Eco Friendly Pest Control: 10 Tips to Go Bug-Free

Synthetic pesticides are bad for the environment and bad for your health too.

Say goodbye to them, and try these eco friendly pest control ideas instead.

Eco Friendly Pest Control

The type of pest control you should use will depend on two things: (1) what you are trying to get rid of; and (2) where the pests are – indoors or outdoors.  

For general indoor eco friendly pest control, consider using:

  • soapy water
  • hot water
  • essential oils like citronella, lemongrass, clove, cinnamon, neem
  • DIY sprays with citrus or mint
  • repellent leaves like bay leaves, neem
  • physical traps
  • diatomaceous earth
  • abrasive surfaces

For general outdoor eco friendly pest control, consider using:

  • soapy water
  • essential oils
  • DIY sprays with citrus or garlic or pepper or mint
  • abrasive surfaces
  • diatomaceous earth
  • coffee grounds
  • attractants for natural predators like certain flowers will attract larger insects and birds
  • repellent plants like basil, rosemary, and strong smelling flowers
  • physical barriers like netting
  • physical traps

#1 Soapy Water

Soapy water simply involves adding dish soap to a spray bottle and filling it with water. Shake and spray to get rid of many types of bugs, snails, and more.

eco friendly pest control soapy water

How it works

There are a number of theories as to how soapy water kills critters.

Soap must come into contact with the small bugs. When that happens it can dissolve the waxy outer layer of the critter. This can lead to water loss, dehydration and death.

Soap can enter the breathing tracts and suffocate them. It can also enter the critter and damage its cells.

When applied, soapy water works instantly to kill small bugs – larger ones will take a little longer.

What to use it for

Use soapy water to kill:

  • all insects including ants, roaches, flies, wasps, aphids, mealybug and more
  • spiders
  • fleas
  • slugs and snails

This eco friendly pest control method works best for slower moving pests. It is also ideal for the garden since soapy water does not affect plants.

How long does it last

Soapy water only kills what it is in contact with. It has no long-term effects. It also does not repel bugs.

Clean up

When using indoors, you shouldn’t leave sprayed on soapy water on the floor – it can become a slipping hazard. Wipe up the indoor surfaces to prevent any soapy residue.

#2 Hot Water

Hot water is pretty self-explanatory. For best results, pour hot water directly on the pests.

How it works

The temperature of the water burns the respective critters. Some will die within minutes of being exposed to water above 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). Others will take longer so hotter water will work more quickly and be more effective.

What to use it for

Hot water works on the majority of small pests – especially slow moving ones like ants. The hotter the water, the more effective it is and the faster it works.

Hot water is also ideal for using in the garden. But, do not use on sensitive plants or seedlings – it could cause the tiny plants to die. For larger plants, the very hot water may cause some wilting and some leaves to fall.

How long does it last

Like soapy water, hot water only works when in contact with the pests. As the water cools, it will no longer be effective and the water has no repellent properties.

Clean up

No clean up is necessary – the water will evaporate without a trace.

#3 Essential Oils

There are many, many essential oils that can kill critters, repel them, and prevent their eggs from hatching. The oils can also repel much larger pests too like mice, squirrels, and more.

eco friendly pest control essential oils

Which essential oils are effective for eco friendly pest control

Some powerful essential oils against critters (in no particular order) include:

  • cedarwood
  • cinnamon
  • citronella
  • clove
  • ginger
  • neem
  • orange
  • oregano
  • peppermint
  • thyme

Essential oils should be diluted before being used. Add about 10 mL of the essential oil to a large spray bottle. Follow that with the same amount of a dilutant like liquid soap or alcohol or oil. Top the bottle up with water.

Give it a good shake before using.

How they work

There are a number of active compounds in essential oils that kill and repel bugs. For instance, the main compound in cinnamon essential oil is cinnamaldehyde; citronella’s is citronellal; clove’s is eugenol, oregano’s is carvacrol; peppermint’s is menthol.

You get the point – there are many compounds that are responsible for killing and repelling unwanted critters.

For the smaller pests like insects and arachnids, scientists believe the compounds enter their breathing tracts and suffocate them. The oils also disrupt reproduction and the scent trails of some pests like ants.

Many small animals hate the strong smelling essential oils and will likely avoid them at all costs.

