Keeping your home out of the spiders' web
Most arachnids are harmless, and even helpful, but that doesn’t mean you want to share your home with them. If the idea of 8-legged roommates makes you squeamish, here’s how to keep them at bay.
Spiders are a lot like snakes. They’re misunderstood, and mostly harmless — even quite beneficial. But you don’t have to be Little Miss Muffet to get a little squeamish at the idea of sharing your tuffet with them. Or your home.
If your home has more cobwebs than a haunted house, what’s the solution? How do you send Charlotte and her web packing?
The arachnid experts have the answers for you.
First, meet your roommates
There are about 3,000 species of spiders in North America. “Most spiders are not truly dangerous. Most spiders are either beneficial or not of any concern,” says Richard Zack, a professor of entomology at Washington State University. So if you find them out in your garden, let them be, he recommends.
And inside? In most cases, “they’re great to have in your house if you can not freak out when you see them,” says Wizzie Brown, extension program specialist in Austin for Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Why? They eat other insects and keep to themselves, usually out of sight. And they don’t damage the house.
But, of course, “it really depends on a person and their comfort level,” Brown says.
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Among the thousands of spiders, there are a few that people fear out of proportion to their actual danger because they have a venomous bite: The hobo spider (PDF), which generally lives in the Pacific Northwest; the black widow (PDF), which lives all over the nation and whose adult female is known for her red hourglass marking on a black body; and the brown recluse, which lives in the central Midwest from Nebraska south to Texas and east to north central Georgia.
Though the bites from these spiders can cause some harm to humans — “There are reported deaths in children which were probably due to brown recluses,” says Rick Vetter, a professor of entomology and a brown recluse expert at the University of California-Riverside — the fear far exceeds the reality. Spiders suffer from a public-relations problem more than anything else, Vetter says. Spiders don’t want to mess with you; they bite only when they’re threatened. (Vetter likes to mention a woman in Lenexa, Kan., who collected 2,055 brown recluse spiders in six months in her 1850s-built home. Her family of four has been living in the home for eight years without any evident bites, he says.)
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Dispatching your unwanted tenants
Let’s say you’ve got lots of spiders in the house, though … and you’re tired of them. Now what?
The experts have some advice:
1. Put down that can of Raid. When it comes to our eight-legged friends, “Pesticide control is difficult and rarely necessary,” says the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program. Spiders are pretty resilient; you’ve practically got to fire the spray right at them. And why fill the air with pesticide when you can just whack ’em with a rolled-up newspaper? (Seriously — that’s one of the methods the experts suggest.)
2. Suck up those suckers. Another preferred method for dealing with spiders and their webs: the good old vacuum cleaner. “Sucking them up with a vacuum cleaner is actually a really easy thing to do,” Brown says. The experience is tidy for you, and it kills the spider. Moreover, says Brown, if you stay diligent and keep sucking up a spider’s web (even if you don’t get the actual spider), the spider often either dies or moves to a more hassle-free place.
3. Toss ’em (outside). If you don’t want to smoosh them, do what Brown does: Simply toss the spiders outside. But, if you do that, she says to make sure you’ve sealed up your house so they don’t waltz right back in. (See below.) Don’t want to handle them? We don’t blame you. Try this: Slip a jar over the creature. Then slip a piece of paper under the jar. Voila!
Keeping spiders at bay
OK — so you’ve tossed the spiders out of the house. Now how do you keep them out?
Turns out it’s not so easy.
“There are no sure, long-lasting control measures for spiders,” Vetter writes. The best defense, experts say, is to create a home that’s not hospitable to them. To that end, there are several things you can do:
1. Close the door. “Try to close all of those openings that a spider can come into,” Zack says. Walk around your house and think like a spider: Where could you slink in? Spiders frequently use the door — or the gaps around one, Brown says. “If you can see daylight around the door, it’s not a good seal.” Check whether screens are repaired.
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Now look more closely around the house’s base. Air vents should be covered in fine hardware mesh that allows for circulation but keeps spiders out. Seal cracks in the foundation. Weep holes around pipes should be stuffed with steel wool, caulked or filled with foam. “That really will go a long way toward solving your problems,” Zack says.
