DIY Tips for Preventing 5 Household Bugs from Infesting Your Home

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iStock

Most American homes—whether they're houses, apartments, or something in between—have bugs. A 2016 study estimated that there are more than 100 species of creepy crawlers in the average house. Pest Web suggests the global insect pest control market will hit $17.3 billion by 2022.

Bed bugs, cockroaches, termites, ants, and mosquitoes are some of the most prevalent intruders—and they can damage your health, your building’s structure, and your wallet. Fortunately, there are DIY ways to prevent these household pests from getting in the door. Grab your sponge and sealant: This is a long war.

1. BED BUGS

Bed bug on a piece of white fabric
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Though they’re not known to transmit disease from one person to another, bed bugs—which pierce exposed skin to suck blood, causing itchy, red welts—are still bad news. They can sneak into your home via used furniture, luggage, or, if you live in an apartment, from your neighbor's place. And infestations are on the rise.

“Everyone is really concerned with bed bugs because they’ve made a real resurgence in the U.S. in the last 20 years,” Dr. Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist at the National Pest Management Association, tells Mental Floss. In 2015, 99.6 percent of exterminators treated bed bugs during the year. That number was just 25 percent in 2000.

With all pests—but especially with bed bugs—the best treatment is prevention. A little time and money up front can save a huge headache later on, because professional bed bug treatment can run from $1000 to $10,000. Bed bugs aren't microscopic (and they leave behind markers like reddish stains or dark spots) so a periodic inspection of your home, especially your bedroom, is key. Apartment renters with nearby neighbors should be extra vigilant.

When you return from vacation, wash and dry all your clothes, towels, and bags from the trip. Drying on high heat for 30 minutes will kill all live stages of bugs that may have hitchhiked home with you. (If any garment can’t be washed or dried in a dryer, experts suggest storing the items in bags for a few months and, if possible, storing in direct sunlight or in a freezer, which can dramatically decrease the storage time needed.)

And don’t let the “bed” in bed bugs fool you—they don’t always need fabric to make themselves at home. Bed bugs can also hide behind loose wallpaper, wall hangings, the corners where ceiling meets wall, and electrical outlet covers. Follow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rule of thumb: If a crack can hold a credit card, it could hide a bed bug. Do a sealant sweep of the house to keep unwanted visitors at bay.

If prevention fails, it’s time to call in the big gun exterminators. They have specially designed equipment that will heat up your house enough to kill bed bugs and eggs.

2. COCKROACHES

A cockroach on a coffee cup
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Cockroaches come in two main sizes: big and small. American cockroaches (which are actually native to Africa) are one of the heavyweights. This large breed typically lives outside, and there are things you can do to keep it that way. For example, don’t store trash or wood close to the exterior of your house, and if you’re bringing firewood inside, tap it on the ground before crossing the threshold to shake off any hangers-on.

German cockroaches—which migrated to the United States long ago—fall into the small set. They can stealthily slip into your abode with everyday movement, like in a package fresh from the delivery truck. Once they’re inside, their population grows rapidly. Of all the pest roaches, German cockroaches have more eggs, more successful hatchings, and the shortest time from hatching until sexual maturity, which speeds up their reproductive cycle. In just a year, it's possible to go from one egg-laden female German cockroach to 10,000.

To keep these pests at bay, maintain a neat interior and don’t forget to clean regularly behind the stove and fridge. Watch for grease buildup in sneaky spots like the hood over your stove, and clean the bathroom drain. Though you may prefer not to think about it, hair can be a food source if it collects gunk.

If you live in an apartment, there’s another consideration. Heavy rain can cause the sewer line to fill up with water, and cockroaches of any size living inside will rise to the top of the sewer and move to someplace dry. Sometimes when this happens—particularly in large cities—they’ll start moving into buildings through the pipes.

In your home, look for pipes that attach the sink to the wall. If you see a gap, close it with a surface sealer like Poxy Paste. You can also get a small mesh screen to put in the drain so cockroaches can’t get through.

3. TERMITES

Termites eating rotten wood
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Termites, which are hardwired to seek out wood for food, can often go undetected for years, by which point (depending on the size and age of the colony) they've already done a lot of damage. So don’t give them a reason to get close: Keep logs, wood piles, and mulch away from your exterior walls. Be on the lookout for raised tubular trails around the base of your house’s foundation, which indicate that a termite network has already arrived; shredded cardboard boxes in the garage or basement are also telltale signs of termite infestation.

Though physical termite barriers—plastic or metal guards that prevent termites from burrowing into the house's foundation, which can last up to 50 years—are often installed when a house is built, a chemical barrier can also be installed along the foundation of any existing structure for extra protection. They'll last five to 10 years before the pest control company needs to upgrade.

