Have you ever woke up one morning and noticed that there were bugs or rodents in your house?
Whether they were ants, bed bugs, mice, rats, or even mosquitoes, I’m sure you’ve had an experience where you were like, “Crap! I have to kill that…”.
That moment usually follows with a trip to the local home depot or browsing amazon for some pest killing products.
But the question remains, SHOULD you kill that pest?
Given the internet, there is no shortage of information at our fingertips, but where is the line between DIY pest treatments and non-DIY treatments?
When should you call an exterminator and when should you attempt to kill these bugs yourself?
That’s what this article will address….
We’ll cover which pests you should attempt a DIY removal with, and which pests you should leave for the professional treatment.
This article was written by Rusty Markland, Technical Director at PestNow.com. He's a regular contributor for Pest Strategies with over three decades of experience in the pest control industry. As a writer, certified instructor and technical director in the industry he has used his experience to promote safety and education in the pest industry. For the last twenty years, he has been the Operations Officer and Corporate Technical Director at PestNow, one of the fastest growing pest control companies in the United States.
DIY Pest Control and “Signal Words”
If you’re leaning toward the DIY route, then there’s a couple of things you must know when selecting products (pesticides) for your project. All pesticides sold in the U.S. are required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry “Signal Words” on the product label. Understanding these labels at a basic level is important for the safety of not only you but for your family and your neighbors. There are three signal words you should be aware of to indicate the level of toxicity and risks. They are:
- "Caution": Slightly toxic if eaten, absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or it causes slight eye or skin irritation.
- "Warning": Moderate toxicity if eaten, absorbed through the skin, inhaled or causes moderate eye or skin irritation.
- "Danger": This word speaks for itself, the “Danger” label means the pesticide is highly toxic by at least one route of exposure. The word “POISON” must be included in red letters on the front label…again, this should speak for itself.
You should carefully review every product label and the signal word. For home treatment by homeowners with limited experience do not use “Warning” or “Danger” Labeled products. Caution labels can still be risky and you must follow all personal protection equipment for mix and use as well as follow all requirements and guidelines on the product label for application.
DIY and NON-DIY Pests
If we were to list out all the pests that could conceivably find their way into your house, we’d be here all day.
For the sake of everyone’s time and sanity, we’ll only be focusing on the most popular pests you’ll probably run into and if they’re DIY or not DIY. Those pests are:
Pests That Are DIY
Treating Ants Yourself
Most ant problems can be treated by the homeowner if the infestation is caught in time. Ant populations, regardless of species type, can grow rapidly populating to a point where eradication can be difficult at best.
One of the most difficult ants for homeowners is the Odorous House Ant (OHA). These ants are monomorphic (all the same size), small brownish in color, and often found trailing from behind the walls in the kitchen or baths. They are tenacious in their ability to overpopulate and start marching toward the nearest bread crumbs in your home. Colonies often have multiple queens, and move their nests often, which makes them a significant nuisance.
Other ants, depending on your area, are the larger blackish to red ants called Carpenter ants. These ants are polymorphic (different sizes) but can be quite large. They typically do not forage in trails but will be individual foragers showing up around areas of moisture such as the sink and other areas in the home. These guys are associated with moisture problems and can damage wood with their chewing and nesting.
Regardless of the type of ant, the homeowner can handle the problem if it is caught early. Once your ants, for instance, gets settled and they set residence for couple of years they are extremely difficult to eradicate. Their colonies can build in the walls to the tens of thousands.
Carpenter ants will not populate that quickly but they damage wood (hence their name sake). If left untreated carpenter ants can do significant damage to the home. Look for areas of moisture damage around the house to find their nests.
DIY Treatment Products for Ants
If you opt to treat ant infestations yourself rather than use an exterminator, this section should help you out. We’ve broken down ant infestation levels into two main categories:
- First Year Minor Ant Infestations: Less sever ant infestations that can be handled with less aggressive treatment options.
- Chronic Infestations: Ongoing ant infestations that require a more robust ant killing approach.
Please note: DO NOT USE SPRAY OR USE REPELLANT PRODUCTS WITH THIS TREATMENT PROGRAM.
First Year Minor Ant Infestations
This is a less aggressive treatment option that uses bait Stations, granular ant bait, ant paste or bait gel. Here are three of my favorite products for first year minor ant problems.
Maxforce FC Ant Bait
Manufactured by Bayer Corporation
Active Ingredient - Fipronil
Mode of action, Fipronil acts slowly as the ants take the product back to the nest spreading the chemical to the colony producing what they call a “Domino Effect”. This is very effective on new or small infestations. Use gloves when handling the stations, place near ant-trails, but follow label instructions on placement.
