How to get rid of pests at home once and for all with top tips from Martha Stewart

Want to find out how to get rid of pests from your home and garden? From ants to fleas, bed bugs to mice and rats, we look at how to rid your home of unwanted guests

How to get rid of pests - a rat on a leather sofa
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Want to know how to get rid of pests in your home or better still, deter them from coming in in the first place?

Our homes are plagued by unwanted household guests, seen and unseen, throughout the year.

Keeping certain pests at bay can be more about limiting their numbers; others can be dispatched with natural remedies, good cleaning routines (like those on our cleaning hub) and sensible measures; and some will only really leave if you call in the professionals.

Martha Stewart puts it perfectly on her blog. 'Of all the things that can have you feeling uneasy in your own home, discovering you have a pest problem is high up on the list.'

'Not only do you have to figure out where the source of the problem is, but you should also be checking if the problem has spread to other areas around the house.'

Thanks for always having our backs, Martha. 

Let us guide you through how to get rid of the most common household pests, with a few tips from Martha Stewart.

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How to get rid of ants

Figuring out how to get rid of pests starts with identifying the culprits. 

Hard-to-spot and harmless pests like ants tend to find their way into the house in summer, usually in search of food. 

Even Martha Stewart agrees on her blog MarthaStewart.com. 'Many species of ants are beneficial, as they eat other, more harmful insects, such as fleas and bedbugs. The problem with ants is largely a matter of comfort; they're not likely to cause disease.'

'When ants invade a house, they are generally just looking for food. That said, ensuring your home is swept clean of any crumbs and food residue can help keep these pests away.'

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.

However, there are lots of other ways – including non-chemical solutions which you will find in our how to get rid of ants guide.

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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, these might be pests 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. 

Bear in mind that bed bugs don't just lurk in beds – so if you have an infestation, you'll need to do more than just replace or clean your mattress.

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How to get rid of cockroaches

Cockroaches are pests 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.

Martha Stewart recommends: 'Roaches usually enter homes in paper products such as bags or cardboard boxes, and they prefer to seek refuge in dark, damp places with plenty to eat. A non-toxic way to deter them? Make a mixture of equal parts boric acid and sugar.'

However, this really 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. 

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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 – these are pests we have to resign ourselves to living with, unfortunately.

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.

How to get rid of fleas

These pests are 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.

How to get rid of flies

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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. Nice.

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 flies 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.

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How to get rid of mice and rats

Rats and mice are pests none of us want in the house. Likely to come into properties seeking warmth and food, and to escape rising water levels in rivers or sewers, they're a problem that you need to get on top of quickly.

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.

We're not going to lie, it won't be an easy job to get rid of these particular pests but you can make sure you make changes where possible to deter them from making your house a cozy home. 

And if these tips don't do the trick, it's time to bring out the big guns in the form of the pest control experts.

Here are just a few ways to deter them in the first instance. 

  • 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. 
  • Clear out cluttered areas like garages, under the stairs storage and cupboards. 
  • Keep up with your household chores, clearing surfaces in kitchens thoroughly each day and washing up dishes regularly. 
  • Use our guide to find out how to get rid of mice for good, and our guide to how to get rid of rats will fill you in on how to deal with these unsettling pest sightings.

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How to get rid of moths

Wardrobes, closets and pantries provide an ideal habitat for hungry moths.

The UK has four species of these pests commonly found in homes, and they each have their own material preferences – meaning their larvae cause slightly different damage to fabrics and materials. While the most common types in the US include the brown house moth, the pantry moth, and the clothes/carpet moth.

For clothes moths, the best strategy is to wash your clothes regularly, and storing your most expensive, natural fabrics in garment bags when you're wearing them and  vacuum sealed bags to keep them safe when not in use. 

When it comes to the pantry moths, you'll find they'll be after your bags of flour and grains particularly, so storing loose produce in air-tight containers or even in the freezer if at all possible, will help to deter them from laying their eggs and munching through your self-raising.

There are plenty of moth control treatments - like pheromone traps and diatomaceous earth - and repellents on the market. We like to go down the natural route, unless the infestation is a large one, in which case calling in the professionals is probably the wisest.

Try cedar products that repel in the form of balls and rings on hangers, or look at anti-moth sachets - either pre-bought or make your own - with strongly scented herbs or oils.

How to get rid of silverfish

Harmless little pests, 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.

Martha Stewarts recommends: 'These tiny silver-gray wingless insects often seek dark, warm, moist environments, such as attics, closets, and baseboards and around bathroom fixtures. Boric acid dust, which is long-lasting and low in toxicity, can be a helpful solution.'

How to get rid of slugs

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How to get rid of slugs

There are a few options for getting rid of slugs – one way is to set out beer traps; another is to use slug pellets, but you may want to avoid these if you have pets or young children that might try to eat them. 

Getting slugs out of your home is more complicated and may involve some DIY, such as sealing up gaps.

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How to get rid of spiders

We'll put it bluntly: like other common pests, spiders will inevitably make their way into your home.

We think spiders get a really bad rap because arachnophobia is so rife. They are actually pretty harmless, including the poisonous varieties that tend not to bite unless provoked.

However, if you live in an area where poisonous spiders reside and you're seeing a lot more of the eight legged beasties, it might be time to call in the experts. 

Discouraging spiders

Keep spiders at bay by cleaning away their food source of dead flies, woodlice, millipedes, centipedes and other crawling insects. Remove webs.

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How to get rid of wasps

We've all had a wasp sting at some point, which makes them such unwelcome pests, 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.

Martha Stewart concurs: 'You should always avoid hosing wasps as this can make them more aggressive. Instead, aim to remove the nest by hiring a professional exterminator.'

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How to get rid of woodworm

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.

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. 

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.