About Pests

Pests can include insects such as flies, dust mites, cockroaches and bed bugs, rodents such as rats, mice, squirrels and chipmunks, and birds such as pigeons. The sources of pests within a home typically include gaps, cracks and holes in the structure of a home that allow pests to get in from outside. Unclean surfaces, uncovered garbage or improperly stored food can also lead to pests within the home.1

Facts and Figures

  • In 2009, approximately 3,700 homes in the City of Detroit showed signs of rats and approximately 30,000 homes showed signs of mice. In addition, approximately 42,500 homes contained open cracks or holes in walls, allowing easy entry for pests.2
  • Pesticides can release toxic chemicals hazardous to both human health and the environment and should be used only when necessary after preventative methods have been administered.3


Many pests can lead to serious health hazards:

  • Dust mites are tiny, spider-like creatures that can trigger asthma attacks, allergies and rashes in people. Dust mites eat dead skin cells and live in bedding, fabric, dust, furniture and carpets.4
  • For people with asthma, even small amounts of cockroach waste can lead to asthma attacks when inhaled.3 Cockroaches can live up to a month without food but only a week without water and like to hide in tight, dark spaces near food and water.5
  • Rats and mice can carry many different kinds of infectious diseases. Mice leave a trail of urine drops wherever they go; this urine can trigger asthma attacks in people with asthma symptoms. Rats may also bite if they are threatened.3
  • Bed bugs do not directly transmit diseases, but the EPA and CDC call them “a pest of significant public health importance”. They can cause secondary infections when people scratch their bites and can also cause significant sleep deprivation and stress for those exposed to them.3

Gain Control: Actions You Can Take

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a method that focuses on knowing the pest in order to prevent pests from getting out of control. IPM is safer because non-chemical methods are the first line of defense. If chemicals must be used, always choose less hazardous products. Be sure to read warning labels before using any chemical products.6 Below are three simple and effective steps to protect your family from pests:7

  • Starve Them Out! Pests will eat just about anything, but they might leave you alone if they don’t have easy access to food:
    • Seal up boxes and bags of food. Roaches love cardboard boxes and can climb into these items with ease.
    • Store open food in plastic bags or containers, such as cereal, flour, or sugar.
    • Immediately clean up spills and leftover crumbs. Pests love free food left out in the open.
    • Don’t walk around the house while eating. Meals and snacks should be eaten at a table.
    • Clean dirty dishes right away. Pests want whatever is left of your meals.
    • Keep a tight lid on trash, and empty it often. It may be trash to you, but pests see it as dinner. Place trash cans far away from a back door entrance.
    • Don’t leave pet food out overnight. Food can stir up pests’ appetites.
  • Dry Them Out! Although roaches can live up to one month without food, without water roaches can die in a week’s time:
    • Always drain dish water from a sink. Because roaches can swim, a sink full of water might become the site of a roach pool party.
    • Wipe water and other spilled liquids off the counter as soon as you first see it. Puddles are roach magnets.
    • Fix or report leaky faucets, radiators, dishwashers, and washing machines to a building manager.
    • Empty excess water in flower pots and plant stands. A drop of water can be all a roach needs to feel satisfied.
  • Keep Them Out! By keeping roaches and rodents out of your home, you can prevent them from ever becoming a problem. Rodents spend most of their lives hiding. They love cracks, and can squeeze just about anywhere. Think smart, and they can’t move in on you:
    • Seal cracks and openings along baseboards, behind sinks, and around pipes and windows.
    • Repair holes in door and window screens to prevent insects and other pests from entering a home.
    • Check boxes and bags for roaches before bringing them into a home.
    • Clean up clutter, including stacks of newspapers, paper bags, and cardboard boxes. These make good hiding places for pests.
    • Set traps to control rats and mice. If you use baits, make sure they are in a tamper-resistant bait station made of durable plastic or metal, and place in an area where children and pets cannot touch them.

Local Resources for Detroit Residents

For contact information of partner organizations that might be able to provide help with pest hazards in your home, visit our Get Help page.


1U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development: Healthy Home Rating System – Operating Guidance (http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=operating_guidance_hhrs_v1.pdf)
2National Center for Healthy Housing: 2013 State of Healthy Housing Report (http://www.nchh.org/Policy/2013StateofHealthyHousing/LocationSummary/tabid/858/msa/15/Default.aspx)
3Stop Pests in Housing: Integrated Pest Management: A Guide for Affordable Housing (http://www.nchh.org/Portals/0/Contents/IPM-Guide-for-Affordable-Housing.pdf)
4National Center for Healthy Housing: Insects (http://www.nchh.org/WhatWeDo/HealthHazardsPreventionandSolutions/Insects.aspx)
5Stop Pests in Housing: Cockroaches Flyer (http://www.stoppests.org/stoppests/assets/File/Cockroaches_flyer.pdf)
6U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development: About Integrated Pest Management (http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/healthy_homes/healthyhomes/ipm)
7U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Preventing Pests at Home (http://www.nchh.org/Portals/0/Contents/hps_pesticides_preventpests_final.pdf)