Since termite damage can have devastating consequences on buildings, think seriously about professional help if you fear an infestation. “Let’s say you have a support beam in the center of your house that’s been damaged—you need to have that repaired,” Dr. Angela Tucker, a Tennessee-based Terminix entomologist and manager of technical services, tells Mental Floss. “At some point you’re going to have an issue with the foundation of your house. It’s the same thing with floors and walls.”

4. ANTS

Ants invade a house
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Ants can appear in and around your home even if you're not prone to picnicking. Once inside, they can contaminate food, and carpenter ants can cause structural damage by nesting in soft or weakened wood.

If you’re eating outside, always clean up so you’re not attracting ants to the building. Keep them outside where they belong by filling cracks and crevices with weatherproof sealant.

Inside your home, store food in airtight containers. Original packaging isn’t necessarily bug-proof, and ants are savvy at finding those food sources. And rinsing cans and plastic food containers before disposing of them can go a long way toward repelling ants. “You’re doing a good thing, you’re recycling your soda cans,” Orkin entomologist Chelle Hartzer tells Mental Floss. “But the last few drops of soda in there can build up in the bottom of your bin and be attractive to cockroaches, ants, and other pests.”

5. MOSQUITOES

Mosquito biting a man's hand
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Contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes don't just bite at night—they can be active outside day or night. Beyond the exasperatingly itchy bites they cause, mosquitoes can carry a slew of serious diseases, including the West Nile virus and the Zika virus—which might explain why, in 2016, mosquito control services were among the fastest-growing pest segments.

When a virus-carrying mosquito is looking for a watery place to breed, “it doesn’t even need to be as big as a saucer,” Tucker says. “They need as little as a bottle cap with water to get the eggs in it.”

To keep mosquitoes out, confirm that all of your window and door screens are intact—look for rips or worn-out rubber seals and replace them if needed. If you keep plants right outside the door, check the saucer underneath for stagnant water. In fact, make sure there are no areas of standing water—birdbaths, patio décor, or children's toys in the yard—near your home.

According to Mosquito Squad pest control group, if mosquitoes do infiltrate the house, place a small bowl of water in the corner and add a camphor tablet. The odor will drive mosquitoes away.

8 Morning Routines of History's Most Successful People

H.F. Davis/Getty Images
H.F. Davis/Getty Images

Everyone always wants to know how great artists, thinkers, and leaders achieved greatness. What did they do right? And if we follow in their footsteps, can we see similar results? In search of answers, we often turn to the morning routines of history’s most successful people. These morning habits and workout routines may have been just one small facet of their genius, but the ways they started their days were crucial to their creative process nonetheless. Here are eight simple morning routines of some of the world’s greatest minds that are worth a try in 2019.

1. Make a resolution every morning.

Benjamin Franklin strictly adhered to the 13 virtues he laid out for himself, including order, frugality, and justice. He also followed a daily routine with the same rigor and discipline. Each morning, he woke up at 5 a.m. and asked himself, “What good shall I do this day?” In his autobiography, he outlined his morning schedule as such: “Rise, wash and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day’s business, and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast.” Once he had a game plan and some food in his belly, he got to work doing typical Benjamin Franklin things, like inventing the rocking chair or helping to fight fires.

2. Work from bed.

This may sound counterproductive, but if some of the greatest minds in history had success with this method, then it might have some merit to it. One such proponent of working from bed was the French writer Voltaire. He wrote more than 50 plays in his lifetime, including Candide—and many of them were penned from the comfort of his bed. Laziness wasn't in his nature, though. He often put in 18-hour work days, helped along by the copious amounts of coffee he drank (40 to 50 cups a day, by some estimates). Likewise, British poet Edith Sitwell also frequently worked from bed, and once exclaimed, "All women should have a day a week in bed.” If you need further convincing that it’s possible to be productive while tucked under the covers, look no further than Winston Churchill. Each morning he spent hours in bed, where he ate breakfast, had a cigar, read the newspaper, and worked or dictated to his private secretaries.

3. Treat yourself.

If you want to start off your day on the right foot, do something that brings you joy, boosts your confidence, or helps you relax—even if it does feel like you’re procrastinating. Sigmund Freud famously had a barber come and trim his beard each day, and both Napoleon Bonaparte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were known for their extensive primping sessions. Napoleon often poured lavender water over his body while washing up, and Mozart spent an hour just getting dressed. Of course, grooming habits aren’t the only way to get your day started with a positive attitude, as Adam Toren, the co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com, writes. He suggests carving out time each morning for something you enjoy doing, whether it’s listening to a podcast, jogging, or sipping a cup of coffee.

