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Bug Busters: Poison-Free Pest Controls for Your House and Garden

Bug Busters: Poison-Free Pest Controls for Your House and Garden

by Bernice Lifton

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Want to get rid of pesky bugs and rodents in and around your home and garden—without using dangerous chemical pesticides? Bug Busters provides dozens of environmentally

safe, easy methods for keeping your home free of pests. Written in easy-to-understand language, this book combines traditional time-proven pest controls with the latest research. Also


Want to get rid of pesky bugs and rodents in and around your home and garden—without using dangerous chemical pesticides? Bug Busters provides dozens of environmentally

safe, easy methods for keeping your home free of pests. Written in easy-to-understand language, this book combines traditional time-proven pest controls with the latest research. Also included are new and innovative techniques for eradicating vermin. And for those times when a chemical pesticide or exterminator may be your only recourse, as with termite infestation, Bug Busters tells you how to find a competent professional and how to properly handle and dispose of chemical pesticides.

At a time when literally thousands of adults and children are treated yearly for pesticide mishaps, Bug Busters provides important information for anyone who is concerned with safe and intelligent pest control.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Pests, whether of food, the body, the home, or garden, include medically important species and affect all of us at some time. Their attacks may tempt us to use pesticides, which often are more dangerous to our health than the pests themselves. As this book points out, there are safe alternatives to poisons. If we learn a pest's habits, simple measures can be taken to ``shut them out,'' ``starve them out,'' and ``wipe them out.'' This concise, well-organized compendium focuses on roaches, pantry moths and beetles, rats, mice, flies, mosquitos, fleas, ticks, lice, bedbugs, clothes moths, carpet beetles, silverfish, crickets, termites, carpenter ants, and various garden pests. It reveals their habits and outlines common sense and often clever measures to control or eliminate them. Safe pesticides are discussed and their proper use explained. If all else fails, advice is given on finding a competent pest-control company. Recommended for public library collections. -- Annette Aiello, Smithsonian Tropical Research Inst., Panama

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Square One Publishers
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Square One Publishers
Copyright © 2005

Bernice Lifton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7570-0095-9

Chapter One Controls, Not Chemicals

Have you ever set off a bug bomb in your home and then felt sick for a couple of days? Or spread snail bait among your seedlings and prayed that the dog-or the kids-wouldn't sample it? Maybe you've heard about the woman who was about to go away for a weekend and leave her beloved cat home. It seemed like a good time to get rid of the cockroaches in her apartment. She set out plenty of water and food for the cat, sprayed the kitchen thoroughly with a common household pesticide, and locked the door behind her. When she came home two days later, all the cockroaches were dead. So was the cat.

If so, you've probably wondered, "Aren't there safer ways to fight pests?"


Modern pesticides usually bring quick death to those unpleasant little creatures that are determined to move in with us, but what do you do when the cockroaches-or fleas or snails-show up again and again, as they are apt to do? Keep laying on the poisons?

A slow, searching walk along the pesticide aisles of a hardware store or garden shop can be a disturbing experience. From the acrid odors, whether produced by the insecticides or the agents used to disperse them, you know instinctively that these products can do you no good. Your instincts are right. As one chemist once said, "If you can smell it, it will probably do some harm."

Scanning the package labels can make you even more uneasy:

Do not breathe spray mist. In case of eye or skin contact, flush with plenty of clear water. Contains a cholinesterase inhibitor (this is a substance that impairs nerve function, but the label doesn't tell you that).

Bait may be attractive to dogs. Toxic to birds and other wildlife. Keep out of lakes, streams, and ponds.

And always,

"Keep out of reach of children."

If these materials interact with air, you could be breathing toxic vapors as long as residues are left, which could be indefinitely.

What's worse, chemicals aimed at particular pests may have been found to be unsafe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yet are allowed to remain on the market shelves until stocks are gone. Confused consumers rely on retail sales help for information. Unfortunately, these people generally know as little about these chemicals as the consumers themselves do.

Actually, everyone is vulnerable to these toxins-the home gardener who accidentally sprays a bug killer into the wind; people with allergies, respiratory ailments, or skin problems; older adults; young children; and pets.

Okay, so you're young. You have neither children nor pets. Your skin and lungs are in great shape. You have no allergies. You are also absolutely sure that you always handle hazardous substances without ever endangering yourself or anyone else. The following fact, however, may give you pause: Some of our most destructive pests are now resistant to nearly all the chemical killers we have. Hundreds more are immune to at least some pesticides.

Among the species that readily bounce back from pest control chemicals are those that are most dangerous to us-flies, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, and lice. Other resistant insects include major pests of agriculture, forests, and stored foods. Since chemical pesticides were first used, in the mid-nineteenth century, there have been more than 500 reported cases of insects developing resistance to the insecticides meant to control them. Today, more than 500 species have developed a resistance to at least one insecticide, and many pest species are now resistant to almost all of the poisons in our arsenal. We may seem to win a few battles here and there with insect pests, but we are beginning to realize that we have lost the war. Although the use of insecticides on crops in the United States has increased tenfold in both amount and toxicity since 1945, the share of crop yield lost to insects has nearly doubled in the same period. Despite the regular drenching of our soils with powerful poisons, insects still devour about 20 percent of our farm products. This is roughly the percentage American farmers suffered in 1900, fifty years before the first onslaught of organic pesticides began. And we all pay the price in higher grocery bills and possible residues on food. Either way, the picture is hardly encouraging.

