The Pitfalls of Using Essential Oils for Pest Control

Using essential oils for pest control, on the surface, sounds like a great idea. After all, if it works and it’s natural, what could possibly go wrong?

A lot, it turns out.

Quite a few articles found on the Internet (particularly Pinterest) would have you believe that there’s an essential oil cure for any pest—from mice to bed bugs. Homeowners, many of them desperate to get rid of the pests plaguing their home, end up wasting precious time and money on essential oil-based, DIY pest control.

Let’s look at a few of the most common claims out there. Is there any truth at all to them, or should you steer clear? Keep reading to find out.

Can peppermint oil be used to get rid of mice?

Bloggers and natural living proponents claim that peppermint oil can be used to get rid of mice. Articles online tell you to put peppermint oil on cotton balls and scatter them around your house where mice tend to enter. The articles also advise you to re-apply the peppermint oil regularly, as the smell dissipates quickly.

Why peppermint oil? The authors of these articles claim that peppermint oil is overwhelming and confusing to mice and rats and acts as a deterrent. This idea probably originated because mice and rats have a strong sense of smell. However, there is no scientific evidence supporting this claim. Peppermint oil will not deter mice, nor will it get rid of mice already living inside your home. (Even the articles promoting peppermint oil as a mouse deterrent acknowledge that it won’t get rid of mice: they’ll simply go to a different spot in your home without the smell.)

Instead, we recommend using tried-and-tested techniques to prevent a future mouse infestation or eliminate an existing one. To prevent mice, seal any cracks or crevices where they might enter, and clean your home (particularly your kitchen) regularly to avoid attracting them. If a few mice are already present in your home or you have a full-blown mouse infestation, consider calling a pest control professional for help tackling the problem.

Does tea tree oil kill bed bugs?

There is some truth to the idea that tea tree oil can kill insects (a few studies have been done with flies and head lice); however, that doesn’t mean that this DIY method works.

Even if tea tree oil killed bed bugs, the insects would have to come into contact with the oil. Using this method to get rid of bed bugs is a futile effort: in a bed bug infestation, there can be hundreds of bed bugs hiding in your mattress, furniture, and even walls. If you were to kill every bed bug you saw with tea tree oil, there would still be many more hiding from you—breeding new bugs. It would be a never-ending battle!

Combatting a bed bug infestation requires a proven, multi-faceted approach. This includes washing and drying items like bedding and clothing, vacuuming, and systematically treating all areas where bed bugs could be hiding. Recommended treatments consist of methods like Heatigation. Follow-up should be done to make sure the bed bugs have not returned—particularly if you live in a place like an apartment complex, where the pests could be spreading from unit to unit.

Does tea tree oil kill roaches?

Tea tree oil has been said to kill bed bugs and roaches alike. And just as we’ve said above, using tea tree oil to kill roaches is an ineffective method: cockroaches are fast (making them hard to hit with an essential oil spray), and they repopulate quickly (meaning that for every cockroach you kill, there are ten more in the walls).

The best way to deal with a cockroach problem involves multiple approaches: clean your home well and often to get rid of this pests’ food sources, seal cracks and crevices where cockroaches can enter, fix leaky pipes and other places with excess moisture. If the cockroach problem is significant, you should consider help from an experienced local pest control expert.

Reader Beware

Essential oils are unregulated, unlike traditional methods of pest control. This means that there is no oversight regarding what goes into the bottle you just bought. Essential oils can be different strengths and may even contain contaminants.

Most of the essential oils do not indicate how long the bug repellent effect may last. This does not comply with The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements as they have to include the product chemistry and acute toxicity testing. 

The use of essential oils without the EPA certificate is not recommended at all. EPA evaluates every product to guarantee the safety and security of the consumers, but even the ones that are safe to use do not work as a repellent. Since essential oils do not claim to work as pesticides, the EPA doesn’t have to put them to the same testing as regular bug repellent products. If you live in areas susceptible to diseases transmitted by bugs, such as mosquitoes, only use certified bug-repellents.

On top of the fact that essential oils just don’t work well as pest control, there are a few other reasons you should steer clear of this DIY method.

Some essential oils—including bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, orange, and lime—are phototoxic: skin that has been exposed to these essential oils will become sensitive to the sun, causing irritation, inflammation, and even blistering (resembling a sunburn) for days or weeks afterward.

Other oils, including peppermint oil and tea tree oil, are toxic to pets—especially cats, whose livers are unable to metabolize some of the compounds in essential oils. If exposed to essential oils (either orally or topically, on the skin), pets can suffer symptoms that include drooling, vomiting, respiratory distress, tremors, and even liver failure. Unfortunately, as the popularity of essential oils rises, veterinarians have reported increased rates of poisoning. If you’re one of the majority of Americans who own pets, stay far away from essential oils as pest control!

Essential oils can also be hazardous to your own health and the health of your family. Tea tree oil, in particular, can be toxic if swallowed (especially if it is undiluted or a high concentration). This is something to be very careful of if you have young children.

There is a lot of misleading and incorrect information online. Over the next few months, we’ll be talking more about home remedies in pest control.

Contact Us

Concerned about a possible pest infestation? Contact Scherzinger Pest Control, a trusted pest control company in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas, including Dayton, OH, and Columbus, OH. We’ve been pioneers, engineering new standards for ways of eliminating and controlling bugs and pests. Contact us by phone at 1-877-748-9888 or through our websiteFacebook, or Twitter.