The essential guide to pest damage prevention at home
Do you need to deal with pest infestations in and around your home? From mice scurrying through cupboards, to termites eating away at wooden furniture, pests can be a major hassle. Not only are they irritating, but pest-inflicted damage also tends to come with financial costs. Recent data shows that instances of domestic pests are increasing, with the UK pest control industry growing by 5% in 2023 and said to be worth $953.9m, the equivalent of approximately £776m.
Fortunately, there are ways for you to protect against costly repairs. We’ve compiled the best tips for preventing and managing pest problems around your home in this guide.
Pests you might find at home
First, let’s take a look at the kind of pests you might encounter at home if you live in the UK. You’ll find a full list of pests below, but here are the most common ones to look out for:
- Ants. Ants love warm, damp places to nest in. You’re most likely to find them along pavements or near plants in your garden, or next to or under buildings. However, they can also make their way inside your home and can be found under floors or near walls and radiators.
- Bed bugs. Unsurprisingly, given the name, bed bugs are most likely to be found in your bed. They’re often found in mattresses but can also settle in bed frames, other bedroom furniture, and even behind wallpaper.
- Birds. Birds like to build their nests on roofs, but they may also find their way inside the house, especially in lofts.
- Fleas. Fleas are parasites that feed off the blood of their hosts. They’re normally the size of a sesame seed and brown in colour. Keep an eye on your pets — they like to nest in the fur of dogs and cats. Signs of fleas include biting, chewing and scratching at skin; hair loss; scabs; redness, and irritation. Fleas can also be found on humans. Look for lines of small, itchy red bumps which don’t change in size.
- Flies. Flies are a common insect, so you may not be as alarmed to see them from time to time, but an infestation is cause for concern because flies carry diseases which can infect humans, such as gastroenteritis and salmonella.
- Mice and rats. Mice and rats come into houses to make burrows, especially in winter when they’re seeking shelter from the cold. You may find them in the basement or loft, or in the shed.
- Spiders. Spiders are very common, especially in September and October. On their own they can be quite useful as they capture and eat a lot of insects, including flies, moths and mosquitoes, but obviously you don’t want an infestation.
- Mites. Also fairly common, mites are too small to spot with the human eye alone.
Pest damage prevention
Pests can be a bit of a nuisance at best, and dangerous at worst. They’re capable of spreading disease and causing damage which can result in fires and flooding, so it’s recommended to prevent pests from coming into your home. Here are some of the best ways to do that.
Don’t leave rubbish out
Rubbish attracts most pests, as it’s a source of food and can even be a nesting place for some. Bins stored inside are more likely to attract insects, while outside bins may attract birds and foxes. Rodents like mice and rats can get in either.
Here’s how to reduce the chance of pests getting into your bins:
- Put rubbish in either indoor or outdoor bins as soon as you can.
- Keep your bin lids shut (and locked if possible – some food bins have a mechanism that locks the bin when the handle is forward or upright).
- Keep up to date with rubbish collection dates in your area to stop waste from piling up outside your home. You can find the date of your next bin collection on your local council’s website.
Don’t leave food out
Food is a big attraction for pests of all kinds, from flies to rodents. Store it in sealed containers and make sure all your cupboard doors close securely. If you need to cool something before storing it, use a mesh cover so air can circulate but nothing can get to it, then put it in the fridge or freezer as soon as it’s cool enough to do so. And don’t forget about spillages, crumbs, and dirty plates. Clean up as soon as you can.
Check your pets for fleas
Fleas can jump as far as 13 inches, which is about 200 times the length of their bodies, so it’s easy for them to spread. Cats and dogs can catch fleas through other animals, in the garden, from your home, or even from clothes or shoes.
Fleas can cause plenty of itching and discomfort. More worryingly they can also cause allergic reactions, anaemia and blood loss, tapeworms, and disease. Look out for:
- Bald patches
- Excessive scratching
- Fur loss
- Tiny dark dots in fur
If you own pets, it’s best to keep up with regular flea treatment so they don’t catch the pests from other animals.
