This article was originally published in March 2020 and updated on April 20, 2022.
Ticks…yikes! Anyone who lives in the northeast knows the struggle of keeping away ticks to protect against Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
It’s the beginning of April and we’re already starting to see them!
At my house, we’re ramping up our tick defense and trying to figure out more ways to reduce the population at our home. Trust me when I say, this isn’t our first rodeo!
In the past, we have used essential oil sprays, had professionals come out and spray, we’ve actually bought guineas, and we have laying hens that roam around our house. We’ve treated our pets, we use essential oil repellents on our children when they go out to play, but we’re still having problems with this.
This year we’re going a little bit more aggressive and trying tick tubes. They are shown to decrease the tick population by approximately 90%
Check out the video below as I show you how to make tick-tubes at home. If you’d rather purchase ready-made tubes, you can do so here!
Why Use Tick Tubes to Prevent Lyme Disease
Lyme disease can cause a cascade of debilitating symptoms, including fatigue, migratory muscle and joint pain, headaches, memory issues, numbness and tingling, and a variety of other bizarre symptoms.
Unfortunately, new cases of Lyme are being reported at rates 10x higher than the Centers for Disease Control predicted just a few years ago, thanks to rising tick populations.
To further complicate matters, Lyme is often missed by doctors thanks to poor testing and diagnostic criteria that is too narrow. As with any health issue, prevention is your best strategy!
How DIY Tick Tubes Help Prevent Lyme Disease
Ticks are actually not born with Lyme disease, they have to pick it up from a different host, typically rodents, like mice, rats, chipmunks or squirrels. Tick tubes work by targeting the ticks on rodents (without harming the rodents themselves).
Tick tubes are essentially toilet paper rolls filled with cotton that has been soaked in permethrin and then scattered around the perimeter of your yard.
Mice pick up the cotton and bring it back to their den to use as bedding, which spreads it onto the mice’s fur. When a tick goes to bite the mouse, the permethrin kills the tick, stopping the spread of Lyme disease.
Safety Warning & Balancing the Risks and Benefits
Permethrin is a synthetic chemical and can be dangerous. Be sure to wear gloves and even protective eyewear while working with it and educate your children to stay away from the finished tubes.
Generally, I try to avoid harsh chemicals when possible. But, I’ve had to weigh the risks and the benefits of my children getting a tick-borne illness versus having these isolated chemicals throughout the yard this year. Since we’ve tried almost everything else and haven’t seen the results I’m looking for, we’re going to try these for the time being.
I encourage you to weigh the risks and benefits for your own family and make the decision that is best for you.
**Note: Concentrated Permethrin can be toxic to cats. There is some concern that if a cat eats a mouse with permethrin on it, it can be dangerous for the cat. However, the research is not clear on if the amount of permethrin transferred to the mouse and later the cat from tick tubes is large enough to pose a real risk.
How to Make DIY Tick Tubes
Experts recommend creating and placing tick tubes twice a year for the best results. Based on the ticks’ life cycle, aim to place them in the beginning of the spring and then again in the fall. If you’re rushed for time you can also buy them already made here.
Here’s how to make DIY tick tubes:
- Goggles or another form of protective eyewear
- Toilet paper or paper towel tubes – enough for 1 toilet paper roll every 10-15 feet around the perimeter of your yard
- Cotton balls – 3-5 per toilet paper roll
- Permethrin (37% concentration) – see instructions to determine amount
- Water – see instructions to determine amount
- Mixing container – This one is from Home Depot and includes measurements and instructions for the correct dilution ratio
- Empty plastic container
- Tongs – Plan to throw these away afterward
- If using paper towel rolls, cut each roll into 3 sections.
- Put on your gloves and protective eyewear.
- Combine 4 parts water with 1 part permethrin (ex: 4 cups water and 1 cup permethrin) in your mixing container. This is super easy if you’re using a container with ratio measurement lines like the one I linked above.
- Add the cotton balls to the solution in your mixing container and stir them around a bit using your tongs so they soak up the solution.
- Using your tongs, transfer the cotton balls from the solution to your empty plastic container and allow them to dry for a few hours.
- Once your cotton balls are dry, put your gloves back on and stuff 3-5 cotton balls into each toilet paper tube. You just need enough that the cotton stays in there.
- Scatter your assembled tick tubes every 10 to 15 feet around the perimeter of your yard.
Remember, if you do get bitten by a tick, take the necessary precautions! Collect the tick and send it in to one of the many companies that test it for tick-borne disease. These results are usually available within 3 to 4 days and you can work with your doctor on the best course of action from there.
If you suspect that you have Lyme disease already, find a Lyme-literate practitioner near you to work with. GrassRoots has worked with many very complex Lyme patients and would love to support you through our Adaptation Program.
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Become a patient in our West Lebanon, New Hampshire Functional Medicine clinic, our Burlington, Vermont Functional Medicine clinic, or our Austin, Texas Functional Medicine clinic!