If you're like most people, the sight of an insect or rodent in your home will have you dialing your exterminator before it has time to scurry behind the sofa. And once pest control arrives, chances are you cover your eyes and ears until their work is done and your home is pest-free. But instead of bugging out, listen up! There's plenty to learn from your exterminator, from the best ways to prevent future infestations to how to handle the ones you already have. We spoke to pest control professionals across the country to find out what they wish you knew. Read on for their best pest pointers.
1. A tidy kitchen alone won't make your home immune to infestations.
While many insects and rodents are attracted to food, open bags of chips and dirty dishes on the counter aren't the only things that make your house a bug magnet. "Moisture, as well as food, plays a big role in the attraction and sustainability of pests," says Bob Young, a division service manager for Terminix in the Northeast. "Leaving moisture sources around the home or having areas where moisture may pool can attract pests." He recommends keeping gutters unclogged and making sure that downspouts direct water at least 3 to 4 feet away from your home's foundation. Additionally, decorative pools and baths should be drained regularly.
2. There's almost nothing you can do to keep certain bugs away.
"People tend to think that maintaining good hygiene will prevent them from getting bedbugs," says Ron Harrison, PhD, Orkin's director of technical services. "That's just totally wrong. Unlike most other insects, bedbugs don't care about food or moisture—they just want your blood." Because the bugs hitchhike into your home on luggage, clothing or furniture, Dr. Harrison recommends being vigilant about examining items before bringing them inside. Unpack suitcases in the garage and think twice about picking up that flea market sofa. To learn more, read "10 Things You Didn't Know About Bedbugs."
3. We can do a lot for you, but we can't do everything ourselves.
Your exterminator will make every effort to successfully eliminate your pest problem, but if you don't cooperate and do your part, you can't expect a successful outcome. "It can be frustrating when a client doesn't follow advice to keep their garage door closed or fix their screen window," says Dr. Harrison. And don't always assume that a treatment wasn't successful if you happen to spot a critter later on: "If you have a roach population in your house, I can guarantee I'll get rid of it. But I can't guarantee that tomorrow when you're at the grocery store you won't pick up another and bring it inside with you."
4. On the other hand, we wish you wouldn't try to fix the problem yourself before calling us.
"There are a lot of bug and rodent treatments available at your hardware store that leave a lot of room for misapplication," says Shay Jones Runion, vice president of professional development at Arrow Exterminators in Atlanta, Georgia. "In many cases people will use too much product or pick up the wrong treatment for their problem." She warns that certain treatments can make the problem even worse; for example, overapplying product can contaminate baits that exterminators lay down for treatment, which makes their services less effective. And bug bombs that people often mistakenly buy to treat bedbugs will just end up scattering the pests around your home.
5. Even if you don't see pests in your home, you're not necessarily in the clear.
"Winter is the time of year when rodents want to move indoors—they like to be anyplace that's comfortable for people," says Keith Willingham, vice president of technical services at in Anaheim, California. So even if you don't have a rodent or insect problem right now, it's a good time to set up exclusionary measures. Young recommends placing a tight-fitting weatherstrip on the bottom of all doors, ensuring attic and foundation vents are equipped with ¼-in. hardware cloth, and installing insect screening over windows, utility vents and other areas where small pests can slip in. Also seal up any holes or cracks in your home's exterior: Large openings should be stuffed with steel wool or wire mesh before sealing with caulk. Your exterminator can also perform these services for you.
6. We can't help you with your head lice.
While most exterminators will tell you that the best part of their job is getting to solve your problems, some issues are beyond their area of expertise. "Head and body lice are a medical issue and there's no reason for a pest management company to treat for them," says Willingham, who reports that Western gets calls about the bugs a few times a month. And according to Dr. Harrison, some exterminators only concentrate on certain species. "Have that dialogue with the person you're hiring," he suggests. "Some pests—like ones that live in grass—are covered by different licenses." To learn more, read "10 Things You Didn't Know About Head Lice."
7. Be sure to hire an exterminator who knows what he's doing.
Most reputable pest control professionals will tell you that they've followed up after a botched job at least once. Prevent an inexperienced exterminator from coming into your house by doing your research beforehand. Young advises checking to be sure the extermination company has the required state and local certifications, and confirm that they have a trained entomologist working within the company who can address and discuss your concerns.
8. You don't need to worry about the treatments that we use.
Reputable pest control companies urge you not to be concerned about the health or environmental impact of pest control treatments. Many—including Terminix, Arrow, Orkin and Western—use the Integrated Pest Management process, which is devoted to using the safest and least amount of product possible to achieve effective results. And Western has reduced pesticide usage for their residential clients by over 78 percent in the last few years (they now use low-impact materials like plant oils) and still receives the same results. "People shouldn't be worried but they should be aware and educated about what processes their pest control company is using," says Jones Runion.
9. Not all pests are bad!
Unlike termites, which cause $5 billion worth of damage to homes per year, or cockroaches, which can cause asthma, not every creepy-crawler is cause for a major freak-out. Lady beetles, for example, are beneficial to gardeners because they eat other pests, like plant-destroying aphids. Similarly, spiders may terrify, but aside from the black widow and brown recluse varieties, they're mostly harmless. "Spiders eat other insects, which can be useful," says Dr. Harrison. "But seeing spiders around the house might mean you have an insect infestation, so it's definitely worth an inspection."
10. If you have a bug or rodent problem, it's a good idea to alert your neighbors.
Apartment dwellers should definitely tell their neighbors if a pest population has cropped up. "If you have roaches or bedbugs, at a minimum the units next to, above and below you need to be inspected and likely treated," says Willingham. But the problem isn't limited to multifamily structures, warns Young. "Rodent and roach problems may impact neighbors in single-family homes, depending on how close they are to one another." If your neighbors have a confirmed infestation, call a pest control provider to schedule an inspection to determine if your home is at risk or infested, Young recommends.