About a year ago, I found a slug on my kitchen floor. Perhaps a different woman would have shrieked and demanded that her husband kill the intruder, but compared with the monster roaches I encountered in my ten years in New York City, finding a slug was like finding a lost little cuddly bunny.
Pests happen. They happen in cities and in the country, they happen to fastidious housekeepers and lazy ones, and sometimes it seems like there’s nothing we can do about it. But depending on where you live and what kind of critter is trying to share your space, there are ways to keep them where they belong.
Roaches are everywhere in the United States, but they’re most problematic for those who live in the Southeast, the West, and large, densely populated cities. Once cockroaches have infested a house, they’re very difficult to eradicate, so the best defense against them is a good offense. Adult roaches can fit through spaces as thin as a quarter, and young ones can squeeze through cracks as small as a dime. Use a caulk gun or spray foam to seal cracks in baseboards, in cabinets and cupboards, around plumbing and wiring fixtures, and any other gaps, cracks, holes, or openings in your house or apartment. If you have vents or ductwork that opens to the outside, cover them with screening material. Weather stripping is a good idea to protect underneath doors and around windows. Roaches love clutter, so get rid of dust and debris on the floor.
Since these vermin will eat just about anything, eliminate their food sources by storing all your food in sealed plastic containers, and clean up food particles in the kitchen and near appliances. Because roaches do most of their foraging at night, it’s important to do a cleaning sweep before bedtime to remove residues, put away the leftover pet food, remove dishes from the sink, and take out the trash. Whenever you bring anything into the house, such as grocery bags or shipping boxes, be sure to dispose of them right away in case they’re contaminated with roach eggs.
Bats in Your Belfry
I would never argue that hairy, winged animals should be allowed in the house, but bats are actually very beneficial to have around. The trick is keeping them near the house, where they control insects quite efficiently, without letting them inside. These nocturnal creatures are attracted to large clusters of insects and usually enter a house near the roof, where there may be gaps or cracks they can squeeze through, looking for warmth. Keep a screen over the chimney to prevent bats from flying down it, and make sure to screen vents and ductwork. If your attic attracts bats, try placing a strong fragrance like nontoxic menthol or eucalyptus in the area to discourage them. Many pest-removal companies recommend mothballs, but they’re not always effective, and they can be harmful to children and pets.
If you live near water or another natural insect attractant, take extra precautions. Consider keeping insect-attracting lights off at night. If bats become a recurring problem in your home, you may need to call a professional pest-removal specialist who can trap and release them, as well as prevent them from returning. Many species are endangered, so choose a provider who does not exterminate.
There’s no need to get rid of bats entirely—gardening and hardware stores sell equipment to make bat-roosting sites for your yard. An adult can eat a third of its weight in insects each night, so many people find bats enormously handy.
The ultimate pests to many a Midwesterner, raccoons are strong, dexterous, intelligent, and tenacious. The best way to deter raccoons from foraging on your property is to keep all traces of food locked up. Keep your garbage in locked metal containers (plastic is no match for a determined raccoon), don’t keep pet food outside, and scrub down grills or barbecue pits after use—or, better yet, keep them in a garage or storage shed. If you live in an area with raccoons, outdoor composting may not be a good idea, as decomposing scraps of food are sure to draw their attention. Some pest specialists recommend placing socks with mothballs or rags soaked with ammonia at the perimeter of your property to ward off hungry raccoons. A less-toxic solution is to simply keep outdoor lights on at night or play a radio to scare the coons away.
Spiders—From Itsy-Bitsy to Very Hairy
All spiders are in search of food and moisture. To keep them out of your house, make sure to seal any cracks in the foundation and gaps near windows and doors. Spiderlings are often carried by wind currents and land on houses, where they crawl around looking for entry points. Keep the area near the house free of trash, leaves, brushy vegetation, tall grass, and mulch, where spiders can hide. It’s also a good idea to prune bushes and trees that overhang near the house. Inside, get rid of boxes or clutter on the floor, as well as any other debris. One of the best ways to spider-proof a house is to eliminate the insect breeding areas where they find their food. Keep lawns manicured, eliminate standing water, and reduce moisture inside the house.
Fly Away, Flies
Fruit flies sometimes seem to have powers of spontaneous generation; one day the kitchen is clear, and the next it’s teeming with the bugs. Flies that appear out of nowhere usually enter our houses as larvae on the fruit we buy, so if you keep produce on your kitchen counter, wash and dry it thoroughly as soon as you bring it home, or at least store it under cover. Bananas are a favorite of flies, so give them a rinse, even though we don’t eat the peels. If you have a kitchen compost bin, it can easily harbor fruit-fly larvae, so consider taking it outside. Clean your sink drain and garbage disposal regularly, as these are two of fruit flies’ favorite spots to lay eggs.
Eradicating each critter requires a slightly different approach, but keeping your home free of clutter and trash, keeping garbage sealed tight, and removing food waste are practices that will deter just about every pest with more than two legs. Encourage your neighbors to do the same, since one dirty house or apartment can invite infestation for the whole area. Even the cleanest house sometimes plays host to an unwanted visitor or two. But if you take swift action to evict the offender, chances are good that he won’t come back and bring his friends.