Pest Control: DIY or Go to the Pros?

An upside down cockroach on a wood floor.

When pests invade your home, it can feel very much like you’re under attack. Suddenly you’re vulnerable, and those little pests begin to look like a huge problem. But when do you arm yourself and take on those terrors yourself, and when do you stand aside and let the experts lead the way?

Some pest control you can DIY on your own, but sometimes you need to know when to quit and wave the white flag so another warrior can take your place.

Identify Your Pest

A mouse in a house.

Before you start spending time and effort on pest removal, make sure what you're dealing with is really a pest. Certain insects and arachnids are frightening, but not necessarily problematic.

Beetles are actually a good sign in a garden because they'll eat the pests that will destroy your plants (like aphids). Spiders, meanwhile, eat other insects. And though they look terrible with all those legs, most spiders are totally harmless to people and pets.

What kind of pest activity are you noticing? If you're finding droppings around your home, this is an indication that you may have rodents. If the droppings are very small and look sort of like bits of ground pepper, they are probably cockroach droppings. Are you seeing damage or fraying on your wooden furnishings, or baseboards?

Take note of all the signs you're seeing that make you think you have a pest, and get online if you can't figure it out right away. Chances are, with a few minutes of research you'll get a good idea of exactly what has invaded your home.

Know Your Limits

Though pests carry a lot of "ick" factor, there are many that you can handle on your own. Ants, spiders, and even moths can all be handled with pretty simple DIY solutions. As preventative measures, you can seal up the small nooks and crannies around your windows and other home openings, and fix any water leaks to make your home inhospitable.

Some pest problems can even be treated with pest-controlling plants, like chrysanthemums and lavender that naturally repel insects, moths, and other little critters. But you have to know which pests you aren't able to handle.

Contact the Pros

Termites chewing on wood.

Termites and pests that cause structural damage must be addressed expertly right away. You don't want to take a chance with termites, or end up causing even more damage. Professionals must handle any and all pests that are causing structural damage to your home, so they can assess how much damage has already been done.

Getting rid of mice and rats can be a lengthy, time-consuming process if you attempt to DIY the problem. You'll need traps and bait stations, and you'll need to do a lot of scouting around your home to figure out where the mice are living and which areas they are using. This can be a pretty tedious process, not to mention creepy—but it can be done.

If you have a rodent larger than a mouse or a rat living in your home—something like a squirrel or gopher that has somehow gotten into your attic or basement—you absolutely need to call in the experts. Larger rodents and their cousins (rodent-like animals) can carry rabies.

Because of their feral existence, their claws and teeth will contain bacteria that can cause infection if you come into contact with them. It's incredibly dangerous for you to attempt to trap and remove these creatures on your own, and injury may result.

Making the Call

An exterminator and homeowner signing a contract.

If you choose to call a professional exterminator, give them as much information as possible. Show them the areas where you've noticed pest damage and give them any details about where the pests may have entered your home and which parts of it they may be inhabiting. The more you can tell them, the more they can help you eliminate the problem.

You'll also want to tell your pest person about any DIY measures you've already taken to deal with the problem yourself. Some of the over-the-counter pest products found in home and garden stores can actually interfere with professional pest-killing chemicals and equipment, so make sure the exterminator has all the relevant information.

Look for an exterminator offering reasonable prices with good customer reviews. Ask your friends and neighbors if they have ever used a pest control service and what the result was. Finding a reliable, knowledgeable pest control company can be the most frustrating part of pest removal.

Prep for the Future

After your current pest problem is dealt with, do what you can to ensure you won't face another infestation in the future. Check for cracks and holes that may create air leaks (and entry points) around your house. Seal them up when they appear. Get rid of leaks and any standing water in your home. If your basement holds water or your attic roof leaks, for example, you're just inviting pests to take up residence. Fix problems like these to avoid future pest problems, and you can use your DIY skills toward the home projects you really want to do.