Safe Alternatives for Weed Control, Pesticides / Insecticides

Safe Alternatives for Weed Control, Pesticides / Insecticides

Pesticides have been proven to have negative impacts on health and our environment. The risk for leukemia increases by four to seven times for children, ages 10 and under, whose parents use home or garden pesticides. Many herbs and essential oils are effective alternative solutions. Please refer to the below for non-toxic alternatives.

Tips on Preventing Infestations

Solutions to specific house & garden pest infestations

To get rid of garden pests or insects on house plants

Getting Rid of Insects & Weeds - Safely


Hot water will kill most unwanted plants --just boil some water and pour it over the plant you want to kill. 

Alternatively, put 1 oz 3% hydrogen peroxide in 1 quart of water. Use it on trees and plants as a natural fungicide, insecticide, and as a weed killer.

Vinegar has become the new organic solution for killing off weeds. Some people say that they are able to kill off weeds with only household vinegar spray. Others say that you need to buy a higher concentration of vinegar in order for it to be effective. Check with your local garden center to see what concentration of vinegar they use. Adding lemon juice to vinegar increases the weed-killing effectiveness.

Please also refer to "Organic Lawn Care" for tips and tricks.

Insect Control:

Keep your next garden party insect free by strategically placing several dishes containing beer just outside your backyard. The beer will attract bees, flies and other insects towards that area and keep your event buzz-free.

A great choice is Diatomaceous Earth. You can get it at any home and garden center. It's an all natural organic pest control solution - an abrasive powder made from mineral remains of single cell aquatic plants. It kills by abrading and dehydrating crawling insects, like slugs, ants, cockroaches, earwigs, grasshoppers and fleas.

Soapy Water

One of the safest and most effective homemade pesticides is a few drops of mild dishwashing soap mixed with water. In general, it just takes a spoonful of liquid soap and water into a spray bottle. This won't kill insects, but will irritates them and encourage them to leave.

Increase effectiveness by adding a cup of vegetable oil (sunflower oil, corn, soybean, or even peanut oil will work) with one tablespoon of mild liquid dish soap and two cups of water.

Epsom Salt:

To get rid of cabbage worms and spider mites consider raising the sodium levels. Mix 2 tablespoons of salt in 1 gallon of water and then spray that mixture onto your plants. The Science magazine reported on cheap and effective poison against the pests. Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) is recommended.

A particularly effective formula was discovered by Mr. & Mrs. Hubert W. Frings of the University of Oklahoma. They recommend the following mix: bran (60% to 65%), molasses (15%), Epsom salt (20% to 25%), and enough water to moisten. This formula, they say, ''seems to be just as effective as the [common] 5% arsenic bait, it is cheaper, and it is absolutely harmless to humans, cattle, swine and poultry or other birds." The poison is scattered among the vegetation.

Dr. Vernon Raymond Haber of Pennsylvania State College seems to have first made the discovery that Epsom salt is poisonous to insects and has been spreading the news to other entomologists by word of mouth. Dr. Haber recommends that a spray of Epsom salt in water be used against Mexican bean beetles. J. H. Hawkins of the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station advocates this Epsom salt spray against wheat wireworms. The Frings believe the spray "could be used safely on many vegetables and fruits."

Generally a poison nontoxic to humans is mixed with a food that insects find attractive, and spread in the infested area. Examples are oatmeal (attractive) and plaster-of-Paris (poisonous), and cocoa powder and flour (attractive) and borax (poisonous). Old-fashioned flypaper -- not a hanging strip of insecticide -- is an effective trap.

  • *Be VERY cautious when using Borax [sodium borate], which can also cause serious health problems, including death.
  • Borax is toxic to pets (especially to cats who lick it off their coats - less so to dogs). It's best not to use it around them.

Insecticide Spray:

Mix 8 ounces black strap molasses or white sugar, and 8 ounces 3% hydrogen peroxide in 1 gallon of water..


Many zoos are keeping chicken to control the insect population.


Vinegar Fungicide: Mix 3 tablespoons of natural apple cider vinegar in one gallon of water. Spray during the cool part of the day. Adding 1 tablespoon of molasses per gallon will increase effectiveness.

Potassium Bicarbonate or Baking Soda: Mix 1 heaped tablespoon of potassium bicarbonate or baking soda and 1 tablespoon of horticultural oil into one gallon of water (Citrus Oil and Molasses can be substituted instead of the horticultural oil). Spray lightly on infected foliage.