2. Pull it back. Everybody likes a smooth path toward home. That goes for spiders, too. Deny them that. Trim shrubs adjacent to your house. That “will discourage spiders from first taking up residence near the structure and then moving indoors,” according to the University of California. And look up: Cut back tree limbs several feet from the house, Brown says. (That’s also good advice for keeping squirrels at bay.)
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3. Clean up your act. “Both inside and outside, you want to just eliminate as much debris as possible,” Zack says. Why? Spiders generally don’t like wide open spaces. They prefer to hole up in dark little nooks and crannies. Behind stuff. In between things. Under clutter. “Human beings are very, very good at creating ideal situations for critters that were intended to live out of doors,” Zack says. When you remove hiding places, you make a place less inviting.
- Outside: If possible, get rid of woodpiles (especially next to the house), tin cans, piles of cardboard and plywood. “Those are perfect places for insects,” Zack says.
- Inside: Don’t make a pile of shoes in the closet — that’s practically an apartment complex for a spider — but instead hang them on one of those back-of-door shoe hangers, Zack says. Keep items from accumulating on the floor, including books. “Don’t allow things to build up,” Zack says. “Those are great habitats for spiders.
“A little organization will go a long way to helping to eliminate the problem.”
4. Take away their food. You can’t take away everything spiders dine on, experts say. But you can remove some of the obvious insects that make your home a supermarket. For instance, some outdoor lighting attracts insects, which then attracts spiders. “If possible, keep lighting fixtures off structures and away from windows and doorways,” says the University of California.
Next, figure out whether you have insects in the house, from flies to earwigs to fruit flies — and determine how to reduce their numbers, Brown says. If you have a lot of flies inside, you can reduce your spider population by fixing your screens, covering food and taking out the trash more often.
5. Take the fight to the bedroom. Small children and infants can be more vulnerable to the bites of spiders. And small children also spend more time in bed, where spiders seem to like to hang out. (Some brown recluse bites occur when a sleeping person rolls over on one, trapping it, says the University of California.) If you’re nervous about spiders in the bedroom, try these simple strategies:
- Move your the bed away from the wall.
- Remove any skirts or ruffles that would give a spider an easy ladder up onto the top of the bed.
- Put sticky traps beneath the legs of the bed; they will stop spiders from reaching the legs.
- If really nervous, hang a mosquito net over the bed.
- Don’t store items under the bed; keep it clean and empty.
- Finally, don’t leave clothes and shoes on the floor.
6. Spray anyway? “If you are seriously afraid, and you do have problems with spiders — say you have an old home and you can’t close all of those openings — then I would talk to a reputable pest-control operator,” Zack says. A company can put perimeter sprays around the house — barriers that the spiders can’t cross, at least until the sprays wear off with time and weather.
Inside, the pros have “sorptive dusts containing amorphous silica gel (silica aerogel) and pyrethrins,” according to the University of California. Those dust particles dry out the spiders and insects that they touch. “When applied as a dustlike film and left in place, a sorptive dust provides permanent protection against spiders. The dust is most advantageously used in cracks and crevices and in attics, wall voids and other enclosed or unused places.
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But Zack says to be wary of the promises that pest-control companies make. “Talk to the person who’s coming out to do that and get a feel for what they can help you solve,” he says. “Does someone say they’ll come spray your yard for spiders?” he asks. “You don’t need that; that would be a waste of your money.” And be realistic, experts say: You’re not going to banish all spiders from your home — especially an older home.
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Living smartly in SpiderLand
Once you come to terms with the idea that you’ll never get rid of all your home’s spiders — and that the ones that remain don’t want to hurt you — the less anxious you’ll be. Still, you should practice a little common sense with your remaining housemates, say the experts:
1. Suit up. If you’re going to be thrusting your hands into darker, less-traveled places — into woodpiles, under manhole covers, into attics, under beds — buy and always wear a good-quality pair of leather or thick cotton gloves,” Zack says.
2. Wash and wear. If you’ve stored clothes in the attic or put winter sweaters in storage, spiders may have crawled inside to hang out. Launder or dry clean them to kill what’s in there, or at least shake them out thoroughly, Brown says. Ditto with shoes from the back of the closet: Shake them out before wearing.
3. Seal it up. An unsealed box “is an ideal spider habitat,” Zack says. When storing things in your basement — such as those clothes — store them in sealed plastic containers, not just cardboard boxes, where “it’s easier for them to crawl in,” Brown says.
