No one likes pests in their storage unit because a) they're icky and b) they'll cause an infinite amount of damage to tenants’ possessions. This ultimately results in upset customers, lost business, and bad reviews for your storage facility. To prevent angry one-star reviews written in ALL CAPS, we’ve researched the best ways to be both proactive and reactive when it comes to pest control for your business.


What causes a pest problem?

If you’ve ever had to deal with an infestation, you know how frustrating, disgusting, and expensive it can be to get rid of bugs. So what is attracting critters to your storage facility? When stored, these things tend to attract bugs and rodents to your units:

  • Foods and spices. Never, ever allow tenants to store food in a storage unit. Even things that are used to cook food (like grills and barbecue smokers) can retain drippings, grease residue, and that delicious smoky charcoal smell that critters love. Mice can even sniff out your kids’ age-old macaroni art or candy cane ornaments in your Christmas decorations!

  • Potpourri and candles. Advise tenants against storing smell-good stuff! Whether it’s potpourri, wickless or wick candles, essential oils, natural oils, reed diffusers, plug in scented oils, solid air fresheners, Febreze sprays, laundry detergent, fabric softener, sweet-smelling cleaning supplies, or powder room refreshers, if it’s designed to make your stuff smell good, it’ll attract bugs. By sealing the items in airtight plastic bags and containers, tenants can limit the smell and deter bugs and creatures.

  • Stinky fabrics like dirty clothes, mattresses, and furniture. If it’s stinky, not only will it make everything else in the storage unit block stink - it’ll also attract vermin! It’s hard to tell someone that their stuff smells and they need to throw it out, but having these difficult conversations can prevent an infestation of mice, rats, and roaches at your facility and save you a ton of time and hassle.

  • Smell-good toiletries like face wash, lotion, and deodorant. If it’s designed to make you smell good, pests will want it. Tenants who are storing their stuff might not think about the smell-good properties of their various bathroom items like apricot face scrub, raspberry body wash and loofah, or lemon-scented deodorant. But the fruity smell of toiletries attracts ants like flies to honey. Avoid the problem by asking tenants to plastic bag seal their toiletries or not store them at all.

Just like you wouldn’t rent an apartment to a someone you know is going to be filthy, you don’t want to rent a storage unit to someone who is known to be dirty. Not only will it stink up their storage unit and attract pests that will destroy their stuff, it could also attract bugs to neighboring storage units and cause damage to other tenants’ items.


What you can do to prevent pests

Sometimes tenants will sneak stuff by you or try to break the rules, and you can’t control everything. If you want to prevent pests from taking over at your facility, take these proactive steps to reduce the chances of infestations by performing routine maintenance on your facility:

  • Work with a pest control company. Self storage facilities can be especially attractive to pests, and damage from pest infestations can cost your facility thousands. Licensed pest control experts can spot the early signs of an infestation and save you a ton of money in the long run. Ask other storage operators or small businesses in your area who they recommend for pest control and research the costs before setting up routine inspections, sprays, and treatments.

  • Trim trees and landscaping away from units. By keeping shrubbery, trees, and bushes away from storage units, you’ll reduce the amount of bugs and critters that can enter your storage facility from leaves, bark, tree branches, spider webs, and bushes. Remember, as beautiful as your landscaping is, it can also be a home to pesky spiders, mites, moths, beetles, scorpions, slugs, and grubs.

  • Sell pallets, plastic furniture protectors, plastic containers and sealable bags to tenants. Help protect your storage units from bug infestations by selling secure plastic packing materials to tenants like furniture wrap, resealable plastic bags, air-tight containers, as well as pallets to keep their stuff lifted up off the ground where moisture can build.

  • Ensure gutters and downspouts are functioning properly. By cleaning out your gutters and downspouts, you’ll prevent standing water, packed wet leaves, and moisture build-up that are perfect breeding grounds for bugs, fungus, and mold. You’ll also reduce the odds of flooding or roof leaks as a result of poor maintenance to your roof and gutters.