To get rid of garden pests or insects on house plants:

Make a mixture of 1 tablespoon liquid dishwashing soap and 1 cup of cooking oil. Mix about 3 tablespoons of this concentrate with a quart of water in a pump bottle and spray on plants. Another recipe for insect control: soak citrus rind (lemon, orange, grapefruit) in water for a few days. Pour the water into a pump bottle and spray on plants.

House and garden plants:

Put 1 oz 3% hydrogen peroxide in 1 quart of water. Water or mist plants with this solution.

Use Epsom Salts on your lawn and in your garden to safely get rid of plant pests.

For specific house & garden pests, try these solutions:

  • Aphids can be washed off with a strong blast of water from a hose nozzle, or if necessary a little safe dish soap, such as Planet, Ecover, Seventh Generation, or Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap (my favorite shower soap) -- mixed in water, sprayed on the branch, then rinsed off and allowed to sun dry works great. For example, spray 1 tsp of dishwashing soap in 1 gallon of water to kill white flies and aphids.

  • Ant Control

  • Fruit Flies:
    • Add some red wine or apple cider vinegar to a glass, cover it with seran wrap, then punch some small holes in the top and let it sit. You will be surprised to see how many fruitflies you collect this way.
    • Chris offers the following advice: "What worked for me was a small zip lock baggie, some fruit cut up in it (bananas and watermelon), then I left it open on the kitchen counter overnight, with a light on low in the kitchen, and the next morning there was 10 eating the I zipped up the bag and took them outside... I had to repeat this for 3-4 days, but then they were all gone. Also, make sure your "garbage disposal" in your sink is clean and ran often...they like to nest in it! Bleach down it can help. There's other ways to get them, but this worked well for me. "
    • Fill ziplock back half full with vinegar and set them around the area you see fruit flies. Make sure that the bags are wide open. The flies will be attracted to the smell and get into the bags. Zip up the bag and throw away.
    • Debra suggests the following: "When I am over run with Fruit Flies I wait till night time and turn off every light in the area that is infested and open a door or window near an outside light, those little buggers fly right out side to get to that light! After about 3 days, no more Fruit flies. Try it, it works
    • Marcia suggests "dish detergent and water and a little fruit juice. "
    • Melissa: "I have found that leaving a glass soda bottle with the last sip of soda left in it will catch a lot of them. Cream soda works really well for this. Also, you can put some wine on a glass, put a paper towel over the top held in place with a rubber band, and punch a few small holes in it. They will get in, but not back out."
    • Mary suggests: "[P]ut a little apple cider vinegar in a bowl with a couple drops of dish liquid soap. Place it away from the cage and the little flies will be attracted to it. "
  • White Flies: Spray 1 tsp of dishwashing soap in 1 gallon of water to kill white flies and aphids.

  • Mosquitoes

  • Beetles: Kill manually when you see them.

  • Cockroaches

  • Flea Control

  • For moths: Prevention is best. Air clothes well in the sun; store them in airtight containers, and scatter sachets of lavender, cedar chips (do not use around birds), or dried tobacco in with clothing. Mint teabags n your clothing drawers or in your closet will also repel moths. Once you experience an infestation, non-toxic pheromone sticky traps work wonders!

  • There are a couple of ways to get rid of rats and mice:

    For rats and mice: Holes in exterior or interior walls should be closed off and storage spaces kept orderly. Garbage should be kept tightly covered. Poisons are not recommended for rat control, because children or other animals may eat it by mistake. To catch rodents, the most efficient system is the oldest: a cat.

    • Mix dry oatmeal with Plaster of Paris (aka Plaster, a type of building material based on calcium sulfate hemihydrate - available at Home Depot)), put in coffee can, cut a hole in the plastic lid large enough for a rodent to enter. After eating, and drinking some water, the plaster of paris hardens and they die. Non-toxic to other animals, if the rodent is eaten - they just get a little extra calcium. Do make sure that no pet can accidentally swallows the actual concoction though.

    • The best trap is the large, simple, cheap wooden "snap trap." They are sold in hardware stores.

    To use the trap:

    Bait with pieces of apple, potato, raw bacon or with peanut butter spread on a cotton ball.

    Attach it firmly to the ground or solid place to keep the rat from dragging the trap away.

    Place the traps near where you have found the droppings. Make sure the trap is safe from people, children, pets or animals who could get hurt from it.

