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What's In A Smell? Understanding Why Certain Odours Attract Or Repel Pests

From the fragrant scent of your favourite dishes to the putrid stench of garbage, our sense of smell can reveal a lot of information about our surroundings. The same goes for other living things as well. In fact, for some animals, their sense of smell plays a very crucial role in ensuring their survival. Some of these animals happen to be pests that use their olfactory senses to find their way into our homes in search of food and water. They rely on receptors or chemical scent to aid in their attraction, navigation and target tracking. Thus, smell and odour plays an important role in triggering a pest infestation.

In this article, Rentokil shares how odours and pests’ sense of smell plays a role in our premises being attractive to them. More essentially, what pest control and pest prevention measures we can take to ensure a pest-free environment.

Debugged Blog How Odour Attract Pest Infestation What Smell Attract and Repel Pests

What Odours Attract or Repel Pests?

For most insects, their olfactory system is found in their antenna and made up of three main receptors. Firstly, there are the odour receptors that detect pheromones. Secondly, pests rely on gustatory receptors to differentiate tastes and some pheromones. Finally, there are the ionotropic glutamate receptors that alert insects to toxic chemicals. Nevertheless, different types of pests are attracted to different types of scents. They use their odour receptors to locate them accordingly. For some pests, smells related to poor hygiene and sanitation are causes of pest problems. It is especially so in the waste bins, food scraps, decomposed matters, uncleaned sinks and clog drains.

Read also: Adopt useful pest prevention tips for your home


For ants, their main form of communication is through chemicals, specifically pheromones. As such, whenever ants find a source of food, they will leave a trail of pheromones leading back to their nest. The other ants will pick up on the trail and easily find the food source. Subsequently, when you clean up food spills, you also wipe away their pheromone trails. Thus, it makes it nearly impossible for ants to find the food. This also explains why you tend to notice a line or trial of ants, especially along key risk areas. Examples include kitchen wall tiles, counter top, dining table and along among food containers and jars.

Since they are so sensitive to scents, strong-smelling essential oils often interfere with an ant’s ability to pick up pheromone trails. That’s why it has often been used as a DIY remedy for getting rid of ants. However, essential oils have limited effectiveness. They do not eliminate the ants and merely just repel them away from the premises for a while. The ants may just go to another area where the smell is not present or return when the smell eventually dissipates. In addition, effective ant control requires eliminating their breeding nests. They usually hide at quiet and secluded corners, or hard to reach spaces and beyond eye visibility.

In addition, different species of ants are attracted to different tastes. Some are attracted to sugar, while others are attracted to protein. In any case, ants have strong smell receptors that can help them easily seek out foods containing their desired nutrients. That’s why it is always important to keep all your food sealed away as you have no idea what type of ant you might attract. However, it is important to note not all ant species you have identified are accurate, as they may resemble close to termites, or also known as white ants with similar body frames, outlook and places to lurk around, which is wood.

You may also like: How to differentiate between termites and ants

House Flies

If you find house flies on your premises, it is because of these two things: odour and heat. House flies use these qualities to seek out food and breeding grounds. Their sense of smell is especially acute and they can detect odours from up to four miles (around 6 kilometres) away! Heat is difficult to hide as all living things emit heat but you can do something about the smell.

For house flies, they are attracted to decaying organic matter such as spoiled meat, faeces, and overripe fruit. It is the reason why they are often found hovering around uncovered garbage bins, uncleared pet litter boxes, and kitchen sinks. Luckily, most people cannot stand the smell of such things, and will often clear them up. However, due to inadequate housekeeping, hygiene and sanitation conditions, especially in high risk environments including kitchens and canteens, or basements, house flies are easily attracted. Besides, they favour food such as juices and fermented items. Therefore, food preparation and consumption areas is where they smell their food source.

