Most homes, and especially period homes, are plagued with a number of household pests, seen and unseen, throughout the year. Getting rid of some can be more about limiting their numbers; others can be dispatched with natural remedies, good cleaning routines and sensible measures; some will only really leave if you call in the professionals.
Use this guide to find out how to get rid of the most common household pests, and use all our cleaning tips, hacks and advice for all other housekeeping know-how.
How to get rid of ants
Harmless but annoying, ants tend to find their way into the house in summer, usually in search of food. The simplest way to get rid of them is to sprinkle ant powder across the doorway (although keep household pets away). If they are persistent, you may have to follow their trail outside and put powder around the nest.
How to get rid of bedbugs
It's unlikely you'll find bedbugs in your own bed at home, but if you're moving into a rental home that's furnished with a bed already or are sending a teenager off to university, it might be something you need to deal with.
If you do find them in a mattress, our best advice is to buy a new one if you can; bed bugs are very hard to get rid of (you'll need to call in a specialist contractor) and although they don't carry disease, their bites are itchy and annoying. They can infest more than just mattresses, quickly finding their way into furniture, laundry and luggage – worth knowing if you've holidayed somewhere infested.
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How to get rid of cockroaches
Cockroaches are mostly seen in warm, wet climates, but you do occasionally come across them in cooler places if food has been regularly left out (perhaps there's a dirty takeaway next door?). Cockroaches nest in warm dark places under floors and near drains, and spread harmful bacterial where they walk and excrete, which can cause serious food poisoning for us, so you'll want to get rid of them quickly. However, this is a job for professionals, who will need to use proper pesticides. The source of the problem that's attracting them needs to be dealt with swiftly, too.
How to get rid of dust mites
Airing and cleanliness are the best ways to keep dust mites at bay – although you'll never get rid of them completely. Tiny, microscopic insects, they feed on our shed skin – and love pet dander too. They are invisible and don't bother most of us, despite living, feeding and excreting in our beds, sofas and soft furnishings. However, in others, they can cause allergic reactions – usually sneezing, watering eyes and sometimes rashes.
Use our guide to getting rid of dust mites to see how you can limit their numbers and your reaction to them.
How to get rid of fleas
Usually brought into the house by your dog or cat, fleas feed on dirt and by sucking blood from animals and us humans. Their bites aren't harmful but they are itchy and annoying. Fleas breed quickly, with one female laying up to 20 eggs that can hatch within a couple of days. The best option is to de-louse your pets, put flea collars on them and thoroughly vacuum carpets, curtains and soft furnishings once a week. Use a pet-friendly vacuum cleaner for best results.
Use our detailed guide to find out more about getting rid of fleas.
How to get rid of flies
Like ants, flies tend to appear in summer, attracted by the smell of food. We probably all know already that they carry up to two million bacteria on their bodies and liquefy their food by regurgitating digestive juices on to it; in doing so, they pass on gastro illnesses that cause stomach upsets.
Flies breed fast, with hundreds of eggs usually laid on to food or excrement (worth knowing if your dog uses the garden). To discourage them, keep all food, including pet food, covered, and leftovers in the fridge. Anything – including pet food – that has had flies on it is best thrown in the bin.
Trapping lies with sticky paper is often more effective than a spray insecticide – and safer to use in the house – but fly screens over open windows are really the only way to keep them out.
How to get rid of mice and rats
Rats and mice are likely to come into properties seeking warmth and food, and to escape rising water levels in rivers or sewers.
What are the signs of rats and mice?
- Very strong ammonia stench;
- Audible scrabbling noises;
- Grease marks on walls and skirting boards as they brush against them;
- Foot and tail prints in dusty areas, such as basement or attics;
- Rats leave dark, pellet-like droppings, while mice droppings are smaller and spindle shaped .
Rodents can damage property with their persistent gnawing, and contaminate surfaces and foodstuffs due to pathogens in their faeces and urine. They can also transmit Weil’s disease (Leptospirosis), Rat-bite fever and Salmonellosis.
How to get rid of rodents
To deter them, ensure food waste is properly sealed and stored. Fill holes in the exterior of your property with wire wool, caulk, metal kick plates or cement. If you spot a rodent in your home, contact a pest control surveyor for advice.
How to get rid of moths
Wardrobes and closets provide an ideal habitat for hungry moths. The UK has four species of moth that can commonly be found in homes, and they each have their own material preferences – meaning their larvae cause slightly different damage to fabrics and materials.
- Common clothes moth larvae cause irregular-shaped holes in fabrics.
- Case-bearing clothes moth larvae create smaller, more regular-shaped holes.
- Brown house moth larvae tend to prefer animal-based materials, such as feathers and leather.
- White-shouldered house moth larvae scavenge on a wide range of food, so are less damaging to textiles.
What is the solution to moth infestation?
There’s a large range of DIY moth products that are designed to contain small infestations, such as sprays, balls and traps that can be hung in wardrobes to help protect your belongings.
Moths prefer natural fibres to synthetic ones, and often lay eggs on soiled clothing or fabrics; always launder clothes and blankets, particularly in natural materials, to ensure you're not putting them away with moth eggs on. Wrapping clean blankets in sealed bags with sachets of dried lavender, rosemary and bay leaves will deter them, too.
For larger infestations, try a solutions such as Rentokil’s Entotherm Heat Pod Treatment, a chemical-free heat pod which is used to treat all types of pest insects through the controlled application of heat.
How to get rid of silverfish
Harmless little beasts, still, you don't want to share a bath with one. They're attracted to damp places, such as bathrooms and kitchens, and will feed on the glue in wallpaper paste (really). Improving ventilation will reduce damp, making your rooms less attractive to them.
How to get rid of wasps
We've all had a wasp sting at some point, which makes them such unwelcome guests, particularly when we're trying to enjoy a summer lunch in the garden. Bear in mind that in early autumn, they are more docile but their sting is just as painful.
If they make their way indoors, the best alternative to swatting them is to encourage them towards open windows. If you find a wasps' nest (or a bees' nest for that matter) in a loft space or under the eaves, don't tackle it yourself – call in the professionals.
How to get rid of woodworm
Keep spiders at bay by cleaning away their food source of dead flies, woodlice, millipedes, centipedes and other crawling insects. Remove webs.
Woodworm infestations aren’t caused by worms but by wood-eating larvae or grubs that hatch from the eggs of different species of beetle – the common furniture beetle being the most prevalent in the UK.
What are the signs of woodworm?
The beetles lay their eggs from April through to September, typically on or just under the surface of wooden items, such as floorboards or antique furniture, though they can also infest modern laminate flooring and flat-packed items.
The larvae feed on the wood, causing serious structural damage by boring tunnels in the timber, and cosmetic damage in the form of circular adult beetle exit holes. Look out for bore dust, or frass, caused by emerging beetles. They instinctively head towards the light, so you might spot them around loft hatches or near windows.
How to get rid of woodworm
DIY products are readily available to treat infested furniture, including woodworm killer solutions that are suitable for use on tables and chairs.
In the case of a severe infestation or particularly delicate antique furniture, advanced technologies can help, such as Controlled Atmosphere Technology (CAT), which involves using inert gases in a controlled atmosphere to eliminate all life stages of the insects, including eggs and larvae, while leaving no harmful residues.
When repairing antique furniture that has suffered woodworm damage, it is best is to seek advice from restoration specialists.
Find out more about getting rid of woodworm in our dedicated feature.