How to Get Rid of Ticks
15–17 minutes to read | Updated for 2019
You often hear the phrase “fleas and ticks” from pest control providers – as if the two are nearly interchangeable.
Yet these two tiny pests are classified in completely different ways and may carry quite different illnesses. To know if your home is now also home to ticks, you must also understand how they differ from fleas.
Ticks vs. Fleas
- Ticks come from the arachnid family and have eight legs. Fleas are classified as insects and have six legs.
- Adult ticks measure about 2/5 inch, while fleas are much smaller at about 1/10 inch.
- Ticks do not share fleas’ impressive leaping ability and prefer to wait for their prey.
Within the tick family, there are two main types: soft-shell and hard-shell. It’s helpful to know about both for the purpose of protecting your home.
The soft-shell variety does not show aggressive tendencies. These ticks prefer to stay attached to a single host and feed in brief sessions at night (usually less than an hour). In fact, soft-shell ticks act more like bed bugs in terms of feeding habits and don’t venture far from their nest of comfort.
Hard-shell ticks will move from host to host in search of a longer, more satisfying meal lasting a few days or up to a week. They do this through a method called “questing,” which is common to their web-building spider relatives. Hard-shell ticks will wait for prey to arrive, then extend their front legs in the air and latch onto a host passing by. In this way, ticks neither jump nor fly; they simply wait for a new host to appear.
Did You Know?
Ticks are perceptive pests. They can detect breath, body odor, heat, moisture, and vibrations. Hard-shell ticks use these skills in their “questing” to identify the best place to wait for an approaching host.
The main threat to your home comes from hard-shell ticks, which are sometimes known as “three host ticks” because they require a bloodmeal for each of their three life stages. A tick’s life cycle may be broad, ranging from 90 days to three years. Each of the pests we’ll discuss is diurnal, meaning that seeks out a host during daytime.
American Dog Tick (“Wood Tick”)
In its adult stage, this species prefers to target dogs. Humans are a secondary choice for feeding. Nevertheless, the American dog tick can carry significant illnesses.
How To Identify:
When unfed, about 5 mm long; when filled with a bloodmeal, about 15 mm
Most often seen east of the Rocky Mountains
Capable of transmitting Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia
Adult females are most likely to bit humans during spring and summer
Inactive during fall and winter
May be removed by DIY methods
Blacklegged Tick (“Deer Tick”)
In the forests of the northeastern U.S., blacklegged ticks attach themselves to their favorite host, the white-tailed deer. The peak season for these pests runs October through May, and adult females are known to be aggressive.
How To Identify:
3 mm in length unfed (up to 10 mm after feeding) and dark brown or black
This species does not have eyes
Most widespread in northeastern and upper midwestern U.S.
Can transmit Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis
Nymphs and adult females may bite humans any time temperatures are above freezing
May be removed by DIY methods
Brown Dog Tick
Often seen in and near homes, kennels, and animals’ pens, this species is one of the most common around the world. Because of its prevalence, homeowners and pet owners in should be on guard against the brown dog tick, which often spends its entire life cycle indoors.
How To Identify:
3 mm in length unfed (12 mm after feeding)
Brown in color
May carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever to dogs but rarely to humans
Can survive 18 months without feeding
DIY treatment methods are lengthy; professional help may be the better option
Gulf Coast Tick
A wide range of potential hosts will entice this species, which can be found seeking its bloodmeal from birds, rodents, livestock, and humans.
How To Identify:
6 mm in length (unfed)
Reddish-brown with light streaks
Found in the Gulf Coast states and Atlantic coast
May spread multiple kinds of spotted fever
May be removed by DIY methods
Lone Star Tick
Despite the name, this pest is not a native of Texas. Rather, it carries a single, highly visible, white patch on its back that contrasts with the rest of its brown body. Unfortunately, this is one of the most notorious biters among all tick species, posing a threat to dogs, deer, cattle, and humans. Lone Star ticks are especially active in spring and summer in woodlands and grassy areas.
How To Identify:
3 mm in length (unfed)
Seen from Texas to the eastern and southeastern U.S.
