Your Home Outdoors

Myth or Magic? 16 Pest Control Tricks We Tested For You

July  5, 2017

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.



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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. 

Tomato Plants Lauren Locke
Healthy tomato vines, courtesy of hot sauce spray. 

Garden Bugs

  • 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 


 Lemons Vs Ants  lemons vs ants
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

...Cornstarch did not. Also, Amanda Hesser told me later the cornstarch would attract roaches :( —Kristen Miglore


apple cider vinegar
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


Penny the Cat
Penny the mouse- and roach-fighting hero cat. 


  • 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


dryer sheets for bug bites hillary  lime juice for itching
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.

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Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


Snow February 8, 2019
Huge carpenter ants! They have multiple colonies so hoping they take something plague-ish back home to kill off the rest of their kind is futile.
However, they follow scent trails left by other ants!
I had used some kids n pets spray on a grimy carpet stain across a doorway and noticed ants charging back up to the doorsill and then retracing their steps, coming up to the doorsill only to be confused again!
Now during ant months, floor surfaces get mopped or sprayed along with curtains and blinds.
Pyrithium sprayed outside wherever possible and after rains.
So far, so good!
pjwlk October 30, 2018
This article is wrong about the peanut butter in humane mouse traps. Perhaps the type of trap matters. We used one called the "Tin Cat" that consists of a rectangular metal (ventilated) box with two ramp style trap doors. Peanut butter is pretty much the best attractant you can use. The mice are attracted by the scent even after it's all gone. I put the the peanut butter on a piece of waxed paper (for easy clean up) in the middle of the trap so the mice have to go through the doors to get to the peanut butter. We've caught up to 4 mice at one in it at once and many dozens of mice using this method. It also nice to cover the trap with a cloth before you move it otherwise the mice total freak out with fear.
pattiemelt July 10, 2018
Cornstarch doesn't work for ants, but cornmeal DOES!! I've been using it for years in my kitchen, around the house, in my garden and even in my mailbox (think large country mailbox) - sometimes it takes a couple of days but it definitely gets rid of all kinds of ants.
Messermeister August 8, 2017
MAGIC ant bait : 3 parts fine sugar + 1 part Borax + dash of water + dash of maple syrup. Mix sugar and borax well, add enough water to make it pasty, add maple syrup to make a liquidy mixture that is not too runny. I put it on a canning jar lid and place as close to where they are entering the house as possible. Ants LOVE it and, if you can stand them showing up in large numbers for about 12 hours, they are gone. Try your best NOT to kill any as the more who take the bait the faster it works. They take the bait back to feed to the colony. It works every single time.
ghainskom July 11, 2017
How about moths (kitchen)?
BerryBaby July 10, 2017
Coffee grounds good for your plants and keeps slugs away. This does work!
BerryBaby July 9, 2017
Oh, and spiders are good they eat other insects. I remove them when I see one in the house snd place them on my tomato plants. They are a great natural way of removing unwanted pests on plants.
BerryBaby July 9, 2017
The only way to get rid of ants is hiring a professional. You can stop them with bug sprays (natural snd chemical) but they will continue to build colonies in your walls. The queen never leaves so until she dies, she will continue to lay thousands of ants. We had a huge problem as we tried to DIY the issue and it just got worse. Ants live in your walls for 2 years before making an appearance. Save yourself and your home and hire a pro. They used all natural chrysanthemum oil and it's been amazing!
Alexa M. July 6, 2017
I'm dealing with the Mother of All Pests right now - bed bugs. After TONS of research I stumbled upon a much beloved product in the bed bug haver community called Cimexa. It's literally just silica dust, about as toxic as table salt (though it does dry out your throat/feel a little uncomfortable if you breath it in too much...I went a little too crazy with it at first but it went away quickly). It kills beg bugs, but it'd also kill ants, cockroaches, any other crawly bug creature. You just dust it with a brush or blow it into empty crevices and let it do it's work!
Noreen F. July 5, 2017
I use a spray mixture with peppermint oil to repel spiders, and it works. You do have to renew it every few weeks, though. I'll try lemon or orange next time, though, just because I prefer the smell of citrus!
Shawn July 5, 2017
What about flies. Anyone know tricks to get rid of flies? We can hardly sit outside in the summertime.
pattiemelt July 10, 2018
I saw this recently: Fill a pint jar halfway with pancake syrup (any brand will do), stick 1/2 a plain hotdog (cheapest works best) in the syrup so it's sticking out. Punch or drill several holes in the lid large enough for flies to crawl in, put the lid on the jar & set it on your deck/porch/patio on a table. Replace when it gets full of flies. I haven't tried it yet but makes sense so it ought to work.
witloof March 27, 2017
Oh, and one more thing: diatomaceous earth, bought very cheaply from the hardware store, pumped judiciously into little cracks in the baseboards, under the stove and refrigerator, and behind the grill of the radiator covers.
witloof March 27, 2017
NYC apartment dweller here.Re: roaches AKA waterbugs. I have taken to throwing out the garbage every time I leave the house, wiping out the sink every time I use it, and never putting anything that is not dry and squeaky clean Into the recycling {rinsed out cans of tinned smoked oysters are stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until recycling day because they're impossible to clean well enough to get rid of the smoke scent.}. I didn't have a roach problem until my cat died, now that I think about it.

Smaug March 11, 2016
A lot of stuff works sometimes- deer repellents are particularly notorious for being off and on. Hot pepper sprays are effective against squirrels and, I'm told, other rodents and lagomorphs. Squirrels tend to peel the tomatoes- if you find little piles of peels, that's likely the problem. Despite what you read on labels, I've found pepper sprays useless against deer. Of course seeds will clog the sprayer, but many garden sprays- anything with a high solid content- will soon clog sprayers; they need to be cleaned after every use. I don't know about osage oranges, but orange and lemon oils are effective spider deterrents. Orange oil, at least, is also a very effective insecticides; it is now favored by many of the more conscientious termite companies, and will stop ants in their tracks, though it doesn't seem to have any residual effect on ants; they will come back. A lot of organic types use white vinegar as an herbicide, I certainly wouldn't pour it on any plants. If you need to acidify the soil (and you probably don't) stick to peat moss, iron sulfate etc. Steel wool impregnated with cayenne is effective against Norway rats, I would suppose it would work well on mice.
AdemCengiz February 23, 2016
Greetings! you have posted an awesome tips here which will be very much helpful.. thanks for sharing such awesome natural tips.
John December 14, 2015
What a good ideas. Thanks for sharing and testing.
GetRidofFliesNow October 15, 2015
Great tips here. We'll definitely be sure to let our website visitors know about this info as well. For those looking to get rid of flies in the house, check out They have some great tips on how to get rid of flies in your house.
Andrea S. September 13, 2015
Coffee or coffee grounds for ants -- both inside and out.
JennyJefferson August 29, 2015
Loved these hacks.
We have always used apple cider vinegar with dish soap to get rid of gnats. This method always works like a charm.
There are some other secret method here:
Jon August 23, 2015
Any additional anti-roach suggestions for dog people?