I was at one of our neighborhood associa-tion get-togethers recently, and the subject of ticks came up. I explained yes, tick dis- eases have increased over the last few years, and it was a good idea to wear insect repellent when outside. One neighbor told me her daughter, after “much research,” developed her own all-natural insect repellent that works great and isn’t full of “nasty chemicals.”
I reiterated that the CDC and EPA have ex- tensively evaluated those repellents approved by EPA for safety and efficacy and most home-made repellents have little to no efficacy. She got mad at me! “My daughter knows what she’s talking about, and she knows it works!” she told me. While it may have been safe and maybe worked for her daughter, that certainly didn’t make it safe or effective for everyone else. You have probably been in the same position, so here are some of my favorite “home remedy myths” and any science behind them.
SONIC DEVICES. Sonic devices come up when I talk to people about pests in their homes. These have been around for decades and are sold in home improvement, big box stores and, of course, online. Decades of research have shown they have little to no effect against a wide array of pests. Kansas State University and Texas A&M have both done the research. Dr. Roger Gold from Texas A&M University was quoted in one article that he has “yet to see one work.” While some models claim to repel multiple species, I saw one that had a different size for mice, ants and cockroaches. The marketing sign said to make sure to buy at least one of each for each room in your house!
CINNAMON. I was in a home not too long ago that was having an ant issue. In the pantry, the homeowner had liberally spread cinnamon powder over much of the shelves and all around the edges of the floor. He must have bought out the local warehouse store of all their cinnamon! Out of curiosity, I asked how long the problem had been going on for and how long he had been treating it himself. He replied, “two months.” I refrained from asking how well it was working. If you Google ants and DIY, there are numerous websites touting the use of cinnamon powder, lemon juice and vinegar. There is research that actually shows these can work. The problem is the levels of oil that you need for any type of meaningful control are very high, much higher than you can achieve by dusting or spraying your kitchen.
As for liquids like vinegar, they do help clean up and mask the pheromone trails that ants leave, but most evidence shows it is a temporary fix and ants will soon be right back. So while there is some science backing up the claim for efficacy at massive levels, the practicality of achieving control is a myth.
BORIC ACID. Many DIY recipes call for mixing boric acid with water (and sometimes sugar) for cockroaches. This myth actually has some fact behind it. Cockroaches that feed on boric acid do die. Unfortunately, most applications by non-PMPs are misapplied. People use WAY too much, which cockroaches avoid, or they apply it in the wrong places, so cockroaches never come in contact with it. It is fact that it will work, but it is myth that the “average” person will get reasonable control when applying it themselves.
BED BUGS & LAVENDER? As I was research- ing this column, I came across one that I had never heard of before. A blog claimed “lavender oil is a characteristic blood sucker repellent.” While I could find nothing to back up the claim on bed bugs, a research paper out of Italy earlier this year showed limited efficacy (at high levels) against kissing bugs. Due to the lack of any type of published scientific research, this one falls squarely in the myth column!
FINAL THOUGHTS. As professionals, we have the ability to protect people’s families, homes and health. That service isn’t free. Yet there are numerous examples that say DIY pest control can save you money. Some money-saving “experts” say you can save by doing pest control yourself. But with all the products I see people buy (and the inevitable calls after months of fruitless attempts), how much do consumers really save by attempting it? Many of us have likely seen the person in front of us at the checkout line buying multiple cans of “bug bombs” (Home Depot 3-pack for $9.97!) which can work if used in the appropriate manner for the appropriate target pest. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen the news reports when things go very wrong with these DIY products.
While we can do our best to educate our customers and explain the value of our services, there will always be those that choose to believe they can do it better and cheaper themselves. To that end, the quote by American oil well firefighter Red Adair sums it up: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”
The author is Rollins’ technical services manager.