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Yellow jackets (technically a kind of wasp) can be very annoying when trying to eat outside as they are attracted to food, and especially to meats. When there are lots of them, if you are not careful, you can even take a bite with one on your food.

What are some ways of killing them off effectively that minimizes the harm to the environment around your home?

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Another way is to use a trap to get rid of them. I hate wasps and these devices work quite good and most importantly passively (i.e. you don't have to spray the wasps). It's also very easy to build one yourself if you want to try it out without spending money. The traps work by luring the wasps in with something they like (e.g. sweet soda). Due to the trap's geometry, the wasps will try to climb the walls or fly to the top, where they are held back and thus can't escape. Good thing wasps aren't too clever... I've never seen any bees getting trapped, maybe the occasional fly.
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example from Pinterest

Imo this is the least harmful device for the environment (there are versions made with glass, if PET isn't your thing) as it basically uses sugar as its "chemical".

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I personally use a combination of d-limonene & borax.

First, borax is a natural occurring salt from lake beds and d-limonene is basically just orange oil, a solvent.

Mix the two together and spray on nest.

*****NOTE*****

Because the d-limonene is a solvent, it will disolve plastics & rubber seals. Use a solvent safe sprayer.

OR

You can use just about any type of cleaner that contains orange oil. The solvent not only will kill the insects, but will also prevent them from coming back and building another nest.

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One method that I have found to be particularly good is using a soap with surfactants in a Hand Pump Garden Sprayer which can be found for under $20, for example here is one on Amazon that looks similar to the one I have. Fill the tank with some water and enough mild dishwashing soap such as Dawn to make a soapy feeling liquid between your fingers. I found less than one tablespoon of liquid soap per quart of water is plenty. You can experiment to find out how much is needed to be effective.

Once ready, pump up your unit well and you can spray them when they land, you can even get them in flight with a little bit of practice. Once his by the stream, they will fall to the ground and stop moving after about 30 seconds if they were sprayed with enough soapy water. If they are not dying, then you may need to add more soap to your solution or spray them with more solution.

Please be careful when doing this and cover your body with long sleeve clothing for an extra level of protection. They can get angry if provoked and go on the offence. Mornings are good because they tend to be less active at that time of day.

I believe the way it works is the soap breaks down the water's surface tension and thus when you spray the yellow jackets the water fills and covers their breathing pores and they drown.

If you want to take on a whole nest, be extra careful and consider doing it early in the morning and from a distance using a garden hose spray mixer (something like this one on Amazon) that allows you to send a stream of the soapy water a couple yards away from where you stand.

While surfactants are not great for the environment, they are way better than any typically found poisons spray cans for killing them.

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