Friday, July 26, 2013

Natural, simple pest control: Fruit flies, fleas, & ants

Natural, simple pest control: Fruit flies, fleas, & ants == Hobo Mama

It's fruit fly season. Time to keep our kitchen compost bin's lid closed and keep control of Rainier cherry pits and other fruity detritus!

If you're suffering from light infestations of common household pests, here are a few natural remedies to rid your home of critters you'd rather stay outside: fruit flies, fleas, and ants, to be specific.

Warning: If you are the catch-and-release type, don't read on. These methods are harmless to humans but not so much to the bugs in question.


Fruit flies always make me feel like a bad housekeeper, even though we've had them often enough that I recognize they're more of a seasonal certainty. Summer brings ripe fruit, and lots of it, and fruit flies piggyback on all that lushness.

Keeping fruit flies at bay involves diligently removing their food sources while setting out simple traps to diminish the population. Otherwise, they reproduce like … fruit flies!

Take away their food.

Be ruthless about putting away or throwing out fruit and fruit bits. I can't tell you how many cherry pits and stems, apple cores, grape halves (spat out by the little one), and orange and banana peels I've had to sweep into the kitchen scrap bin … because apparently everyone else's arms are broken. No matter. If you don't put them away, the fruit flies will … into their stomachs. See what I did there?

Keep kitchen scraps in a closed container, or do what Teacher Tom recommended to me (genius!) and keep a compostable bag of scraps in the freezer. If you've reached the overflow point (or, preferably, before), walk those scraps on outside to the yard-waste bin or your yard's compost pile.

Clean, clean, clean.

Sticky dishes need to go immediately into the dishwasher or the sink to soak or be cleaned. Fruity rags or napkins need to go into a wet bag or the laundry (or trash … if you're still using paper, you destroyer of trees, heh heh heh). Wipe down counters to get rid of crumbs and juicy puddles. Be sure to regularly clean out your kitchen scrap bin with hot, soapy water.

Trap them.

There are a couple traps that work for fruit flies. They require ingredients you already have around the home plus a measure of patience.
Natural, simple pest control: Fruit flies, fleas, & ants == Hobo Mama
  • Take a small bowl and fill it with no more than about an inch of apple cider vinegar. Place cling wrap over the top (unless you're not using that anymore — good for you; you're ahead of me with that one) and secure with a rubber band. Use a knife or scissors or a fork or whatever to poke tiny little holes in the film. The fruit flies are attracted to the smell of the ACV and will fly into the holes but then not be able to figure out how to fly back out. Or so goes the idea. If they do get back out, try again with smaller or fewer holes.
  • Take a jar and put a piece of fruit in the bottom. Roll up a piece of paper (scrap paper! recycled and reused! you didn't catch me there) into a cone shape and stick it into the jar. Ideally, the top unfurls to the size of the jar top, and the bottom is a tiny hole just above the fruit. Again, flies will go, "Oh! Yummy rotting fruit!" and fly on down, and then buzz around there until they die. Which they do rather quickly, because their life span is very short. I feel like this is a peaceful end, because they got to eat something delicious before they go, but they didn't get to reproduce quite as much. Win, win! 
  • You can obviously switch the baits for each trap. Knock yourself out. I've found the fruit works better, personally, and you can just use whatever scraps you have. Who wouldn't take fruit over apple cider vinegar, though?
Natural, simple pest control: Fruit flies, fleas, & ants == Hobo Mama
This paper was picturesque but stank as a trap. I recommend
something thin: (recycled) notepaper, newspaper, or computer paper


I'm embarrassed to admit we had fleas two winters ago. I think they came in on our cat and then stuck around. I'd stopped treating her with flea medicine when she grew sick (I was afraid it might overtax the kidneys that weren't working well as it was) and hadn't seen any signs of scratching, so I figured she was safe. But after she died, I let her brush sit around for awhile before throwing it away (sentimentality), and you can imagine my horror when I went to pick it up finally and found it hopping with life! Bleah!

That explained the itchy bites I had on my legs! Mikko and Sam were bite-free, but that's not that unusual — insects always pick me as the tastiest snack in the bunch. I'd been thinking bedbugs and had even gotten up at 3 a.m. with a flashlight trying to catch them in the act. I was pregnant at the time and paranoid, worrying about a newborn enduring these little bites all over his tender skin. Once the brush and other evidence suggested fleas, I resolved to get rid of them pronto, before the birth.

Clean, clean, clean.

Vacuum rugs and upholstered furniture, and then bag and toss the results. For good measure, I washed our bed linens in hot water.

Treat any pets.

Duh. Learn from my mistakes, hey? We liked using Advantage, because it lasted a long time and took just a little squirt on the back of the neck. You can often get it cheaper on eBay. It's not natural at all, though, so other methods for flea-prone pets include regular bathing (yes, even for cats!) and flea combing (have a dish with detergent water nearby to drop in any live ones). Try steeping rosemary in boiling water, letting it cool, and then using that as a spray or dip for pets (avoiding the face and ears). Be wary of using essential oils with cats, as they're extremely sensitive to them, and never give cats garlic to eat (an occasional recommendation) as it can be toxic for them.

Trap them.

