DIY Tips for Preventing 5 Household Bugs from Infesting Your Home

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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.

21 Fun and Practical Uses for Old Straws

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iStock

It's said Americans use 500 million single-use plastic straws daily, and because they can't be recycled, they end up in landfills or in the world’s oceans—which is why some cities, restaurants, and QE2 herself are banning them. Rather than tossing the plastic straws you have around, give them a second life with these fun projects.

1. FLOWER HOLDERS

Bright, beautiful flowers in several clear vases.
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Slipping the stem of a droopy flower in a clear straw will help it stand up straight. You can also use a straw to lengthen too-short stems.

2. CORD LABELS

Electronics cords wrapped in labeled straws.

Get organized by cutting a straw lengthwise, snipping it into sections, and labeling them; then, slip each one over the appropriate cord. Now you'll never unplug the TV when you meant to unplug the soundbar.

3. NECKLACE HOLDERS

A jewelry box full of tangled necklaces.
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Keep necklaces from getting tangled by threading them through a straw. This works both when you're traveling and in your jewelry box alike.

4. AND 5. BUBBLE WAND AND BUBBLE BLOWER

A bubble coming out of a straw.
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Rather than buying bubble mix and a wand, put a bit of dish soap in a bowl, then dip one end of a straw in the solution. Blow into the other end and bam—bubbles. You can also insert a straw into a plastic cup to make a DIY bubble blower.

6. AND 7. PICTURE FRAME AND VASE

A close-up shot of colorful straws.
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Here's an excellent activity for the kids: Have them glue colorful straws to a $1 wooden craft frame. You can also glue straws around a can to create a cute vase.

8. VACUUM SEALER

A man using a straw to suck the air out of a bag full of pasta.

There's no need to buy a fancy vacuum sealer when you can use this simple, cheap trick instead. Put your food in a sandwich bag and seal it, then open a tiny portion and insert a straw. Suck all of the air out, then pull out the straw and quickly seal the opening.

9. TRAVEL TOILETRY HOLDER

A group of colorful straws.
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Trying to save space while traveling? Rather than spending money on travel-sized toiletries, use straws. Cut a straw into 4-inch sections, then squeeze toothpaste, shampoo, face wash, etc. into the straw. Pinch one end shut with pliers, then use a lighter to seal the plastic; repeat on the other end. Label with a marker, and enjoy traveling light.

10. PEN HOLDER

A planner on a wooden table with a pen next to it.
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Tape a straw onto the spine of a notebook to create a pen holder.

11. HULL A STRAWBERRY

A bowl of strawberries on a wooden table.
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Use this hack to hull strawberries quickly. Insert a plastic straw at the bottom of the strawberry and gently push it toward the leaves; both the leaves and the stalk will come out easily. Hulling strawberries this way rather than chopping off the top saves more of the fruit—and as a bonus, you can fill the center with something delicious, like whipped cream or Nutella.

12. CHORE CHART

Two kids folding the laundry.
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Print out a chore chart; slip straws over strings, pin them to the chart, and viola: You have an interactive chart that allows kids to slide the straw from "start" to "finish" when they've accomplished a chore.

13. DOORMAT

Follow these instructions to create an unusual doormat: Measure and cut straws into .4 inch sections. On a hard surface, arrange them on a piece of paper marked with a grid (or the pattern of your choice). Cover the straws with non-stick parchment paper and iron on one side, then the other. Voila! You have a doormat.

14. VACUUM STRAW BRUSH

In five simple steps, you can create an enhanced vacuum attachment that will allow you to clean delicate equipment like your computer keyboard. All you need is straws, duct tape, and a piece of gauze (or nylon stocking). Choose the attachment you want to add the straws to, then insert as many straws as possible (leaving them at an angle). Duct tape them together just under the attachment, then cut off the excess. Finally, duct tape a piece of gauze over the end that you’re inserting into the attachment, pop it in there, and get vacuuming.

15. AND 16. PAINT BLOWER AND BRUSH DRYING RACK

A bunch of dirty paint brushes on a white background.
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Use straws to create unique art. Simply place watercolor paint into cups, then cut your straws in half. Using a eye dropper or pipette, drop paint onto heavy paper, and blow it around using the straw. (Keep the paper in a tray to keep the mess contained.)

You can also use straws to construct a drying rack for paint brushes; the instructions can be found here.

17. JELL-O WORMS

A close-up of colorful bendy straws.
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Prepare Jell-O according to these directions. Stretch out your flexible straws and place them in a mason jar, then pour the lukewarm Jell-O into the straws; put the jar into the fridge overnight. The next day, pull out the straws and run them under warm water, then push out the worms into a bowl. Put out the bowl at your Halloween party.

18. HAIR CURLERS

Instead of using a curling iron—which can damage your hair—follow these instructions and use straws to create awesome curls.

19. BAG CLIP

An open bag of potato chips with the chips spilling out.
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Keep chips fresh using a straw: Simply cut a straw lengthwise, then snip the ends so it's the same width as the bag. Slide it over the open top of the bag; roll the top of the bag several times, then slide a second straw clip over it.

20. UNCLOG KETCHUP BOTTLES

A ketchup bottle being held in someone's hand.
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There are few things more annoying that ketchup stuck in a bottle—so keep a straw on hand. Push the straw all the way into the bottle until it hits the end. Leave it inserted and give the bottle a shake; the ketchup should come out easily.

21. JAZZ UP BIKE SPOKES

A series of colorful bike wheels.
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Cut colorful straws lengthwise and wrap them around bike spokes to make a colorful statement.

