Myth or Truth? Orkin Debugs the Myths and Explains the Everyday Items that Can Repel Pests

By Dr. Ron Harrison, entomologist and Orkin technical services director

Dryer sheets for mosquitoes? Orange peels for roaches? Grits to kill fire ants? During the summer, it may seem impossible to keep bugs away from the home, so people will try just about anything. You’ve heard about the household DIY tricks to prevent pests, but what actually works? Orkin has debugged why the myths are false and explains why some everyday household items can truly help keep pests away this summer.

Orange Peels to Repel Cockroaches: Truth

The Osage orange, which is common in the Midwest, actually will do the trick when placed on countertops or in decorative arrangements. The bumpy green fruit contains a chemical compound that repels cockroaches. However, while the fruit may repel these insects in the immediate area, it will not prevent them from infesting other parts of the home. To prevent cockroaches:

  • Remove all water and food spills.
  • Seal all cracks and crevices inside and outside the home. Adult cockroaches can squeeze through a space as thin as a quarter.

Grits to Kill Fire Ants: Myth

The theory is that when fire ants eat dry grits and then consume water, their stomachs will explode. Unfortunately, adult ants cannot digest solid foods, so this myth is not true. Fire ants have no natural predators in the United States, so the population has grown quickly and is difficult to control. Here is what can help prevent fire ant activity:

  • Remove outdoor food and moisture sources that attract fire ants, including spills, open food containers and pet food and water bowls.
  • Check for and seal gaps around doors and windows to make it more difficult for fire ants to enter the home.

Bags of Water to Repel Flies: Truth

You may have seen water hanging in a clear bag on a porch or outside of a restaurant. Did you know there is evidence that the bag can repel flies? It’s not the water itself or the plastic bag that make it effective – the trick works when light reflects on the water inside the bag. This confuses flies so they stay away from the area, although it will not completely eliminate flies.

Dryer Sheets to Repel Mosquitoes, Spiders and Rodents: Myth

Dryer sheets are rumored to protect against much more than static cling. But there is no scientific research to back up these claims. Wiping dryer sheets along baseboards and in corners may appear to work because they are picking up dust and crumbs, which attract pests. So what can repel these pests?

  • For mosquitoes: Apply an EPA-approved insect repellent with DEET.
  • For spiders: Install screens and tighten seals on doors and windows. Also, remove webs and other insects, which are a food source for spiders.
  • For rodents: Clean up crumbs, cover trash cans, store food in tightly sealed containers and seal cracks and crevices inside and outside the home.

Bitter Cucumber Peels to Prevent Ants: Truth

Placing bitter cucumber peels near home entry points has been known to repel some ant species. Managing ant activity can be difficult, though. Ants can nest just about anywhere in homes, walls or yards, so blocking one entry point likely will not solve the problem. To effectively control an infestation, contact a trained pest professional to assess the situation.

Boiling Water to Destroy Ant Hills: Myth

Dumping boiling water on an anthill or infestation will kill the ants that are immediately exposed. However, by the time the water reaches the rest of the colony, it won’t be boiling and the queen and worker ants will survive. Boiling water can also burn exposed grass, plants and the person pouring it.

Soapy Water to Repel Garden Bugs: Truth

Garden bugs called aphids thrive when temperatures rise, and they feed on trees, flowers, fruits and vegetables. Combining two tablespoons of dish soap with a gallon of water and spraying the mixture on plant leaves every few days can help manage an aphid infestation.

Cheese to Attract Mice to Traps: Myth and Truth

Although many people believe that mice are attracted to cheese, the truth is that mice prefer foods higher in carbohydrates. Chocolate or peanut butter may be more effective attractants than cheese. However, mice are pretty indiscriminate and will eat any food source available to them. That’s why it’s important to not only catch mice, but also prevent them from getting inside:

  • Inspect your home for cracks and crevices both inside and outside.
  • Use a waterproof sealant to close up all gaps, as mice can squeeze through a hole the size of a dime.

Peppermint to Repel Rats: Truth and Myth

While it’s true that peppermint oil deters rats from entering treated areas, this natural deterrent is unrealistic because the concentration needed is so high that it would be unpleasant for the homeowner. The best natural deterrent is cleanliness:

  • Keep trash sealed tightly in containers.
  • Ensure no food crumbs or residue are available around your home.

Botanicals to Repel Mosquitoes: Myth

While mosquitoes may avoid direct contact with a citronella, mint or laurel plant around the home, there is no evidence that these plants will have an impact from a distance or in the long run. Because mosquitoes can spread West Nile virus and other illnesses, it’s important to protect yourself:

  • Wear an EPA-registered insect repellent on exposed skin when outside.
  • Eliminate any standing water where mosquitoes might breed.

Fans to Repel Mosquitoes: Truth

Mosquitoes are poor fliers, so creating a forced air flow that is directed away from an outdoor gathering space can help keep mosquitoes away, if you are standing in or near the air flow.

Ultrasonic Sound Machines to Repel Cockroaches and Rodents: Myth

Sonic or ultrasonic sound devices have been touted as repellents for everything from cockroaches to rodents, specifically rats and mice. However, there is no evidence that the commercially available devices repel insects or are truly effective measures for rodent control. The sound these machines emit cannot pass through walls, and furniture may limit their range. Because cockroaches and rodents reproduce quickly and can pose serious health and home damage threats, it’s important to contact a pest management professional immediately if you suspect their presence.

Summer temperatures and weather patterns lend themselves well to pests’ survival needs, which is why this season is a peak time for pest activity. If you give Orkin’s prevention tips a try and find that pest activity will not subside, remember to call a licensed pest professional to assess the situation, help manage your pest infestation and help prevent future pest activity.