Low-Cost Pest Control Alternatives

by Jamie Simmerman · 12 comments

As a home health nurse, I’ve seen more than my fair share of household pests. While home pests are often associated with low-income housing or poor housekeeping practices, even high-dollar immaculate homes can end up facing an uninvited guest or two at times. Here are some tips for keeping your home pest-free without spending a fortune on the Orkin man.

Getting Rid of Cockroaches

No one wants to admit to having cockroaches, and once the little creepy crawlies move in, they’re hard to evict. We had a code name at the office for a cockroach sighting in a patient’s home. If someone spread the word that Uncle Philippe was visiting, we knew to leave all bags, jackets, and files in the car when visiting the patient.  Cockroaches have been known to wedge between two sheets of paper in a file folder, hide out under shoelaces, or curl up in a nice warm shirt pocket.

They like dark, warm places and can squeeze inside just about anything.  Some say that the only thing to survive a nuclear holocaust would be roaches, and for good reason. They breed prolifically, have special sensors that warm them of an impending squashing, can live without food (or even their heads) for up to a month, and eat nearly anything. Many people don’t know they have a problem until it’s too late.

Bringing Home Uncle Philippe

Roaches like cardboard. (Bringing home cardboard packaging boxes from bag-it-yourself grocery stores is like asking for a roach problem.) Empty snack cakes, crackers, cereals and other dry goods into air-tight containers as soon as your bring them home and remove the cardboard boxes from your home.

Inspecting for Signs

Roaches most often show up under the kitchen sink or behind the refrigerator due to their affinity for warm dark places with easy access to a water source. Inspecting these areas regularly can help you spot a problem early on. Cockroaches shed their skin as they grow, and you may notice these husks along the walls or in cracks. Immature roaches are often white in color or have white bands on their bodies. If you see one roach, you can bet money there are hundreds more in hiding.

Evicting Uncle Philippe

Many of our home health patients couldn’t afford a formal pest control solution, so we did some asking around to find out what works to evict Uncle Philippe. Here’s what we found that works:

  • Boric Acid. Yes, it sounds nasty, but boric acid is actually used to clean clothes, treat infections, and clean a variety of household items. It’s also very attractive and deadly to cockroaches. Fill a pie plate with Boric Acid (found in the laundry isle as Borax or in the pharmacy as Boric Acid) and place it under the kitchen sink and behind the fridge. In a few days, you’ll need to refill the plate as the roaches cart the powder off to their buddies and munch on the poison. The powder won’t harm you if you get it on your skin, but you should avoid inhaling or ingesting it. Boric acid isn’t quite as nasty as swallowing traditional insecticides, but it can be toxic in large quantities. Keep it away from toddlers and small children.
  • Keep all food secured in airtight containers or in the fridge. Wash all dirty dishes immediately and throw out cardboard boxes, newspapers, and piles of clutter to discourage nesting.

Flea Control

If you have a beloved pet who’s brought home a horde of fleas, you know how difficult it can be to squash an invasion. Starting your own flea circus isn’t quite so amusing a thought when the suckers are biting your ankles and driving your pet mad.

One of the quickest ways to get rid of a flea infestation is to remove Fluffy or Fido from the area for a few days. While fleas may “taste” your ankles, they need your pet to survive. Treat your pet with flea medication, shampoo treatments, or dusting powders and comb them with a flea comb to remove flea larvae and eggs.

Another nifty trick is to place a flea collar inside your vacuum cleaner bag or chamber, and vacuum all surfaces several times a day. As new fleas hatch, they get sucked up and are killed by the flea collar inside the vacuum cleaner. Over the span of a couple of weeks or so, your flea problem will be gone.


Spiders can be an especially difficult pest problem to eradicate. In fact, scientists say that we are never more than three feet away from a spider at any given time. Some spiders, especially the ugly or biting varieties, can be quite disturbing.

Most spiders are very territorial. They fight over primo real estate space like the corners of rooms and water sources, like the sink, toilet, or the cat’s water dish. If you’ve ever come down to use the bathroom at two in the morning to find four or five wolf spiders fighting over the toilet bowl, you may be motivated to find a way to encourage them to move to a new area.

One way to discourage spiders from settling in inconvenient places is to limit the number of water sources available to them. Move the cat’s dish to another area of the house, dry out bathtub drains with a towel before bed, and clean up any standing water in the basement.

Many common spiders “taste” through their feet. For this reason, spraying areas you want to clear of spiders with lemon furniture polish seems to be an effective deterrent. You’ll need to retreat areas every couple of weeks, but by then, the spiders may have moved on to less lemony hunting grounds.

What low-cost pest control tips do you have for readers?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Luis South says:

    Another great set of ideas, very practical and economic. For ants, a great spot treatment around food surfaces in the kitchen is to use dishwashing liquid straight or diluted in a spay bottle. They die immediately. I’ll try vinegar.

  • Cleo says:

    This sounds exactly how the hunters in Supernatural keep out demons except they sprinkle a perimeter of salt instead of boric acid.

  • epilamor says:

    Now, I could go ahead and list all the reasons that blogging is not dead, but truthfully, that misses the point. The reason that people love to declare things dead runs deeper than some analytical look at the pros and cons. What’s really happening here is simple human nature’s interest in finding the answer.

  • Jean says:

    Good point about the cardboard boxes. Once, one slipped into the grocery bag like that and I had one heck of a time getting rid of it from my home. From then on, I do a corner to corner inspection of every grocery bag, box or pack before I bring it home.


  • Jonathan says:

    You make some excellent points and prevention is better than cure. I think that just ensuring that the house is kept tidy can be a huge money saver and prevent a range of pests from damaging the family home. Good article

  • Priswell says:

    I’ve heard that roaches, er, Uncle Philippe, can’t resist coffee grounds, and that quart jar with a few tablespoons of used grounds and tipped up against a wall will lure them in, but they won’t be able to get out. We’ve tried it, and it was very successful.

  • Jamie Simmerman says:

    @ Benny, termites are hard. Your best chance is prevention. Keep mulch and woody plants away from the foundation of your home and control moisture issues as well. You can purchase do-it-yourself termite detection spikes for much cheaper than $65 per quarter. The spikes pop-up when the bait is eaten by termites and you know you have a problem. The spikes are placed at intervals around the foundation of your home and alert you to termites in the soil. They only need replaced when they pop up.

    @Linda, boric acid works for ants, as does sprinkling crushed red pepper in a line where you know they are entering your house. If you’re feeling spunky, you can even line your foundation with crushed red pepper to deter all kinds of creepy crawlies. 🙂

  • Linda B says:

    I get ants, particularly in the spring and only in my kitchen. Any ideas how to get rid of these critters? I have a cat so I have to be especially careful in how I “de-ant” my house.

    • Harry says:

      Boric acid works good for ants too. I used to sprinkle a little powdered sugar in with the boric acid as a food source.

    • Billy Oceans Eleven says:

      Try spraying a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water anywhere you see a trail of them. We’ve done it whenever we see ants and they are gone within a week.

  • BENNY W. BARBER says:

    Please give me all the information you have on controlling Termites. I’m paying $65.00 per quarter for inspection and it seems like a rip off. What are your recommendation?

  • Emily Hunter says:

    I am a true believer in boric acid. We’ve put it around our shelves, as well as on the baseboards, and it’s kept our friends from coming to visit. Thank you for this post! 🙂

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