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Least Toxic Control of Pests In the Home and Garden

If all other methods have failed, and monitoring shows that your pest population is still above your action thresholds, then, and only then, should you consider spot treatment of the least toxic pesticides. You must weigh the risks associated with the use of a pesticide against the problems caused by the pest. Consider your options carefully, being mindful not to blindly jump at a solution that may have risks without first collecting the facts.

The term 'least toxic pesticides' does not include a pesticide that is

(a) determined by EPA to be a possible, probable, or known carcinogen, mutagen, teratogen, reproductive toxin, developmental neurotoxin, endocrine disrupter, or immune system toxin;
(b) a pesticide in EPA's toxicity category I or II; and,
(c) any application of the pesticide using a broadcast spray, dust, tenting, fogging, or baseboard spray application.

If you must use a pesticide, you should the least toxic pesticide available. Boric acid, formulated from a natural mineral, is an effective ant and cockroach stomach poison. When properly applied, it has a relatively low toxicity compared to other pesticides. Further, it does not evaporate into the indoor air of the structure, unlike many other pesticides. Look for boric acid that has less than one percent of inert ingredients, therefore you have a better idea of what you are applying and its risks than with most other pesticides. While boric acid is somewhat slower acting than other materials, it is highly effective over a long period of time. But remember, all pesticides are poisons designed to kill, and should be handled carefully and with respect. Boric acid should be applied only in areas where it will not come in contact with people - cracks and crevices, behind counters, and in baseboards. Applicators should wear protective clothing, gloves, and a filter mask.

The following Least Toxic Control of Pests factsheets can be ordered individually or as a compilation through Beyond Pesticides. Check back often as we are continually updating our factsheets that are available online. More information on integrated pest management and utilizing least toxic alternatives, check out our Children and Pesticides page.

Least Toxic Control of...

Ants (indoor and outdoor) see also Beyond Picnics: controlling ants in your home
For indoor ants follow the trail of ants and seal the entry point, for outdoor ants sprinkle cornmeal around the outside of your home.




Bed Bugs


Carpenter Ants
Manipulate the temperatures to kill them or use boric acid or diatomaceous earth.

Carpenter Bees
When a nest is detected wait for the bees to emerge, the plug the holes with steel wool or aluminum foil and encase with a metal screen, wood putty will not work.

(Tree-boring) Caterpillars
Probe their holes with a long flexible wire to kill the larva or use parasitic worms with water and apply to holes.


For indoor centipedes, capture and release them outside. Decrease food supply and close up any openings.

Prevent bodily infestation by tucking socks into pants, or if you have been infested scrub away the chiggers vigorously.

Chinch Bugs
Big eyed bugs are a natural predator here and Beauveria bassiana is a fungus that will kill them. Otherwise use soap and water or diatomaceous earth and apply to your lawn.

Cockroaches see also Good Riddance to Roaches: a guide to home cockroach management
Prevention is the best method. Otherwise, apply boric acid to cracks and crevices where roaches hide which will kill them in 3-5 days.

Aside from extensive cleaning, vacuuming, washing, and grooming you can use D-limonene and linalool which are citrus extracts that will kill the larva and adult fleas.

Apply milky spore (bacillus papillae), a non-toxic control, with 1 tsp. in rows every 4 or 5 feet then water the lawn. Or you can mix one cup of these ingredients, mouthwash, liquid dish soap, and water with 2 cups lemon juice and spray over the lawn.

Gypsy Moths
Destroy the egg masses between July and April, or create a stick barrier band of glue or tape around the tree to prevent the caterpillars from climbing up.

Head Lice and Scabies see also Getting Nit Picky About Head Lice (note: the Derbac™ combs referenced in this article are no longer available)
Apply coconut oil as a lubricant to the hair and use a nitpicker over one inch sections of hair at a time.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid
Use horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps, which work with 100% mortality when applied in mid-July and late October.

Mice Control see also Minimizing Mouse Madness
Have a heart traps, snap traps, and glue traps are all least toxic effective ways to eliminate mice.


Mosquitoes see also Backyard Mosquito Management
Citronella candles, mosquito larvae eating fish, Bt, or horticultural oils can all be used.

Pantry Moths
(see also Clearing the Air of Toxic Moth Repellents)
Discard infested food, apply Bt, and use pheromone traps for the last remaining moths.



Snails and Slugs: Beyond Slime
Control for moisture with ash pilings, hand pick slugs and snails out of your garden, also use copper bands or foils around plants, trees, or garden plots to exclude slugs and snails.


Tree Squirrels
Live traps are useful, for bird feeders use a squirrel guard baffle or mix cayenne with Vaseline and apply to the feeder pole.

Termites, Drywood/Subterranean see also Taking the Terror Out of Termites
Boric acid, heat treatment, and bioblast (a common soil born fungus) can all be applied to eradicate termites. Prevention is the best method however.


Use a tick drag around the area to attract ticks, or use carbon dioxide traps that are essentially dry ice to attract and kill ticks.


Weeds, Least Toxic Control of

Weeds, Prevention of


Other Topics:

Protecting Your Health From CCA-Treated Wood
Compost Is the Key
Pesticides and Pets
How Safe Is Your Bait?
Alternatives to Chlorpyrifos