What Are Natural Pesticides?

There has been a growing trend in the recent decades for individuals and companies to “go green” or be more environmentally friendly.  There has also been a sentiment that natural and organic products are healthier or safer.  The pest control industry has responded to these changes in our culture and business markets with innovations in products, materials, and methods.  

Requests for “organic” based services have grown to a point where most pest control providers offer services that use only natural pesticides.  However, words like, organic, natural and green have started to become cliché. So what does it really mean in regards to pesticides? For the sake of clarity, natural pesticides refer to products that are derived strictly from sources in nature with little to no chemical alteration.  Synthetic pesticides are products that are produced from chemical alteration.

RELATED: Green Is the New Clean:  Eco-Friendly Pest Control

As in most industries, consumers have numerous choices. Many may ask themselves, “what is the right choice for me and my family or my business?”.  Here are some things to consider when making a choice between natural and synthetic pesticides:

All Pesticides Are Toxic

The suffix -cide is latin for killer (pesticide means killer of pests).  There is an assumption that natural pesticides are safer, healthier, or more environmentally friendly than synthetic products.  Yet the underlying truth with natural pesticides is that they are still toxic substances to some degree.  In fact, some naturally procured pesticides are deadlier or carry a higher risk than synthetic options.  

Nicotine is a good example.  Nicotine is a substance that is naturally produced by some plant species (most notably tobacco).  They do so, for the purpose of defending themselves from insects.  However, it is hazardous to most other organisms, in relatively small quantities.  Although completely natural, nicotine can be very deadly.

Many synthetic pesticides today are designed to target specific species.  Therefore, they carry little health risk for non-target species.  What is toxic for an insect may have little to no effect on a mammal. On the flip side of this argument, there is due cause for concern when some synthetic pesticides are known to be carcinogens, teratogens, or mutagens.  Yet, it is important to note that this is not true of all synthetic or artificially created pesticides. As previously stated, the intent of pesticides is toxicity, but often, the risk is reduced by the way it is used.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Integrated Pest Management (or IPM) has become the cornerstone of the pest control industry.  IPM employs several different tactics to control pest issues, after properly identifying the pest and determining the level of pest infestation.  The use of mechanical traps, habitat alteration, and exclusion methods result in a lesser reliance on pesticides in general.  If rodents can be efficiently trapped or excluded from the building, there is less of a need for rodenticides to be used.  If an area can be sanitized of attractive food sources, there is little or no need of insecticides to kill roaches and flies.  Utilizing several tools for the control of pests means pesticides can be used more sparingly, instead of the “spray and pray” method of previous generations.

When pesticides are needed as a tool in the full spectrum of control, they are used responsibly, in smaller quantities, and in targeted areas.  In regards to structural pest control (in homes and commercial buildings), most material applications do not require a  pesticide to be sprayed in a widespread or open area.  In fact, minuscule amounts are used and typically placed in cracks and crevices where most insects like to hide.  This drastically reduces pesticide exposure to a building’s inhabitants.  With this in mind, the difference in natural or synthetic is almost negligible.  This is because neither material is accessible if used correctly.


Both natural and synthetic pesticides are effective at controlling pests.  However, their modes of action can differ greatly.  They often result in a drastic difference in the length of time it takes to see the intended results.  Pest management professionals often get requests from their organic clients to “use the good stuff” (meaning synthetic pesticide option). This comes after some frustration with dealing with an infestation longer than expected.  Synthetic pesticides often act quickly because they are chemically engineered to target and disrupt specific biological functions within the intended pest.  While natural or organic pesticides will also work if given enough time and patience.  The down side with natural options is that it may require more visits and multiple applications to achieve the same result. Many folks who are dealing with a pest infestation, seem to prefer the issue to be resolved quickly.  They are unwilling to wait for the organic materials to do their job.

Requirements or Mandates

In many industries, consumers are given a vast array of choices in products and services. Under certain situations, the choices are limited due to requirements from 3rd party authorities.  In the pest management industry, organic or natural pesticides may be required in order to comply with a client’s goal of meeting a set of standards or regulations, such as the USDA National Organic Program.  The elimination of pesticide use or the use of natural pesticides may be mandated by the program standards so that a supplier can label and market their goods as “organic”.  

In recent years, varying levels of government have passed laws and ordinances to restrict the use of pesticides for homes and businesses.  The town of Ogunquit, ME passed such an ordinance in 2014 that restricted the use of synthetic pesticides on the exterior of businesses and private homes.  Similar ordinances have been proposed or passed in other towns and cities in the state.  Although the intent of these legislative measures is to do good, the result is fewer choices for resolving pest problems. Even for trained professionals.

In some situations, “organic” materials are a necessity. But for the average consumer, the choice lies strictly with their preference and conviction.  The confusion of consequences from the widespread use of pesticides in decades past has produced a weary and concerned culture today.  Understandably, so. However, improvements in science and pest management industry standards, practices, and training have not eliminated, but considerably reduced the negative effects of pesticide use.  The key takeaway is that all pesticides should be used with caution and respect, whether or not they are of natural origin.

If you think organic pest management might be the right approach for you, contact Modern Pest Services for more information, to get a quote or schedule your service. Our highly trained professionals are ready to discuss how our organic, low-impact, environmentally conscious methods can meet your pest management needs.