Q: Help! My apartment is plagued by mice and roaches. I don't want to use chemicals. Is there another way to get rid of them?
A: We're not the only creatures that like to scurry inside when the air gets brisk and the leaves start falling. October through February is peak time for rodent infestations, not to mention all those squirrels, raccoons and birds that like to nest under our roofs. Of course, most pests can wreak havoc on your living quarters any time of the year. While it may be tempting to reach for that can of Raid, remember that highly toxic chemical pesticides are a definite eco no-no. Rodenticides, in particular, are designed to kill mammals and are especially dangerous to children and pets. Besides, mice are becoming immune to certain mainstream poisons, so newer, stronger, more toxic chemicals are always being developed. It's a nasty cycle that can easily be broken by using far less toxic methods.
Whether you've got ants, roaches or mice, start by sealing up any cracks or gaps in baseboards and around pipes. Perforated and sheet metal, concrete and wire mesh hardware cloth are all rodent-resistant. And, yes, it seems obvious, but do not leave any, and we mean any, traces of food or water out. That means no leaving dirty dishes in the sink overnight. Even a buildup of grease on the back of your stove can feed several adult roaches and give them enough fuel to reproduce! Vacuum often and clean your kitchen daily, and make sure to sweep under and around your appliances frequently.
If you're already stuck with unwanted furry guests, traps are the only non-toxic way to rid yourself of them. They can be cruelty-free, too. Use food to lure the whiskered scramblers to live traps, then release them at least a mile from your home. Reusable Tin Cat live traps can hold up to about a dozen mice (from $4.99 for small metal ones at Canadian Tire and Home Hardware). If you're not into doing it yourself, Critter Control (416-688-2600) will do it for you (from $129, depending on how often they come and empty the traps). Stay away from glue traps - they're quite cruel.
If roaches have taken over your kitchen, try sprinkling borax on cracks, garbage cans and under appliances to kill them. Some mainstream brands list benign boric acid (borax) as their active ingredient, but they don't tell you that the (non-listed) so-called passive ingredients can actually be pretty toxic. The feds have issued a warning against buying Miraculous Insecticide Chalk and Cockroach Sweeps as they may contain illegal pesticides and traces of lead.
Some techniques can be used on various creepy crawlies. Vacuuming is a great non-toxic way to suck up roaches, wasps and ants. Most will suffocate in the bag, but to be sure, you should soak the bag in soapy water or freeze it for 24 hours. Diatomaceous earth is an all-natural substance that kills off roaches, ants and fleas ($8.99/kg at Grassroots on Danforth and on Bloor).
If you've recently pulled out your fave wool sweater only to discover it's riddled with mysterious holes, you've got a moth problem. Actually, moths do their dirty work in the summer, when our wool clothes are hidden in dark drawers. Lay your woolens in the sun every so often to kill any sun-loathing larvae. Whatever you do, do not use mothballs. Not only do they stink up your clothes, but they're also made of toxic volatile compounds associated with serious health problems including liver and neural damage and cancer. Even moth-repellent blocks labelled cedar, pine or lavender may contain the main toxin found in mothballs. The Big Carrot on Danforth carries an herbal moth bar made with essential oils and eco wax ($8.99/bar). Before you store your wools, you can also wash them with eucalyptus-filled Eucalan. Its ingredients are generally plant-derived, though it does have an ammonia-based foaming agent. If you think you've got a moth infestation in your sweater, stick it in the freezer in a plastic bag for a few days.
We know of no eco-friendly exterminators in Toronto. But Ever Green Pest Control in Ottawa (613-748-3388) will provide help/tips over the phone. For instance, for bedbugs they recommend renting a dry steamer to steam your mattress and baseboads.
If you've got bigger problems - and by bigger we mean wildlife - you should call a professional. The Humane Society recommends AAA Wildlife Control (416-750-9453), which will remove animals ranging from injured birdies on the street to attic-dwellers in your home without stress or harm to the critters. They always keep family units together. Prices start at $250 and include removal, deodorizing and screening to prevent further infestations.
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