Granular Bait- Advance 375-A
Manufactured by BASF
Active Ingredient - Abamectin B1
Very effective against most ants to include Carpenter Ants and Odorous House Ants. Ready to use product. It is a delayed reaction product that acts to reduce the population of worker ants and can cause an immediate halt in egg production resulting in colony elimination. Follow all label instructions, requirements and PPE. Do not apply where pets can have access, this product is very attractive to cats who seem to like the smell.
Advion Ant Gel Bait
Manufactured by Syngenta
Active Ingredient - Indoxacarb
Very effective with ants for indoor and outdoor problems, apply to pest entry sites, especially for sweet feeding ants. Comes in tubes and must be used with a bait gun or syringe device. Small amounts applied in pea-sized dots of application for the ants to feed on. Works like the other baits by spreading the chemistry to the nest and colony. Very effective and can be used with the products above.
Chronic Year after Year Ant Problem:
If you have ant problems every year and each year it seems to be getting worse, it’s likely that you have a chronic and expending interior ant infestation. In cases like this, it’s recommended you take a more aggressive approach expanding your product selection and effort.
Treatment options would include the above products and a combination of liquid or “spray” applications. You must know the difference with Repellant products versus Non-Repellant products. Anytime you are using baits, and gels you must never use a “Repellant” spray pesticide in combination with bait. Repellant products will repel ants and render the baits and gels useless.
Examples of Repellant Liquid or Spray Products “Active Ingredients” to Avoid with Baits, Traps and Gels.
Examples of Non-Repellent Liquid or Spray Products recommended to use with Baits, Traps and Gels
- Imidacloprid / Fipronil (mix)
Manufactured by BASF
Active Ingredient - Chlorfenapyr
Great product for interior use in combination with baits, traps, and gel treatment programs because it is a non-repellant that will not interfere with the baiting effort. Do not expect instant kill as this product reacts slowly, the ants can’t detect the product and thus spread it to the entire colony. Clear, odorless and effective. Works better on the interior.
Manufactured by Control Solutions
Active Ingredient - Imidacloprid / Fipronil mix
Fuse is an extremely effective outdoor only non-repellant product that ants cannot detect. Pay attention to the product label and only spray a three-foot band up the structure and six feet out from the structure. This keeps active control for ants coming and going. Great exterior product used with the interior Phantom and baits and gel efforts.
The combination of the baits and gels above with the indoor Phantom and outdoor FUSE is a dynamic and effective “do-it-yourself” ant treatment.
Remember NO CONTROL effort with chemical will be successful of you do not correct any cultural or mechanical attractants that are drawing the ants to the house in the first place.
Make sure you read and follow all label requirements.
Treating Roaches Yourself (DIY Approved)
Cockroaches are one of the ugliest, dirtiest, nastiest pests you could have, and thankfully, they are one of the few bugs we recommend trying a DIY approach for.
The products on the market for roach removal have advanced quite a bit, with some baits working so well that infestations can be taken care of in a couple weeks.
If you live in a multifamily unit building such as a condo, apartment building or town home elimination may not be feasible, but keeping the problem under control is. Single family home infestations should be easy to eliminate roach problems yourself if the cultural and mechanical issues are in compliance (clean, sanitary, no clutter).
DO NOT SPRAY AND PRAY!
Setting off “bug bombs” and dousing the area with spray repellant products DOES NOT GET RID OF ROACHES. While it will kill a few, it does not have long term effects. Roaches will flee the area, hide in the walls and continue to breed and populate and avoid the areas you sprayed with repellent pesticides until the pesticide breaks down and the roaches come back. They were never gone, the spray just bought you some time, the problem will come back worse than ever.
DIY Treatment Products For Cockroaches
Address the cultural and mechanical issues in your house (sanitation and clean up). Keep all food put away, trash taken out daily, clean all grease and potential food for roaches. Do not use repellant pesticides, use Roach Bait ONLY…..trust me, this is the best option today if you follow label requirements.
Advion Roach Bait Gel
Manufactured by Syngenta
Active Ingredient - Indoxacarb
This stuff is magic, a high powered bait matrix that targets the most difficult roach problems. Comes in a tube with syringe for crack and crevice spot applications in areas of roach activity. Safe if used per label directions. This is NOT an instant kill and that is the beauty of it. Roaches will return to their harborage and spread the product up to 40 other roaches at a feeding. This “Domino Effect” takes a significant toll on the roach population. In normal single family home infestations this is all you will need if the Cultural considerations are in compliance.
