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Updated Jul 15, 2022

The photo shows a worker applying a pesticide to a lawn. The worker is wearing gloves, long pants, and closed shoes to minimize exposure.

What are Pesticides?

Pesticides are products designed to kill rodents, weeds, mosses, insects, plant diseases, slugs, and snails. Household disinfectants such as bleach and ammonia are considered pesticides. Flea-killer products are too.


  1. All Pesticides Have Some Amount of Risk
  2. Home-made Traps
  3. Don’t Make Home-made Pesticides


The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC)  can answer questions about pest control chemicals.
 1-800-858-7378 or  


  • All pesticides have the potential to cause harm when used carelessly.
  • Consider stepping back to look at other options for controlling your pest problem.
  • Even essential oils and soaps can be harmful to the skin and eyes. Some people may be allergic.
  • Children, pregnant individuals, and the elderly are more sensitive to toxins.
  • The dose makes the poison. Even water is harmful in high enough doses. Small quantities of extremely toxic substances can cause harm.
  • Take steps to minimize exposure to pesticides.

Keys for Success

  • Avoid concentrated pesticides. Mixing pesticides poses risks of exposure.
  • You can avoid mixing pesticides by selecting products that are ready-to-use.
  • To maximize a product’s effectiveness, follow the label directions closely: no more, no less.
  • Avoid restricted-use pesticides. They are identified with the words “Restricted Use Pesticide” in a text box on the front of the label. Restricted-use pesticides require a pesticide applicator’s license to buy/use them.
All Pesticides Have Some Amount of Risk

All pesticide products carry some degree of risk to people and the environment.

The risk of pesticides depends on:

  • Exposure—How much chemical you’re exposed to
  • Toxicity—How poisonous the chemical is

To learn more, see Understanding Pesticide Risks  (National Pesticide Information Center).

How to Minimize the Risks of Pesticides

  • The lowest risk comes with using no pesticide(s) at all.
  • You can minimize the need for pesticides by using Integrated Pest Management methods. IPM examines the benefits and risks of control options to determine which method(s) to use for your situation. See Integrated Pest Management  (NPIC).


  • They have detailed information on how to use the product correctly and legally.
  • They contain information on potential hazards of the product. This includes instructions you should follow for poisonings and spills.
  • They provide information about storage and disposal of the product.
  • They offer instructions to help you to minimize the risk of exposure of pesticides to you, children, pets, and wildlife. The instructions also help you maximize the benefits.
Gloved hands holding herbicide package to read label

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

Read the entire label front to back. Follow the instructions. Review the instructions even for brands you know. Only apply the product where the label says it may be applied. Keep all pesticides in their original container.

Gloved finger pointing to application rate table on pesticide label

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

Follow the product application timing and rate schedule stated on the label. It is illegal to use more pesticide than what is stated on the label. It’s also illegal to apply pesticides more often than stated on the label. Overapplying does not improve performance.

When other methods have failed, you can compare products in several ways

1) Look for a pesticide product with the signal word CAUTION on the label.

  • That means it would take a lot of the product to poison someone, in most cases.
  • It might trigger allergies, however.

2) Look for a pesticide product that carries no signal word, and no EPA Registration Number.

  • Some pesticide products with natural ingredients are exempt from EPA registration requirements, including the requirement for a signal word.
  • When used according to label directions, many of these products pose very low risk.

3) Look for equipment and supplies that could be used as alternatives to pesticides.

  • Consider removing weeds with tools and using mulch and/or landscape fabric.
  • For insects, consider netting material to exclude the pests. Use sticky traps and traps with lures.
  • For plant disease control, think about ways to increase air flow in your plantings with supporting structures (trellises), fans, or other methods.
  • For rodents, look at the selection of traps, Xcluder® cloth for plugging entry points, and wire mesh to exclude them.

