How to Deal with Household Pests in the Tropics

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Smiling woman cleaning a kitchen top in a tropical home.
Image: © Yuri A.

Living in the tropics is not always the paradise that many envisage. You don’t always spend your time by the beach or enjoy a fresh coconut every day. Instead, you often deal with the heat of the scorching sun, the incessant rainfall that comes every year, and a large number of pests that thrive in hot and humid environments.

Mosquitoes, roaches, termites, ants, spiders, and rodents are some examples of household pests that people living in the tropics always battle within their homes. And usually, it’s a battle that is hard to win. Rodents can chew through electrical wires causing short circuits which can in turn lead to house fires.

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Fortunately, there are a few simple and easy ways that you can employ in your home to deal with these annoying little critters. If you keep these in mind, then it will only be a matter of time until your encounters with household pests start becoming less and less.

The very first rule is never to leave anything remotely edible exposed on tables or countertops. That’s an open invitation for pests. They won’t hesitate to come inside your house the moment they sense that there’s food for them to enjoy.

Close-up of a mouse chewing on a live electrical cable.
Rodents will feed on more than just food scraps. Image: torook

This is even more apparent when the weather outside is either extremely dry or wet. Pests will come indoors to take refuge, and even more so if they know that there’s an abundance of food lying around.

Spillage and food crumbs also count towards leaving food out for them. So always clean up before and after every meal to not only keep the place spick and span but to dissuade pests from venturing into your home.

Have a ready supply of food grade containers on hand. While it’s tempting to just leave some ingredients and spices in their original packages, transferring them into to a proper strorage containers with well-sealed lids can help preserve them longer and keep them away from pests.

Food covers are another good investment that you can make to help prevent pests from getting near your food and drinks. These food covers come in different designs and materials, but they all serve the same purpose, which is to protect your food from pests like flies and cockroaches.

Woman's hands scraping vegetable peelings off a cutting board into a biodegradable paper bag.
Vegetable and fruit peelings are best consigned to the compost heap. Image: Jasminka M.

Proper disposal of food scraps is key to preventing your garbage bins and trash cans from turning into breeding grounds for pests. One of the best ways to deal with food scraps is through composting, as this can supply you with a nutrient-rich soil additive that you can use in your garden. However, do avoid including meat, dairy, and oily food scraps in the compost, as they don’t decompose as easily and will attract pests instead.

Additionally, segregation is a key element that you need to consider. Even if you don’t plan on composting your food scraps, segregating them from the normal trash will help lessen unpleasant odors and reduce the scope of contamination.

Another way to control and mitigate the amount of food scraps that you need to dispose of is through freezing. Simply put the food scraps in a plastic bag or container and leave them in your freezer until the day before your garbage is collected. Not only will it help make the food scraps more compact for handling, but it will also create fewer odors in the garbage containers that can attract pests.

Never dispose of food scraps down a drain or in the toilet. Doing this can lead to not only clogs and plumbing issues but can also turn drains into a breeding ground for maggots.

Man cleaning garden bed in a tropical garden.
Clean up fallen fruit in the garden to avid attracting pests. Image: Hartono Subagio

One thing that a lot of people often ignore is cleaning the backyard. Sure, it’s backbreaking work, and it doesn’t get any better when paired with the tropical sun, but doing so will not only make your garden look more visually appealing but will also dissuade pests from making nests among your plants.

For those that grow fruit-bearing trees and shrubs in their backyard, make sure to regularly clear away any fallen fruit, as these can serve as food sources for ants, termites, roaches, and the like. They can be buried in the compost heap.

It’s common to see water puddles after heavy rainfall. Some people ignore these water puddles, thinking that the tropical heat is more than enough to dry them up. However, that’s not always the case if the sub-soil is not free-draining. Some water puddles can remain there for days, leading them to become breeding grounds for pests, especially mosquitoes.

These annoying pests need only one-quarter inch of water to breed. On top of that, it only takes around eight to 10 days for an egg to turn into an adult mosquito. Considering that a female mosquito can lay around 50 to 200 eggs per session, it’s important to get rid of stagnant water as quickly as possible.

