Do Ultrasonic Boxes Really Work?

Ultrasonic Pest Control Devices

You almost cannot open a retail catalog, whether it's one that comes in the mail or ones you glance through to pass the time on an airplane, without coming across ads for "ultrasonic" pest control devices. These magic boxes promise to "Eliminate Pests Safely!" and "The Safe Way to Rid your Home of Ants, Fleas, Mice, and Cockroaches!" I once went through a pet supply catalog, and there were easily 12 different insect repellers advertised for sale, from collars to wrist bands to plug-in boxes.

How do these boxes propose to perform this wondrous feat? "Ultrasonic Repeller sends high frequency sound waves that keep rodents and insects 1000 feet away from the unit - only $19.95". (Or $29.95, or $39.95). In most cases there will also be some mention of your ability to eliminate "harmful" pesticides by using these environmentally friendly and safe devices instead.

Do they really work? Perhaps not. There have been many researchers at many universities who, in the past 20 years, have put many variations of "ultrasonic frequency transmitters" and "electrical wave generators" to unbiased and scientific testing, and their results have not exactly supported the claims of the manufacturers of the magic boxes.

One of those active in this area is Dr. Roger Gold, professor of entomology at Texas A&M University. Some of his comments from reports published in trade journals or personal comments made at educational seminars include these:

  1. "Based on the research results it appears that sonic and ultrasonic sound is ineffective to control or repel German Cockroaches."
  2. "There continues to be a lack of confirmed studies to scientifically document the claims of efficacy against insect pests". This comment was in 1993, when the Office of the Attorney General in Texas had just concluded imposing a permanent injunction against the manufacturer of some "electronic vibrating devices", prohibiting future sales in Texas, due to inaccurate claims by the manufacturer.
  3. "Test protocols and regulations that will protect the public from unscrupulous manufacturers and marketers of these types of devices must be developed."
  4. "These devices are an outright fraud perpetrated by unscrupulous people."

Dr. Michael Dreydon conducts flea research in the State of Florida, and he addressed the efficacy of ultrasonic flea collars that claim to repel fleas from any pet that wears the collar. His research, and the research of what he said have been over a dozen studies world wide, prove that such devices do absolutely no good in affecting the population of fleas on an animal. Dr. Dreydon states that fleas and all other insects are incapable of even hearing ultrasonic sound, and therefore no effect would be the expected result.

However, he also goes on to say that possible "behavioral disorders" have been noticed in the pets that wear these collars, because the poor pet IS able to hear the sound being emitted right next to its ears, and it is beginning to affect it. Dr. Dreydon also made the observation that it was curious, that the pet owners who used such collars were thrilled with the results, even though he and his team could count just as many fleas on pets after collars were placed on them as there were prior to the collar's use. As he put it, "an interesting placebo effect."

A few more comments from researchers around the world

Mogens Lund, the Danish Pest Infestation Laboratory, Denmark:

"…ultrasonics are in no way a solution to a rodent problem" - "In no case has the effect on brown rats been of practical importance" (following testing of 11 different devices that produce sounds in different ways) - "our negative attitude is based not only on information from experts in many other countries, but primarily on our own investigations"

 

Dr. Michael Rust, Univ. Calif. At Riverside, Dept. of Entomology:

"There is nothing in the way of behavioral or biological response that has any meaning".

 

L. O. Nelson - Office of the State Chemist, Purdue University, Indiana:

"The best advice regarding ultrasonic devices is to let the buyer beware. Ultrasonic devices have never been shown to control rats and mice by themselves or control insects."

 

Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency have given close scrutiny to the claims made for ultrasonic pest control devices, and they are highly concerned that claims are made with no verifiable data to back them up. In Indiana the state required 44 manufacturers of the devices to submit data to support their claims, and received it from only 5 of the 44. Upon review of this data from the 5 manufacturers the state found no information or evidence that would support the claims made on the labels, "and that includes the rodent control claims."

So, what can you expect from the use of ultrasonic repelling devices?

Some manufacturers agree that the device cannot eliminate the pest by itself, but perhaps can irritate it enough to move it around where it may contact the other pest control measures, such as pesticides. Some manufacturers suggest it might make rodents move out long enough that you can seal up the holes and cracks they used for entry, and keep them out. This has long been a guideline set down by the professional pest control industry - removal and exclusion - and is hardly something new.

University researchers are also concerned that, since there have been no proper and independent studies on the use of such devices, there also has been no research to test the long-term implications to the health of pets or people exposed to the constant (if there even are any) ultrasonic sound waves being emitted. As Dr. Dreydon in Florida reported, pets do seem to be exhibiting problems.

So, it is really tempting. All you have to do is plug in a box and all of the animals you don't want around in your house or yard will simply go away, and, magically, all the animals you do want around (your cat, your dog, your parakeet, the ladybugs outside) are unaffected by it. Somehow the ultrasonic device can distinguish between the desirable animals and the vermin.

However, the bottom line appears to be that such Ultrasonic Sound Wave transmitters will do zero to affect any insects you don't like, and at best will temporarily irritate any birds or rodents, who quickly get used to the new sound and begin to ignore it.

I would suggest you not fall for the advertising claims at this time. If it was that easy then every pest control professional in the world would simply be selling $19.95 boxes instead of going to all that hard work. The same way you probably aren't going to look like a cover-girl model by sitting on a vibrating pillow for a half hour each night (while watching TV), it just isn't an easy answer for eliminating pests.