May transmit illnesses to people
Nymphs and adult females are quite aggressive and will seek human hosts
Usually inactive during fall and winter
May be removed by DIY method
Step 1. Check Your Clothing and Shower After Outdoor Activity
Any ticks found on clothing should be removed immediately. Place your items in the dryer on high heat from 10-15 minutes to kill off all ticks. If your clothes need washing, use hot water to destroy the pests.
Step 2. Do a Self-check of Your Skin
Use a mirror to inspect parts of your body and your child’s body if you believe ticks are attached. Check the following places:
- In and around the ears
- Inside the belly button and around the waist
- Backs of the knees and between legs
If you do find a tick attached to your skin, use a pair of tweezers to grasp it as close to the skin as possible and pull it out completely. Afterwards, watch for symptoms of rash or fever in the coming days. Consult your doctor if necessary.
Step 3. Control Your Yard
Two simple actions can discourage ticks from finding a home on your property. First, bag up and eliminate leaf litter and tall grasses around your home. Second, distribute gravel or wood chips between your yard and wooded areas to create a buffer zone that prevents ticks from entering.
Step 4. Protect Your Pets
Equip each pet with a tick collar, oral medications, or sprays to shield them from becoming hosts to ticks.
Weather and Ticks
- Spring and summer: Lyme disease represents one of the biggest threats posed by ticks to humans during. The spread of that disease is directly tied to peak activity for ticks, which occurs in late spring and early summer. Summertime outerwear like shorts and thinner tops can make the human body a convenient target.
- Winter: Ticks are resilient and crafty pests that can weather the colder months. Some species go dormant during this time. Others attach to a host and ride out the winter season. Blacklegged ticks are particularly hardy, remaining active as long as the temperature stays above freezing. Still others will seek litter, a pile of leaves, or other debris to insulate them against frost.
Even with a description of the tick seen near or in your home, it may be a challenge to identify the species. If you can capture the tick, call your local cooperative extension office. They can help you determine the species and an effective treatment.
Ticks are unpleasant pests that can be dangerous to both humans and animals. Lyme disease, transmitted by deer ticks, is especially harmful for humans because it can be hard to diagnose at first and leaves extreme symptoms like joint pain, memory problems and chronic fatigue.
Other tick-borne diseases include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick paralysis, and ehrlichiosis (a flulike illness). An integrated approach to pest management can save both the two- and four-legged members of your family from discomfort and illness.
Cleaning up Food and Waste
1. Outdoor Maintenance
Ticks hide in bushy areas, then hitch a ride on your clothing or on your pet’s fur. They will then burrow into your pet’s flesh and embed themselves, making them difficult to remove, so keeping your yard free of ticks is much easier than trying to remove them. Use the following maintenance tips to keep your yard tick-free. Note that many of these steps will also help keep out various other pests, so they’re always good habits to get into:
Trim brush and bushes back in your yard to dissuade ticks from living there. The more sunlight hitting your yard, the better, since ticks like warm and shady areas.
When you and your pet are out, prevent him or her from running into any wooded areas where ticks may hide.
Keep your grass short and don’t overwater it.
Rake leaves and remove any yard debris when necessary. Leaves, sticks, trash and other items that pile up will provide the perfect hiding spot for ticks.
Use mulch around your trees and shrubs to dissuade ticks from making a home underneath them. You can also use mulch or gravel around the border of your house to create a physical barrier against ticks. This is especially suggested for those who live on the border of more wooded areas.
Use a preventative tick spray around the perimeter of your yard. This is different from the types of tick sprays you can use on your pets and closer to your home, so make sure you’re choosing one of the best yard tick sprays on the market.
Try to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants if you’re going to be outside for an extended period of time, and change your clothes after you come back inside.
Give yourself and your pets a check before returning back inside, especially after being near heavily wooded areas. Ticks like warm, moist areas, so pay special attention to your armpits, knees, groin area and scalp, as well as your pet’s head, neck, ears and feet.
