If you'd "never hurt a fly," then you've never experienced the...pleasure...of having to run inside from a lovely picnic because flies kept bumping into guests' heads while on a quest to eat their potato salad. Then the flies followed everyone inside. And that, in case you were wondering, was how I spent my Fourth of July weekend.
For me, the problem comes from living in a house that dates back to 1825. Yes, it's charmingly covered in ivy, but the floors and windows are at a subtle angle. Which means that a. you can look taller if you stand in certain areas of the house, and b. windows and doors don't always have a seal against the outside world. The small openings are the portals to housefly Narnia as they try to find relief from summer heat. Really, even scrupulous cleaning isn't enough to deter summer flies.
To get rid of them, I tested the following home cures that promise to get rid of flies (either by repelling them away from you and your guests, or by trapping them). Like my tests for controlling ants, these cures were culled from internet boards and well-meaning friends. And for good measure, I tested them indoors and out.
Here's what worked...and what didn't:
- Fabric softener sheets. I hung these from a clothesline, an action that alarmed my neighbor. "Forgot your laundry!" he said, foisting up his laundry basket in an attempt to re-acquaint me with what laundry looks like. After I restored his faith in my sanity, I sat near the line and relaxed with a glass of lemonade. Again, the neighbor pops his head over the fence. "Drinking alone, huh?" he said. And then a fly landed on the lemonade glass. So: Hanging fabric softener sheets will make your neighbors think you've lost your mind and will ultimately do nothing to repel flies.
- Plastic bags filled with water. Though it always looks like a practical joke in progress, the local cafe swears by the fly-disorienting powers of the clear plastic bags of water suspended next to the doorways. I rarely see flies there, so I hang a plastic bag of water next to the back door (outside). In direct sunlight, the bag appeared to work in its immediate vicinity. But come twilight, the flies paid no mind to the obvious bag-of-water.
- Crushed mint. Is there a mint lobby? Because I see "crushed mint leaves" as a suggested solution to everything from ants to headaches. Unsurprisingly, they were suggested for repelling flies. Like a good scout, I crushed fresh mint leaves, placed them in small cups and left them out around the back steps and on my kitchen table. The flies didn't land in the cup, but they buzzed around near it. So I'd qualify this as "doesn't really work."
- Lavender-scented candles. This sounded like the loveliest idea for repelling flies. I had a few that had been given to me as gifts, so I placed them on the back stairs, a picnic table and in the kitchen. The results are mixed: The candle on the picnic table adequately kept the flies away, while the ones on the stairs and in the kitchen didn't do much. However, all the candles were not the same. The one on the picnic table was a three-wick candle that had a high concentration of scented oil. The rest were smaller single-wick candles with a fainter fragrance. So I think the key here is that the extra heat generated by three flames distributed the fragrance further than a standard candle.
- Sugar trap. I was optimistic about this one: Dumping a quarter cup of sugar into an open mason jar, then filling the jar halfway with water. The hypothesis is that the flies are attracted to the sugar, then fall into the jar and drown. But I guess the flies here laugh in the face of such low-tech devices, instead preferring to walk down the sides of the jar, sip the nectar and fly out. Two fell in, though.
- Dish soap trap. Instead of sugar, pour an inch of liquid dish soap directly into the jar, then add another inch of water. This worked nicely to trap flies. However, not all liquid dish soap fared well. A floral scent didn't attract flies to the trap, but a green apple scent beckoned the flies to their doom. Definitely go for a fruit scent.
- DIY fly paper. (Cover paper in syrup or honey, then sprinkle with sugar.) As I type this, I realize how naive it was to think that this wouldn't turn out to be a disgusting mess. I distributed relatively neat blobs of honey on heavy paper, dusted it with sugar and placed these around my counters and the picnic table. Then, I ran errands. In the two hours I was gone, the heat further "melted" the honey, creating disgustingly sticky pools that were nearly impossible to clean up. Yes, there was a fly stuck in one of them.
- Clove-studded apple. If you'd like to spend an hour jamming cloves into apples, be my guest. Your house will smell like Christmas but will still have flies buzzing about.
- Basil. The herb makes a nice centerpiece. That's about it. Flies still landed on the leaves.
- Fan. This ended up being my favorite way to deter flies from getting anywhere near you, indoors or out. Get a big box fan and place it by the screened window, so the cooled air is directed towards you. To a fly, this is basically a wind tunnel. This, combined with the soap traps, effectively solved the fly problem