InVicta Gold Roach Bait Gel
Manufactured by Rockwell Labs
Active Ingredient - Imidacloprid
This product is for German Roaches. This is a good rotational bait to be used if the roaches are not taking or showing aversion to the Advion Bait. Applied the same way with tube and plunger or bait gun. Roaches are attracted to the bait matrix and once consumed the active is rapidly shared with the other roaches in the infestation. Easy to use, a good second choice or rotation bait.
Treating Mice and Rats Yourself (DIY For Smaller Infestations)
RODENTS (Mice and Rats)
Most homeowners can handle minor intrusions of rat and mice, but finding out what they are showing up at your house is primary before you start any treatment effort. Trapping should be your first choice with Snap Traps (do not use glue traps) baited. Trapping is best short and safest rodent control work if you do the habitat modifications to exclude and discourage rodent activity in and around your home. Exclusion efforts are a must when working with a rodent infestation, find the holes the rodents are getting in and seal them up.
Victor Mouse and Rat Traps
For the money, these are as good as any. Wood frame, metal trapping device and a plastic trigger that resembles bait. Trapping avoids the risk of rat or mice poison exposure to non-target species but they are slow and maintenance as the traps have to be checked every day with dead rodents removed. Baits that are popular are peanut butter, cheese, oats, chocolate and Slim Jims.
If you have to resort to rodenticides (rat or mice poison) you should consider calling a professional exterminator. The risk involved with rodenticide poison are just too great for the average homeowner.
This is your worst nightmare. People not trained in pest control that try to treat resident bed bug problems only compound the problem and make it worse. Even top professional companies struggle with bed bug treatments and success. Every tactic from heat, steam, and even rapid freeze gimmicks have been tried and still being tried to eliminate this stubborn blood sucking insect. Bed bug infestations are significant, if the pest pros are struggling with it you don’t have a chance. Piece of advice, when you seek answers and treatments get three estimates. Bed bug jobs can be crazy expensive. Stay away from heat treatments, go with conventional liquids and do your research on the company.
Most likely if you have termites it is one of the three, Subterranean, Formosan or Drywood Termites, depends on the part of the country you are living in. Regardless, if it is termites you cannot handle this as a homeowner unless you intend on bulldozing the house. Termites will devastate your home, do structural damage and it will take professional analysis and treatments to eliminate the problem. Again, termite treatments can be extremely expensive, get three estimates and consider what treatment plan and price you are comfortable with. Just because it cost more does not mean it is the best, do some research on product and company.
You can use minor deterrents and repellents to keep mosquitoes away and off your body yourself but if you are looking for reduction in mosquitoes and other blood sucking insects like ticks that vector disease you will need more than just spraying and praying. Mosquito control starts with reducing the breeding sites, remove all standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Harder than you think, a bottle cap turned over holding water can produce mosquito egg site. Gutter cleaning, bird baths, swimming pools and the use of Mosquito larvicides are all factors in habitat modification.
Professionals know how to perform habitat modification and reduce breeding sites. Population reduction with chemical mister applications with knowledge of where and when to use them are all above most homeowner’s skill level and knowledge. Get there estimates and do some research. With normal nuisance insects, it is more of a tolerance level issue, with mosquitoes and the risk of disease and virus they spread it is a health issue it is a necessary treatment.
It is more and more common for animals and birds to enter structure for harborage and nesting. Squirrel, raccoon, opossum, pigeons, bats, birds, you name it. Animals can carry deadly disease, they contaminate living areas soiling and destroying millions of dollars each year in our homes. Humans cannot live with wildlife and the average homeowner certainly should not try performing wildlife remediation and eviction themselves. Unless you have a desire to meet face to face with a livid mother raccoon in the attic, call a professional…fast!
More often than not, people do DIY projects because they want to save money. In theory this is great, you learn some new skills and avoid an additional cost in your life, but you have to remember that you’re human and humans make mistakes. If you’ve never tried to uses a rodenticide before, what’re the chances that you’d use it correctly the first time?
At the end of the day, when you have a pest problem, you need to consider the level of difficulty that comes along with attempting to remove it.
Some pests like ants or roaches, are much easier to remove than bed bugs or termites. The risk to your family and your own health attempting to kill these bugs is simply not worth it.
So ask yourself, is it worth the risk?
Look, I’m not trying to be all doom and gloom here, but the most likely scenario, is that you’ll just end up making your pest problem worse by misapplying the product. As a result, the cost to bring in a professional just went up.