Instructions for making homemade mixtures to control pests are easy to find online and in social media, and it's tempting to make your own home remedy when pests invade. Doing so may seem like a natural, organic, and non-chemical solution, but did you know that what you are mixing is considered a pesticide? A pesticide is any mixture used to kill, destroy, repel, or mitigate a pest.
Pesticide mixtures of household ingredients like dish soap, garlic, and vinegar (Figure 1) may seem harmless and safer than storebought formulated pesticides, but they can actually pose unrealized risks.
What is the concern with homemade pesticides?
For example, some online sources describe making a homemade insecticide from the tobacco leaves found in cigarettes and tout it as “natural” or “organic.” While cigarettes are readily available for purchase, the resulting concoction (a pesticide) made from tobacco is extremely concentrated and highly poisonous to humans and pets. There are many additives used in producing products such as cigarettes, soaps, or detergents and these ingredients are not always known to the consumer.
Another concern is the potential hazard created during the mixing and making of home remedies. Even while natural, some ingredients become more toxic during the process of cooking the mixture, which may concentrate the ingredients and increase risks of harmful health side effects due to inhalation of fumes or contact with skin.
No instructions for use
Commercially available pesticides are required by law to have a label with instructions on use, mixing, storage, and first aid. Home remedies don't have instructions for specific dilution or use rates, nor do they identify how often mixtures should be applied. Home remedies also contain no guidance about wearing protective equipment like gloves or how to properly store the mixture.
Homemade mixtures are stored in containers that are either not labelled with what's inside or lack the required label information registered pesticides contain. Each year, poison control centers report poisonings of children and adults from drinking pesticides that have been stored in food or drink containers. Without a label and knowledge of how a mixture can affect people when exposed, first aid information isn't available. To prevent accidental poisoning, pesticides should never be mixed or stored in food or drink containers even if the container is marked.
Are home remedies effective?
Because homemade pesticides vary greatly in their makeup and are not tested through rigorous research studies, there is no data to support whether they consistently control targeted pests. Unlike commercial pesticides that must show their efficacy data before being registered, homemade remedies lack scientific studies to show that they are effective.
Applying ineffective homemade pesticides can make pest problems worse, may not control the pest, could be harmful to the plant, or contaminate waterways. In addition, a homemade pesticide sprayed in the garden may kill the “good bugs” as well as the targeted pest insects. Many commercial pesticides are formulated to work only on specific pests or groups of pests.
Many home remedies specify using dish soap mixed with other ingredients to kill insects, plant diseases, or weeds. Dish soap, which is a powerful detergent, can injure desirable plants by stripping the waxy layer off the leaves. Commercially available insecticidal, fungicidal, and herbicidal soaps, which are registered pesticides, are highly effective against the targeted pest and will not damage plants when used correctly. These products cannot be made at home with common household ingredients.
Are home remedies legal?
The U.S. Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) covers the use of homemade pesticides. According to FIFRA, in order to legally apply a material as a pesticide it must be either registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or be exempt from registration. There is a list of active ingredients (the part of a pesticide that affects the pest) that can be used in pesticide products without requiring registration; these are called minimum risk or 25(b) products) The active ingredient list allows the use of single chemicals, like sodium lauryl sulfate (found in soap), as unregistered pesticides, but does not include commercial products like dish soap that may contain other ingredients, such as viscosity modifiers, preservatives, and pH adjusters.
Alternatives to pesticides
Many pests in the home and garden can be managed without pesticides. In a garden, grow plants suited to the environment and keep them healthy with proper irrigation and fertilization. Weeds can be controlled by hand-pulling, mulching, or weeding tools. For more information, see the UC IPM Home and Garden pages.
- Author: Elaine Lander
- Author: Karey Windbiel-Rojas
While we continue to spend more time than usual indoors, you may have noticed a few unexpected (and perhaps unwanted) co-occupants like ants, cockroaches, or mice. Luckily, UC IPM has a series of fact sheets called Pest Notes to help you identify and manage hundreds of different pests in and around the home, only a portion of which might come indoors.
Any room in the home can attract and harbor indoor pests including kitchens, pantries, bathrooms, closets, storage areas, or other living spaces. Prevent and reduce indoor pest problems by cleaning and decluttering indoor spaces. This removes access to food, water, and shelter for pests such as ants, carpet beetles, rodents, and pantry insects. Find out where the pests are entering your home and prevent them from getting in. Keep reading for tips that will help limit potential infestations.
Kitchen and Pantries
Living Spaces and Closets
Garages, basements, attics, and other storage spaces can also attract unwanted pests. When possible, seal cracks and openings in foundations and around doors, windows, pipes, wires, and vents to reduce access to these areas by rats, mice, or raccoons. Use snap traps to control rats and mice indoors. Organize belongings in airtight containers such as plastic bins to keep out carpet beetles, mice, and silverfish. Store bins off the floor and away from walls to reduce clutter in storage areas.
Houseplants may be attacked by pests that are typically found outdoors including scale insects, mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, or fungus gnats. However, indoor management of these pests can differ from methods recommended for outdoor plants. Houseplant leaves and stems can be washed with water to remove soft bodied insects and mites. Use sticky traps to reduce fungus gnat populations by trapping adult gnats and adjust your watering. Pesticides such as insecticidal soap or horticultural oil may help control some of these pests but be sure products are labeled for indoor use on the houseplant species and against the pest you have identified. See the recently published Pest Notes: Houseplant Problems for more information.
