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Step 1: Avoid Pesticides

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Written by HCHW Writers

Weeds, bugs, rodents – we call them pests for a reason. No one wants them around. But the convenience offered by a pesticide’s quick fix has its price. Pesticides are poisons, and in most cases, their negative effects can far outweigh any positives of being rid of the pests. Pesticides have been linked to a range of health problems, including asthma, hyperactivity and behavior problems, cancer, learning disabilities, reproductive disorders, and compromised brain development. TWEET THIS

What to Do

  • Avoid unsafe chemicals inside and out – Even when used according to the directions, pesticides can pose health risks. By Federal Law, no one can say pesticides are safe – so don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.TWEET THIS
  • Instruct caregivers about the hazards of pesticides and talk to school or daycare centers about pest management practices. Schools across the country are using successful, safer pest management programs. Refer to the National School IPM Information SourceTWEET THIS
  • Prevent pests through good sanitation and food storage habits, and by preventing their entry structurally. See the Safety Checklist for prevention techniques. TWEET THIS
  • Take off your shoes at the door to prevent tracking pesticides indoors. Traces of pesticide residues can cling to the bottoms of your shoes and then rub off on your carpet and rugs. Once there, they linger on because they’re not exposed to the conditions that typically cause them to break down (sunlight, rain, soil microbes, etc). These residues become sources of repeated exposures to children and pets who play on the floor. 
  • Use these resources to help you make safer decisions:

Safety Checklist

Indoor Prevention Tips:

  • Keep your home dry and well ventilated. Increase air circulation by opening windows and doors regularly, and by using fans. Reduce moisture in your home’s basement with a dehumidifier.
  • Seal and/or caulk openings and cracks in your home’s basement, floors, walls, pipes, drains, sumps, and ducts.
  • Use window screens. 
  • Seasonally inspect and repair your home.
  • Store garbage (especially food waste) in clean containers with tight fitting lids. TWEET THIS
  • Prevent indoor plants from developing pest problems.
  • Use airtight containers for storing non-refrigerated food items. TWEET THIS
  • Keep counters and cupboards clean. 
  • Clean up spills immediately.
  • Clear out the clutter. Piles of textiles or papers are an inviting habitat for insects and rodents.

Outdoor Prevention Tips: 

  • Manage outdoor lights to prevent insects’ gathering.
  • Dump or drain sources of standing water. If you have an area in your yard that is susceptible to standing water after a big rain, consider planting a rain garden. 
  • Use native plants for landscaping (which should be naturally resilient to pest problems).
  • Plant densely. Dense foliage can shade the ground so that weed seeds have difficulty germinating. 
  • Plant a variety of grasses suited to your region. Call your county extension service to find out which varieties would be most appropriate.
  • Water deeply but less often. Grass is stronger (and more weed resistant) when watered to the root zone and then allowed to dry out. 
  • Reduce soil compaction by aerating annually.
  • Remove thatch build-up. Removing this layer allows water and nutrients to penetrate down to the roots where they are most needed.
  • Mow frequently and high. Mowing too close to the ground significantly limits the grass blade’s ability to produce its own food. Longer grass also means the soil underneath has more shade, making it more difficult for weeds to grow. TWEET THIS
  • Use a sharp blade to reduce the stress on the grass. Shredding grass renders it more vulnerable to disease and pests.

Learn more.

Safe Solutions

Remedies for bugs and rodents: 

  • All-purpose pesticide spray: Combine 1 tsp essential oil of eucalyptus and 1 tsp essential oil of pennyroyal with 2 cups water in a spray bottle. Shake to blend. Spray along baseboards, backs of counters, inside cupboards. Do not rinse. 
  • For ants, you can sprinkle red chili powder, paprika or dried peppermint (or its essential oil) where the ants are entering. For outdoor pets, place their food bowl within a larger bowl of soapy water.
  • For fleas, feed your pet brewer’s yeast in powder (mixed in food) or tablet form. 
  • For ants, termites, lice, fleas, spiders or roaches, mop or spray floors with Borax. It’s poisonous if ingested, so store and use carefully. TWEET THIS
  • For ants and fleas, mix 4 oz of a natural soap in 1 gallon of water and spray as needed. Or sprinkle powdered soap around your home’s foundation.
  • Place fresh basil in window pots or your garden to repel flies and mosquitos. Rub crushed leaves on skin to keep personal buzzers at bay. 
  • For fruit flies, pour a little sweet cheap white wine (Riesling) in a glass and add a drop of a natural soap to break the surface tension. Place near infected area. The fruit flies will drown trying to drink the wine. 
  • Place fresh mint sprigs here, there and everywhere you have mice. 
  • For mice or rats, crush a vitamin-D pill and blend it with peanut butter or sprinkle on a piece of corn bread. Vitamin D affects calcium metabolism negatively for them. Rats die within 2-4 days. 
  • Lure roaches away where you can place saucers of cheap red wine (don’t use the good stuff) out of reach of children and pets. The roaches will become intoxicated and drown. TWEET THIS

Remedies for weeds: 

  • Eradicate weeds by spraying them with white vinegar (just be careful not to douse the plants you DO want). TWEET THIS
  • Pour boiling water on weeds.
  • Keep weeds down by using mulch around landscaping.
  • Pull weeds before they go to seed (teach your young to yank them and yank them when they’re young!)
  • Try companion planting. For example, growing squash with corn helps suppress weeds.

Learn more.

Find recommended pesticides in our marketplace.