4. Take a walk …

Charles Darwin typically started his day with a stroll around his thinking path (a gravel track near his home in Kent, England). Darwin mused on the scientific questions of the day during these walks, often with his fox terrier in tow. He may have been onto something, because certain types of exercise—particularly ones that require little thought—stimulate the motor and sensory regions of the brain. In turn, this tends to encourage the flow of new ideas. “Obviously, walking was not responsible for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, but a good footslog was certainly part of his cognitive labor—and still is for many today,” Damon Young writes in Psychology Today. Georgia O'Keeffe had a similar habit, waking at dawn to take her tea in bed, then heading outside for a walk around her New Mexico neighborhood. She is said to have carried a walking stick with her, which came in handy anytime she needed to shoo away rattlesnakes.

5. … Or do something else physical.

If walks aren’t quite your speed, try jump-starting your day with some other type of exercise. Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier rose at 6 a.m. and did calisthenics for 45 minutes each morning. English author and humorist P.G. Wodehouse had a similar routine, waking up early to complete his morning calisthenics on the porch. However, he also followed it up with a pipe and drank two martinis before lunch and another two before dinner, so he might not be the best person to be taking health advice from. If you don’t like traditional exercises such as running or swimming, don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment with different activities. President Herbert Hoover and his physician invented a strenuous sport they dubbed Hooverball, which the POTUS played at 7 a.m. on the south lawn of the White House.

6. Get your hands dirty.

In 1850, would-be Moby-Dick author Herman Melville bought a 160-acre farm and farmhouse in western Massachusetts and named it Arrowhead. He personally tended to the farm and enjoyed rising at 8 a.m. to feed his horses and cow (“It’s a pleasant sight to see a cow move her jaws,” he wrote). Only then did he make breakfast for himself and begin writing. If you don’t have a full-blown farm, a small vegetable or flower garden will suffice. L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, woke at 8 a.m., ate breakfast, then headed straight to his garden to care for his prize-winning chrysanthemums. He named his home and garden Ozcot.

7. Meditate.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Enlightenment-era philosopher Immanuel Kant made silent contemplation one of his first orders of business each day. He woke up at 5 a.m., drank a cup or two of weak tea, and smoked a pipe of tobacco, all while using that quiet time to meditate, according to biographer Manfred Kuehn. We now know that meditation offers several scientific benefits, including anxiety reduction. If you start fretting about everything on your to-do list as soon as you open your eyes each morning, the Kant approach might be a good way to practice mindfulness.

8. Stimulate your mind.

Jane Austen practiced piano first thing in the morning before other members of her family woke up. English-American poet W. H. Auden started off his day with a crossword puzzle. And countless political leaders, from John Quincy Adams to Theodore Roosevelt, made reading a priority in the morning. (Roosevelt reportedly read entire books before breakfast.) Regardless of the materials they were consuming, they understood well that reading is brain fuel—and knowledge is power.

4 Simple Ways to Quickly Ripen an Avocado

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iStock.com/olindana

People desperate to make their avocados ripen faster have been known to take drastic measures. But if you have an inedibly firm avocado at home, there's no reason to stick it in the oven and ruin its flavor. Nor do you need to run to the supermarket and squeeze every avocado you can find. Even if you can't make your avocado ripen instantly, you can ripen it faster with one of the simple methods below.

1. Paper-bag it.

An easy and effective way to ripen an avocado quickly is to stick it in a paper bag. Avocados get softer naturally by releasing ethylene gas. By enclosing the fruit in a bag, you trap the gas it releases in there with it, thus speeding up the ripening process.

2. Store it with an apple.

If the paper bag method alone doesn't do the job fast enough for you, toss another fruit in there with the avocado. Like avocados, fruits like apples and bananas emit ethylene gas over time, and by doubling the amount of fruit in the bag you double the concentration of ripening agents.

3. Bury it in flour.

This is one the more unusual suggestions on the list, but it also produces some of the best results. After sticking your avocado in a bag, add enough flour to the bottom to cover or partially submerge the fruit. Like the other tactics, the flour amplifies the avocado's ethylene emissions. It also has the added effect of absorbing excess moisture, producing an avocado that's perfectly ripe, green, and creamy rather than one that's brown and squishy.

4. Put it in a sunny spot.

To slightly cut down an avocado's ripening time, let it sit in the sunniest spot in your kitchen. The warmth of the sunlight will soften your avocado faster without totally changing its flavor the way more intense heat from an oven or microwave does. This method reportedly produces a mushier avocado, making it perfect for your guacamole.

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