Found a spider? Before you squish it, remember that spiders are predators which are beneficial and help control other pests around the home. If you are comfortable, let the spider be or capture and release it outside. See this video on how to do it.
Another visitor you might spot is a house centipede, but these invertebrates are also beneficial and do not damage plants or household items.
Wherever you may find pests in the home, use integrated pest management (IPM) to solve your specific pest problem. The combination of science-based methods suggested above will help exclude and manage pests so you can reduce any undesired co-occupants.
You can find much more information about all the pests mentioned in this article in the UC IPM Pest Notes publications located in the Household Pests section online.
- Author: Karey Windbiel-Rojas
Invasive pests threaten California's natural environments, agricultural production, structures, landscapes and gardens, causing billions of dollars of damage to our agricultural systems and natural areas each year.
Throughout history, humans have moved plants and animals around the globe, bringing them from their native lands to new settlements. In California, some introductions did unexpected damage while others, such as food crops, had positive outcomes. New species are often intentionally introduced, although numerous exotic species arrive in products brought into California accidentally by travelers or shipped in commercial trade. Many invasive plant problems began as ornamental plants for sale by nurseries and garden centers. Exotic and invasive plants are still available in commercial nurseries.
What can you do about invasive pests?
Here are tips and resources that you can use to help stop or slow the spread and introduction of invasive pests.
Don't plant or release invasive plants into the environment. Also, avoid dumping aquatic plants or aquarium water into local waters, since many aquarium plants are highly invasive.
Use plants native to your area for landscaping.
Don't bring foreign plant or animal material into California.
Be careful when moving firewood.
Learn to identify invasive species new to California.
Report invasive species in your area! Contact your local UC Cooperative Extension office or Agricultural Commissioner to report invasives and to get information on controlling invasive species on your property.
Weeds are usually thought of as native plants we don't want in areas such as landscapes, fields, or vegetable gardens either because they reduce economic output or they are considered aesthetically displeasing. Invasive plants are generally non-natives that infest natural ecosystems and can become problems.
There are four distinctions between a weed and an invasive plant. The first is how they are introduced to an area. Weedy plants in gardens, landscapes, or in agricultural fields are usually accidentally introduced. While that is sometimes true for invasive plants, they are more often intentionally introduced as ornamental plants, for aquarium use, or for food or fiber purposes.
Next, weeds require human disturbance, such as tilling, to establish and flourish in an area. Invasive plants do not require any human assistance to grow and spread.
Invasive plants tend to be more persistent in an area once established and don't require irrigation or fertilization so are capable of growing and flourishing in areas without human assistance.
Finally, most weedy plants grow on land as annuals or herbaceous perennials, but invasive plants can be aquatic, parasitic, vining, woody, or herbaceous. Their life cycles range from annual to perennial.
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- Author: Donald R. Hodel
- Posted by: Elaine Lander
Damage and Signs
Identification and Biology
The shell of this snail is unusually variable in appearance, especially in the dark bands and other markings. The adult has a medium-sized shell about the size of a nickel or dime. The non-glossy shell is typically ivory white (rarely pink), but can be light beige with narrow, dark brown bands. A similar looking but much less damaging snail, the milk snail (Otala lactea), sometimes occurs with the white garden snail and can be confused with it. The milk snail tends to be larger, up to 1.2 inches in diameter, and the inside of the thick opening is dark.
Unlike most snails and slugs, the white garden snail climbs and rests in a dormant state (estivates) on the cooler and least wind-exposed sides of vertical surfaces like trees, shrubs, fences, posts, and walls during the hot, dry season (Figure 3). They can survive for long periods by forming a wall of dry mucus to seal the shell opening and reduce water loss. They typically congregate in great numbers in an exposed, conspicuous manner to “ride out” the hot, dry season until the return of more suitable conditions in the fall.
Control of the white garden snail can be time-consuming, difficult, and costly because they have a high reproductive rate, they climb high on objects, and they estivate for long periods. Effective management of this snail must rely on a combination of methods, including exclusion, early detection, and a variety of treatments.
Like most land snails, they move slowly so in order to reach new areas, they must be aided by people. To exclude the white garden snail from your area carefully check crates, boxes, and plants shipped from infested areas. To detect this snail, search plants, fences, posts, walls, and other vertical surfaces.
Measures used to manage other snails, such as sprays, baits, traps, and barriers, are only effective when the white garden snail is active and foraging on or near the ground. However, unlike other snails, this snail estivates in the open where they are visible and conspicuous, perhaps offering the best opportunity for their control; thus, hand-picking, knocking down, and then sweeping or vacuuming might be the best option, especially with limited infestations or in small landscapes. Because it can estivate in vacant fields or untended areas adjacent to landscape sites, these untended areas should be carefully checked and mowed.
For extensive details on the various management methods for the white garden snail, including habitat modification, biological control, hand-picking, and chemical control, see the full article at https://ucanr.edu/sites/HodelPalmsTrees/files/294710.pdf.
Word of Caution
Use rubber or latex gloves when picking or handling snails and vegetation with their slime trails, and wash hands thoroughly afterwards. Snails and slugs are intermediate hosts of rat lungworm disease, which is likely present but not yet officially detected in California. Rat lungworm disease is caused by a parasitic nematode that can attack the human brain and spinal cord if ingested.