If your apartment is plagued by tiny floating black dots, you might think you’re hallucinating or your eyes are failing. We can’t totally rule those out… but it’s more likely you’ve got a much less alarming but still extremely annoying problem.
There are a few strategies for getting rid of your pesky new visitors. According to Brittany Campbell, staff entomologist for the National Pest Management Association, eliminating gnats comes down to two things: getting rid of moisture traps and keeping your house clean.
Worst match-up ever. But defeating your enemy requires knowing your enemy. Two common types of indoor pests kind of look alike: gnats and fruit flies. The gnats you find indoors are mostly fungus gnats, which are skinny with long legs and roughly mosquito-sized. Fruit flies have a stouter body and bright red eyes.
Fruit flies mainly find their way into your home via their namesake: fruit and vegetable matter. But fungus gnats love water. If you have a lot of plants or recently bought a new plant that had been overwatered, they may have hitched a ride that way—or maybe they developed inside your sink drain.
If you’ve developed a sudden infestation, one of the first places to check is your kitchen. Have you been slacking on your dishes? Did an errant citrus peel fall out of sight and start to rot? When was the last time you cleaned your drains?
Do a full scrub to clean any decaying organic matter that may be attracting insects, including in your refrigerator and freezer. But don’t stop there: Gnats will still hunt down any decaying matter in your trash can or composting setup, so make sure your bin lids all close properly and take the trash out regularly.
Once you’ve scrubbed down your surfaces, get into your sink. “We’ve all looked inside of a drain and seen something pretty nasty,” says Campbell. “That black gunk buildup is a great feeding source.” Douse all drains in your dwelling with a cleaning solution, either store-bought or DIY, to purge any buildup.
Getting rid of gnats inside
Like a maddening encroaching army, the gnat front lines have snuck out of the kitchen and into the rest of your home. Your plan of retaliation starts with the same search for potential escaped food detritus. After all, Netflix with dinner is great… until you get food in your couch cushions.
Once that’s been dealt with, investigate your plants. Dry out your plants every time you water them, and allow enough time in your watering schedule for the soil to fully dry. You also want to give your sink, shower, and any other drains in your home the same treatment as the kitchen.
What about the bugs that are already flying around? An easy at-home trap will get rid of fruit flies so you can focus on gnats. Put a one-to-one ratio of water and vinegar in a bowl, and add a few drops of dish soap to break the surface tension. Fruit flies will be attracted to the vinegar, since it emits the same smell as rotting fruit, and drown.
Fungus gnats are, unfortunately, not so easily eliminated. The best strategy is to let them dry out once you’ve gotten rid of their breeding ground. “Eliminating that breeding source and not providing them with water is the best way to get rid of fungus gnats in your house,” says Campbell. Luckily they have short lifespans.
Much like their other buzzing cousins, gnats are attracted to moisture. The wetter your outside areas, the more likely they are to hang around. Water your outdoor plants early in the day so they have plenty of time to dry out, dump out any accumulated rainwater quickly, and don’t leave fallen plant matter sitting around. If you have a lawn (lucky you) make sure you’re keeping it mowed so it dries out after rainfall and avoid material buildup like mulch piles.
I did all this but they’re still biting!
Good and bad news on this front: Neither fungus gnats nor fruit flies bite humans. “These flies that are sanitation issues are perfectly harmless to humans,” says Campbell. “If you’re getting bitten by an insect, it’s not going to be fungus gnats or fruit flies.”
Biting gnats are a completely different (outdoor) species, and the variety you have depends on where you live. Since these are outdoor bugs, treating your home won’t do much to prevent them. Look out for potential exposure to other insects or chemical reactions (have you changed to a new laundry detergent recently?) and check your window screens for holes where something else could be sneaking in.