2. Indoor Cleaning Routine
Just as maintaining a clean yard can help keep ticks away, it’s just as important to maintain a clean environment inside your home. The following steps are especially important to follow if you’ve found a tick on yourself or your pet, since you’ll want to make sure that others haven’t gotten inside your house through clothing or hair.
Remember: ticks like warm, dry places. Pay close attention to areas of the house that might be creating this environment, such as near heaters during the winter.
Ticks are also tiny, so you’ll want to check in any small, unsuspecting areas, including the space around your doors and windows, around the seams of your couch and clothing, underneath and behind furniture, and on the baseboards of your walls. Ticks also like to climb, so grab a flashlight and check the corners of your walls and molding.
If you have carpets and rugs, vacuum immediately after finding a tick and try to get in the habit of vacuuming at least once a week. If you think you might have a tick infestation, dispose of your vacuum bag afterward.
Remove any clutter from your house to give ticks even less of an opportunity to hide. You should avoid leaving clothes and toys on the floor, and try to keep your storage spaces as clean as possible too.
Sweep and mop as much as you vacuum. Cleaning gives you a better chance of removing a tick from your house before you need to remove it from a body.
3. Preventative Medicine
Just as you can buy special medicated drops to prevent fleas on your pets, you can do the same to prevent ticks. There are both over-the-counter and veterinary prescriptions available for preventative medication, and most sold in a drop or cream form. Usually these last for four to six weeks, so they must be applied on a monthly basis. Always read the instructions on any medication you give your pets, or ask a veterinarian for instructions if you’re receiving the medicine through them.
The active ingredients in medicines that kill ticks include fipronil, pyrethroids and amitraz, while pyrethroids are also used as a repellent. Use these medicines as part of your pets’ overall health regimen, especially if they go outside. There are also different medications that provide treatment for pets who are already infested in order to stop the situation from getting worse or reoccurring; do your research first and find the best type of tick medicine for your dog or cat.
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Manually Removing Ticks
If you’ve seen ticks around your home and know your pet has already been affected by them, you should pair a variety of treatment methods with a regimented task of scanning your pet and manually removing the small insects. Luckily, they’re easy to detect and just need some patient attention from you each day in order to remove them.
- Rub your hands through their fur and over their skin and feel for a bump or a swollen area.
- You can also use a comb to separate thick fur and make sure you’re able to see directly down to their skin.
- The insects themselves may be brown, black, or tan with eight small legs. While some ticks are about the size of a Tic Tac, others may be no bigger than the head of a pin.
- If you encounter a tick already on an animal, safely remove it. Some people recommend painting the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, but these tend to be ineffective measures. Instead, grasp the tick with tweezers as close to your pet’s skin as you can. Pull it out with a straight, slow and steady motion. Twisting or jerking can result in the tick’s head breaking off under your pet’s skin. This can lead to infection if it is not properly removed.
- After removing a tick, drop it into a small jar of rubbing alcohol. Note on the bottle the date that you removed the tick. If your pet starts showing any signs of a tick-borne illness, your veterinarian will want to test the tick to see if it transmitted a disease to your pet.
- Clean the area around the tick bite, then wash your hands and the tools you used to remove the tick. This can prevent infection of the wound and transmission of any pathogens.
If you’re dealing with a lot of ticks, you can also have your vet continually check for ticks at each appointment you have. They’ll do a similar routine as the one outlined above, but can have different tools to make the process faster and more efficient.
Tick collars work the same way as flea collars. There are two different types, which can either emit a gas that repels ticks or contain a medicine that is continually released onto the neck of your pet. These can be an alternative to topical medications, as they’re usually less expensive. However, if you’re dealing with a large infestation, a collar usually won’t be as successful in eliminating ticks as topical medication will be. A good strategy could be using both a tick collar and topical medication together to ensure your pet is efficiently repelling and killing off any ticks that find their way to its skin.
If your pet is afraid of baths, a tick spray can be a good alternative since it won’t get them as wet. The sprays you can use on your pet will contain different, more mild pesticides as compared to the sprays specifically formulated for your yard. The topical sprays will also be different from those formulated for indoor preventative use, which you can use along the cracks and crevices inside your house. Be sure to fully read product labels before applying any type of topical treatment to your pet.