Empty discarded plant containers holding stagnant water in a garden corner.
Avoid leaving containers in the garden that can collect water. Image: nukeaf

Mosquitoes carry a slew of diseases, but two of the most common ones that people living in the tropics need to be concerned about are dengue and malaria. Both are life-threatening diseases, and the best way to combat them is by dealing with the source immediately.

Make sure that you routinely check the plumbing around your house so that it’s not leaking any water. Also, keep any valleys in the shingles and gutters clean, as that’s essential in preventing water from pooling in one spot. If you have areas of the garden where stagnant water tends to pool, trying digging in gypsum to improve drainage.

Don’t forget to keep the interior of your house clean and free from clutter too. Areas that are dark, damp, and hidden away are perfect breeding grounds for pests. If you don’t regularly clean every nook and cranny of your home, don’t be surprised if you find tiny droppings behind the couch or the fridge. These are tell-tale signs that pests have invaded and are inhabiting your home.

Throw away any boxes you don’t need or cardboard that you might have lying around at home. They are food for roaches and rodents. The same is true for old newspapers, magazines, paper cups and plates, and other similar items. Hoard as little as possible or store these items away in a place where pests can’t have access to them.

Professional pest control operator spraying under cupboard doors in a kitchen.
Serious pest infestations may require professional intervention. Image: Andrey Popov

There are plenty of commercial products on the market to kill household pests, and those used by professional pest control operators can be quite toxic. Many people are wary of using them when there are children or pets around. Natural products are preferable in those circumstances, although they rarely work as well as the chemical products.

Essential oils can be good deterrents when it comes to dealing with household pests. Peppermint, thyme, citronella, lemongrass, bay leaves, and rosemary are just some of the plants from which you can make essential oil solutions.

All of these produce a scent that pests like mosquitoes and flies dislike, and most of them contain antimicrobial properties. On top of that, spraying them around your house won’t leave any stains or damage. So all you’re left with is a clean, good-smelling home free from pests.

For those who need to directly exterminate crawling pests hiding inside their house, one product that many experts recommend is diatomaceous earth (DE). Made from the remains of tiny organisms that live in rivers and oceans, like algae, DE is very abrasive to an insect’s exoskeleton. It can cause severe cuts to the insect’s body and leave them dehydrated until they die.

Container of diatomaceous earth on a bench in front of pot plants.
Food grade diatomaceous earth is a natural product. Image: Nicole Glass

When buying DE, there are two grades available: food-grade and pool-grade. While both work well as pesticides, it’s best to use food-grade DE as it’s less hazardous for both humans and pets.

To use DE at home, simply prepare a small bait using food crumbs or jam, then sprinkle some DE on top. Then place it in one corner of the house, and after a day or two, you’ll likely find the dead bodies of the pests that ingested or came close to it.

Sticky fly traps are commercial products worth looking into. Just as its name suggests, it traps flies using the sticky substances slathered all over the product.

Despite their name, however, these fly traps can catch more than just flies. Plenty of people have seen success in catching mosquitoes, cockroaches, and even rats using commercial fly trap products. Because of how sticky the lathered substance is, escape is difficult to nigh impossible.

Visible termite damage on the front of a wooden cabinet.
Termite damage can be costly to repair. Image: Frank60

But if you don’t like the idea of accidentally stepping into these fly traps or running into one, then a bug lamp is a good alternative. While expensive, it can get the job done much quicker and is a more permanent solution. However, be wary of some of the cheaper brands because some don’t work as advertised.

If you have a serious pest problem that can’t be resolved using natural means, then your last resort option is to call up your local pest control company. Rats in the roof fall into this category. Termites can’t be controlled with natural products (aside from stainless teel mesh which must be installed under the house when being built) so this is where the professionals come in.

Living in the tropics, termite infestation is a big concern for many homeowners. The species of termites that exists in tropical regions can wreak havoc on timber homes, or on doors, kitchens and furniture in concrete, brick, or steel homes. Getting regular termite checks is advisable because usually by the time an infestation is apparent to the average house owner, a lot of serious damage will already have been done.

Of course, other pest infestations are nothing to sneeze at either. So don’t hesitate to ask for help from your local pest control company if you feel there is a problem that you can’t fix yourself. The cost of periodic preventative check-ups is a lot less than the cost of repairing damage once done.

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