This part's easy. I mean, seriously soooo easy. Fleas are dumb, so this method takes just patience, and not a lot of that.
Natural, simple pest control: Fruit flies, fleas, & ants == Hobo Mama
  • Fill a small bowl no more than 2/3 full with water.
  • Add a touch of soap or detergent. (This is to break the surface tension of the water so the fleas don't just float on top.)
  • Place the bowl near a light. The more exposed the light and the closer to the bowl, the better, though remember to be safe and not mix water and electricity or put it anywhere a kid might do the same. Good ideas: If you have those older-style incandescent nightlights, remove the cover, plug it into an outlet above a vanity or counter, and place the bowl beneath. If you have a desk lamp or sewing lamp or other adjustable workspace lamp, angle it over a bowl. Or take a small lamp, put in a CFL bulb that doesn't get hot (for safety's sake), and prop the lamp so that it's tilted above the bowl.
  • If you're really nervous about water + electricity, put the soapy dish in a bright window instead, or just … wherever. Maybe near your pets' food bowls, for instance. Honestly, if you've got fleas, they'll eventually find it. Dummies.
  • Now just wait for fleas to fly toward the light and drown in your bowls. I do feel a bit bad about this sort of death, but — fleas! Yikes! Empty and refill bowls as needed, remembering the bit of soap.

In the meantime, keep on vacuuming and dumping regularly. You'll know it's working when you stop catching fleas in your traps and your legs stop itching.


Honestly, times Sam and I had ant infestations before kids, we found the best traps for ants are not natural at all (ahem, cough), but with kids and pets, I worry about them stumbling across poison (totally understandable!). Fortunately, there are more natural methods that work a little more gradually but are still effective.

Take away their food.

Put away all food, even food you think is away. One time I opened a box of donuts on my parents' counter to find it swarming. Blech! Put pet food bags into sealed containers. (Ants found their way into a closed pet food bag at our house.) Put bread bags and fruit in the refrigerator. Keep kitchen scraps in a closed bin or the freezer, and empty regularly outdoors. Put dirty dishes into the dishwasher and close it, or at least soak them. Or wash them!

Clean, clean, clean.

Sweep and mop floors and wipe counters with a vinegar and water spray, or a spray of water and dishwashing liquid, to disrupt their scent trails and get rid of lingering crumbs. Vacuum rugs, particularly around dining and pet areas. If you have small animals, make sure you clean up food in and around their cages. (Ants used to love our gerbils' leftovers.) For cats and dogs, give them half an hour or so to eat their meal and then immediately toss the uneaten food and wash out the dishes in hot, soapy water. (If you free feed, institute regular mealtimes instead; pets will adapt, and it's closer to the way they'd eat naturally in the wild.)

Deter them.

  • Get full-strength peppermint essential oil. (Other strong mints and scents are also effective. Cinnamon is supposed to work well, but I don't like the smell myself. Bay leaves are an option. Don't use cayenne pepper anywhere pets or children can get to it, as it's a powerful eye irritant.) Use a dropper or damp towel to dab and smear drops along the trails ants have made in the past, paying special attention to areas of concern, such as around pet dishes or the kitchen scrap bin.

    The downside to this natural method is you have to be persistent. Ants don't like the smell of the mint since it obscures their own feeding trails, but the scent wears off quickly. A good reminder is to reapply the mint after every mealtime until you no longer have visitors.

    For longer term effectiveness, consider growing mint plants of your own and harvesting leaves to place near problem areas, or put a whole plant there!
  • Spray your water/vinegar or water/detergent mix around windows, doors, and baseboards, or anywhere you've seen ants enter or leave. Spritz on live ants as well to make them … not alive.


For any unwanted pests, another option, if you're not squeamish, is to take advantage of nature's bug traps.

Carnivorous plants

Natural, simple pest control: Fruit flies, fleas, & ants == Hobo Mama
Our pitcher plants when they were just sprouts!
These are just plain cool! Plus, they can be a really fun project to do with little kids. We have pitcher plants growing (in this terrarium) but our Venus fly traps never sprouted. I'd like to get some separately, because: C'mon, Venus fly traps are cool! I know Mikko would love them.
Natural, simple pest control: Fruit flies, fleas, & ants == Hobo Mama
This was when adorable 3-year-old Mikko was helping me plant the carnivorous seeds.
Wearing just a frog sock on one hand. Because: Who knows?
Natural, simple pest control: Fruit flies, fleas, & ants == Hobo Mama
And taping the terrarium shut while sporting Dora tattoos up and down both arms.
That one's self-explanatory.


Do you regularly find spiders in your home and flip out and get rid of them? Maybe…don't. Just leave them, and think of them as pets. (If you're Jorje, they already are.) You can even purposely introduce predator animals into your home, as I did by catching a few ladybugs when my houseplants were aphid-infested. It's kind of like the fluid definition of weeds vs. wildflowers: They're not pests if they're invited!

Let me know your tips and tricks for ridding your home of unwanted creatures! Do you know natural deterrents for mosquitoes, scorpions, houseflies, spider monkeys, yeti…?


Jenny said...

I also use a mixture of witch hazel with tea tree, Texas cedarwood and lemongrass essential oils to keep them away. Works like a charm!

Anonymous said...

Just as I was about to go and search high and low on Pinterest (duh) for 'fruit fly Raid' or something, I see this! Thanks!

Pinning now.

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