Fundamentals of Home Pest Control and Management: Equipment -- Choosing and Using

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Your first consideration is what equipment to buy. This will depend largely on your particular circumstances, and the forms of chemical (liquid, dust, etc.) you intend to use. This last consideration is usually determined by the pests you have and where the chemical will be applied.

Following the usual rule of thumb, get the best equipment you can afford. A $5 spray tank will do the job, but it won’t do it efficiently, and probably not accurately. It will also tend to break down more often, and give out completely, sooner than the more expensive equipment.

If you plan on doing your own pest control from now on—and you should—the investment in better equipment will pay for itself in the long run. Good equipment, properly cared for, can last a lifetime. Or two.

Most places that carry chemicals will also carry various types of equipment. Nurseries, garden shops, hardware stores, do-it- yourself stores, and even some drug and department stores, will have what you need. More cities now have stores that specialize in home pest and weed control supplies. Your best source to find stores that carry equipment is the Internet or telephone yellow pages – look or search for Pest Control Supplies or under Agricultural Supplies (Add your City and State for Internet Search-Engine keywords or keyphrases searches).

A little time on the phone, or email exchange, followed by visits to a few places, can pay off, not only in getting the best price for quality equipment but also in locating the place where you can get all the chemicals, repair parts, and even free advice you might need.


The most common piece of equipment is the pressurized hand tank, which is used for liquids. With most units, the pump is set into the tank and doubles as the handle. Air is pumped into the tank and the chemical is forced through the hose and out of the nozzle.

These units come in sizes from about 1/z to 3 gallons. Also available are backpack units of higher capacity (usually 3 to 5 gallons), but these have limited value for the average homeowner. The 1-gallon size is the usual choice.

pest-2.jpg A large and small plastic spray tank.

The standard of professional exterminators is made by the B&G Equipment Co. This is a stainless steel tank, with brass pump cylinder and fittings. It’s pure quality throughout, and consequently, is much more expensive than anything else you’re likely to find. Even their ½-gallon size will cost more than $150 in most areas, with the most common 1-gallon size approximately $210.

Another reliable “grandfather” company is Hudson Manufacturing. They make stainless steel, galvanized steel, and plastic tanks in a variety of sizes. Their strength is that they produce a line of products for the homeowner on a more limited budget.

With the growing trend of “do-it-yourself” pest control, a number of other companies have come about. Most concentrate al most exclusively on plastic tanks and relatively cheap parts. These tanks work reasonably well, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. There is a reason that you can find a 2-gallon sprayer one place for $20, while another carries a price tag of more than $200 for a smaller, stainless steel tank with brass fittings.

Of the metal tanks, stainless steel is superior because of it’s ability to resist corrosion. A fair second are metal tanks, which are lined with various substances (usually plastic) to prevent corrosion.

Galvanized steel is another common type of metal tank. It’s major advantage is cost (it’s cheaper) but it has a greater tendency to corrode. Some chemicals, such as Roundup, carry warnings on the label that they should not be put into galvanized tanks. Even so, these tanks can last for many years, as long as you remember to thoroughly clean the tank after each use. (For that matter, no tank will last for long without proper cleaning after each use.)

A good compromise of utility, weight, and cost is plastic. It tends to be relatively impervious to corrosion, is light in weight, and is less expensive to manufacture. Unfortunately, most of the “bargain” plastic tanks are made with the cheapest possible parts.

The smallest, least expensive, tanks have the nozzle built into the handle. (These are almost invariably the plastic tanks that hold only a quart or two.) That’s fine for some jobs, but for general and more versatile use, get a tank with a hose attached to a wand.

The nozzle can be adjusted from stream to a fine spray. The least expensive tanks generally adjust in much the same way as a garden hose nozzle. The end is twisted, and the spray comes out in a cone shape. If you can afford one of the better tanks, get one with a nozzle that sprays out in a fan shape. This is more versatile, and safer.

pest-4.jpg One-gallon pressurized hand tank. Stainless steel sprayer. Small capacity stainless steel sprayer.

Cleaning and Repairing

Although it has been mentioned several times, proper care of the tank is critical, regardless of the material, and cannot be stressed enough. After each use be sure to clean the tank, hose, and nozzle with clean water. Empty the tank (preferably by using up the chemical rather than just dumping it, which is, in many cases, illegal). Fill and rinse the tank with clean water. Refill again with clean water, pump up some pressure and allow the water to spray through the hose and nozzle. Release pressure and empty the water that remains. Don’t forget to drain the hose as well (by holding it up higher than the tank while there is no pressure and pressing the release).

The few extra minutes it takes to clean the sprayer will add many years to its life and ensure trouble-free operation. Make it a habit.

If the tank has been sitting unused for a while, it’s a good idea to fill it with just water, pump up pressure, and spray. This way, if something has gone wrong with a hose, gasket, or connection, you won’t find yourself being soaked with poison.

Repairing a hand tank is generally simple. The greatest problem is finding parts. If the local dealer who sold you the tank doesn’t carry parts, you’ll have to call other dealers and possibly have to write to the manufacturer. With the cheaper tanks, repair is often more expensive than buying a new tank. But don’t throw out the old unit. Scavenge it for its parts. And the next time remember the advice given above, keep it clean, and never store chemicals in it.