  • Slugs & Snails: Half-bury a shallow container of beer just outside your garden. Slugs and snails will be attracted to the beer and in their eagerness to drink it will fall in and drown.

  • For termites: Any wooden parts of the house should be at least 18 inches off the ground, as subterranean termites cannot tolerate being exposed to air and light. They have to build easily visible mud tunnels to get at available wood. However, most existing houses have only about an 8-inch clearance between wooden parts and the ground, which makes the wood vulnerable. Metal shields may help discourage termites, but they cannot prevent infestations.
    • Dawn soap: 1 cup to 4 to 5 cups of water. Bill suggests using a leave blower pointed at the mist from a Chapin® garden pump sprayer. He blows the mist on everything and found that the mist suffocates ants, termites, spiders from testing it on them. For tiny mite / insect infestations in the house, he blows the mist under fridge, crawl spaces, ceilings, and in the car. It works well and is cheap. Bill suggested wet vacuuming them up after a few hours.

  • For gardens: In hardware stores, look for new brands of safer insecticides that use soap-and water solution to get rid of aphids, or pyrethrum for a number of applications.
    • Combine a teaspoon of baking soda with one-third of a cup of cooking oil... shake well in a watering can then sprinkle the mixture lightly on plants.
    • To mix a solution up yourself, mix 1cup of dawn soap to 4 to 5 cups of water. Use a garden pump sprayer pointed at "mist" and blows the mist on everything. The mist suffocates ants, termites, spiders and other insects.

  • Several naturally derived pesticides exist which, in some cases, are less toxic to humans than the organophosphates, carbamates or organochlorines now widely used.

  • Pyrethrum is relatively nontoxic to humans and only slightly toxic to aquatic life, so it may be the best choice for home gardens.

  • Sabadilla controls lice, leafhoppers, squash bugs, striped cucumber beetles, and chinch bugs. It has low toxicity to wildlife, but it may be toxic to bees.

  • For lawns: There are no really safe herbicides. The only safe alternative to herbicides is to pull weeds by hand. However, there are ways to discourage weeds. Please refer to "Organic Lawn Care" for tips and tricks to keep your lawn healthy the organic, non-toxic way.

  • Controlling Snails Organically

Preventing & Repelling:


Clean up food spills immediately. Try to keep hard-to-reach areas reasonably clean and remove clutter that allows pests to hide.

Store foods attractive to pests, such as flour, in the refrigerator.

Water attracts pests, so leaky faucets and pipes should be promptly repaired. Doors and windows should be well screened.

Clothes should be regularly cleaned and aired, and properly stored in paper or cardboard boxes sealed against moths.

A number of nontoxic substances can be used to repel insects.

Herbal Repellants:

Essential oils: The following herbal mix is safe to be used on plants, pets and people and will repel ants, aphids, bean beetles, black flies, cabbage root flies, cabbage white flies, carrot flies, caterpillars, cutworms, flea beetles, fleas, flies, greenflies, lice, mosquitoes, moths, nematodes, plant lice, rodents, ticks and whiteflies;

  • 2 cups water
  • 4 drops lavender, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary and sage essential oils
  • Combine ingredients in spray bottle; shake well before use.
  • There are lots of options to disperse the scents of the essential oils.

Basil is a natural insect repellent. Keep a pot in your kitchen. Take a few leaves along with you on a picnic and put them out on the table to keep the flies away.

Bay leaves in your pantry will keep pests away. A bay leaf in a container of flour, cornmeal, or cereal will keep weevils out.

Sprinkle black pepper on home surfaces to prevent pest access by ants, beetles, silverfish, roaches, and moths.

Powdered red chilli pepper, peppermint, bay leaves, cloves, citrus oil, lavender, rosemary, tobacco, peppercorns, eucalyptus, wormwood, and cedar oil can repel various types of insects. (Do not use Essential Oils around birds. It may be toxic to them.)

  • Gardening to Fight Insects: Often used in agriculture but can sometimes be used in home and garden situations as well. For instance, planting certain plants in your garden can deter certain pests.

    • For example, spearmint / pepper mint repels both ants and mice.

    • Garlic repels Japanese Beetles.

    • Spiders eat fruit flies and houseflies, so it may be worth leaving some of those webs around.

    • Basil is a natural insect repellent. Keep a pot in your kitchen. Take a few leaves along with you on a picnic and put them out on the table to keep the flies away.

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