For homeowners looking for an alternative to pesticides, integrated pest management is an option. While spraying an ant infestation with insecticide may be convenient, it might not be effective. Pesticides rarely reach their targets, and human exposure to them can cause ill health effects ranging from birth defects to cancer. Not to mention that it just might not work; in order to prevent and treat infestations in your home, you need to do more than spray and bait.
Essentially, integrated pest management is a practical, step-by-step, common sense approach to dealing with pests at home. Its agricultural and community applications are more complicated than its household applications. I interviewed Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an integrated pest management specialist from the New York State IPM program at Cornell University. I expected her to list off agricultural techniques with Latinate names, but instead she gave me straightforward, no-nonsense pest control advice that any homeowner can follow.
What makes integrated pest management “integrated”?
According to Dr. Gangloff-Kaufmann, “Integrated pest management means pesticides are not the silver bullet. You have to do many other things all together to control insects. And it makes perfect sense. When you’re talking about mice in the home, you can’t just rely on rodenticides. You have to clean up food. You have to close up openings or else you’ll never get rid of the rodents. The same sort of process or philosophy applies to almost all pests.”
In its home application, the IPM process she mentioned involves investigating, preventing and eliminating the pests that are in your home. The steps boil down to this:
- Investigation: Know if you have a pest or not, and identify what kind of pest it is. Assess how bad the problem is. “In truth, one spider in your house is not going to cause any problems other than your emotional problem,” said Dr. Gangloff-Kaufmann.
- Prevention: Find out why and how pests are entering the house. Eliminate whatever food source they are entering for. Dr. Gangloff-Kaufmann said, “I always say, ‘Sanitation is IPM.’ It sounds so simple, but it doesn’t take much to attract or feed a critter, including a mouse. It could be one kibble of dog food, or a little bit of spilled juice next to the stove that just brings in ants. So cleaning is the secret to eliminating pests.”
- Elimination: Get rid of the pests that are already in your home. “This could involve simply vacuuming them up, or it could involve setting baits,” said Dr. Gangloff-Kaufmann. In extreme cases, some homeowners might need to use pesticides.
Next: Termites and rodents