Common Household Pests

Common Household Pests

09/November 2013

What is a Household Pest?
Pests are unwanted insects, animals, plants, or fungi that are detrimental or annoying to human activity. Pests may bite, destroy food, spread disease, damage property, or make people’s lives more difficult. Pests can include bed bugs, cockroaches, mice and rats, or mold and mildew. This page will help you identify and eradicate some of these common household pests.

Bed Bugs

What is a bed bug?


Bed bugs are small, flat insects that feed on the blood of sleeping people and animals. They are reddish-brown in color, wingless, and range from 1 to 7 millimeters in length. They can live several months without a blood meal.


               Bed Bug                          Life Cycle of Bed Bugs by Penny            Bed Bug on Hand


Where do bed bugs live?

Infestations of these insects usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep or spend a significant period of time.  These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, nursing homes, hospitals, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms.  As far as we know, bed bugs do not spread infectious diseases; however, some people are more sensitive to their bits and develop itchy, red welts.  Scratching the bits can lead to infection.

Bed bugs are experts at hiding.  They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, and under any clutter or objects around a bed.  Their small flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest spaces where they can remain in place for long periods of time, even without a blood meal.  Bed bugs can travel over 100 feet in one night, but they tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.


Bed Bugs in Bedding                 Single Bed Bug in Folds of Bedding


Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel.  Bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else they can hide.  Most people do not realize they can transport stow-away bed bugs as they travel.

During the bed bug life cycle, a female can lay 200 to 400 eggs depending on food supply and temperature.  Bed bugs do not fly, but can walk across floors, walls, and other surfaces.

How can you find and identify bed bugs?

One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by bite marks that appear on the face, neck, arms, hands, and any other part of the body.  These bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bedbugs have infested an area such as skeletons of dead bed bugs, bugs in the mattresses and sheets, a sweet musty odor, and rusty-colored blood spots from their blood-filled fecal material.

How do you identify a bed bug bite?

When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from feeling the bite.  Because bites usually occur while people are sleeping, most people do not realize they have been bitten until marks appear.  The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or flea – a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating.

Bed Bug Bites on Leg                   Bed Bug Bites on Hand


Who is at risk of getting bed bugs?


Anyone who visits an infested area is at risk of getting bed bugs. People who travel frequently or who share living and sleeping quarters with anyone who has bed bugs are susceptible.


How can bed bugs be eliminated?


1 Use zippered mattress encasements to keep bed bugs from infesting mattresses.

2 Use a vacuum cleaner on beds and furniture.

3 Put clothes in leaf bags when taking to a laundromat.

4 Use high heat in the clothes dryer because high heat will destroy bed bugs and eggs.

5 Inspect your entire house at least once a year for signs of bed bugs.

6 Use diatomaceous earth or a bed bug spray from Home Depot.

7 Inspect used furniture before bringing it into your house.

8 Hire a professional exterminator (can be $700 or more)



Bed Bug Facts

1 Bed bugs are not the result of poor hygiene or poor housekeeping – bed bugs can affect anyone, anywhere,
2 Bed bugs do not eat bait – bed bugs feed only on blood. ƒ
3 Bed bugs are not transferred by sexual contact and do not transfer AIDS, herpes or scabies – bed bugs have not been associated with any disease transmission.
4 Bed bugs do not live on their host – bed bugs feed on blood from their host, but do not live on the host.
5 Bed bugs do not live in human hair and are not similar to body and pubic lice – bed bugs are not lice.

Who is responsible for exterminating bed bugs and other rodents?

The Akron Code of Ordinances (section 150.12) states who is responsible for bed bug removal. Here are the code statements on rodent extermination:
Every occupant of a dwelling containing a single dwelling unit shall be responsible for the extermination of any insects, rodents, or other pests therein or on the premises and every occupant of a dwelling unit in a dwelling containing more than one dwelling unit shall be responsible for the extermination whenever his dwelling unit is the only one infested.

Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, whenever infestation is caused by failure of the owner to maintain a dwelling in a rat-proof or reasonably insect-proof condition, extermination shall be the responsibility of the owner.

Whenever infestation exists in two or more of the dwelling units in any dwelling, or in the common or public parts of any dwelling containing two or more dwelling units, extermination thereof shall be the responsibility of the owner.