4. Heads up. “Be aware of what you are doing,” and don’t be on autopilot while working, Brown says. Many bites occur when the spider gets put in a bad spot — say, when you pick up a piece of firewood that it calls home, and then you press the kindling to your body.
5. Keep it clean. If you do get a spider bite, wash it thoroughly and apply an antibiotic, if possible. (Studies today are starting to cast real doubt on old ideas that some spiders have “necrotizing” venom that killed the flesh around the bite; the truth may simply be that the victim got a bacterial infection at the spot, Zack says.)
If you do fear you’ve been bitten by a venomous spider, wash the wound and go to a doctor immediately. If possible, take the spider with you.
But most of all, the experts say, try not to get too spooked. In the end, you’re probably managing your own irrational discomfort as much as you’re managing spiders.
I have lived on Vancouver Island B C in an R V and also in Ontario, in both places I have been able to find BLACK WALNUTS which when scattered around in inconspicuous places ( under couches,on basement beams etc. have been very successful at keeping the little pests out.Don,t know why this works but it does.
It was told to me by another R V,er, so I tried it. I have only seen 2 small ones in 9 years
I don't care how helpful spiders can be and I am NOT catching them and putting them outside... if I see it I am killing it or getting someone else to kill it. I prefer someone else killing it; I don't want to get that close. We have some around here that are black with little white spots, and those are aggressive and jump at you instead of running away.
I have always been terrified of spiders; Mice, rats, snakes... I am not afraid of any of them, but spiders freak me out. I hate roaches too, but I am not scared of them... I hate them b/c they are just nasty.
A sure fire spider blocker is a mixture of coconut oil and vinegar. Tried it after seeing an infomercial about pests around the house. And it seems to work
I have been putting a mixture of 2 to 1 of coconut oil and vinegar in a spray bottle
and spraying anywhere I see a web or spider and they seem to be gone and not
coming back, it's been 5 years and not a one has been seen since.
We bought an older home in a wooded area and recluses were EVERYWHERE. I would wake up in the middle of the night to check my son's room and jump every time something tickled my legs. I prayed that the house would burn down while we were gone. My husband thought that spraying in and around the house would fix the problem, but it made it worse-much worse. They just eat anything that the spray kills, with no competitors and multiply. I am very particular from May to October about leaving nothing on the floor. I caulked gaps around trim and baseboards. I store everything in tight plastic bins and vacuum the baseboards, under the beds and around window frames. No bed skirts or puddle curtains for us. We have cots for extra guests-no air mattresses on the floor. The best treatment though, has been the use of glue traps. I use about 20 in my house, placing them around the edges of the room in inconspicuous places. I buy them in bulk off ebay. You will catch fewer and fewer as time goes on if you keep things tidy. So far, no one has been bitten.
Brown recluses are small to medium-sized spiders and you won't see the "fiddle" on their back unless they are light colored and you are six inches away. The legs of a huge recluse would barely spread across a quarter and most are nickel-sized or smaller. They don't sit in webs waiting for their food-they run around looking for it, particularly at night.
I love spiders. They really are quite fascinating little creatures. I've always had a few
around my old house. They don't bother me and I don't bother them. Now if one
happens to be in the way I will politely ask him to move on, if he doesn't I escort
him elsewhere. ****roaches on the other hand are invited to see the bottom
of my shoe....
I had brown recluse spiders in my carport and was bitten several times. I finally took action:
1. I got up at 5a.m. every day for a week and sprayed the area where I was finding their webs with a commercial water based insect spray. 2. I vacumned up their webs and egg casings on the 8th day. 3. I sprayed my entire carport with 3 to 1 bleach. It's now 2 weeks later and no new webs.
They don't call it a brown "recluse" spider for nothing. They are very reclusive, seldom out in the open let alone crawling up people's legs or feet. They stay pretty much out of sight, and prefer darker places. Also, the brown recluse is not a large spider. Sounds like you were bitten by what I've always heard called a large "garden" spider. Not venomous, but they definitely have teeth! As the article points out, spiders are aware that anything the size of a human is NOT prey and will almost never attack a person unless threatened in some way. In California, we have tarantulas large enough to kill and eat mice, and they can jump! However, these spiders are not common in populous areas.