Keeping the creepy crawlers out

Fall is right time to make house unavailable to pests looking for warm retreat

October 05, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Fall is here, and it's not just people who are starting to pull up the covers and cocoon.

Crickets are singing in the basement. Ants are invading many homes. Spiders are spinning webs in the corners of the living room. As the days and nights turn cold, other crawling things will be looking to get into the house for food and warmth.

The best plan of attack starts now, early in the fall, with an autumnal version of spring cleaning. Maintaining a level of cleanliness through the winter will uncover insects before they can reproduce and will help reduce the need for chemical use.

Here are some tips for keeping the house snug and free of pests. Infestations may require tougher measures than those listed here.

An overall attack plan:

Discourage pests from living or congregating close to the house by removing or trimming vegetation away from the foundation and storing firewood and other organic material a good distance from the house.

Caulk or otherwise fill in cracks and crevices in the foundation and any other point of entry such as holes where pipes enter.

Make sure doorways and basement windows are snug.

Repair any plumbing leaks immediately.

Store garbage in sound, odor-proof containers with tight lids.

Make sure foods are in tightly sealed or covered containers or bags, or refrigerate them.

Don't wait to clean up spills of food.

Check food-storage items often for any signs of intrusion.

Wash pet bedding regularly.

Put away food and water bowls for pets each evening and put fresh ones out in the morning.

Do a thorough cleaning of the house. Eliminate clutter in closets, attics, basements and garages, disposing of old boxes, clothing and playthings, baskets, buckets and anything else that might be home to a bug.

Frequent cleaning of all areas of the house helps you locate bugs before they can reproduce. Frequent dusting and vacuuming should include mattresses, furniture and draperies.

Where possible, seal storage boxes and bags.

Place stored items in stacks several inches apart and away from the wall.

Clean clothes before storing them. Don't put off dry cleaning.

Before you use any chemicals on insects, be sure that the products target the pests you're after and that you follow instructions for application. When treating walls and other surfaces, apply the product to a small area first to be sure the residue does not mar the surface.

An organic option for killing many insects is pyrethrin, a natural insecticide that is extracted from a type of chrysanthemum. Permethrin is a synthetic form of pyrethrin that is usually cheaper.

Check labels for the need to reapply after a rain or a certain length of time.

Mice:

Mice can get through a hole as small as half an inch wide.

Most mice get into the kitchen first and then move down to the basement or up to the attic. They like to eat most things except for mint. Cats help keep them away.

If you see evidence of mice, place snap traps where you're seeing mice or their droppings. For best results, place the traps along a wall and use a bait of peanut butter or a cotton ball. Humane traps that catch mice but don't kill them are also available. Don't forget to check either type of trap often.

You also can use poison baits, making sure that they are tamper-resistant and that children or other animals don't have access to them.

For information about a new electronic mousetrap ($23.50), see the Web site www.victorpest.com.

Crickets:

Crickets make a chirping sound by rubbing their outer wings together in a noise that signifies one of three things: courtship, fighting or an alarm. Crickets like to eat fabrics, including cotton, wool, nylon, silk, leather and carpeting.

They often enter at doorways or basement windows and are able to squeeze through very small openings.

An insecticide labeled for crickets can be applied to baseboards. You can use pyrethrin to get the occasional inaccessible indoor cricket.

Outside, a residual insecticide can be applied around the house. You also may need to spray foundation walls, window wells, subfloor crawl spaces, underneath garbage cans, around door thresholds and other points of entry and hiding places. Most treatments need to be reapplied after a rain.

Spiders:

Some spiders stay outside; some wander inside. Some people let them take up residence and don't disturb them. Most spiders are harmless to humans, feeding on other insects that can be harmful.

Outdoor cover favored by spiders includes old bricks, concrete blocks, loose bark, logs and other seldom disturbed debris. Inspect clothing and other items that have been left outside for a while before bringing them back in the house.

One way to catch spiders and monitor activity is to place glue boards in the corners of the garage near the entrance, on floors close to walls or corners in closets and cabinets, beneath sinks or behind furniture. Be sure to keep them away from where children or pets would have access.

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