Get the Best of Pests for Less?

Let's face it: We all do enough battle with the pests in our lives without having to face down the likes of ants, roaches and rodents. But when unwelcome critters decide to make themselves at home in your living space, what's the best plan of attack? We'll find out in today's Savings Experiment.

In the case of ants and mice -- two of the most common invasive pests-the first choice you'll want to consider is whether to bring in the exterminator, or do the work yourself. On the exterminator front, many options exist; your area likely has its share of locally owned businesses just a phone call away. In the case of the national companies, we checked out two -- Orkin and Terminix -- to see what they offer.

Orkin's plan for roaches, rodents and ants will set you back about $674 annually, but with a $50 discount available in most cases if you ask for it. That covers a year's worth of visits, scheduled every two months, and an initial visit where a technician treats your home inside and out, injecting pest killers into the crevices where beasties hide. If bugs return between visits, Orkin will visit your home again free of charge. I called on a Friday and Orkin offered to have a technician come out first thing Monday. Their products are people- and animal-friendly and conform to federal EPA standards.

Terminix, at about $682 annually, offers a slightly more expensive year-long service with just four quarterly visits. Like Orkin, they'll return to your home free of charge if you spot pests between treatments, and they use safe materials for pest abatement. But I did spot some consumer complaints regarding Terminix on the Internet, some from former employees. And yes, that bugs me.

You may also want to check your region to see if any exterminators offer all-natural solutions for ants and mice. In the Chicago area, Plus Natural Solutions of north suburban Skokie offers a one-time mice service for about $130, which includes a follow up call, and an all-season plan for spring and summer ants in the $300 price range. They use enzyme-based products and cedar oils that are completely non-toxic, so safe you can actually drink them.

For people outside Chicago, Plus Natural Solutions will ship you a two-bottle package of its Enzymatic Cleaner and Minimum Risk Pesticide concentrates for $60 plus shipping and tax. That's enough to cover eight home treatments total, plenty of bug-killing power. But does it work? Well, the products are offered by Rick Moskovitz, an exterminator who's been in business since 1979. He switched to an all-green enzyme approach about five years ago and his biggest endorsers include Chicago-area restaurants and food warehouses.

This brings us to those homemade remedies you might want to try for ants and mice. All over the Internet, you can find all sorts of tips on how to get rid of ants; one cheap cure touted in many places involves a mix of boric acid, sugar and water. A pound of boric acid, also known as borax, will run you about $8 -- but beware as the stuff's highly poisonous. I'm not about to try this around my kids, who are known to eat just about anything ... except broccoli and vegetables.

Another novel idea for ants: dried grains such as grits, oatmeal and cornmeal. These grains swell when they come in contact with water so an ant that eats them explodes once the grains hit its stomach. Still, sprinkling instant banana nut oatmeal on your kitchen floor might not do much to help that mice molestation. Cost to you: about 50 cents!

What's that cliché about building a better mousetrap? The world's come a long way since those $2 snap-and-snuff contraptions you see in every Tom and Jerry cartoon. Victor makes some fairly sophisticated models that you can buy at hardware stores or online at places such as These run the gamut from the Victor Electronic Mouse Trap ($20) that kills a mouse in a humane 10-second shock to the menacing-looking M260 Multi-Kill Electronic Mouse Trap ($100). This high-voltage House of Mouse Death can kill up to 10 rodents at once and includes-get this-a "Shock N' Drop Chamber" where dead rodents get deposited into a collection drawer.

OK, so maybe that's your idea of fun. But keep in mind that with any DIY solution, you're the one who's going to have to stay on top of the pests, which means you should plan on investing some time and energy into getting the job done right. If that's your plan, be sure to talk to the experts first. They're all over the Internet, even at places such as Facebook, and stand ready to give you free advice. One place offering up free kill tips-and we love this name-is Absolute Death Pest Elimination in Brooklyn.

So which solution would we recommend? While we agree with the experts that a single treatment won't be enough to get rid of an established pest problem, we also say that green's the way to go, especially when pets and kids are involved. That's not to say commercial services are unsafe -- quite the opposite. But a combination of some fancy Victor traps and Plus Natural Solutions enzyme treatments sounds like a great combination of ultra-safe, tested methods that should prove cost-effective as well. We also highly endorse any pest control service moving over to all-green technologies. In any Savings Experiment, it's a big plus when you can save the planet that sustains us all.
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