The winter chill at least sent the mosquitoes south, but other critters still seek a warm refuge in our home. Our knee-jerk reaction at the sight of a creepy crawly is too frequently to reach for the can of bug spray under the kitchen sink and douse the intruder with a chemical bath. Insecticide literally means insect death, but what could it mean for human and environmental health?
With the windows sealed shut, we end up inhaling the toxic fumes as well. If you have children, their lungs are particularly vulnerable to those vapors. In your attempt to protect them from the diseases carried by mosquitoes or cockroaches, you could actually be causing them greater harm by exposing them to household insecticides. And that long list of chemical compounds is not something we want in our environment anyway, whether indoors or outdoors.
Impacts of Household Pesticide Application
|Toxicity to Human Health1||Toxicity to Environment2|
|Irritation to skin or lungs||Contaminate soil, water, air from adsorption, runoff, and spray drift|
|Allergies or asthma||Kill off beneficial insects|
|Enzyme inhibition (paralysis)||Affect crop pollination (bee and bat extinction)|
|Neurotransmission inhibition (seizures)||Amphibian mutations|
|Reduced antioxidant defenses (cancer)||Poison aquatic wildlife (bioaccumulate in fish and birds)|
- “Pesticides: Children’s Health and the Environment” World Health Organization
- “Environmental Impacts” Pesticide Action Network of North America
We’ve seen how used coffee grounds can make our hair shine and our skin smooth. Coffee can also prevent unsightly inflamed bumps all over our body from bug bites if we attack the offenders first by spreading the grounds around our house. No chemicals, no spray, no new product to buy. Do the earth and your health a favor.
Months after our neighbor fell ill and abandoned her kitchen, her caretaker fumigated the apartment with a nasty smelling venom that made our living room uninhabitable and sent the roaches scurrying into our place. We always kept a tight ship and were peeved that we had to deal with the stench and the invasion.
Brute physical force, stomping with a sandal or squishing with a paper, was the most effective but most disgusting. Sprinkling Borax laced with sugar around the kitchen was worrisome when I was kneading dough. A baited trap, placed well out of our view but along their paths, seemed the best.
Coffee Cockroach Trap: Dump your damp used coffee grounds into a shallow container. Leave the can or jar open but line the neck with extra-sticky double-sided tape. If the delicious aroma alone doesn’t attract them into the trap, they will eventually come seeking water, so make sure it’s moist.
While it was snowing in North America for a white Christmas, here in South America it was raining. Pouring. Pooling up in our indoor patios and creating a nice little pond for mosquitoes to breed. Right now in Colombia we’re facing an epidemic of the chikungunya virus, along with the usual mosquito-borne diseases of dengue and malaria.
Instead of spraying insect repellant all over your body and house, my department’s environmental agency recommends an organic, and very Colombian, product: coffee. The caffeine alters the enzymes responsible for reproduction in the Aedes Aegypti mosquito species. It wouldn’t hurt to scoop some grounds directly onto the plant soil as long as it’s acid-tolerant, as coffee is also an excellent fertilizer (more on that in a future post).
Coffee Mosquito Repellant: Pour two spoonfuls of used coffee grounds into any stagnant water around the home, for example in the bases of plant pots.
Source: “CORANTIOQUIA propone combatir el Dengue con ripio de café” La Corporación Autónoma Regional del Centro de Antioquia.
I’ve tried drawing the chalk line and baiting with honey, but I like this one because it reuses waste (I’ll keep my precious honey for my bread, thank you very much).
The acidity of coffee is said to repel many insects that haunt our homes and backyard gardens. So try this trick not just for ants, but also for slugs, snails, and maggots.
Coffee Ant Repellant: Sprinkle used coffee grounds around the border of your house to keep them from entering. Mound the grounds in a ring around plants you’d like to protect. Dump them directly onto anthills to send them scurrying.
Do you have another tip on getting rid of pests more naturally, from grandma’s wisdom, gardener’s gossip, or your own experiments? Please share your knowledge in the comments section below.
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Carrie is an environmental educator, anthropologist, and translator. She took her passions for ecological, health, and women’s rights advocacy from the offices of Washington, D.C. to the streets of South America. Now in Colombia, she is slowly opening women’s eyes to the wonders of “la copita de luna” (Moon Cup) and Keepers.