More Information

Common knowledge is to keep pesticides out of reach of children. If a child comes into contact with, inhales, or swallows a large dose, the child could be poisoned. What is uncommon knowledge is that children are more likely to experience negative effects of pesticides merely by being near the area during or after these chemicals are applied. Some immediate symptoms include headache, anxiety, blurred vision, irritability, weakness, slurred speech, cough, shortness of breath, asthma attacks, skin rashes, abdominal pain, and vomiting. 

Children are at a greater risk than adults to be harmed by pesticides because their bodies are still developing. Furthermore, children are uniquely vulnerable to pesticide exposure due to their behavior. They spend more time playing outdoors on the grass where pesticides are commonly applied, and also playing indoors on carpeting where lawn chemicals may have been tracked in and deposited. They’re also more likely to transfer toxics from hand to mouth and are more likely to be exposed to chemicals in common items like flea collars. Exposure to pesticides, even small doses, can subtly interfere with a child’s physical development. In many cases, the impact may not be apparent for decades. 

With roughly 20,000 pesticide products on the market today, children can be exposed to them in a wide variety of ways. TWEET THIS

  • Pesticides used indoors can drift onto toys and into carpet; residues are often found in house dust particles. TWEET THIS
  • Outdoor applications on farms, lawns, gardens, and golf courses can drift for miles in the air we breathe – DDT has been found in the fat of polar bears, thousands of miles from the site of original application. 
  • Some pesticides remain in soil for years before they break down; and we track them indoors on our shoes. TWEET THIS
  • Also, since children eat and drink proportionately more than adults, they get larger doses of pesticide residues from conventional foods and contaminated water sources. 

With so many potential exposures to pesticides, it is vital to eliminate as many as possible.

Learn more.


  • EPA’s Non-Occupational Pesticide Exposure Study (NOPES) found that tested households had at least 5 pesticides in indoor air, at levels often 10X greater than levels measured in outdoor air. TWEET THIS U.S. EPA, “Nonoccupational Pesticide Exposure Study” (NOPES), Atmospheric Research and Exposure Assessment Laboratory, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, EPA/600/3-90/003, January 1990. 
  • Of the 36 most commonly used lawn pesticides: 14 are probable or possible carcinogens, 15 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 24 with neurotoxicity, 22 with liver or kidney damage, and 34 are sensitizers and/or irritants. Beyond Pesticides, Health Effects of 36 Commonly Used Lawn Pesticides, updated 2002.
  • Scientific studies find pesticide residues such as the weed killer 2,4-D and the insecticide carbaryl inside homes, due to drift and track-in, where they contaminate air, dust, surfaces and carpets and expose children at levels ten times higher than preapplication levels. Rudel, Ruthann, et al. 2003. “Phthalates, Alkylphenols, Pesticides, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers, and Other Endocrine-Disrupting Compounds in Indoor Air and Dust,” Environmental Science and Technology 37(20): 4543-4553; Nishioka, M., et al. 2001. “Distribution of 2,4-D in Air and on Surfaces Inside Residences After Lawn Applications: Comparing Exposure Estimates from Various Media for Young Children,” Environmental Health Perspectives 109(11); Lewis, R., et al. 1991. “Determination of Routes of Exposure of Infants and Toddlers to Household Pesticides: A Pilot Study,” EPA, Methods Research Branch. 
  • A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds home and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia by almost seven times. Lowengart, R. et al., 1987. “Childhood Leukemia and Parent’s Occupational and Home Exposures, “ Journal of the National Cancer Institute 79:39. 
  • Studies show low levels of exposure to actual lawn pesticide products are linked to increased rates of miscarriage, and suppression of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. TWEET THIS Greenlee, A. et al. 2004. “Low-Dose Agrochemicals and Lawn-Care Pesticides Induce Developmental Toxicity in Murine Preimplantation Embryos,” Environ Health Perspect 112(6): 703-709; Cavieres, M., et al. 2002. “Developmental toxicity of a commercial herbicide mixture in mice: Effects on embryo implantation and litter size.” Environ Health Perspect 110:1081-1085. 
  • Exposure to home and garden pesticides can increase a child’s likelihood of developing asthma. Salam, M.T., et al. 2004. “Early Life Environmental Risk Factors for Asthma: Findings from the Children’s Health Study,” Environ Health Perspectives 112(6): 760. 
  • Studies link pesticides with hyperactivity, developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and motor dysfunction. Shettler, T., et al. 2000. “Known and Suspected Developmental Neurotoxicants,” In Harms Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development Cambridge, MA: Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility; Guillette, E.A., et al. 1998. “An Anthropological Approach to the Evaluation of Preschool Children Exposed to Pesticides in Mexico,” Environ Health Perspectives 106(6); Porter, Warren. “Do Pesticides Affect Learning and Behavior? The neuro-endocrine-immune connection,” Pesticides And You 21(4): 11- 15. Beyond Pesticides, Washington, D.C. (Overview of Dr. Porter’s findings published in Environ Health Perspectives and Toxicology and Industrial Health.) 
  • Children ages 6-11 have higher levels of lawn chemicals in their blood than all other age categories. Biomonitoring studies find that pesticides pass from mother to child through umbilical cord blood and breast milk. (Breastfeeding is still best.) TWEET THIS Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2003 Jan. Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals; Pohl, HR., et al. 2000. “Breast-feeding exposure of infants to selected pesticides,” Toxicol Ind Health 16: 65-77; Sturtz, N., et al. 2000. “Detection of 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid residues in neonates breast-fed by 2,4-D exposed dams,” Neurotoxicology 21(1-2): 147-54; Houlihan, J., et al. 2005. Body Burden, The Pollution in Newborns. Environmental Working Group, Washington, D.C. 

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