How to do safe pest control

Everyone likes to make sure their home is a pest-free haven, but how do you do pest control safely? Should you do your own pest control or should you call professional? If you do your own pest control, how do you apply products safely, especially if you have children or pets? What do you need to consider, to make sure your pest control is “environmentally friendly”?

Prevention better than cure

As with any pest control problem, prevention is better than cure. Here are the top 10 tips all homeowners should know to reduce the chances of an insect or rodent infestation

  1. Keep garden beds away from the perimeter of the house
  2. Trim back overhanging branches to prevent rodents getting on to the roof
  3. Eliminate or block termite entry points
  4. Avoid storing rubbish and cardboard boxes in the sub-floor / roof void
  5. Clean up any split food / dirty dishes
  6. Put rubbish in sealed containers
  7. Do not leave pet food out
  8. Keep food in sealed plastic containers
  9. Vacuum regularly, especially under furniture and cupboards
  10. Keep humidity down and fix any leaks

Obviously these prevention tips do not require spraying any pest control products. But if you want to treat your own home, what do you need to consider from a safety point of view?

Are pest control products safe?

The bottom line is all pest control products are “safe”, providing the instructions on the label are followed for application and storage.

When a company wants to sell a pest control product, the Government organisation, the APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority) assesses the product from a performance and safety point of view. As a result of this assessment the Government finalises the label instructions and the product is registered and allowed for sale. The label is a legal document – you can only use the product against the pests listed on the label, according to the instructions on the label. To use the product against insects not on the label or in a manner not specified, is an offence.

Many people get concerned about the safety of pest control products because they kill insects and assume they will be equally dangerous to people and pets. However, modern insecticides are much “safer” than the pest control products used in the past and tend to specifically target insects, with a reduced safety concerns to mammals. Indeed, from a safety point of view, homeowners should be more concerned with other household products such as cleaning products and dishwasher powders. That said, safety is still the number one consideration for pest control products and the label should always be read before use.

It is important to read each product label, as each product label instructions will be different. However, there are some general guidelines;

Fish tanks need to be covered during pest control treatments

Fish tanks need to be covered during pest control treatments

  • Keep the area clear of people, pets and food during application and keep the area clear until the product is dry
  • When applying the product avoid contact with skin, eyes and breathing in. Although many labels may not specify it, to prevent this occurring it’s always a good idea to wear safety equipment (long sleeved shirts, trousers, gloves, goggles and a face-mask), especially when spraying above head height or outside.
  • Keep all products out of the reach of children and pets. Placing in a lockable cupboard is ideal.
  • Although many pest control products have a low mammalian toxicity, they can have a big effect on aquatic life; fish, shrimp and other invertebrate. When applying products in the home, aquariums need to be covered and the pumps turned off. When spraying outside, pesticides should not be applied near waterways, drains or ponds. If spraying outside (even in low wind), consider covering any ponds or water features containing fish.
  • Don’t apply insecticides on or near food crops unless specified on the label.
  • Use common sense. For example, don’t spray outside when it’s windy.

Do your own pest control?

I think everyone, even those who regularly use a professional pest control company, have at least one “fly spray” at home, to target the occasional invader. However, there are an increasing number of do it yourself pest control products in hardware stores, that claim to do the “same job as a professional".

In trying to achieve professional results, there are aspects of pest control the home owner needs to consider;

  • Do you feel confident enough to do it safely and do you have all the necessary safety equipment. Remember, safety is the number one priority.
  • Do you have the pest control knowledge to get the best results? Pest control is more than just applying product…
  • Can you correctly identify the pest?
  • Do know enough about the pest to know why is causing a problem at your home?
  • Do you know which product or products are required to deliver the best results?
  • Do you know where and when to apply the products to get the best results?
  • What preventative measures do you need to put in place to prevent the problem re-occurring?
  • Do you have the correct product for the pest you are targeting and the results you am trying to achieve?

Professional pest control managers have access to different products to consumers. Typically the latest, best and safest products are available to pest control operators. Some of these products may eventually get registered as a consumer product (often in a “watered” down form), often years later.

How to do safe rodent control...

Rodent control products create a particular safety hazard around the home, as these products are designed to kill rodents, which are mammals (just like people, dogs and cats). As such accidental ingestion of rodenticides by humans and pets can have very severe consequences.