For more information see:



Cockroaches are one of the most common household pest insects. They feed on human and pet food, and can leave an offensive odor. They can also transport microbes on their body surfaces, including some that are potentially dangerous to humans. Cockroaches come out at night and they hide in dark, warm areas, especially narrow spaces where surfaces touch them on both sides. They congregate in corners and generally travel along the edges of walls or other surfaces.


The American Cockroach, pictured to the left, is about 1.2 inches long and this one is a female with an egg case where the red arrow is pointing.

Cockroaches live in moist areas such as in restaurants, hospitals, warehouses, offices, buildings and homes around food-handling areas.  Leaky plumbing also attracts roaches.

Cockroaches can be carried into homes in bags, boxes, and luggage.  Corrugated cardboard boxes are a particularly good source of infestations.

If you suspect cockroaches have been brought into your home, set out sticky traps to catch them.  Place the sticky traps so they are tight against edges, e.g., where walls meet floors, and in cupboards, around refrigerators, stoves, sinks, and toilets.

Vacuuming can remove a significant number of cockroaches and egg cases.


Four of the more common cockroaches pictured at the left include the American, Oriental, German, and Brown-banded.

How to Eliminate Cockroaches

1 Store food in insect-proof containers such as glass jars or resealable plastic containers.
2 Keep garbage and trash in containers with tight-fitting lids and liners.
3 Remove trash, newspapers, boxes and other roach hiding places.
3 Fix faucet and pipe leaks and correct other sources of free moisture. Increase ventilation where condensation is a problem like in bathrooms and showers.
4 Vacuum cracks and crevices to remove food and debris.
5 Clean up spilled food or beverages immediately.

Managing Cockroach Infestations
1 Store food in insect-proof containers such as glass jars or resealable plastic containers.
2 Keep garbage and trash in containers with tight-fitting lids and use liners. Remove trash, newspapers, rags, boxes and other items that provide hiding places for roaches.
3 Eliminate plumbing leaks and correct other sources of free moisture. Increase ventilation where condensation is a problem like in bathrooms with showers or kitchens.
4 Vacuum cracks and crevices to remove food and debris. Clean up spilled food or beverages immediately.
5 Purchase sticky tape and traps such as Roach Motel or Roach Trap.
6 Supplement traps with boric acid, a type of inorganic dust. Common trade names include Roach Powder and Roach Prufe. Place boric acid in isolated places, such as behind and under refrigerators, stoves, and sinks. Do NOT apply boric acid where children and pets can reach it.
7 Check any furniture, bags, or boxes before bringing it into your home. If possible check at night with a good flashlight.

Mice and Rats

Mice and rats share people’s food and homes. They carry diseases and parasites wherever they go. They use plumbing voids as well as circulation vents to travel throughout a home/building. They spread their contaminated nesting material, feces, urine, and body hairs. Diseases from mice and rats can be spread to people through bite wounds, contaminated food or water, or inhaling germs that may be present in their urine or feces droppings and circulated into the air. They also carry ticks, mites, and fleas that can get on people. Rats and mice use their sharp incisor teeth to gnaw wood, break into food, and bite predators. The picture shows a rat and a mouse and the size of snap trap appropriate for each.

The rat weighs about 8 to 16 ounces and is 9 to 11 inches long; a mouse weighs about one-half an ounce and is 3 to 4 inches long.  The rat’s tail is 7 to 9 inches while the mouse’s tail is 3 to 4 inches.  The rat’s head is blunt, heavy and chunky looking and the mouse’s head is small, triangular, and pointed.

Rat feces droppings are about 5/8 inch long and curved; mouse feces droppings are about 1/8 inch long and are pointed at both ends. A mouse with access to food can defecate every 10 minutes.

As you might surmise from their size differences, mice do not kill rats but rats do kill and eat mice. A mouse can get through a hole as small as half the diameter of a dime. A rat can crawl through holes the size of a quarter, tread water for three days, and land unharmed after a five-story fall.

Rats and mice do not like bright lights and tend to come out at night. They are good at running, jumping, climbing, and swimming. Mice feed primarily on plant matter, and they will eat their own feces to acquire nutrients produced by bacteria in their intestines. Rats prefer fresh food, but will eat many things such as pet food, dog feces, garbage and plants; if food is scarce, the strongest rats may eat the weakest and young.