These organizations have shared lists of lower-impact pesticide products

Grow Smart Grow Safe  
Thurston County, Washington

Reduced Risk Pesticide List  (PDF)
San Francisco Department of the Environment

Directory of Least-Toxic Pest Control Products  (PDF)
Bio-Integral Resource Center

Less-Toxic Product List  
Our Water, Our World

Pesticide Product Toxicity Ratings  (PDF)
City of Austin, Texas

Home-made Traps
  • Traps can be used for monitoring to keep an eye out for pests.
  • Traps can also be used to reduce pest populations in a limited area.

Here are some traps you can make at home

Home-made fruit fly trap

For fruit flies in the kitchen:

  • Fruit flies tend to walk upward on vertical surfaces. To make a trap, use any funnel attached to a container with vinegar solution. Leave it out in the open for several days.
  • Another method is to put out a cup of fruit or juice as shown in the photo. Put a bit of dish soap in the solution. The soap causes insects to become trapped in the liquid.
Slugs and snails in beer trap

"Beer Trap Success" by SteveR- is marked with CC BY 2.0.

For slugs & snails in the garden

  • Put some beer in a plastic yogurt cup, or a similar container, and sink it into your garden soil so it’s level with the soil surface.
  • Slugs will be attracted and fall into the beer. Replace the beer and remove dead slugs often.
Home-made trap for yellowjackets

For yellowjackets & wasps

  • Use a container with a small entrance.
  • Fill the container about ½ full with water. Add a drop of dish soap. Bait it with sugar or protein to attract yellowjackets.
Home-made bed bug trap

UF/IFAS Entomologist Dr. Rebecca Baldwin

For bed bugs:

Don’t Make Home-made Pesticides

Please dont use recipes from the internet to mix your own pesticides

  • You could put your family and the environment at risk.
  • Registered pesticides have been tested for their toxicity to people, wildlife, and the environment. Label directions are based on those tests, to protect sensitive sites and organisms.
  • Your home-made pesticide could pose more risk than a registered pesticide product.
Spray bottle, blender, dish soap, and cooking oil


  • Home-made solutions with vinegar, soap, or other ingredients are not recommended for use as a pesticide.
  • They have not been tested as weed killers in terms of safety. There aren’t standard instructions for them.
  • Homemade solutions have not been tested in terms of effectiveness. Your efforts might not work as well as you want.
  • You could harm yourself, desired plants, or the environment.

Here are some of the risks of homemade pesticides

  • Too much salt can sterilize the soil for a long time.
  • Highly concentrated soap solutions can burn plant foliage and cause harmful runoff.
  • Vinegar solutions can cause irreversible damage to the eyes.
  • Essential oils can be highly irritating or worse for individuals with allergies.

When you mix a home-made pesticide, it could:

  • Create toxic fumes
  • Stain or destroy your belongings
  • Burn through the container and spill

Content provided by Kaci Buhl and Weston Miller.

 Peer reviewed by OSU Department of Horticulture.

Photo of Kaci Buhl

Kaci Buhl

At the state level, I lead the Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP). The program hosts live recertification events around the state, serving over 1,000 licensed pesticide applicators each year. We also produce web-based training modules and license-preparation study manuals. Special training for unlicensed pesticide applicators is also available through a grant from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The PSEP at OSU works closely with the Oregon Department of Agriculture's Pesticides Division.

Photo of Weston Miller

Weston Miller

Project Founder and Content Writer

Weston Miller served as Community and Urban Horticulture faculty for Oregon State University Extension Service for Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties. Weston is an author for content for this website. He developed funding partnerships with Portland area agencies to initiate and build out the Solve Pest Problems website focused on this goals:

Pesticide Safety & Efficacy Resources

Low-Risk Pesticides  
National Pesticide Information Center

Minimum-Risk Pesticides  
National Pesticide Information Center

Do-it-yourself Insect Pest Traps  
University of Florida Extension

Bed Bugs  
National Pesticide Information Center

Safe Use Practices for Pesticides  
National Pesticide Information Center

Data Requirements for Pesticide Registration  
National Pesticide Information Center

Regulating Pesticides Through Risk Assessment  
National Pesticide Information Center