What to use them for

Use essential oils for all types of pests including:

  • all insects like ants, flies, mosquitoes, roaches, termites, fleas, wasps, moths, aphids, and more
  • all arachnids like spiders, mites, and scorpions
  • slugs and snails
  • deters pets, frogs, mice, squirrels, birds, snakes,

How long do they last

The oil spray can likely kill most smaller pests on contact.

A spray with a higher essential oil content will work faster – but its smell will be stronger and take longer to dissipate.

As for repellence, the spray should deter pests for at least 3 days. If you routinely spray your surroundings, they should stay bug-free.

Clean up

There should be no clean up with this eco friendly pest control method.

However, undiluted essential oils can affect your skin. So, it is important to handle the oils with care (maybe with gloves) and to wash your hands thoroughly after making or using the spray.

What to get on Amazon:

Cedarwood Essential Oil
Now essential oils - citronella oil

#4 Citrus

Citrus peels can be used for eco friendly pest control. The peels can be boiled in a little water, strained and bottled for spraying. Peels are also great repellents when placed in cupboards.

eco friendly pest control citrus peels

By the way, citrus peels are also great for making tea!

How it works

Citrus peels contain a compound called limonene. This compound can enter the respiratory tracts of insects and suffocate them (source: 2019 study).

The compound also repels bugs and reduces their appetite.

What to use it for

Citrus and limonene are most effective for smaller insects and as a repellent. Use the spray to keep ants, flies, mosquitoes, and other insects away. It can also be used as a flea and tick repellent.  

How long does it last

The pesticide effects of the spray will only work on contact. The repellent effects will last as long as the smell permeates – so it’ll likely work for a few hours.

Clean up

Citrus and limonene sprays can irritate your skin so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after use. Don’t use it directly on your skin especially before going out in the sun.

#5 Mint

Mint leaves can be blended with water and strained to make a very strong-smelling, minty spray.

eco friendly pest control mint

How it works

Mint contains compounds like menthol, carvone, and limonene. All three work towards suffocating insects, spiders, and more. Mint is also a great repellent.

What to use it for

A minty spray will work for all insects, arachnids, birds, and small animals. Spiders absolutely hate mint – not just mint essential oil, but mint leaves too.

Mint plants are fast growing and vining. They are never attacked in the garden so be sure to plant them around other plants you want to protect.  

How long does it last

Mint is very strong smelling so the repellent effects of the spray will last for a day, maybe longer. Spray often to keep those pesky spiders away.

For insecticidal benefits, mix mint with other eco friendly pest control measures on this list like soapy water and citrus peels.

Clean up

No clean up necessary.

#6 Garlic

Much like mint, garlic can be blended with water and strained to make a very sulfur-like spray.

It should be used in outdoor settings and in the garden. Sulfur can stink indoors.

eco friendly pest control garlic

How it works

Garlic contains lots of sulfur compounds which are natural repellents of insects and smaller pests. The compounds are so strong-smelling that it often confuses the pests and interferes with their sensory receptors.

The garlic is also toxic to insect larvae (source: 2017 study).

What to use it for

Use garlic to deter flying and crawling insects in outdoor spaces and the garden. It’s best used with pepper and soapy water.

How long does it last

Garlic’s strong odor can provide repellent effects for a couple hours to several days.

Clean up

No clean up necessary if you are using the spray outdoors. Garlic isn’t likely to irritate your skin, but you should wash your hands after using the spray.

#7 Pepper

Like mint and garlic mentioned before, pepper can be blended with water and strained to create a very potent, pepper spray of sorts.

One teaspoon of pepper to two litres of water will give you a strong, effective spray.  

Like garlic, you should use pepper outdoors. The compounds in pepper can burn your skin and eyes when used indoors.

eco friendly pest control pepper

How it works

Pepper’s bitter taste comes from a compound called capsaicin.

Capsaicin can damage the membranes in insects and other smaller pests. It can also affect metabolism and the nervous system in some invertebrates. As such, pepper is a potent natural pesticide and repellent.

What to use it for

Use pepper to fight against:

  • ants
  • aphids and lace bugs
  • beetles
  • grasshoppers
  • flying insects like wasps
  • snails and slugs
  • spiders and more

How long does it last

Capsaicin is a powerful, persistent compound so it will maintain its repellent effects for days. As for its pesticide nature, it works best when in contact with the critters.