Trapping Rats and Mice

Snap traps are an inexpensive and effective way to control rats and mice. Snap traps can be purchased at hardware stores and many grocery stores.

Rats can be very cautious and it may take several days before they approach a trap. Mice are less cautions and you’re likely to catch one or more the first night you set traps.

1 Place snap traps in areas where you see droppings, nests, or chewed materials. Don’t place traps in an area where a pet or young child has access.

2 Add a small amount of peanut butter onto the bait pan trigger.

3 After setting the snap trap, place the bait end of the trap along a wall so it forms a “T” with the wall.

4 Using gloves, dispose of trapped rats and mice, and wash your hands after handling the trap.

Mold and Mildew


Moisture can cause slimy black spots on your shower curtain, fuzzy white patches on your basement floor, or a slick orange film that forms on your kitchen drain. This is likely to be mold, which are small organisms found almost everywhere. They can be black, white, orange, green, or purple. Outdoors, molds play an important role in nature, breaking down dead leaves, plants, and trees. Molds thrive on moisture and reproduce by means of tiny lightweight spores that travel through the air. We are all exposed to mold every day, and in small amounts molds are harmless. But when they live on a damp spot in your house, they can start to grow. Mold growing on a surface can be released into the air where they can be inhaled. If you are sensitive to mold and inhale a large number of spores, you could experience health problems. Whether or not you are allergic to molds, mold exposure can irritate your eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs. Molds are superficial, often woolly, downy, or furry growths of unspecified color, typically on food, and suggest decay.

Mold can grow on virtually anything around the house — from wood, carpet, and food to insulation systems in the walls. Mold typically grows where there is excessive moisture, like in a damp cabinet under the sink or around a leaky window. Mold usually forms by water or mildew entering through vents and heating and cooling systems and then latching onto the walls of rooms with little or no ventilation.

Mold can be black or green and is often the result of a larger infestation. Mold can appear almost fuzzy — especially when it is found on food — or even slimy.


Mildew is a thin, superficial, usually whitish growth consisting of minute fungal filaments. It occurs on living plants or organic matter such as wood, paper or leather, clothing, paper, or other substances left damp in a house. Sometimes it is a term used to mean mold growth.

Mildew is a surface fungi that can be identified as a patch of gray or even white fungus that is lying on the surface of a moist area. Mildew is easily treated with a store bought cleaner and a scrubbing brush.

Mold and mildew need two things to grow: moisture and nutrients (food). You can control mold and mildew by controlling moisture. If you have mold, you must clean up the mold and also eliminate the sources of moisture, such as water leaks from plumbing or exterior walls or roofs.


If you see mold or if there is an earthy or musty smell, you should assume a mold problem exists. Look for

1 Visible mold growth that might be white, gray, brown, black, yellow, or green. It often appears as discoloration, staining, or a fuzzy growth on the surface of building materials or furnishings.
2 Search areas with noticeable musty mold odors.
3 Look for signs of excess moisture or water damage. Look for water leaks, standing water, water stains, condensation problems. Are there any watermarks or discoloration on walls, ceilings, carpet, woodwork, or other building materials?
4 Search behind and underneath carpets, pads, wallpaper, vinyl flooring, sink cabinets, furniture, or stored items (especially things placed near outside walls or on cold floors). You may have to remove material to examine a cavity between walls or inside walls.

Common indoor moisture sources include: flooding, condensation, roof and plumbing leaks, firewood stored indoors, humidifier use, inadequate venting of kitchen and bathroom humidity, failure to vent clothes dryer exhaust to the outdoors, drying clothes indoors in a clothes line.
mildew on basement wall mildew on ceiling and walls mildew on leaves
Mildew on basement walls Mildew on ceiling and walls Mildew on leaves

Mildew on wall corner Mildew on plant
Mildew on walls in corner Mildew on plant
Mold on basement wall Mold around bathroom sink Mold on pages of book
Mold on basement wall Mold around sink Mold on pages of book
Mold on bread Mold on bread Mold on ceiling and walls
Mold on slice of bread Mold on slice of bread Mold on ceiling and walls
Mold on orange
It is mold or is it mildew? It may be hard to tell them apart. The important thing is to discriminate the discoloration and know that something is wrong. When mold is growing on food, the roots can be hard to see and they can run deep. Also, invisible bacteria can grow along with the mold. Discard the food, don’t try to scrape it away.



