Spring cleaning incomplete without properly managing pests

Brownwood Bulletin
Courtney Parrott

Now that spring weather finally arrived across the state, many Texans are preparing for spring cleaning.

Not so fast, advises Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service integrated pest management specialist Janet Hurley, Dallas, who says pest management should be high on the list of cleaning activities.

“You can’t actually get your home truly clean without doing two things,” she said. “First, you’ve got to be pesticide-aware of the products you are using and use the proper products for cleaning. Second, you’ve got to take the time to pest-proof your surroundings.”

Clutter equals critters

Your home may appear neat and tidy after a good cleaning, but if you’ve got a lot of “stuff” in your house, odds are good you also have some unwanted pests. Clutter collects dust and debris and contributes to allergens, which include insect feces, dead insects, pet dander, mold and dust mites. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, these indoor pollutants can be potentially dangerous to individuals with asthma and other health conditions.

Spring cleaning should include taking off everything on your shelves and cupboards and getting everything possible up and off the floor or moving it to get under and around it. Look for cobwebs, unidentifiable debris, nests and droppings before you clean.

Hurley suggests checking in the back of pantries, cabinets and hard-to-reach corners to check for any signs of insects or rodents. After the harsh winter, many pests may have decided to ride out the bad weather in your cozy home. All pests require a food source, a little water, warmth and a place to hide. Hurley said even the cleanest homes typically offer these pest necessities, so making sure you take steps to prevent pests is essential.

“Smell is also a good indication you have a problem,” she said. “If you are familiar with the smell of an old library or antique store, that is the scent you want to be looking out for.”

Hurley explained that humidity, paper, the glue found in book bindings and the tape on boxes can create a perfect storm for attracting critters. If you have a bookcase, look to make sure no pests have moved into those books for a buffet or to breed.

“Insects don’t need much water, far less than you would expect,” she said. “If you have cardboard boxes or paper around, those are food sources for bugs.”

And if your home offers food, from crumbs that have fallen under the kitchen table or on a counter, you are providing meals for unwanted guests.

Let there be light, but not on your porch

“Your outdoor lights can shine at your house, but you don’t want them shining on your house,” Hurley said.

Porch lights and motion lights on a home can serve as a neon welcome sign for bugs. Since insects are drawn to the light source, she suggests putting lights in your yard that aim at your front door or elsewhere rather than having light fixtures affixed to the outside of your home.

Inside, she said, open things up and let the light shine and air flow.

“Rooms that are seldom used, or dark cabinets and closets where the air doesn’t move, can be ideal hiding places for pests,” Hurley said.

She said that since most nuisance bugs typically don’t like air movement, it is important to open up rooms and turn on fans to help discourage unwanted guests in low-traffic and lesser-used areas of your home.

Hurley said it’s good to open windows so long as they have screens you’ve already checked for any holes or tears and have ensured they fit snuggly with no gaps. It is also important to clean your screens of dust and debris, including the area between the ledge, screen and window, before opening them up. Otherwise, dust and unwanted pollutants that may have gathered on the screen can blow into your home.

Read the label before you clean

When using cleaning products, Hurley said it is crucial to follow instructions. She cautioned that even if you use tried-and-true products regularly, you may be using them incorrectly and possibly in ways that can harm you, your family or pets.

“Formulations change, the concentration needed to safely and effectively clean can change, and application instructions can change and differ between products that you may assume are similar,” Hurley said. “Remember that using more doesn’t equate to getting something cleaner—you could just be harming yourself or your family.”

When using cleaning products make sure you wear gloves and take necessary safety precautions as stated on the label. Also make sure the room you are cleaning is well-ventilated and that you do not combine cleaning products.

It is also key to properly dispose of all pesticides, herbicides and cleaning products you don’t use.  Contact your city or county to see if they have a hazardous waste collection site. If not, ask if they have a day and location for members of the community to safely dispose of these products.

Never throw pesticides away in the trash. The potential for them to reach a landfill where they can poison wildlife, the soil or eventually the groundwater is too great. In most places, it is also illegal.

A helpful educational website both Hurley and the EPA recommend is the National Pesticide Information Center.

Outdoor preparedness

Just as you don’t want clutter providing pests a place to live and breed inside your home, the same goes for your yard.

Hurley suggests cleaning up any debris, brush piles and clearing out any plants that didn’t survive the winter storms. She also advises making sure nothing is stacked up against your home, such as firewood or building or garden supplies.

“Put away any empty pots and other things that are catching water,” she said. “These are water sources for pests and potential mosquito breeding grounds as the weather warms up.“

When landscaping, you also want to avoid having any plants growing too close to your home or vines climbing on your walls. You also should trim any tree branches that are close to your roof. All these can serve as pest highways onto or into your home.

The credit card check

While many people are aware that mice and other small critters can get through a hole as small as one quarter inch, often people don’t think about checking their door and window seals unless they feel a draft.

“A house may look clean and smell clean, but odds are you’ve got pests unless you are also taking the time to seal up any places where pests could enter your home,” Hurley said. “Windowsills can be key to identifying if you have a pest problem. If there looks to be debris on them, odds are it’s not just dust.

Checking potential entry points for pests can be as easy as taking an old credit or membership card and seeing if you can slide it between the door and the door jamb and door sweep or between the window and its seal. If you can slide the card through, pests can get in.

Hurley said it is also important to check spaces in the home that may be neglected.

“People may forget about their attics, crawl spaces and basements, but these are places where pests can enter,” she said. “And if there is any leak or opening there, not only could you have a pest problem, but you may also have a water and/or mold problem. These are also areas where people tend to store  things. If you haven’t used it, throw it out. The more clutter the more potential for pests.”

Weather stripping can be used on doors and sliding doors to reduce space, and silicone can be used to fill small cracks in your home where pests could enter. Don’t forget to check areas with pipes, wires and laundry vents. If there’s too much space around utility openings, fill around them with an appropriate sealant.

“A true spring cleaning is more than making things sparkle and look clean,” Hurley said. “It’s also protecting your family by using the right pest control product in the right way and taking the time to make sure your home doesn’t allow any unwanted guests in.”

Free Virtual Workshops

Series of five-quarterly workshops at 12:15 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Registration: To receive the workshop link, send an email to the speaker(s) for each of the workshops you wish to attend.

· Clean is the Foundation of Everything on April 28, 2021

Register by sending email to jabehrens@ag.tamu.edu by 4/26/2021

·  Adequate Sleep on July 21, 2021

Register by sending email to Abigail.pritchard@ag.tamu.edu by 7/19/2021

· How you Spend Makes a Difference in Your Fiscal Wellness on October 20, 2021

Register by sending email to Courtney.parrott@ag.tamu.edu by 10/18/2021

For more information, call Karan Heffelfinger @ 432-336-2541 or email kaheffelfinger@ag.tamu.edu