It works well with soapy water and garlic too.

Clean up

Capsaicin is a well known skin irritant. Protect your hands, skin, eyes and respiratory tract when using the spray. Wash your hands thoroughly after. Avoid touching your eyes.

#8 Bay leaves or neem leaves

Clean bay and neem leaves can be placed in cupboards and in containers of grain, flour, rice, and more to keep little pests away.

eco friendly pest control bay and neem leaves

How it works

The leaves have a strong smell that disrupts insect sensory receptors. So, the smell acts as a repellent.

Bay leaves contain eugenol which is common in other repellent plants like eucalyptus. Neem contains a compound called azadirachtin which is known to affect over 200 insect species.

What to use it for

Use the leaves to keep weevil, ants, cockroaches, spiders and other little household pests out of small spaces.

How long does it last

It’s all related to how long the smell of the leaves last for. From my personal experience, bay leaves can repel bugs for several months.

Clean up

After a few months, just pick up the leaves and add to your garden or compost bin.

#9 Coffee grounds

Clean out your coffee machine and add your coffee grounds to your garden to keep the creepy crawlies away. However, coffee is acidic and too much can acidify your soil which can affect some of your plants.

eco friendly pest control coffee grounds

How it works

Coffee contains high scented compounds including diterpenes. These may not be insecticidal, but it is repellent. It is likely the compounds affect the sensory receptors of insects.

What to use it for

Use coffee grounds to keep away ants, worms, caterpillars, and other insects especially from your garden.

How long does it last

The grounds have repellent effects for several days.

Clean up

If you use the grounds in the garden, there’s no clean up. In other spaces, sweep up the grounds and add to the compost.

#10 Diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is a powder made from ground up single-celled algae fossils. Each grain of the powder has very sharp edges.

eco friendly pest control diatomaceous earth

How it works

Those sharp edges are small enough and sharp enough to damage the waxy waterproof layers of insects and other small pests. Without the protective layer, insects will eventually dehydrate and die.

What to use it for

Use diatomaceous earth for walking and crawling insects especially ants and cockroaches. Place the powder outside tiny holes, in crevices, and outside the door.

Form a ring of the powder around trees to block ants, caterpillars and other crawling insects from climbing onto trees to attack flowers and fruits.

How long does it last

As long at the powder forms an unbroken line or circle around a tree, door, or opening it will work. The powder should be protected from rain, water, and wind.

Clean up

Wash your hands after placing the powder. Sweep up carefully when no longer needed.

#11 Repellent plants

Repellent plants can work in two ways:

  • by attracting natural predators to feast on the pests
  • by being strong smelling enough to repel the pests
eco friendly pest control rosemary

Which plants are effective for eco friendly pest control

Attracting plants include:

  • Marigold: attracts ladybirds and lacewings which eat aphids, mites and more.
  • Vervain: attracts bees, butterflies and more.
  • Sunflowers: attract birds, squirrels, spiders and more.

Strong smelling plants include:

  • Bay leaves: repels flies, moths, ants and more.
  • Lemongrass: repels flies, ants, mosquitoes, snakes and more.
  • Mint: repels insects, spiders, rats, squirrels and more.
  • Basil: repels flies, mosquitoes, and beetles.
  • Rosemary: repels insects, cockroaches, slugs, snails, deer and more.

#12 Physical traps and barriers

Physical barriers can include:

  • netting
  • fencing
  • repairing holes
  • animal traps
  • sticky tape
  • colorful tape
  • wind chimes
  • and so much more
eco friendly pest control traps

How it works

Preventing the pests from entering your home or your garden is always more environmentally friendly. Some pests have a purpose and place in the natural food chain and killing them should not be our first choice.

So, sealing under doors, roofs and fences are a great way to keep them out.

Brightly colored tape and loud sounds from things like wind chimes can also act as a deterrent – especially for birds.

Traps can either contain the pests so they can be released in a less urban area or can kill the critters. Rat traps are a classic example.

Sticky tape is another type of trap that contains pests in one strip so they aren’t free to wreak havoc on trees and plants.

What to use it for

These traps and barriers work especially well for larger pests like birds, rabbits, squirrels, deer, snails, spiders, and persistent insects like ants, wasps, and more.

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