If you hate creepy-crawlies, an exterminator can sound like your saving grace. However, these pest control professionals are not miracle workers. Even though they’ll show up to assess your situation, spray, or set traps, you also need to do your part to prevent an infestation.
But did you know that some of your bug-busting methods could be doing more harm than good? There’s a chance you’re wasting money on practices that will backfire or hinder your exterminator’s hard work.
If your exterminator had a direct line to your house, here are the myths the pro would tell you to stop believing ASAP.
Myth No. 1: Mice can’t resist cheese in traps
One of the most common myths in pest control is that cheese should be used to bait mice and rodents. But it turns out that mice like cheese about as much as your kids like vegetables.
According to a Manchester Metropolitan University study, mice don’t like cheese at all—in fact, they prefer cereal, dried fruits, and chocolate. And a non-scientific study by the BBC revealed that when given a choice, mice were most likely to choose peanuts or grapes, and never chose the cheddar. Have we blown your mind?
“The real down and dirty is that mice are nibblers and prefer grains, kibble, and items that can be easily nibbled on,” says entomologist Mike Duncanat Truly Nolen Pest Control. “Roof rats, on the other hand, prefer fruits and nuts. Norway rats, which are burrow rodents, prefer meats and fruit in their diet.”
Myth No. 2: A clean home won’t have pest problems
You definitely want to do your best to keep your home clean, but it’s a mistake to think that pests infest only homes that are dirty.
Critters aren’t just looking for loose crumbs or dirty dishes. Scot Hodges, vice president of technical services and professional development at Arrow Exterminators, says they are also looking for shelter and water.
“Insects will be driven inside your home due to too much rain or dry weather,” Duncan says. “They will use any crack or unsealed space around windows or doors to get inside.”
Insects can also catch a ride in on grocery bags, packages, luggage, or furniture.
Myth No. 3: Citronella candles repel mosquitoes
Mosquitoes can spread all manner of illnesses, including West Nile and Zika viruses, so you need all of the protection you can get.
“Citronella candles and plants have gained popularity as a mosquito deterrent for good reason: They smell good and they do have some repellent properties that may keep some mosquitoes away from your immediate surroundings,” says Nancy Troyano, entomologist and director of operations, education, and training at Ehrlich Pest Control. “But none of them can protect you from being bitten by a mosquito in the way that an EPA-approved insect repellent can.”
So how do you know your bug repellent is EPA-approved?
“Look for the EPA approval on the label, and search for active ingredients such as DEET or oil of lemon-eucalyptus,” Troyano says.
Myth No. 4: Over-the-counter sprays can do the same thing an exterminator can
It may be cheaper to treat an infestation with a can of bug spray from your local hardware store, but it’s not necessarily as effective as calling a professional. According to Troyano, well-intentioned homeowners can often make problems worse.
“These are often repellent products, which means that they are designed to repel pests away from an area,” she explains. “Using these products may indeed chase a pest out of one area, but send it scurrying to another area of your home, spreading the problem even further than its original location.”
These sprays address the immediate problem, but not the cause, making them a solution only for the short term.
Myth No. 5: Ultrasonic rodent repellent devices work
Who doesn’t love mess-free pest control? Nothing is simpler than plugging a device into a wall that sends out ultrasonic pulses that only mice and other insects can hear.
But according to Judy Black, vice president of quality assurance and technical services at Orkin, there is no peer-reviewed research to prove that ultrasonic devices do anything to repel any type of pests.
“While some pests do ‘hear’ in the ultrasonic range, this does not mean that they are repelled by sounds generated in those wavelengths,” says Black.
Tim Horgan, service manager at Debug Pest Control in Chepachet, RI, says some of his customers have had success with these repellent devices, but most people admit they don’t work.
“The devices might annoy rodents, but ultimately rodents will choose shelter over freezing to death, even if there is an annoying sound,” Horgan says.
Myth No. 6: Hedge apples can repel or control pests
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it definitely won’t have that effect on pests, unfortunately for those seeking non-toxic solutions.
“Hedge apples, also known as Osage oranges, have been rumored as a pest repellent, but there is an absence of scientific research to validate that claim,” says Black. “While insect deterrent compounds have been extracted from hedge apples in laboratory studies, there is no valid evidence to confirm that Osage oranges are pest repellents.”
Terri Williams is a journalist who has written for USA Today, Yahoo, the Economist, U.S. News and World Report, and the Houston Chronicle. Follow @Territoryone