To check for and get rid of fleas, you can use a flea comb dipped in a mix of water and dish soap to trap and remove them from your pet’s fur. Keep a bowl of water next to you so that if you do spot any, you can drown them. Combing is also a good way to get rid of the little specks of blood known as ‘flea dirt’. Be sure to take your pet to the vet as well, as they’ll be able to check for any serious symptoms and prescribe necessary medication or treatment.
It’s important to check yourself for fleas if your pet is showing signs of them — look for lines of small, itchy red bumps which don’t change in size. While the risk of contracting a disease from these bites is very small, the bites can become infected if bacteria gets into them (this is more likely to happen if you scratch them). You’ll be able to spot an infection because the bite will get redder, feel warm to the touch, and may emit pus.
Clean your home regularly
Keep on top of errands like hoovering the floors, washing bedding regularly at 40℃ using a good detergent, and washing anything your pet sleeps on. Making sure you do these tasks regularly can kill any bacteria that will encourage pests to settle in your home.
Keep your home dry
Pests tend to love moisture, as it can be a source of food or a place to breed. Be sure to clear up any spills, empty water from sinks once you’ve finished using it, and keep surfaces nice and dry. Regularly check under sinks and pipes for leaks or drips so they can be fixed, and consider getting a humidifier to prevent condensation from building up.
Seal entry points
Tiny pests can fit through the smallest of gaps, which is why it’s so important to keep all your entryways sealed securely. Look out for:
- Cracks in floors
- Cracks in the wall
- Gaps in doorways
- Windows that won’t shut properly
Get any gaps fixed as soon as possible so potential entryways are blocked.
Don’t forget about your garden
So far we’ve focused on the home, but there are plenty of things you can do to minimise the chances of pests coming into your garden.
- Choose plants that will thrive in the region where you live. Healthy plants are less likely to attract pests or succumb to diseases.
- Don’t bring plants into your garden if pests that affect it are common where you live.
- Dispose of mouldy leaves as soon as you spot them (this applies to house plants too).
- Set time aside to regularly get rid of any weeds that appear.
- Clean your garden tools and apparel after use to prevent pests being carried from one site to another.
- Don’t forget to include your garden when you check for signs of pests.
Check for signs of pests regularly
Some pests are too small to be noticed easily; others may be bigger but avoid any contact with humans. So you might not spot one — but you can learn the signs and look out for them.
Signs of pests include:
- Clusters of small, dark spots
- Food packaging which appears to have been chewed
- Seeing more flies than usual
- Shredded paper (some pests use it for their nests)
Managing pest problems
While pest damage prevention is something you can often manage yourself, dealing with a pest outbreak in your home requires a professional if you want to get it sorted quickly and safely. It can be dangerous to do it yourself, not to mention you can be fined or imprisoned if you cause unnecessary harm to any animal. For example, bats are a protected species and it’s illegal to damage or destroy their breeding or resting spaces, even if they’re in your home.
- Your tenancy agreement says they’re responsible
- The infestation was caused by their actions (for example, if they don’t make necessary repairs)
- The infestation is making you and your family ill
- If the rented property was furnished and the infestation was present when you moved in.
You will be responsible for getting the infestation dealt with if it was caused by something you did or failed to do, for example if you left out rubbish which attracted pests.
List of household pests
- Ants (including pharaoh’s ants)
- Bed bugs
- Beetles, including
- Carpet beetle
- Death watch beetle
- Flour beetle
- Fur beetle
- Furniture beetle
- Ground beetle
- Larder beetle
- Longhorn beetle
- Plaster beetle
- Spider beetle
- Cheese skipper
- Flies, including:
- Blow fly
- Cluster fly
- Crane fly
- Fruit fly
- House fly
- Stable fly
- Yellow swarming fly
- Green bottles
- Lice, including:
- Body lice
- Book lice
- Head lice
- May bugs
- Mites, including:
- Flour mite
- Harvest mite
- House dust mite
- Red spider mite
- Moths, including:
- Brown house moth
- Clothes moth
- Flour moth
- House moth
- Spiders (including false black widow, harvestman spider)
- Stored product insects (SPIs)
- Wharf borer
- Woolly bears
- Mice (including field mice, house mice)
- Rats (including black rat, brown rat)