To use a tick spray:
- First check the label to find out how much you can use on your pet and how often.
- Wearing gloves, spray an appropriate amount close to your pet and make sure to rub the medication into their skin so it isn’t just sitting on top of their fur.
- Re-treat your pet as needed
If you’re using the tick spray as a preventative measure and don’t necessarily need chemical pesticides that help kill ticks off, you can make your own natural tick spray. Chemical tick sprays also tend to have a strong odor, so a DIY spray could also be a great option for those who are sensitive to smell.
DIY Tick Spray Recipe
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups of white or apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle and use the solution to spray down your pets at least once a day. If your pets go outside often, you can spray them each time they’re heading out as a preventative measure. Ticks will avoid the smells of both the vinegar and oils, so they’re less likely to embed themselves onto a dog or cat when their skin smells of the ingredients.
Find out what other options you have for the best tick repellents on the market if you don’t have the time or ability to use a DIY method.
- Flea or Tick Shampoo
- Indoor Pesticides
- Around baseboards on your walls
- Along window and door cracks
- Along the corners of your rooms along the floors and ceilings
- Inside any cracks and crevices in walls
Flea and tick collars only repel insects from the head and neck, but topical medications like Frontline and Advantage can be applied to your pets once a month to repel ticks and fleas over their entire bodies and kill off those that are already attached. Make sure that you observe instructions for application. These medications require different doses by weight, and can also be reapplied at different time intervals. Don’t use them on puppies and kittens under six weeks old.
Flea or tick repellent shampoo is another topical option. These products can help remove fleas from animals and repel them in the future. The active ingredients in these shampoos only last for around two weeks, however, making this a labor-intensive option for flea and tick control, but it can be a good treatment to add to an arsenal of multiple methods.
Unfortunately, many pets become stressed when they’re bathed, so you’ll have to gauge how often you’ll be able to use the shampoo. If your pet has been trained to withstand regular bathing, give them a bath using medicated shampoo at least every week, or each time you’re finished combing and manually removing ticks.
Keeping your house clean should be done whether you’re preventing a tick infestation or trying to get rid of one. However, this isn’t the only indoor treatment you should be using. While there are sprays for your yard and pets, there are also indoor pesticides that you can use among the hiding spaces in your home. These usually aren’t recommended to be used directly on carpets and furniture, but you can use a pesticide sprayer on the following areas:
Tick insecticide dusts can be sprinkled along carpets and rugs to kill off any ticks. This lends itself to easy cleanup as well, since you can vacuum up the dust after it’s had enough time to be effective. By using a dust and not a spray, you won’t have to deal with any residues or strong odors.
For a natural alternative, you can use diatomaceous earth on your carpets. This product is available online and is made up of fossilized remains, which are slightly abrasive and can tear up small insects’ skeletons. Food-grade diatomaceous earth is perfectly safe for humans and pets and just feels like a lumpy powder. It is completely non-toxic and can also be vacuumed up after use, just as what you would do with insecticide dust.
These DIY methods are cheap and effective ways to combat small ant problems, but not enough to treat multiple nests plaguing your home, or even a single large nest.
If an infestation is affecting your everyday life and making your home an unsanitary or dangerous place to live inside, call a professional immediately.
Eradicating an ant nest in the house often involves more than just applying spray: a pest control company may have to drill small holes in the wall near the floor. Insecticidal dust may then be applied through the holes with a special applicator or plastic bottle with a nozzle, a procedure especially necessary for carpenter ant control.
Be aware that wood-cutting species like carpenter ants often cause property damage requiring a contractor to repair. These ants can bore long tunnels, or galleries, in wood, greatly weakening load-bearing structures in your house.
Professional pest controllers typically handle a range of insects, but may also specialize in a particular species. They are likely to be highly experienced with the particular ant species that live in your area, as well as pesticides and treatment methods that are safe for children and pets. These experts frequently provide free estimates, allowing you to determine the severity of the infestation before making a financial commitment.
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