A pest infestation is just about the worst thing that can happen to disrupt your life. Once the creepy critters move in, you start to feel unwelcome in your own home. There are lots of options on the market for getting rid of pests, including pesticides and traps, but most of them are dangerous to administer without proper training. In fact, according to the National Pesticide Information Center, in 2011 there were 2,533 reported incidents of pesticide poisoning in the US. Infestations should always be addressed by a pest control professional.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t defend your home against unwanted house guests yourself. Our experts had a lot of advice for homeowners looking to stop pests from showing up in the first place, and their tips can help keep your home under control. Here are just a few easy-to-follow steps to nip infestations in the bud:

1. Avoid using cardboard boxes.

Lots of food items at the store come in cardboard or paper containers: cereal, flour, sugar, even fresh fruits like tangerines. The problem with paper or cardboard containers is that pests like mice can easily chew through them, ruining your food. If you replace these containers with plastic or glass that cannot be chewed through, it will both protect your food and force the mice to leave your home when they can’t access food.

Additionally, it is important to avoid bringing cardboard boxes home from supermarkets because they will often carry roaches or other insect pests on them. Most supermarkets have some level of roach infestation, and cardboard is one of their favorite places to hide. Throw out any boxes you used to carry food, and definitely don’t re-purpose them for storage. Plastic bins might be more expensive in the short-term, but they’ll save you a lot of stress and trouble in the long run.

2. Learn how to spot the signs of an infestation.

No matter what kind of pest you attract, catching the infestation early can save you a lot of time, money, damage and trouble. This is especially true of hard-to-beat insect infestations like bed bugs. There are a number of resources available online that can teach you how to spot the signs of pests like bed bugs, so that you know what you are looking for. Plus, it will be easier to describe the problem to a pest professional if you’ve done research beforehand.

On a similar note, preventing pests is much easier if you know how pests behave. Do some research into the most common household pests in your area, and read up on their habits, life cycles, and preferred habitats. That way, you have a good idea of when and where to look for them, and you can catch any pending infestation early.

3. Seal your home.

The most obvious but also the most over-looked way to prevent pests from getting into your home is to block their passage altogether. Often, gaps or holes can appear around doors and windows, or even in your foundation, allowing critters to make their way inside. Don’t underestimate how sneaky they can be–a mouse can fit through a hole as small as a penny! Do a base check all the way around your home, paying special attention to windows and doors, and fill any holes you find with caulk or cement. Even small gaps under doors can invite unwanted house guests, so be sure to install door sweeps, and screen your windows while you’re at it. All this sealing will have the added benefit of making your house temperature easier to regulate, keeping heat indoors in the Winter and out in the Summer.

By taking just a few well-informed precautions, you can drastically reduce your chances of developing a pest infestation in your home, and stop any problems before they start. Creepy critters don’t have to be a problem for you or your loved ones if you take these easy steps. But remember: if an infestation does occur, always consult a professional, like our expert Joseph Mollusco, of Northeastern Exterminating. His informative comment provided much of the information in this article, which is why he’s the winner of this week’s Most Informative award.