15 popular pest control myths debunked – these well known 'facts' are really fiction

Don't believe everything you read about getting rid of common household pests

An amber spray bottle on a windowsill, a cat sat on a kitchen surface and a modern rustic dining room table with fruits and bread on top
(Image credit: Mykhailo Lukashuk via Getty Images / Future / Brent Darby /)

Lots of old wives' tales have stood the test of time, but there are plenty of pest control myths out there that are more fictitious than fact.

We think it's time to set the record straight as we debunk 15 common pest control myths and arm you with the facts you need to keep your home pest-free year-round. Whether it's the truth about DIY bed bug remedies or the reasons why your cat shouldn't be recruited for the job, we want to help you tackle pests with confidence.

Below, we'll count down 15 common pest control myths that aren't true and what you should do instead to protect your home and prevent future infestations.

Common pest control myths debunked

From the idea that a clean house is pest-free to thinking cheese is the best bait for mice, these common misconceptions often do more harm than good:

onservatory with dark grey frames, grey marbled floor and lush foliaged plants. Renovation of a Victorian terraced house in North West London, by interior designers Federica Gosio and Arianna Crosetta, home of Milly O'Sullivan.

(Image credit: James Merrell / Future)

1. Bees Can Only Sting Once

It's a common belief that once a bee stings, it can't sting again. While this is partially true, it only applies to honeybees. Honeybees have barbed stingers that get stuck in the skin, resulting in the bee's death after stinging. However, other bees – as well as other stinging insects like wasps and yellowjackets – have smooth stingers and can sting multiple times. So, one sting doesn't mean you're safe from more.

Many people also think bees and stinging insects only attack when provoked. While it's true that they are more likely to sting if they feel threatened, this threat can be as subtle as walking near a nest. Bees, wasps, and hornets will defend their colony aggressively if they perceive danger, so it's best to remove nests safely or call in professional reinforcements.

2. A Clean House Has No Bugs

Unfortunately, even the cleanest homes can have pest problems. Most pests are primarily looking for food, water, and shelter, which can be found in any home, clean or not. While cleaning your house regularly can reduce the chances of pests sticking around, it's equally important to seal entry points to stop creepy crawlies from entering your home.

3. 'You Catch More Flies with Honey Than Vinegar'

While we've all heard these common words of wisdom from our Grandma, it sadly doesn’t hold true for pest control. Fruit flies are more attracted to the smell of vinegar or rotting fruit than sweet-scented honey. So, to get rid of fruit flies in your home, you're better off using a cup of vinegar or a fruit fly trap such as this one from Walmart.

4. Seeing a Cockroach Means Your House Is Dirty

Not true. Cockroaches enter homes looking for food and shelter, not because a house is dirty. They can thrive in clean homes, too, if they find food sources and hiding spots. Ensure you've sealed popular roach entry points, maintain a good level of general cleanliness, and try some natural cockroach remedies to ward off these critters.

Likewise, just because you don't see bugs in your home doesn't mean they're not there. Many pests, like termites, roaches, and bed bugs, are experts at hiding.

5. Mosquitoes Only Bite at Dawn and Dusk

While some mosquito species are more active during these times, these blood-sucking pests can decide to nibble on you at any hour of the day if conditions are right. To keep them away, try making your own mosquito repellents.

Another common myth is that bug zappers keep mosquitos away from your front door. Bug zappers attract insects using UV light, which mosquitoes aren't drawn to. Therefore, these contraptions are ineffective and may even attract more insects, worsening the problem.

6. Mice Love Cheese

We've all seen classic episodes of Tom and Jerry, but just how much do mice really love cheese? Well, contrary to popular belief, cheese is not a mouse's preferred dish. Mice are much likelier to want to feast on high-sugar foods like peanut butter, candy, and dried fruit. Peanut butter or chocolate are excellent choices for baiting humane mouse traps if you want to catch a mouse and release it outside.

A cat sat on a blue velvet armchair

(Image credit: Future)

7. Cats Are Effective at Keeping Mice Away

Speaking of Tom and Jerry – while cats may catch the occasional mouse, your feline friend is not a reliable method for controlling a mouse problem. Mice can hide in places cats can't reach, such as inside walls, in attics, or in garages. Therefore, once you've identified a mouse infestation you're better off calling the experts rather than relying on your pet cat to sniff them all out.

