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How to Get Rid of Household Pests (Without Having a Major Meltdown)

Household pests are hard to defeat, but they can be prevented — and as winter approaches, you need to be ready.

I have a confession to make: I hate my new roommates. They eat all my food. They hit me in the face while I watch NBC’s The Voice and I refuse to change the channel (hey, I like Adam Levine). And sometimes when I come home from work, I find my roomies fluttering around or trying to mate on my walls.

I have another confession: I actually don’t have any roommates, because I moved into my very own one-bedroom apartment last month. So who am I talking about then? They’re little invaders called the Indian meal moth, also known as pantry moths.

How did this plague befall me? I ask myself that all the time. I’m a clean person. I used to throw fits when past roommates would be too lazy to throw out expired food — and that’s exactly where these vermin thrive. At least that’s what the Internet and exterminators have told me. Because here’s the great mystery: I threw out most of my old food and worn kitchen items when I moved in. My cabinets are empty. I’ve set up traps. I’ve stumped two exterminators, who still have no idea where my pests could be coming from.

“Continue to inspect, and don’t give up,” Nate Anderson of Las Vegas–based Anderson Pest Control says. “These pantry bugs may live several weeks without a food source. I’ve even found pantry weevils feeding on old rodent bait placed by homeowners.”

Yikes. Like my new roomies, household pests are hard to defeat, but they can be prevented — and as winter approaches, you need to be ready. These vermin are looking for new, warm homes and one of them could be yours.

Look for evidence

You don’t want to see it, but the signs are definitely there if the pests are — entomologist Dr. Nancy Troyano of Rentokil North American Pest Control says you should take note of any droppings, half-eaten food items, bad odors, nests, and the sounds of scurrying. Mike Fischer of Fischer’s Pest Control sometimes uses black lights to find scorpions and track rodent urine. (Ew, ew, and ewwww.)

Fischer says the life cycle of many insects (including pantry moths) has four stages — egg, larva, pupa, and adult — and you should be on alert for all of them.

Prevention is more than staying clean

Arthur Katz of the Long Island, NY–based Knockout Pest Control says while staying clean is always helpful, it’s not the only thing you can do to prevent insect and rodent invaders.

“Cleaning and decluttering are a good thing to do, but prevention usually means closing off points of entry, followed up by ongoing pest management,” he says. “Points of entry can be cracks in your foundation or around doors, windows, or even plumbing and electrical services. In other cases, points of entry could be you and your belongings — bedbugs and cockroaches are excellent hitchhikers, coming into your home on your luggage or in your groceries.”

Call the experts

It’s tempting to Google your situation to death and try every single DIY remedy you possibly can. For the pantry moths, I put dried bay leaves all over the place because I read on the Internet that they can’t stand them. News flash: Indian meal moths don’t care.

“It’s normal to want to take care of a pest problem yourself, but almost all readily available remedies, especially over the counter, are ineffective and a waste of money,” says Kenny Vayda, managing member of Eliminate ‘Em Pest Control. “We’ve seen homeowners plug holes in their structures with steel wool, only to find that the steel wool has been ineffective. They mistakenly thought they’d solved the problem, and stopped monitoring for signs of rodents returning, while the problem is getting worse. Many times, it’s what you can’t see that is the problem.”