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How to treat your air vents for bugs

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by The Bug Doctor

What do you do when you’re chasing a spider or a roach only to have it escape into an air vent? If you douse the opening with Raid or poof some boric acid dust into it guess what will be coming out in about 10 minutes when the air kicks on. That’s right, you’ll either have the smell of your aerosol and or any airborne pesticide particles floating around your living area and this sometimes can go on for days. This is not good and for obvious reasons you should ALWAYS avoid spraying anything into air vents or air returns.

I’m often asked to spray in air vents but my usual reply is; “Sure, I can do that and when I’m done can I spray in your fish tank?” Of course the answer is always NO and a look of puzzled concern always follows. I explain that both actions are about the same because I’m putting pesticide in a place where you cannot avoid breathing it and I have no control of where it goes. Just as your fish will surely take ill it would be no less irresponsible for me to treat your vents in this way.

Can vents be treated?

The short answer is yes but your options are sort of limited. The best way is to simply remove the vent and place a fold up glue trap inside the vent. Since roaches and spiders can easily walk around the trap there is no guarantee you’ll catch them and while baiting with a smear of peanut butter might entice the roach it will give your home that nice aroma of a 3 day old school lunch sack. Maybe you want to think about that. You could spray around the vent but drywall sucks up liquids and it’s doubtful any residual would be on the surface in enough of an amount to provide a lethal dose. Plus you still may get airborne chemicals when the heat or or a/c turns on. Some vents are vertical and it is difficult place a trap inside, for these types what I sometimes do is place wide strips of clear packing tape over the vent leaving thin slits (1/4 to 1/2 inch wide) so that the air can still come through but when the insect tries to crawl out to freedom he will get stuck and die. Packing tape is great because you can still see into the vent and it usually comes off cleanly whereas masking or duct tape won’t.

Can bugs live in vents & do they come in from them?

Almost all bugs are sensitive to air currents in one way or another and roaches will actually avoid the air from a fan. To much direct forced air will begin to dehydrate the bug and if they do spend some time in a vent it won’t be long before they start looking to get out. As far as spiders or bugs entering your living areas from the vents, it’s not likely unless you have a break or tear in one of the ducts. In one case I treated a home that had fleas only in a tub and not all the time. After being Picture 19 300x246 How to treat your air vents for bugspuzzled for awhile the a/c kicked in and I suddenly had fleas on my shoulders and head. The air vent above the tub was kicking them out every time the air went on and upon further inspection we found a birds nest in a large tear of the flexible air tubing in the attic. The nest was removed, attic treated, the duct fixed and the clear tape trick got the rest. What happens most concerning vents and pest entry is that the vent itself is not sealed tightly up to the ceiling. Critters in the attic follow the air current, see the light or detect food odors through the opening and the slip through right next to the vent. This gives the illusion that they are in the vent which is almost never the case. While I may dust into the void to block them I most often suggest sealing up the opening.

These same rules apply anytime you are using pesticides and would include car vents, box fans, window a/c units or anything that will return your spray back to you in an uncontrolled way. If you think creatively you can get around the use of residual sprays in these areas and still get rid of your pest. You just need to think outside the vent.


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  • ivy

    Our dryer vent and all air vents that’s on roof got clean out recently now every one getting bit by something the apartment complex says when you find out what it is they call in someone to spray what can it be

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    ivy–they are correct. It could be any number of things. The first step in pest control is to ID your pest. That way you can go ahead with a treatment that will work.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    I see roaches, spiders etc. ‘go in’ vents a lot. It may be to escape or the darkness might look like safety. Under normal circumstances they won’t make a home out of it-nor are they coming from the duct.. Use the tape trick and you can usually catch the rogue vent trespasser.

  • Sara

    We just had a large male raccoon (covered in deer ticks) removed from our attic/crawl space. We recently noticed that the deer ticks were coming into our living space from the air vents and returns above. We have pets, children and pregnant people staying in the house and can’t do aggressive pesticides. We have a virtual infestation of Lyme ticks in our home — like a horror film. Any suggestions? We need help ASAP.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Wow that’s terrible. I’m not sure there are any ‘home remedies’ that would help besides being vigilant with a vacuum cleaner with hose attachment and perhaps some alcohol in a sprits bottle. But it sounds like you need way more. If they are coming out of the vents and or around them I think the tape trick may help catch a few. But honestly I think I’d call in a pro and see if they can’t make short work of it. The fear of ticks crawling all over the place to me is far worse than some well placed pest control products.

