Are the Chemicals We Use to Control Houseplant Pests Safe for People and Pets?

Many of us view pests as a huge threat to our plants. Myself included.

We put a lot of time and effort into our plants, so when a tiny army of destroyers shows up seemingly out of nowhere, we prepare for a serious battle.

We want them to disappear as quickly as they appeared. The fastest way to do that is to douse the plant in chemicals. Ever been there?

In the past, the action in my house looked like a scene from a crime TV show where something toxic and scary is released, and the government agents show up wearing Hazmat suits to relocate the toxic goods to a secure area for sterilization.

In reality, it’s just me wearing a mask and gloves, carrying my plant to the tub, and dousing it with smelly chemicals. It sounds way cooler in the above scene, though.

But then, one day, I had an epiphany.

If I was exposing the plants and pests to these chemicals, I was also exposing my family, pets, and myself.

These were chemicals designed to kill tiny lives.

Our bodies are bigger, but through repeated exposure, I began to wonder what effect that has on us.

If I was exposing the plants and pests to these chemicals, I was also exposing my family and pets to these chemicals.

These were chemicals designed kill tiny lives.

Our bodies are bigger, but through repeated exposure, I began to wonder what effect that has on us.

What does the research say? Should we be concerned about exposing ourselves to pesticides regularly as houseplant growers?

“Because pesticides are toxic, they are also potentially hazardous to humans, animals, other organisms, and the environment.

Therefore, people who use pesticides or regularly come in contact with them must understand the relative toxicity, potential health effects, and preventative measures to reduce exposure to the products they use.”

Penn State, College of Agricultural Science Potential Health Effects of Pesticides, Updated June 30, 2022, Source

The above quote from PennState is echoed in research over and over.

Pesticides can have negative health effects on everyone and everything, not just on those pests we hope to target when we use them.

While this post specifically focuses on houseplant pesticides, the research focuses on pesticides and their application in general.

For example, products used to control mosquitos in our lawns, pests on fruits and vegetable crops, and even the spray we apply to our skin to deter ticks and mosquitos before hiking are included. As well as many other kinds used to control bugs in buildings and homes, on and in our pets, etctera.

We are all being exposed to varying levels of pesticides. What levels are safe, and what information should we have to make good decisions regarding the pesticides we use?

People who use pesticides regularly are at the highest risk of negative health consequences.

Research shows that chronic exposure is associated with many negative health conditions.

What does that actually mean?

“Chronic Exposure”

Chronic exposure means that you are applying and using pesticides pretty regularly (think monthly or quarterly usage versus yearly or every few years). You are around these chemicals somewhat regularly.

“Associated with negative health conditions”

When a research article uses the phrase “associated with” it means that their results see two things popping up together over and over, but they can’t prove that one definitely causes the other.

For example, people eating ice cream are associated with people smiling. But, I can’t prove that people are smiling because of the ice cream (without asking them).

Maybe they are smiling because they enjoy who they are talking to or because they are enjoying sitting outside on a beautiful day. Or maybe it is the ice cream and the ice cream is causing everyone to smile.

But unless I know 100% that ice cream is to blame for everyone smiling, I would (in research) say that ice cream is associated with smiling.

Back to pesticides. Research can’t prove regular pesticide use is to blame for these health conditions. But people who use pesticides regularly report troubling health conditions at a higher rate than average, causing researchers to wonder if pesticide exposure is to blame.

What are these negative health conditions?

“Suspected chronic effects from exposure to certain pesticides include birth defects, toxicity to a fetus, production of benign or malignant tumors, genetic changes, blood disorders, nerve disorders, endocrine disruption, and reproduction effects.”

Penn State, College of Agricultural Science Potential Health Effects of Pesticides, Updated June 30, 2022, Source

Some of the research linked below goes into greater detail regarding which chemicals and products are associated with which specific health condition. But for the purpose of this post, I won’t attempt to delve into those details.

What about the acute effects of pesticide use?

There are acute effects of pesticide use also, such as poisoning. That is why all these products have safety warnings and specific use guidelines that we should carefully follow.

It is also very important to keep these products away from pets and children who may unknowingly harm themselves or someone else.

Are there effective alternatives to using chemical pesticides?

The short answer is yes. Other methods are available to control pest populations and grow healthy plants.

We will explore some of these methods in future posts so we can choose to grow beautiful plants and not feel forced to risk our health while doing so.

More Reading for Independent Research

I highly recommend further research so everyone can come to their own informed conclusions about what is best for them.

Here are a few sources I found helpful when researching for this article.

New Research Highlights Health Effects of Pesticides on Mothers and Their Children, by David Richards, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Published June 2022

Pesticides and Human Health, National Pesticides Information Center, Last Updated August 11, 2022

Potential Health Effects of Pesticides, prepared by Eric S. Lorenz, College of Agricultural Sciences, PennState, June 30, 2022

Pesticides and Human Health, by Pierluigi Cocco, Oxford University Press, Published online: 05 August 2016

Is It Possible to Eradicate Houseplant Pests From Your Home?

Beneficial Insects: How to Control Houseplant Pests Using Good Bugs

What Pest is on My Houseplant & What Can I Do About It?


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