As a recent desert transplant, I have been surprised about the routine and conventional approaches to pest management in our area. Many of us are subject to monthly exterior spraying in our communities and have monthly contracts with exterminators, regardless of whether extermination is actually needed. Conventional pesticides and insecticides contain toxic ingredients that can be harmful to humans, especially children and pregnant women, and pets. A host of research and evidence shows that increased exposure to pesticides and insecticides disrupts our endocrine system, increases our cancer risk profile, and is associated with many other health problems.

An article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2015, found that children exposed to indoor insecticides had an alarming increase in the risk of childhood leukemia (47% more likely) and childhood lymphomas (43% more likely). As a mother of a toddler, I find these numbers unacceptable – especially when there are safer and equally effective alternatives.

So what should you do? First, implement something called integrated pest management (IPM). IPM plans address the root causes of pest problems and when spraying is deemed necessary, it’s administered to targeted areas only. For example, is there food attracting pests? Are there holes on the exterior of your home allowing pests to get inside? Do your screens need to be repaired or replaced? Once these types of issues are addressed, you can start looking at safer sprays. Essential oil sprays have gained a lot of attention in recent years and some desert exterminators are taking note offering conventional extermination services as well as safer alternatives, like essential oils. Essential oils are applied to the interior and exterior of the home, just like conventional sprays, and the bonus is that your house will smell amazing!

Take Action

  • Ask your exterminator to use essential oils only. If they cannot provide this option, hire someone else. Start asking questions!
  • If you live in a community that sprays routinely, call the contracted exterminator and tell them not to spray your property. I also leave “PLEASE DO NOT SPRAY THIS PROPERTY” on spraying days in case they forget.
  • Encourage your HOA to use essential oils. This is a good time to be a pest (pun intended).
  • Make sure your exterminator has implemented an IPM plan and isn’t routinely and unnecessarily spraying.
  • Consider bait traps instead of spraying. Please note that these should be used as a last resort and should not be used on a property with children or pets.

D.I.Y. Pest Sprays

Make your own indoor sprays! Experiment, but general recommendations are about 10-15 drops in one to two cups of water. You can start with less and see how it goes. I have a dedicated “Bug Spray” bottle in my home. Below, is a cheat sheet of a few concoctions created by Stan Goodson from Apple Pest Control in San Antonio, Texas, for pests common to the desert.

  • Ants: spearmint, peppermint oil
  • Flies: rosemary, sage, peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus
  • Mosquitoes: lemongrass, citronella, lavender
  • Roaches: peppermint, citronella
  • Spiders: peppermint, spearmint

Amber Stuart is an accredited professional with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the International WELL Building Institute (WELL) and is a Green Globes Professional (GGP). For more information on natural pest control or other sustainability related questions, contact Amber at [email protected]

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Comments (2)

  • Thank you so much for this article! We have been using a peppermint oil blend in our home for about 2 months and the results are fantastic. I’m sold!

    • Lauren Del Sarto

      Thanks so very much for reading and for sharing, Heather! Rosemary works well for us.. with a count of EIGHT deceased black widows around the perimeter of the house.


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