DIY

6 Common Fire Hazards Lurking in Your Home (and Simple Ways to Prevent Them)

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iStock

Whether you're a homeowner or renter, a house fire can be a costly disaster. According to the National Fire Protection Association, home fires account for more than 2500 deaths and more than 12,000 injuries in the U.S. every year, not to mention billions of dollars in damage. U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 350,000 house fires annually.

The good news is, total fire-related deaths, injuries, and property losses have trended downward in recent years, and that may be due to improved fire-fighting technology at home. Nothing beats the effectiveness of smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and a solid fire escape plan, but the newest smart home devices can help you prevent these common fire hazards lurking in your home.

1. UNATTENDED BURNERS

Wallflower stove monitor
Amazon

We’ve all had that moment of panic when we ask ourselves, “Did I remember to turn off the stove?” It’s worth double-checking, since cooking equipment is the leading cause of house fires. Stoves, ovens, and other appliances account for nearly 50 percent of incidents, while unattended cooking is the leading contributor to these fires.

Fortunately, new smart stovetop sensors and monitors will alert you when you’ve left the stove on. The Wallflower simply plugs into the wall with your electric stove, then alerts you when the stove is turned on, when it’s been on longer than usual, and even when you leave the house without turning it off. The crowd-funded Inirv React, meanwhile, promises to be a system of smart stove knobs that use sensors and electronics to detect smoke, natural gas, and motion, while allowing you to monitor your stove remotely.

2. DEAD SMOKE DETECTOR BATTERIES

Nest Protect home smoke detector
Amazon

Working smoke alarms should be placed on every floor of your home, and inside every bedroom: They cut the risk of dying in a house fire by half.

Basic smoke detectors can get the job done, but newer models can also alert your phone if there's smoke in your home, turn off your HVAC system to slow the spread of smoke, or record video so you can check the situation remotely.

Security expert Emily Patterson of independent review site A Secure Life highlights the Nest Protect as one of her favorite devices for fire safety. “It has CO detection as well as heat and humidity sensors, so it has the ability to distinguish between real causes for concern and burnt toast,” Patterson tells Mental Floss. “You can also enable smartphone alerts, which is handy if you’re not home, and set up automated protocols to unlock doors or record video if the alarm goes off.”

The detector is only as reliable as the battery powering it, though. The Roost Smart Battery allows you to retrofit existing smoke detectors with 9V batteries to be managed by your smartphone and alerts you when battery life is running low (after three to five years).

3. SPACE HEATERS

Dyson Hot + Cool fan heater
Amazon

Space heaters keep things cozy when your existing heating system performs poorly, but they can also be extremely dangerous. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 1100 residential fires—and more than 50 deaths—are linked to portable electric heaters every year. Fires often occur when the heaters are left on unattended or they’re too close to flammable materials like paper or blankets.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends purchasing only newer-model heaters equipped with safety features like a tip-over switch and automatic shut-off, which kicks in if the heater exceeds a certain temperature. The Dyson Hot + Cool fan heater uses diffused mode heat to warm rooms evenly while the machine stays comfortable to the touch. For a more affordable option, the Smart Ceramic Tower Heater has infrared heat settings, a sleep timer, overheating protection, a tip-over safety switch, and Wi-Fi connectivity that lets you control it with your smartphone—just in case you forget to turn it off before leaving home.

4. OVERLOADED OUTLETS

Wemo smart plug
Amazon

Heat-producing small appliances like coffee makers and toasters can pose a fire risk if used improperly—like if you have too many appliances plugged into one outlet. The NFPA recommends plugging only one heat-producing gadget into an outlet at a time [PDF], while smart plugs make it easy to turn off power to small appliances when you’re not home. Some devices even turn off outlets automatically when they’re not in use. There are dozens of options on the market now, from Wemo’s Insight Smart Plug with energy monitoring to the iDevices Switch. Most can be controlled with your phone, and are compatible with smart-home hubs. Be sure to check that the smart plug you choose is equipped with enough power to handle the wattage of your appliances.

5. COMBUSTIBLE LANDSCAPING

B-Hyve sprinkler regulator
Amazon

The landscaping around your home can mitigate fire risks—or multiply them. Any plants that are too close to the house can present a fire hazard, especially when they’re dried out, says Cassy Aoyagi, a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council’s L.A. Chapter and president of FormLA Landscaping. “Several popular plants, like pampas, feather, and fountain grasses, marketed in the West as ‘drought tolerant,’ are actually quite combustible,” she tells Mental Floss.

A smart sprinkler controller makes it easy to ensure that your yard is moist and as fire-safe as possible. It can regulate and even reduce your water consumption, too. The Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller is equipped with a weather-monitoring system to adjust water use based on the forecast. The Orbit B-Hyve has fewer bells and whistles, but still offers smart scheduling with a smartphone app.

6. INTENTIONAL FIRES

iCamera KEEP home security system
Amazon

Let’s hope you never have to deal with this one, because playing with fire is no joke. The NFPA reports that 8 percent of residential fires between 2011 and 2015 were set intentionally, with 15 percent of civilian deaths happening as a result [PDF].

To keep your home safe inside and out, consider using a smart home security system. The iCamera KEEP Pro from iSmartAlarm has a powerful image sensor, sound and motion detection, event-triggered video recording, and a motion-tracking feature that allows the camera to follow movement around your space. The Wyze Cam 2 is a smaller model with motion-tagging technology and a budget-friendly price tag.

Nothing beats the power of common sense, of course. “Preparedness is the best protection,” Patterson says. “Have the right tools, have an evacuation plan, and know what to do in the event of an emergency. Fires are scary and it can be difficult to act quickly and think clearly in the moment if you aren’t prepared.”

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