Since commercial agriculture now relies so heavily on toxic chemicals to make and keep its products marketable, we certainly do not want to add household pesticides to the brew of poisons we already take into our bodies. How deadly are these substances? The world found out on December 2, 1984, when a toxic gas, methyl isocyanate (MIC), a basic ingredient in the common pesticide carbaryl (sold under the brand name Sevin), leaked from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. As many as 2,500 people were killed outright, and another 60,000 were seriously injured, many of them disabled for life.

So chemicals may not solve your problem at all, even in the short run. More worrisome, homeowners who pour unused pesticides down a drain or drench garden soils with them are major polluters of our water. They are also contaminating our seafood. Shellfish taken from the coastal waters off southern California have been found to contain dangerous levels of pesticides. Urban streams on Oahu are so badly polluted with the insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (better known as DDT)-a long-lasting chemical that persists despite having been banned since 1972-and chlordane-banned in 1988-that Hawaii's Department of Health is still telling people to avoid eating crayfish, tilapia , crabs, even o'opu taken from local waters.

If you fall into the trap of using more and more pesticides, you run the risk of making yourself sick or developing an allergy to them. Meanwhile, the pests you are trying to kill, hardly fazed by the same substances endangering you, may very well keep coming back. As our forests shrink and wood becomes more expensive, pressed wood (which contains formaldehyde) is increasingly being used to make furniture. Formaldehyde is a known sensitizer that makes people more vulnerable to danger from pesticides. If we add to these hazards the pollutants from automobiles and industry that are already infiltrating our bodies, doesn't it make good sense to keep our personal space as free of contaminants as possible?

After biologists like the late Rachel Carson discovered that chlordane and DDT, both organochlorines, were deadly over time to both humans and animals, we began to use a group called organophosphates, which were considered to be safer than the organochlorines. Both groups, however, contain extremely dangerous toxins and some that are relatively mild. None should be used carelessly. (For a more complete description of these pesticide groups, see page 250 in Chapter 14.) Yet people are still being hurt by these poisons. There is now a recognized medical condition called multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). The so-called safe alternatives have now been documented to cause a multitude of problems, including very serious central nervous system problems. Possible effects of prolonged exposure include an impaired ability to concentrate and to solve problems, loss of memory, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, flaccid muscles, and poor dexterity. Because people who suffer from this syndrome lose their capacity for meaningful work, many of them become depressed and demoralized.

MCS is often misdiagnosed by doctors who are unfamiliar with the condition. As a result, people who suffer from it are sometimes thought to have emotional problems and are shunted off to psychiatrists, who really can't help them. One victim of this syndrome, a former student at Harvard Law School, became violently ill after exposure to a common household insecticide. She suffered damage to her heart as well as to her nervous, reproductive, and immune systems, and is now allergic to many chemicals. At last report, she was living in a tent on unsprayed land in Texas. Her leave from Harvard has run out, and she has little hope of resuming any career.


Are there other ways to discourage and drive off the insects and rodents that find our homes and gardens attractive-ways that work permanently? Yes, there are. Our ancestors knew how to get rid of all sorts of unwanted wildlife, both indoors and outdoors, without poisons. Two of their most powerful weapons are yours for the taking-cleanliness and sunlight. Other methods they used were often not much more complicated than these. And best of all, pests cannot become immune to these safe, effective techniques.

Insects and rodents have been our unwelcome companions ever since humans first moved into caves, put on clothes, and learned to grow and store food. In making life more secure and comfortable for ourselves, we also made it more secure and comfortable for many species of little wildlife.

Few of us want to move back out under the trees and run naked to get rid of the pests, and most of us would find a diet of roots and berries pretty dull. Down through the years, however, observant individuals have noticed that insects and rodents avoid certain substances or conditions that humans find harmless or pleasant. They also observed that if the little creatures lacked food or water, they moved out.

Our ancestors, wherever they lived, stored food against the inevitable times of shortage. Some stored their stockpiles in holes lined with straw to keep insect raiders out. Some Chinese people still build small shelters of clay and soft mortar to safeguard their grain, as their forebears did thousands of years ago. Early peoples also mixed their grains with aromatics like bay or eucalyptus leaves, or inedibles like sand, ashes, or sulfur, to repel pests. Farmers in Galicia, Spain, still build small granite and wood huts, called horreos. Unchanged in design since about 500 B.C., these granaries are almost completely rodent-proof. In India, grains were once spread on rugs placed in direct sunlight to drive out light-fleeing insects.