  • Rebecca

    Just recently we have started having a problem with fleas in one of our bathrooms. I have been vacuuming every day, sometimes twice a day and I have sprayed bug spray that says it kills fleas but nothing is working. Within a day they are back and they do not seem to be infesting the rest of the house, just this bathroom. We can’t figure out how this happened or why we can’t stop it so far. Our cat is treated every 30 days for fleas and she does not go outside and does not even go in that bathroom, she hangs out mostly in our downstairs or in our master bedroom and bath. She even sleeps with us and there are no fleas biting us in bed or around the rest of the house. We are about to try the flea bomb because the spray I’m using doesn’t kill the eggs so I figure this is why I can’t get rid of them but I just want to know why only that bathroom and how? Oh and the whole house including that bathroom is tile and hard wood there are no carpets. What could be the reason for this.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    most likely not fleas–or that’s my guess by what you’ve described. I’d be inclined to say you have springtails as this is a common story line… http://pestcemetery.com/dry-springtails/

  • Alex

    Hi! Great article. Thanks for it. I have a question for you about silverfish. I just moved into a new apartment, the building’s not that old, built in 2007 and it never occurred to me I’d have a problem. I found lots of the little critters in the kitchen, the laundry room and the bathroom. I used boric acid and spread it along the baseboards and in the bottoms of lower cupboards. Seems to have brought everything pretty much under control, except I’m puzzled about the bathroom. I had a week of not seeing any and then suddenly I found four of them, seemed very healthy, not impacted by the boric acid at all. They were also in the middle of the bathroom floor. I put a glass to cover the drain in the shower and closed the drain in the sink at night, and again I found more. The only thing I can can think is that they are coming out of the vent in the ceiling. There isn’t a fan in it, at least not one that I can control, but it’s there to allow the steam out of the room. Will your tape trick work for silverfish? I know they can squeeze through very small openings, and don’t they also see tape as food? Won’t I be attracting even more? Thanks so much for your help.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    The attic is most likely where they’re at. Sounds like that vent may just end up inside the attic since there is no fan. If you can screen the other end that may help. The tape won’t attract them and should work btw.

  • Christine

    Lately every 1 to 2 weeks I feel find at least 15 to 20 baby spiders around our stove. Do u think they are coming from the air vent to the fan above it?

  • Brionna Lashea

    HI, I live in a 4 story apartment complex. I live on the third floor. I’ve lived here for a few months now and I had to have the apartment sprayed when I first moved in. I thought the bugs were gone, but in the past week, I’ve seen a roach in my bathroom, and one climbed out of the air vent in my bedroom. I haven’t seen them any other place in the house. I say roaches because that’s what they look like, but I could be wrong, they may be water bugs but either way how would I get rid of them before it becomes a problem. I’m not a dirty person at all, is it possible that there is an issue in another apartment?

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Apartments are a ‘shared’ problem situation in many cases. You share common walls, plumbing, electric wires using same space etc. I’d consider having regular service. Most complexes already offer this so you might want to check with mgt.

  • Nonni

    I live in an apartment that has huge issues with yellow
    jackets coming in. I bought some foam at
    a fabric store and cut it in strips and pushed it down between the carpeting
    and the baseboard to at least trap them from just walking in. I had secured window screening with duct tape
    inside all of my heat registers and cold air returns, but over time I noticed
    that the duct tape loosens. Also, you
    cannot really clean the screening very well and it should be cleaned every year
    in the cold air returns because the dust collects on your screens and can block
    air flow. You will be amazed how clean
    your furnace filters will be when you have screening on your cold air
    returns. Now that the screening is
    coming loose I decided to buy some of that white netting that is sold for
    bridal veils in the fabric store. It is
    very stiff and you can buy it with holes that are the same size as metal
    screening. The downside is that tape
    resists sticking to it. I got around
    this problem by putting two way sticky tape on the outside of my vents first,
    pressing the material down on top of the tape and then running a bead of
    Elmer’s glue on top of the material where it joined the sticky tape. Applying the netting to the outside of the register
    makes it easier to vacuum the netting material.
    Just because your cold air returns on the floor are covered with screen
    or netting, this doesn’t mean that the bugs can’t get in. They can still come in if you have any space
    around the cold air return, including the space on the bottom hidden by
    carpeting. This is why it is important
    to use the foam strips to press between the carpeting and the baseboards. Also, when dealing with bugs check all
    around your windows for spaces, cover any bathroom fan vents or fan vent over
    the stove with netting. There is also a
    rope caulk weatherstrip sold in hardware stores that never dries out and can be
    pressed into cracks. And just ordinary packaging
    tape, duct tape or even masking tape can be your first line of defense when it
    comes to bugs.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    You covered a lot there…Thx.

  • Nonni

    I just wanted to revise my previous post about applying the
    white netting to my heat registers. I
    noticed that it says on the Elmer’s glue bottle that it doesn’t work well if used
    where it will be exposed to heat. So I
    bought some white Duct tape and after first putting the two way sticky tape
    down and then my netting, I covered both with a strip of the white Duct
    tape. This managed to stick to the
    tape-resistant netting really well and has a better grip than the glue.

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