8. You Can Get Rid of Bed Bugs With DIY Methods

Getting rid of bed bugs is notoriously difficult. These minuscule pests hide in tiny crevices and reproduce quickly, making professional treatment far more effective than any DIY solution. Attempting to prevent a bed bug infestation on your own can lead to prolonged problems and sometimes even increase the severity of an infestation. So, if you find yourself losing the battle against bed bugs, it's time to call the professionals in.

9. Termites Can't Damage Brick or Concrete Homes

While termites don't eat bricks or concrete, they can crawl through tiny cracks to reach wooden structures within. Therefore, brick and concrete homes are not immune to termite damage, and you should still regularly inspect your property for damage to prevent an infestation and get rid of termites before they become a serious structural issue.

10. Pesticides Are Safe for Children and Pets

While pesticides used by professionals are generally safe when applied correctly, it's important to follow guidelines about re-entering treated areas. Always ask your pest control provider how long you need to stay away from treated zones and keep children and pets away from any pest traps, chemicals, or sprays while in use.

Even natural pest remedies, like using peppermint oil to deter mice, can be harmful to cats and dogs if ingested. So, play it safe and keep your pets away from any potential hazards while they are in use.

11. Rats are dirty creatures

Rats are often considered filthy animals, but they are actually quite clean and spend a lot of time grooming themselves. In fact, domesticated rats are some of the most playful and gentle pets you could ask for. However, wild rats can still spread diseases, so it's important to control rat populations around your home by sealing potential entry points and cleaning up any leftover food from surfaces or floors.

A range oven in a yellow rustic kitchen where food is being prepared

(Image credit: Future / Paul Massey)

12. Grits on the Counter Creates a Barrier for Ants

This myth likely originated in the South, where grits are a common breakfast food. However, like humans, ants view grits as just another food source. They will gladly carry the grits back to their colony and send more worker ants to collect the rest! Instead of acting as a barrier, grits could potentially worsen your ant problem in the kitchen – so this is one pest myth to swerve at all costs.

13. Spraying Water Is an Effective Way to Get Rid of a Spider Web

Sure, spraying water on a spider web will likely destroy the web and cause the spider to relocate, but water alone won’t get rid of a spider, and it will quickly build a new web in a different location. Much like using WD40 to get rid of a spider's web, this method only provides a temporary solution and does not address the root of the spider problem. Plus, you should consider whether or not you actually need to kill a spider in your home. Many spider species are completely harmless to humans, so simply relocating them outside is a more humane approach.

14. Boiling Water Eliminates an Ant Hill

Pouring boiling water on an ant hill can kill many of the ants and destroy the hill. However, it’s unlikely to reach the deeper parts of the colony where the queen resides, and you'll probably find a new ant hill nearby shortly after. You're better off getting rid of ants in your yard naturally using deterrents such as coffee grounds, neem oil, and citrus peels.

15. Bay Leaves Repel Pests

Bay leaves can be a natural deterrent for certain insects due to their strong smell. However, while placing bay leaves in your kitchen can reduce the number of pests on your counters, they won’t eliminate these pests entirely, as they don’t kill them or disrupt their colonies.

There's certainly no harm in employing nice scents that pests hate; just don't expect miracles!

These common pest control mistakes are easy to make, so don't worry if you've missed the signs of an infestation in your home. If you feel like a pest problem is getting out of control, your best bet is to consult a local professional who can provide guidance on an appropriate course of action.

Gabriella Dyson
Head of Solved

Gabriella is Head of Solved at Homes & Gardens. She is a DIY enthusiast and a lover of all things interior design, often found antiquing or browsing the aisles of her local hardware store. 

She has a particular passion for historic buildings and is in the process of renovating a Victorian coachhouse in the British countryside. 

For much of the past decade, Gabriella has worked as a freelance writer, crafting copy for national publications and renowned homeware brands. Most recently, she worked on Homebuilding & Renovating Magazine, focusing on case studies for the magazine and website, as well as writing features about issues surrounding historic and listed building projects.