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Cheap, Safe Bug Killer

September 2nd, 2012 at 08:08 pm

I learned about this years ago. In the late 1980's, I was living in Houston, Texas. Our house was about 90% carpeted, and we had two dogs. One dog carries, by my approximation, 100 gazillion fleas.

At the time, there was a service that promised to remove fleas, called "Rx for Fleas." I mentioned to a friend that I was thinking about using this service, as they promised to get rid of fleas for up to a year. My friend told me how to make my own bug killing mixture that is safe for pets and children. I've used it ever since.

There are two ingredients. You can buy them cheap, or you can buy them for a lot.

The first ingredient is called "Boric Acid Powder," or orthoboric acid (in powder form). You can get this in a pharmacy, where it is pure and intended to be mixed with water to make a disinfectant liquid for cleaning skin-borne bacteria. I once was prescribed this by a vet to be used to clean the eyes of a rescue kitten. As felines clean themselves (including their faces), I deduced that this acid was not harmful to pets, as advertised. The pharmacy version of Boric Acid Powder costs about $4.00 for about 4 or 6 ounces (7 to 10 grams).

You also buy this powder at a dollar store. It will be in a plastic bottle. It will be called something like "roach proof" or "roach powder" or something like that. Just look on the label for "boric acid" or "orthoboric acid." The only problem with this type is that it often has a light blue tint, as if they added a tiny bit of blue chalk from a pool cue piece of chalk. Just don't use this on white carpets, or you can buy the pharmacy version, which looks like baby powder. Anyway, the dollar store version is one pound (28 grams) for a dollar.

Before I go on to the second ingredient, let me talk a bit more about boric acid powder. Bugs are actually clean critters. They are constantly cleaning themselves by the equivalent of licking themselves clean. Therefore, anything they walk through, they ingest when they clean themselves. When they walk through boric acid powder, they clean it off by swallowing it. The powder gets into their digestive tract where it damages and kills them. I think a person or cat would have to eat like a half a cup to do the same, so small quantities such as you'd get from dust in the air being breathed in or swallowed won't hurt a healthy person, baby, or animal. I'd be careful of lizards, or someone with lung problems.

You can put boric acid powder anywhere that people are not likely to go, but bugs are likely to go. I got a "Planters Peanut" jar (the one with the metal lid held on by a plastic ring; I think it was a pound), and put a bunch of holes in the top using a nail, like a big salt shaker. I use this to "distribute" the powder. Places I've put it are: In my attic near the walls, behind electrical outlets, and onto my garage floor, especially near the walls. I use the pure boric acid, and just "sprinkle" the area. Remember, bugs will walk through it and pick up the talc. It takes very little to kill them.

The second ingredient for the carpet treatment is "diatomaceous earth." This, too, comes in two forms. You can buy it in some hardware store insecticide areas, where it was $4 per pound when I priced it. Instead, you can go to the pool supply area, and buy it for like $10 for 25 pounds (about 11 kg). It is used in pool filters for cleaning the water or backflushing.

Diatoms are really small creatures with skeletons. I don't really know where they fall in the animal kingdom. When diatoms die, their skeletons, carapaces, or shells (whatever) remain. These things are too small to make out as more than dust to the human eye, but to a bug, they are as sharp as razors. When the bug walks through a place with diatomaceous earth (millions of dead diatom shells), they get the powder onto them, and into their joints. The diatoms cut into the joints, and cause the bugs to bleed out.

Mix 10 parts of diatomaceous earth with one part of boric acid powder. This dilutes any coloring in the cheap version of the boric acid powder until it is nearly non-existent. Put about a half jar into the peanut jar, and use it as a "salt shaker" all around your house on the carpets, dog beds, or anything cloth on the floor.

Before starting to sprinkle the powder, make sure all food is covered, and clean all dishware afterward. Personally, I just keep the cupboards closed and don't have any dirty dishes out when I spread the powder around.

It doesn't take a whole lot. I'd say about half a pound (250 gms) per 1000 square feet (100 m2), maybe a little more. Sprinkle it liberally, and then work it in with a broom. Leave it messy and powdery for two days or so, then vacuum and dust normally.

You won't see any change in your bugs for a week or more; however, after about a week, you're going to see hundreds of fleas and think I've steered you wrong. Wait about three days to a week for this invasion to subside. You won't see another flea for six months or more after they subside.

This will remain effective for at least a year, with one warning: If the powder gets wet, it will dissolve and stop working. Therefore, steam cleaning or other means of getting your carpets wet means you have to wait until they are dry, then reapply.

I've used this for years, and I can personally attest to its efficacy.

3 Responses to “Cheap, Safe Bug Killer”

  1. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    Gardeners use diatomaceous earth occasionally against insects, however, we use only "horticultural" or "food grade" rather than that which is sold for use in pool filters. The horticultural and food grade is milled so that the diatom skeletons are broken up. It is an even finer dust than unmilled pool grade D.E. The risk of the unmilled is that in getting into your lungs it will scratch and scar them. Of course any dust should not be inhaled. The milled food grade and horticultural D.E. does cost more.

  2. Wino Says:

    I had heard about "food grade" DE, but never knew the difference. As this is ground into the carpet, the thing to do is to wear a mask (which I do) when putting it down. There's no way to prevent the dust, but after three days, you can vacuum as normal, so you only have the mess for less than a week, no matter how bad you are at housekeeping.

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