  • Empty dumpsters and garbages frequently. The longer garbage sits, the more rodents, pests, and critters it attracts. Get your garbage picked up and disposed of regularly to deter pests, and if a pest problem occurs, consider increasing the frequency of garbage pickups or implementing rules around dumping.


How to deal with various pests

If you suspect bugs or rodents at your facility, get in touch with a professional pest control specialist immediately. Bug bombing your facility is not something you want to DIY: at best, you’ll manage to kill some of the bugs, but not all. At worst, you’ll destroy your tenants’ items with damaging chemicals. Most professional pesticides are odorless and work quickly to zap the problem fast, and if your tenants’ stuff is properly boxed and packed, they won’t get any pesticides on their stuff.

Rodents

Wild animals can get into mischief and leave a mess at your facility. Raccoons can knock over trash bins and leave unsightly garbage scattered throughout your property, and squirrels can get in through patches in the roof and store their nuts for the winter rent-free. Unlike raccoons, opossums rarely come near human establishments unless a meal is left out for them (like cat food) and they actually eat problem pests like ticks, mosquitoes, mice, and bugs. So if you see an opossum in the woods or ditches near your facility, you don’t need to do anything at all unless they try to move into a storage unit. But by far, the most destructive rodent in self storage is the mouse. Mice can chew through tasty things like boxes, wood furniture, clothing, and food containers. It's best to keep furry woodland creatures of all kinds away from your facility's premises.

Prevention:

  • Keep trash cans away from your storage units. As an extra precautionary measure, change trash bags often and ensure the can lids are always sealed. When trash isn’t available for easy pickings, raccoons will quickly move on to another easy food source.

  • In vacant or recently vacated units, ensure the floors are well-swept and search for entryways and plug cracks and small openings with wire mesh, quick-drying cement, or expanding foam insulation to prevent future incidents.

  • Use live mouse traps in and around storage units to get rid of mice populations permanently. There’s no need to use lethal (and gross!) methods of removal like glue boards and mouse traps - they make a mess and are expensive, unsightly, and dangerous to children and dogs. Live mouse traps attract groups of mice instead of just one, and they’re reusable and inconspicuous to renters at your facility. Simply place a live trap and release the mice in a field or empty pasture a few miles away. After just a few traps, they’ll be gone completely.

  • You know what they say: the best offense is a good defense. Consider adopting a couple of fixed feral cats and providing them with food, water, and a warm shelter in a discreet corner of your property. They’ll reward you by prowling your facility at night and catching up any mice that may be intruding on your property.

Reptiles

Encountering snakes and lizards isn’t something I think about too often in Kansas, but if you’re in a warm waterfront state like Florida, you might also have invasive species like green iguanas, which can be destructive to landscaping and flowers, or burmese pythons, which eat anything and everything and can grow to be 12 feet long. Yikes! Hopefully you don’t have issues with reptiles at your facility, but if you’ve seen them in your area before, keep these tips in mind:

Prevention:

  • Call a pest removal specialist if you ever see snakes in or around your storage facility. Reptiles like snakes and lizards are attracted by rodent populations, so you’ll want an expert who can help you get rid of both at the same time. Snakes congregate in large “aggregations” seasonally and depending on your area, they may or may not be venomous (like rattlesnakes!).

  • Reptiles like cool, damp places to hide - like a leaky storage unit. Seal up your storage units, make sure doors and window screens fit tightly, cover drains with galvanized screening, check the roofs and sides for cracks, and ensure no water is leaking in to create a wet, dark environment for reptiles and other creepy crawlies to live in.

  • Keep the lawn and landscaping around your storage facility trimmed short. Reptiles like hiding places like wood piles, scrap metal, and tall grases and weeds. Keep grass trimmed short and pick up any trash metal or piles of wood that may have been left around your property line to make your property less appealing to snakes and lizards.