The first parts to go are usually the gaskets and hose. Most of these simply slide or pop into place. It’s rare that you’ll need more than a few wrenches, and possibly a screwdriver, to do the repair or part replacement.

If the sprayer has brass parts, be especially careful not to overtighten any threaded parts. Brass is quite soft, and you could easily strip the threads or damage the piece.

Should the nozzle clog, never use anything to clean it that is harder than the nozzle itself. A steel needle used on a brass or plastic nozzle will often make the hole larger than it was originally. After that, you might as well throw it away. It probably won’t work properly.

Larger areas can be treated in a number of ways. Professionals most often use a portable power sprayer with a 50-gallon or larger reservoir, and a small gasoline engine to drive the pump. The chemical is pumped through a special high-pressure, chemical resistant hose.

This is an expensive method, however, and usually unsuitable for the average homeowner who might need this just once or twice per year. Even the smallest (about 15-gallons) can cost more than $600.

Most of the chemicals you will be using work just fine with one of the garden hose attachments. This attachment consists of a glass or plastic jar that serves as a reservoir for the concentrated chemical, and a special nozzle. The water flowing through the hose and nozzle creates a suction which draws up the chemical from the jar. It then mixes with the water and sprays out in the needed diluted form.

A few attachments have a trigger. Most, however, have a small hole which, when covered, creates the suction, and when uncovered, stops the suction so that only water sprays. There is usually some kind of set-screw or knob to adjust the dilution rate. This setting is rated either in tablespoons per gallon, or ounces per gallon. (Two tablespoons equal one ounce.)


Insecticide dust is used to treat plants, dry areas, and other specialized treatments. Trying to apply it by sprinkling it directly from the container is inefficient, wasteful, messy, and even dangerous. In almost all cases, if you can plainly see the applied dust, you’ve applied it too heavily. (The exception is when you’re purposely applying a bead of dust, such as around an ant hill.)

In most cases, dust is best applied with a hand-pumped duster. These have a reservoir for the dust (usually about 1 quart or less). A plunger draws the dust from the reservoir and mixes it with air.

The air then acts as a carrier, just as the water does with a liquid sprayer.

Small “garden” dusters can be purchased for just a few dollars and are fine if you intend to dust infrequently. They tend to be unreliable, however. The dust might come out in clumps, or not at all. Within a relatively short time the plunger may break, or the canister might develop leaks.

If you plan to dust often, buy one of the larger, better models.

Power dusters are also available, but are expensive. Fortunately, you won’t often come across a need for one.

The simplest unit looks much like a large fire extinguisher with a removable top. The top is taken off and the tank is partially filled with dust. Then the top is put back in place and sealed tightly. Air is pumped in by an air compressor (like the hose at a gas station). Pressing the trigger allows the pressurized dust/air mixture inside to be sprayed out under force. It’s messy, but effective.

Another type of duster uses an electric motor, much like a hand vacuum cleaner. Generally, these units spread the dust more finely, but they tend to be more expensive.

pest-7.jpg A hand-held duster.


Granules are used in damp areas (outside). A special clay is impregnated with the active chemical. As the clay dissolves, the chemical is released. This makes it particularly good when treating areas that are constantly damp (not soaking wet!) or areas that might become damp. It also means that the moisture of your hand will also activate the chemical.

Never spread granules by bare hand.

A readily available device, manufactured by Ortho, is the Whirlybird. The cost is about $10, which is very reasonable considering the quality and versatility. (It can be used for spreading grass seed, fertilizer, granules, etc., and will last for many years under ordinary use.) A reservoir holds the substance to be spread. A knob on the side sets the size of the opening at the bottom of the reservoir, allowing the Whirlybird to be adjusted to the size of particles to be spread. A hand crank causes a bladed plate to spin and disperse the substance evenly.

Cleaning dusters and granule spreaders is usually difficult. Both dust and granules tend to clump when damp, which means that if you clean the device with water, you have to let it dry completely before using it again. Any dampness can cause it to clog. And because of the construction of most units, you probably won’t be able to take it apart for better drying, or for repairs.


No matter what kind of equipment you’re using, never mix chemicals in the same unit. If you have to change chemicals, thoroughly clean the unit and all parts first. Unless you’re a qualified chemist, you won’t know what the result will be. It could end up being totally useless, or extremely dangerous.

A common mistake is to use the same spray tank for both insecticide and weedicide. Not only do you run the risk of mixing chemicals, you could end up with a slight residue of the weed killer and end up destroying the plants you’re trying to protect from insects.

Don’t think that you can wash out the tank completely. Although the chemicals are water-soluble in most cases, it takes some doing to remove every trace. (Would you want to drink from the tank?) Don’t take the chance. Spend the little extra needed to buy a second and separate tank for weedicides. The cost is less than the cost of replacing a lawn or garden. (And don’t forget to label the tanks appropriately! It doesn’t do much good to have two tanks if you can’t tell them apart.)

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