There are many methods in getting rid of house flies such as DIY remedies including the use of reflective disc or water bags to leverage on the light reflection that flies are sensitive with. Besides smell, flies are also sensitive to lights. When used in the correct manner, with adequate pest management in place, flies control can be effective. Factors including number of fly traps installed, the location of placement, the coverage area and catch rate plays a part. For instance, the Rentokil Lumnia LED Fly control utilises efficient LED technology in controlling flies infestation effectively, while delivering energy cost savings for heavy consumption users.


Mosquitoes need a blood meal to survive. Their odour receptors have specially evolved to detect components found in human body odour. These include carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and ammonia. Mosquitoes have their capabilities to track you down even miles away with their receptors. They are especially drawn to us when outdoors, particularly engaging in outdoor activities and sports. Besides natural odour emitting from humans, body warmth and dark colours can also attract them. Thus, to avoid a victim of mosquitoes, which is a trigger to dengue (from an infected mosquito), protecting ourselves from mosquitoes risk is key.

When it comes to mosquito prevention, there are many pest myths and DIY home pest remedies to get rid of mosquitoes. It ranges from use of essential oils, pungent scents, to installing insect screens, use of mosquito repellent and patches. The smell of citrus has shown to mask the scent of human body odour. These DIY pest control remedies do illustrate limited efficacy in mosquito control.

While we can turn to these ingredients as a natural remedy to get rid of mosquitoes, a proper mosquito elimination programme is necessary, and often carried out by professional pest control companies in Singapore. They are able to deploy innovative, safe and effective mosquito traps. They help to eliminate both adult mosquitoes and breeding mosquitoes, taking care of both indoor and outdoor protection, or conducting regular mosquito fogging and larviciding at specific frequencies are key risk areas.


Do you know that soldier and worker termites are born without eyes? This is because most of them live deep in the colony. They are highly sensitive to light, as such, there is very little need for eyes. Instead, they communicate via pheromones and their sense of smell is very strong - similar to ants. Their odour receptors are also sensitive to the aromatic compounds released by cellulose (from wood). This helps them to find their food source. Hence, most properties, whether they are residential homes, commercial spaces or industrial compounds, these premises are at risk of a termite infestation.

Most pest infestations may respond to DIY pest home remedies. This include masking pungent scents to derail their sense of direction. However, termites are less simple to deter with such natural ingredients. For example, orange oil does have some repel and control effect. Nonetheless, it does not resolve the elimination of the colony developed underground through effective active ingredient and reach.

If you happen to spot signs of termite infestation, it is best to call for a pest control service. They are experts in termite control methods in Singapore. Besides possessing the right tool and equipment to administer the active ingredient, depending on the type of termite species, location of the infestation and home dwellings, termite treatment options vary. For example, apartments will require above-ground termite baiting units to lure, trap and eliminate termites whereas landed homes with vast coverage require extensive termiticide application around the perimeter of the home.

Read also: Find out the five ways on how termites can destroy home

Debugged Blog How Odour Attract Pest Infestation Smell Overlook Aspect of Pest Control

Smell - An Often Overlooked Aspect of Pest Control

Firstly, when it comes to pest control, many of us know about the standard protocol of maintaining cleanliness, sealing pest entry points, and DIY remedies. Secondly, many of us may not realise that smell can also play a role in attracting or repelling pests from our premises. However, smell is not just a basis of triggering a pest problem, we can also leverage on unusual or distinctive smell to aid us in pest detection. For instance, a sweet musty smell in the room could indicate a potential bed bug infestation. On the other hand, a pungent and unpleasant smell could spell early symptoms of cockroach or rat issue. Above all, pest detection is the first step to keeping pest infestation at bay.

Look out for early signs of infestation including droppings and urine stains, unusual “cracks”, “lines” and “saw dusts” that can be signs of termite activities. In addition, watch out for visible pest presence such as gliding cockroaches in the day time. Unfortunately, not all pest signs are easy to detect or within our means to do. Thus, engaging a pest control specialist can heighten the detection process, identify the right species and locate specific areas to treat.

Rentokil Singapore offers a range of expert pest control services for homes and businesses! Call us at (65) 6347 8138 for a pest control solution today.

Read also: When we do need to start calling for pest control services

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