Insects and Arachnids

Insects can be destructive as well, but mostly they're just dirty and disgusting. No one wants to bring their boxes back home after storing their belongings to realize that insects have destroyed their stuff and they’ve unintentionally brought cockroaches into their house Even worse, poisonous brown recluse spiders or black widow spiders can hide ever-so-sneakily and bite when you least expect it. No thanks! Follow these precautionary measures to make sure these disgusting little pests stay as far away as possible.

Prevention:

  • The most important action you can take against the smaller pests is to spray for insects and spiders routinely, as often as once a month and as few as two or three times a year, depending on your location. Be sure to concentrate spray around the doorframe of occupied units and inside unoccupied units routinely.

  • Ensure your storage units are cleaned thoroughly after every use and sprayed for any bugs that a tenant may have brought with them.

In particular, watch out for:

Bed bugs

Like vampires, these little guys feast on human blood at nighttime, except they're harder to kill (and they don't sparkle in the sunlight). They can survive extreme temperatures and don't need a steady diet of blood to persevere. Although garlic and a wooden stake won't help you with their demise, insecticides and vacuuming the affected belongings will.

Carpet beetles

Carpet beetles are often confused with bed bugs, but they’re not blood-suckers. Instead, these little brown and black bugs feast on natural fibers like carpets, wool rugs, and cotton, silk, and polyester furniture or clothing. If there are a lot of them, you’ll see a bunch of tiny fecal pellets, and cast skins, but they can live in fabrics undetected for months and do enough damage to destroy the interior of a house. If you see or suspect them, call the exterminators and advise tenants to store their stuff in plastic-sealed, tight containers with cedar chips.

Cockroaches

Cockroaches love the darkness, the heat and cardboard. The environment created inside of storage units is their own personal El Dorado. To crush their dreams and ruin their paradise, spray insecticide or powder before a new customer moves in. If a new tenant happens to accidentally bring some roaches in with them, they could infest the surrounding areas (including your onsite manager's apartment - yuck!). After an infestation, seek out roach-killing bait and hire a professional to spray the area.

Spiders

Spiders love cracks and crevices as well as cardboard boxes, so storage units can be a hotspot of spider activity. Proper sealing will help keep brown recluses and other spiders from ever entering the storage units in the first place. If you have other bug problems, the arachnids can be attracted to those as a food source, so take action to rid your facility of insects and you should see your spider population decrease as well. Using a spray after units have been vacated is always a good plan. Spray heavily around the door or any other potential openings to prevent them from moving into your tenants' storage units.

Ants

Ants are resilient little buggers. You have to destroy the nest—most importantly, the child-bearing queen—to destroy the worker ants who keep coming back to forage for food. Buy bait that the worker ants will bring back to their queen (such as liquid ant bait, or create your own 50/50 mixture of boric acid and sugar), and you'll take down the whole colony. Ants are attracted to sugary, good-smelling food sources like those outlined above. Inspect your tenant’s units to ensure they aren’t storing food or other yummy-smelling items that are attracting ants.

Scorpions

If you don’t live in the southwest, you needn’t worry. But if you live in a desert climate, you’ll need to keep scorpions away from your facility. Scorpions are nocturnal, and they love cool, dark places - like storage units, crawl spaces, and attics. They are extremely resilient - they can go for months without food - and their sting can be dangerous. The Arizona bark scorpion can deliver stings that are fatal to humans! To eradicate them from your storage facility, you’ll want to seal cracks and holes in your buildings, tighten garage doors down, and hire a professional to spray the outsides and floors of buildings.

A little bit of education can go a long way when it comes to preventing pest infestations, and preventative action is always the best route. Talk to other self storage owners and operators in your area to find out how they prevent pests at their facility, and ensure you’re taking the proper steps to eliminate pest problems before they take hold.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, you may also like: How to prepare your self storage facility for a hurricane, Homelessness + self storage: How to be compassionate while preventing live-in renters, and How to winterize your self storage property.