Rodenticide baits contain food (grain and cereals) to make it attractive to rats. Unfortunately it also makes it attractive to pets, particularly dogs. Even though most baits contain a bittering agent to make it unpalatable to humans and dogs, as we know some dogs and even children are not so fussy in their eating habits and will often eat “anything”!

It is also important to realise that the rodents that die after eating bait still retain the bait inside their body. As such, if the rodent is eaten by another animal (such as your pet), they too can become affected by the bait as well. This is why during a baiting program it is important to pick up any dead rodents as soon as they are seen and dispose of them in the bin.

All consumer baits are based on anti-coagulents – they thin the blood, causing internal bleeding and death. It’s worth noting there are generally two different types of rodenticide bait; baits containing warfarin (first generation anti-coagulent) and baits containing more potent, secondary generation anti-coagulents. Warfarin baits are generally the best option from a safety point of view since pets will need to eat a large quantity for a severe health issue and the treatment of any poisoning event is more effective. However, it also takes several feeds to kill the rodent and therefore takes longer to get control. The newer secondary generation baits “kill in a single feed”, which is good to get quick control, but requires strict safety control to prevent any adverse safety events.

Protecting native animals needs to be considered when carrying out rodent treatments

Protecting native animals needs to be considered when carrying out rodent treatments

A common, yet not particularly safe or effective (in terms of getting control), is to put “throw packs” containing “kills in a single feed” bait in the roof void and other “uncontrolled” areas. This allows potential access to the bait by native animals and pets.

Therefore if you are tempted to do your own rodent control, you will need to consider the following;

  • Use a warfarin based bait (may take longer to control the rodent, but many times safer)
  • Always place the bait in a lockable bait station (stops unwanted access and the bait becoming exposed)
  • Place the bait station in a location out of the reach of children and pets
  • Check your property (inside and out) for dead rodents (at least every morning)
  • Dispose of the rodents by placing in a bag, seal and put in bin with lid (wear gloves).
  • Always store rodenticides in a lockable cupboard out of reach of children and pets.

Rodent traps can be used as a safer option, although there are clearly issues around damage to fingers and paws if the traps are placed in the open without the protection of a bait station. Successful rodent control using traps is even more reliant on having an in depth knowledge of rodent behaviour.

Rodent control has clear safety risks and to actually gain control is not so easy, as success depends on identifying the species, finding the nesting sites and rodent proofing the property against future infestation. In many cases, from a performance and safety point of view, this is a job best left to the professional.

The benefits of using a pest professional

Good professional pest operators will have the knowledge and skills to deliver a safe and effective pest control program. You are paying for their skill and the peace of mind it gives – there is no need for you to deal with the products and the pests.

Before they carry out an application they should discuss the pest issue with you to get an understanding of the problem and take into account any concerns you may have. An inspection of the property / pest issue will then be required before deciding on the correct treatment program. Before they commence any treatment they should also carry out a risk assessment to make sure they have taken into account all potential safety issues.

There is the perception that the products pest control operators use, are more powerful and therefore less safe than consumer products. Generally speaking this is not the case and the same safety measures are applied to professional treatments as you would to a do it yourself treatment. However, it is true that many pest control products are “concentrates” that need to be diluted prior to application. In this diluted form, their safety profile is not really any different to many consumer products.

However, it is certainly true that pest control products are more effective – they have the latest innovations in pest control technology. Combined with their pest knowledge, it will lead to faster, more effective results, often using less insecticide. The good pest professionals apply the principles of integrated pest management (IPM), which means they use a range of techniques to provide effective pest control whilst minimising insecticide use. Often they will give you a list of tips and maintenance actions for you to carry out – it will be an important part of the overall effort to keep your home pest free.

As a safety check on the pest controller themselves, it is important you check that their license and insurance are both current for the work they intend to carry out – they are required to show you these documents on request. Again, a good pest professional will have no issue with such a request.

Please note that the information contained in this blog is general in nature and is not a substitute for the information on the product label. If in doubt, contact the product manufacturer before application. If you or your family are concerned you may have experience an adverse pesticide exposure call the Poisons Information line on 13 11 26. If your pets have come into accidental contact or eaten a pest control product (or you suspect they have), call your local Vet.