Many of the pest control methods described in this book are updated versions of these time-tested techniques. They may have kept your grandmother's house pest-free and given it a pleasant fragrance that you remember to this day. In today's enthusiasm for instant solutions, we tend to ignore safer, if somewhat slower, ways of controlling pests. Yet these less drastic methods still make good sense. After all, you wouldn't go after a gang of neighborhood burglars with a bomb if strong locks, good lighting, shrill alarms, and an alert police force could do the job effectively year after year.

That said, not all of the techniques I will describe here are equally effective in all situations-but then, neither are the chemicals. Climate, seasonal weather, natural surges in pest populations, soil conditions, and your own thoroughness and persistence may all affect how well these measures work for you.


When that comfortable home you now enjoy was built, it displaced thousands, possibly millions, of tiny animals, all of which were well integrated into an environment with adequate food and water, as well as safe nesting sites. To the extent that your home provides these basics of life, insects and rodents will try to occupy it. Indeed, your home may actually be a better environment for them than the outdoors. Besides providing a huge supply of food and water (by insect standards), most houses have innumerable nooks and crannies in which small creatures can hide from predators, including humans.

Like all displaced animals, your land's former occupants need a new home. Unless you are unusually hospitable, you probably don't want to share yours with the many-legged. So how can you get them out-and keep them out-of what is now your turf?

The following chapters will describe the least toxic measures available for controlling the most common pests that want to eat your food, clothing, furniture, and plants-even you. Many of these methods have been known for generations, and the new technology of integrated pest management (IPM) has developed, and continues to develop, sound new ones.

Originally designed to help farmers, IPM is a strategy that uses technical information, ongoing monitoring of pest populations, crop assessment, and other techniques to control pests. Chemicals are just one part of the strategy, and their use is kept to a minimum. In the 1980s, many pest control professionals were bitterly opposed to the concept of IPM, fearing that it would deprive them of their arsenal of chemical weapons. But since then, there has been a sea change in the pest control industry's attitude. Today, IPM is thought by many pest control professionals to be the only way that we humans can win our struggle against destructive insects and rodents without damaging ourselves, our domestic animals, or our environment. In fact, the trade association for pest control professionals has even changed its name from the National Pest Control Association to the National Pest Management Association.

Insects-Awesome Fertility, Phenomenal Resistance

First of all, you need to accept the fact that you are engaged in a war that you simply cannot win. There are just too many insects. Estimates of the number of kinds of insects on Earth vary from 750 thousand to 30 million distinct species. Individual insects are beyond counting. Scientists can make only picturesque guesses, such as the following:

The total weight of all the insects on Earth is far greater than that of all other species combined; or

The progeny of two flies mating in April would, if all survived, cover the earth by August with a disgusting blanket of flies forty-seven feet thick.

Other insects have a reproductive ability just as awesome. The females of some species lay a million eggs each in their lifetimes-eggs that, in many cases, can hatch months or even years later. What is even more unsettling is that many pests can become immune in just a few generations to the most deadly insect poisons chemists have devised, and insect generations are often measured in weeks. (Rodents, which produce only several litters a year, also are showing resistance to once-lethal substances.)

Today, resistant houseflies are hardly slowed by DDT, and one common pantry beetle has been found thriving on a diet of belladonna, aconite, and strychnine, all substances that are fatal to other living creatures. Not surprisingly, no insect species known to us has ever been completely exterminated. They are the most hardy and adaptable creatures on Earth.

In the 1970s, when chemical pesticides were almost always the weapon of choice in dealing with unwanted insects, the number of resistant species nearly doubled, growing from 224 to 428. In that same decade, the number of cases of malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that kills between 2 and 4 million people (most of them children) every year, also doubled, as its carrier, the Anopheles mosquito, became increasingly immune to our chemical arsenal. More than 500 species of insects and mites, 270 weed species, more than 150 plant pathogens, and about a half-dozen species of rats are now resistant to the chemicals that once controlled them. Even more discouraging, immunity to more than one pesticide and to more than one class of pesticide is increasing by leaps and bounds. There are more than 1,000 insecticide combinations to which some pests are immune, and at least seventeen insect species that shrug off all classes of insecticides.

Clearly, our insect and rodent enemies are invincible. However, with vigilance and a sound strategy, you can reach an acceptable stalemate. By using the controls described in this book, you will also lower your risk of accidental poisoning.

Basic Antipest Strategy

Your basic strategy for getting rid of small freeloaders is simple. You need to find out:

How they are getting in;

Where they get food and water; and

What conditions kill them or drive them off.

Once you determine these things, launch your antipest campaign by:

Shutting them out;

Starving them out;

Rotating your food, clothing, and furniture;

Zapping them with very high or very low temperatures;

Exposing them to sunlight and fresh air;

Using fragrances they dislike; and

Trapping them.

In the rest of this chapter, we will look at some of the basic principles behind each of these approaches.


Excerpted from BUG BUSTERS by BERNICE LIFTON Copyright © 2005 by Bernice Lifton. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Bernice Lifton, a graduate of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, is a professional writereditor-researcher. For nearly twenty years, she has studied and researched environmentally

safe and effective pest-control methods. As a journalist, Ms. Lifton has written articles for numerous national magazines, including Parents and This Week.

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