Welcome to Your Home Outdoors, our summertime series on tips and tricks that'll help you live your best life outside―no matter the size of your space! So pull up a chair, grab a glass of something icy-cold, and join us.
Unwelcome critters, whether in your cabinets or on your tomato vines, are a common woe. We rounded up the best tips from the internet and tested them to see which actually work well.
- Panty hose nets: MYTH
Last year I lost all but TWO of my tomatoes to some sort of intruder. This year, I was determined to keep them alive. We asked for tips from a few neighbors, one who had covered all fruit in nylon panty hose, only to find that strewn about the neighborhood the next day... —Lauren Locke
- Hot sauce spray: MAGIC
...I then inquired at our local garden center and a lovely gentleman suggested spraying the fruit with a solution of 1 part hot sauce (without seeds) plus 3 parts water. Note: I learned (the hard way) that hot sauce seeds clog up the sprayer, so use a kind that doesn't have them. I have been doing it all summer and have already enjoyed half a dozen tomatoes, with more ripening by the day. I should note, there was one bite early on, but after a single spicy nibble, we've been bite-free all summer. I am DELIGHTED. —Lauren Locke
- Osage oranges: MAYBE
My father-in-law swears that keeping osage oranges in your garage or basement works great as a spider repellant. I Googled it and the internet told me that this hack wasn't proven, but I didn't want to burst his bubble by telling him. Regardless, I keep a few in my garage just in case. I still have spiders in the garage, but maybe fewer of them? The osage oranges usually decompose into a dead, brown blob and are quite ugly. —Ryan Merrill
Even cut in half, with the cloves worked into the juicy segments, this ant-prevention only attracted flies.
- Lemon half + cloves: MYTH
I have heard that piercing a lemon half with cloves and keeping it in cupboard keeps bugs away. —Jane Poretsky
We have sugar ants!!! We placed lemons with cloves in them right at the opening where the ants were coming from and they just marched right past the lemons. :( Also, I think the open lemon attracted fruit flies. —Alexis Anthony
- Cayenne + water spray: MYTH
So I once had a massive ant problem and was told they hate cayenne pepper. I tried to make a solution of that plus water and to spray it everywhere and a) it didn't work and b) it was a total disaster (stained cabinets, ruined spray bottle, etc.). —Kenzi Wilbur
- Cayenne pepper sprinkle: MAGIC
Cayenne sprinkled to block the ants on their path seemed to work!... —Kristen Miglore
- Cornstarch: MYTH
Apple cider vinegar and dish soap, just waiting to catch some gnats.
- Nearby cup of apple cider vinegar + dish soap: MAGIC
I recently over-watered my plants and, as a result, they developed a serious gnat problem. They were everywhere. To attract them to their demise, I put out a bowl of apple cider vinegar with several drops of dish soap in it (which breaks the surface of the vinegar), and amazingly the gnats were attracted to this mixture and dove to their death (morbid, I know)... —Jen Morris
- White vinegar + soap + water as plant spray: MYTH
...I also used another hack I found online: I watered the plant with 1 tablespoon soap plus 1 teaspoon white vinegar plus water every other time I watered it. The plant is alive, but struggling. :( —Jen Morris
- Cats: MAGIC
My cat will flip them over on their back and then they die. And then she sits on it like a prize. —Sam Weiss-Hills
- Steel wool clogs: MAGIC
I experienced N.Y.C. apartment trauma about 6 years ago. I had just been home for the weekend and stocked up at Costco (think granola bars and double-packs of Rice Krispies cereal). They were neatly packed away in my closet. I went into the granola bar variety pack box and pulled out a s'mores flavor—my favorite flavor of anything, ever—and screamed! There were nibbles taken out of at least a dozen of the bars. (One bite here, one bite there, shreds of metallic wrapping on the floor.) I bee-lined to my building super's office and insisted he come up immediately to find the hole these little creatures were using. After using steel wool to stuff a radiator pipe hole and a small opening near a pipe in my kitchen, the critters have never been back! Steel wool is my hero. —Jackie Stauffer
- Peppermint oil: MAYBE
I have tried it and it doesn't work, but it does make your kitchen smell nice. I finally gave up and bought a humane trap, which I have perfected the use of. We haven't had any new mice sightings in our apartment recently, but I still have the oil at home. I used it more recently to help cover the scent of a mouse that died in our wall—that was a practical use. —Lauren Kelley
I have had mice in the past, and peppermint oil worked for me. It works really well for water bugs, too, which I get from time to time as well. I put about 10 to 15 drops of oil on a cotton ball and put that in corners of the bathroom. I noticed a difference for sure, but you have to refresh them if you see pests coming back. I do it twice a month-ish! —Laura Beam
- Peanut butter in humane traps: MYTH
Things I know not to do: Use actual non-violent mouse traps with peanut butter. Those do NOT work. —Sam Weiss-Hills
- Cats: MAGIC
The best remedy for a mouse problem? Cats. —Sam Weiss-Hills
Left: Proof that dryer sheets don't work; right: the best all-natural way to sooth an itch.
- Dryer sheets for prevention: MYTH
Mosquitoes and I have a long and complicated relationship. Like mosquitoes, I like water, nighttime parties, and hanging out in fields. Mosquitoes like me a lot, but the feelings are not mutual. After some especially bad bites turned into blisters that had to be popped by a doctor, I've taken to just wearing DEET-loaded bug spray. For me, the natural stuff smells nice but does absolutely nothing.
Since I've unsuccessfully tried about every type of mosquito repellant, I didn't have high hopes for the dryer sheets. I took some of my Mrs. Meyer's Lavender Dryer Sheets, rubbed them over my skin, and went to my backyard to wait for the mosquitos. While I smelled nice, the mosquitoes were not afraid and went right for my legs. After I accumulated about twenty bites, I reluctantly sprayed on my DEET and slathered on some anti-itch cream. I'll save those dryer sheets for my laundry. —Hillary Pollack
- Lime juice to make itches stop itching: MAGIC
I'm a magnet for mosquito bites come summer, and I get them all over my ankles and behind my knees no matter how much preventative spray I use. Desperate for relief, and feeling weird about coating myself in Cortisone every day, I took to the internet for an alternative solution. Turns out, lemon and lime juice are acidic (and antibacterial) enough to numb the itch—and rubbing a slice all over your bites really, really does keep you from scratching! I'm keeping limes on hand all summer (even more than I usually do for spritzing on fish tacos, margaritas, etc.). —Amanda Sims
Photos by Lauren Locke, Rocky Luten, Sam Weiss-Hills, and Hillary Pollack.
This post was originally published in August 2015.