grubs per square foot. Aeration in the spring may help reduce their population. Beneficial nematodes have been shown to be effective in substantially reducing larval populations when soil warms sufficiently in spring. Birds are very effective predators of the crane fly.

Spiders: Remove the occasional spider by placing a jar over it, slipping a card underneath, and then carrying it outside. Spiders can also be removed by vacuuming. Keep spiders from coming into your home by caulking cracks and crevices and sealing exterior doors and windows with weather stripping and door sweeps.

Tent Caterpillars: Tolerate a few tents. Physical controls include pruning to remove tents and wiping off egg masses during the winter.

Yellowjackets: Ensure lids on all garbage containers and food containers are closed tightly. Simple, non-chemical traps are effective in reducing localized problems. Professionals can remove nests if necessary.


Slugs

Reduce slug habitat by removing unnecessary debris, such as boards, rocks, bricks, and other objects slugs may hide under. Natural predators and non-chemical slug traps also reduce slug populations. Copper strip barriers around garden beds deter slug infestation.


Rats and Mice

Combine measures to prevent entry, and use traps to manage rodents. Seal holes and potential entryways and weather-strip doors. Remove food sources by cleaning food scraps and keeping food in sealed containers.


Resources for more information:

For more information on controlling these and other pests, explore the
Washington Toxics Coalition’s Home Safe Home fact sheets.