29 Sep 2011

Eliminate Fall and Winter Pests Safely

photo credit: Jesus Rubio Garcia

Our info on keeping pets healthy flew off the table last week at the Life@50+ AARP convention and it’s no surprise–as fall rolls in fleas hop back into our homes and mice burrow their way into our basements. Pests can be serious problems, particularly if you or your pet have allergic responses, but poisons often pose a more serious threat to your health than pests do.

Take for instance the rodenticide from China recently pulled from store shelves after it nearly killed a woman who mistakenly thought it was a Chinese medicine. On investigation, it turned out to be 60 times more powerful than regulations allow for household use, with levels of anticoagulant that could kill a child, as reported in The New York Times. Worse still, the packaging included a cartoon of a smiling cat that might appeal to a curious child and the only English on the label said nothing about safety, just the cheery comment that “The cat be unemployed.”

Keep Your Pets Safe and Your Home Healthy

Flea collars, shampoos, and powders can contain chemicals such as the likely human carcinogen tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) along with a host of other problematic ingredients (to find the bad actors in specific products you may have in your home, check out our GreenPaws Product Directory). There’s really no need for these products, however, given that plain old soap will get rid of fleas when you bathe your furry friends and wash their bedding (an important step to remember in controlling fleas).

When it comes to eliminating fleas, you have a lot of chemical-free options–with regular vacuuming and combing among the most obvious. Fleas are hardy little bugs, so as you comb keep a basin of water on hand to drown them. When you vacuum up fleas and eggs, dispose of the bag in an outdoor garbage to keep them from escaping back into your home. For more recommendations, check out “How to Control Fleas Without Chemicals.”

Protecting Your House From Winter Rodents

When the winter cold kicks in, mice seek out warm places to hide and will take advantage of any cracks or holes to infest a basement and from there the rest of your home. Poisoning rodents once they’ve gotten inside won’t stop others from following–what’s needed is an approach that will block their access and reduce any lures.

Be sure to seal off entryways, using silicon caulk on any cracks and crevices indoors and out including any you find on doorways, windows, baseboards, moldings and around pipes. Outside, place screens in front of heating and cooling vents, and repair holes in any existing screens. Mice are small, flexible, and determined–all they need to get in is a hole the size of a dime.

Keep vegetation, stacked firewood, and other debris away from the exterior of your house so pests can’t climb up and in. You may also need to have a contractor examine your foundation to see if mice are able to creep through cracks in the concrete.

If you do hire a contractor to handle your pest problems, seek out a Green Shield-certified pest control expert. NRDC recognizes Green Shield for its work identifying companies that use innovative pest control solutions and reduce pesticide use. Always remember to ask for several references when hiring a contractor and check each of them.

For more information on keeping your home pest-free, see NRDC’s guide to safe ways to control pests.