The holiday season and guests go together like twinkling lights and fir trees, or peppermint and chocolate. However, while you might be eager to welcome family and friends to your home, you'll probably be less excited to receive a visit from another all-too-common type of holiday "guest" — pests.
Pesky insects invade houses through a number of routes during the holidays. Indian Meal Moths can ride in with grains you purchased to make baked goods. Merchant Grain Beetles, despite their name, can take up residence in cake mixes and boxes of pasta. Spiders and other insects can hitch a ride indoors on Christmas trees. Boxes of decorations that were stored in attics, garages or outbuildings during the rest of the year can yield up a variety of insects — and even rodents — when you bring them inside for the holidays.
The National Pest Management Association offers some tips for keeping your home pest-free during the holiday season:
Ditching pests before decking the halls
Holiday decorations evoke the spirit of the season, and decorating the house is a fun tradition for many families. Take steps to ensure that when you deck the halls, your decorations are pest-free.
Greenery like trees, wreaths and garlands can harbor spiders, mites, moths and other pests, as well as their eggs. Holly boughs, pine branches, pine cones and other natural items commonly used in holiday DIY projects may also host insects. Before bringing anything indoors, give it a good shake outside. Then, inspect items for pests or eggs that may be hiding in branches, or on leaves and needles. These steps will help ensure you don't bring anything into the house with natural decorations.
Decorations you reuse — and store from year to year in the attic, garage or outbuildings — can also become infested. Insects and rodents can find their way into storage areas and boxes throughout the year, so when you bring decorations out of storage, unpack boxes outdoors first. Check for pests like mice. Rodent droppings and gnaw marks — especially on light strands — are evidence of mice. Discard any decorations that appear to have been chewed on, especially electrical items.
At the end of the year, give yourself a head-start on a pest-free holiday next year by storing decorations properly. Use sturdy, hard plastic containers with secure lids to store decorations in the garage, basement, attic or outbuildings. This will help ensure rodents and insects can't get into the decorations throughout the year.
Feasting is for family, not pests
Cookies, gingerbread houses and even fruit cake — many families love the tradition of holiday baking. However, nothing spoils holiday baking plans faster than finding bugs in a box of flour. Beetles, ants, earwigs, weevils, pillbugs, moths and a variety of other critters can get into stored food and infest an area in a short amount of time. Flour, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, grains and other baking items are at risk.
Fortunately, you can take steps to ensure pantry pests don't dim your holiday spirits:
* Did you know that most pantry pests ride home in items like paper grocery bags, cardboard or plastic bags? When you shop for groceries, inspect the packaging of all items before putting them in your cart. If a package is open or shows even slight signs of damage, don't buy it. Promptly recycle any grocery bags you bring home, or — even better — use your own washable cloth grocery bag to carry items. You'll not only have peace of mind knowing that no pests are riding home in shopping bags, you'll also be doing something good for the environment!
* Before baking season begins, go through your pantry and cupboards to visually check for signs of pests. Sift through powdered ingredients to ensure they haven't become infested while in storage. Check expiration dates and throw away anything that's been stored too long.
* When you bring new ingredients home, store them securely in plastic or glass containers with tight-fitting lids.
* Clean up spills and crumbs on countertops, tables, floors and shelves right away, and don't let trash build up in the kitchen trash container. Dispose of garbage regularly in sealed containers outdoors. From time to time throughout the year, empty cupboards and the pantry, and clean shelves with soap and water.
* Check around your kitchen and pantry for any cracks or holes where pests could get in. Seal openings around stovepipes and water pipes. Eliminate sources of moisture, like leaking pipes or clogged drains.
If you catch pests early, you may be able to prevent an infestation. But if an infestation has taken firm root in your home, consult a licensed pest professional to inspect and treat the problem.