The internet has many home remedies for pest control that are mixed by using common items found in a pantry. Ranging from dish soap to baking soda, there are a number of positive testimonials of how well they worked. The University of Florida does not recommend using homemade pesticides for a number of important reasons. In addition to poor effectiveness and potential plant injury, many homemade remedies violate federal law. There are two laws that address this issue, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA).
FIFRA says to legally apply a material as a pesticide, it must be either registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or have an official exemption from the requirements of the act. The FFDCA authorizes EPA to set tolerances or maximum residue limits for pesticide residues on foods. In the absence of a tolerance for a pesticide residue, a food containing such a residue is subject to seizure by the government. So, in the case of a home remedy applied to a food crop or livestock used for food, if a residue of that home remedy gets in or on the food, and there is no tolerance or food additive regulation allowing it, the sale or distribution of that food would be illegal under FFDCA.
Based on these regulations, let’s discuss the legality of a couple of commonly utilized home remedies, specifically baking soda, compost tea and dish soap. If the material being applied is homemade (i.e., not sold or distributed as a pesticide), then it would not be required to be registered as a pesticide under FIFRA and would not be prohibited by FIFRA. However, on the FFDCA side, any potential residues of the homemade material on the crop for which a tolerance or tolerance exemption or applicable food additive regulation does not exist, may render the crop contaminated under FFDCA regulations and subject to seizure.
Currently, the FFDCA only includes an exemption for sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and not for homemade compost teas nor dish soaps, rendering their use illegal. If the treated crop is not sold or distributed, nor are any foods or products derived from the crop, that would not be a violation of FFDCA.
For a complete list of substances excluded from regulation by FIFRA (40 CFR 152.6), please visit 40 CFR 152.6 – Substances Excluded from Regulation by FIFRA from Cornell University Law School. For a complete list of tolerances and exemptions for pesticide chemical residues in food, please visit 40 CFR Part 180 – Tolerances and Exemptions for Pesticide Chemical Residues in Food from Cornell University Law School.