Mold growing on orange
Killing Mold with Bleach

Bleach produces harsh fumes so make sure the area is well ventilated before you begin. Wear rubber gloves during the process to protect your hands.

1 Mold can be killed with bleach by using a ration of one cup of bleach per gallon of water (1 part bleach to 10 parts water).
2 Apply the solution to non-porous surfaces with mold growth either by using a spray bottle or by using a bucket and a sponge or cloth.
3 You don’t need to rinse the surface afterwards (unless it is used for food preparation or a surface which may be touched by small children or pets) as the bleach will inhibit mold growing in the future.

1 Bleach cannot completely kill mold growing in porous materials. The chlorine in bleach cannot penetrate into porous surfaces such as drywall or wood. Once the water component of the bleach is absorbed into the materials, it just provides more moisture for the mold to feed on.
2 Some of the mold on the surface might be killed but the roots of the mold are left intact and the mold soon returns, making necessary a cycle of repeated bleaching.
3 Bleach can damage the materials its used on as it is a harsh, corrosive chemical. Chlorine bleach also gives off harsh fumes and it even produces toxic gas when mixed with ammonia.
4 Use bleach only on non-porous surfaces.

Killing Mold with Vinegar

Use white distilled vinegar, which you can buy cheaply from the grocery store.

1 Pour some vinegar into a spray bottle without watering it down.
2 Spray the vinegar onto the moldy surface and let it sit for an hour.
3 Wipe clean the area with water and allow the surface to dry. Any smell from the vinegar should clear within a few hours.
4 If you want to use vinegar to prevent mold growing on surfaces just spray vinegar on the surface and leave it. Repeat this every few days to ensure the surface will stay odor-free. You can mop tiled bathroom floor or other hard non-porous floors with vinegar if you are worried about mold growing on them.

Killing Mold with Baking Soda

Baking Soda is a natural and safe household cleaner. You can use it to kill mold in your home. Baking soda is mild and harmless to your family and pets. Besides killing mold, baking soda also deodorizes and using it will also get rid of the smell mold leaves in your home. Baking soda also absorbs moisture to help keep mold away. Vinegar is often used along with baking soda when cleaning up mold because vinegar kills different species of mold.

1 Add one quarter of a tablespoon of baking soda to a spray bottle of water.
2 Shake the bottle to dissolve the baking soda into the water.
3 Spray the mold area with the baking soda and water solution.
4 Use a sponge or scrubbing brush to make sure to remove all the mold form the surface.
5 Once you’ve scrubbed away the mold, rinse the surface with water to remove any residual mold on the surface.
6 Spray the area with the spray bottle again and let the surface dry. This will kill any left over mold and prevent it from returning.

Note: You can use a cloth instead of a spray bottle to clean mold with baking soda:
1 Soak a cloth in water and then add one quarter of a tablespoon of taking soda to it.
2 Use the cloth on the moldy area to remove the mold and the baking soda and water solution.

Killing Mold with Tea Tree Oil

Although it is expensive, tea tree oil is the most effective natural mold killing solution. It is harmless to people and pets, it is antifungal, antibacterial, and capable of killing all types of molds. Tea tree oil can be purchased for about $10 for a small bottle from most natural food stores. Make sure the tea tree oil you buy is derived from the Melaleuca Alternifolia, which is the technical name for tea tree.

1 Add water to a spray bottle, noting how may cups it takes to fill the bottle.
2 Add 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil for every cup of water it took to fill the bottle.
3 Spray the solution on the moldy surface.
4 There is no need to rinse since leaving the tea tree oil on the surface will kill the mold and prevent it from returning.

Note: Instead of using a spray bottle, you can use a rag or cloth to apply the tea tree solution.
1 Create a solution of 1 teaspoon tea tree oil for each cup of water
2 Use a cloth to apply to solution to the moldy surface, and scrub the mold away
3 You do not need to rinse the surface afterward.
4 Tea tree oil has a strong smell but it will go away after some time.
5 You can keep and use the solution for a long time afterward as tea tree oil does not lose its potency quickly.




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