Homemade DIY Tick Tubes – an Illustrated Guide

backyard tick control tick tube

Ticks, we all hate them. Nobody likes picking ticks off themselves, their children, or their dog after playing in the yard. If your yard backs up to a grassland, prairie, or woods then it is likely that you have ticks. Additionally, I hate spraying for ticks because of all the ‘non-tick’ bugs it will inevitably kill that are valuable to our ecosystem. I don’t like the thought of killing random butterflies or bees when all I want to do is stop ticks from entering my yard.

Tick Nymph
I picked up this little hitchhiking tick along my treeline

How effective are Tick Tubes?

Recent studies have shown Tick tubes to be effective at reducing the population of ticks on rodents.  Commercially available Tick Tubes have been shown to be very effective at reducing tick populations on rodents in New England.  Heck, even just distributing treated cotton balls showed that 72% of mice were tick free vs 100% of mice on untreated sites.  Tick tubes utilize mice, and their desire for a warm comfortable nest to kill ticks. The way they work is that you treat some cotton balls, or dryer lint with permethrin. After allowing for the permethrin to dry for about 24 hours or so, you simply stuff the cotton balls into the tubes. Then, identify areas of your property where mice are likely to live – because if mice live there, so do ticks.

tick tube materials

How Tick Tubes Work

  1. You place your tick tubes in areas that mice likely inhabit.
  2. The mice will pull the cotton and lint out of the tubes, and use them to line their nests.
  3. Then during the summer, as the mice go about their business looking for food, ticks will attach themselves to them as they pass through long grass.
  4. When the mouse returns to its nest to rest, the ticks will come into contact with cotton balls / dryer lint that was treated with permethrin. This will in-turn kill the tick on contact.

What is permethrin?

Permethrin is the synthetic version of Pyrethrum, a natural coating of the Chrysanthemum flower. Studies have shown it to be effective in reducing the number of tick bites when used on clothing.  It is toxic to ticks and many other insects. However it doesn’t really harm humans, dogs, or mice (it is pretty safe for mammals in general). While wet, it can be harmful to cats though. It can be harmful to fish though, so don’t spray it around koi ponds, etc.

permethrin warning label

How long does permethrin last

Permethrin begins to break down in air and sunlight. Per the label on the bottle, it should last approximately six weeks. Your goal should be to get the tubes out at the right time for just before and when the ticks are hatching/feeding. If the cotton is in the mice nest at this time it will kill them.

If my tick tubes get wet will the permethrin wash away?

Permethrin is not water soluble, so once dry it will survive the rain. It mainly breaks down in sunlight and air. For underground nests, permethrin is expected to break down within four weeks in soil.

How effective are tick tubes at killing ticks?

A leading manufacturer of tick tubes claims that when properly placed around a property, 100% of mice surveyed had permethrin on their fur. And dried permethrin will kill ticks on contact. So, one of the key carriers of ticks had the tick pesticide on their fur, and the pesticide doesn’t hurt the mice – this is a win/win.

Now, this doesn’t mean that ticks will not be brought to your yard by other animals. Birds for example also carry ticks. But this method should reduce the number of ticks in your yard substantially. Since other animals can bring ticks into your yard, you should still be vigilant in checking for ticks on yourself and pets. But I love that I have reduced the likelihood of getting ticks! I can’t stand the blood-sucking insects!

When should you place tick tubes out in the yard?

Mice are active at building nests during the early Spring and late Summer- particularly when new ticks are hatching. For most people the best time to be putting tick tubes out into their yard is in March/April and again in July-September.

Materials required

You need to collect the following items to make tick tubes

  1. Cardboard Tubes
    • You need cardboard tubes, several inches long. Toilet paper tubes work great. I’ve also cut paper towel tubes in half and utilized those. You will need to place at least 1 tube every 10 yards along your property where you think mice live. So, gather and save enough tubes.cardboard tubes for tick tubes
  2. Cotton balls or dryer lint
    • The amount you need depends on how many tick tubes you want to make. If you have none of this on hand, they are available at pharmacies, grocery stores, walmart, Amazon….in the beauty/make-up sections usually.cotton balls and dryer lint
  3. Permethrin Spray
    • Although concentrates are available, I just used Sawyer’s ‘ready to use’ spray. A single bottle will last many years for me and my yard. I highly recommend it for the ease and convenience. I bought mine from Amazon. When I bought it the price was $15, here is a link to see if it is on sale. PERMETHRIN SPRAYsawyer permethrin ready to use
  4. Latex Gloves
    • You don’t want to get the liquid on your hands. So just get a pair of rubber or latex gloves to protect yourself.
  5. A tray or large bowl/bucket
    • You want to spray or pour your permethrin into this and then sop up the liquid with the cotton balls, or just use it to spray on. Have a second tray or something to allow the tubes to dry out.

Illustrated Guide on How To Make your own homemade DIY tick tubes

Apply the Permethrin to the cotton/dryer lint.

You want to do the following steps outside. So, plan on making your tick tubes on a calm day with no wind. You don’t want your cotton balls to blow away, or to inadvertently get sprayed in the face when the wind changes direction.

  1. Lay out your cotton balls or dryer lint on a tray or container. I like to use disposable baking containers. Flatten the balls/dryer lint if you are going to spray them, as they will absorb more of the permethrin this way.
    • Alternatively, you can just pour some permethrin directly into a disposable bowl. Just do a small amount, as you can always add to it.

      Dipping cotton balls is less messy, as you can just pour the permethrin into the bowl. Just don’t pour too much.
  2. While wearing protective gloves, spray enough permethrin to fully soak the cotton. Then flip the cotton over, and spray the other side as well. Or, if using the permethrin poured into a bowl, dip the cotton balls / dryer lint until they have absorbed enough permethrin to be fully soaked / sopping wet.

    Spray the cotton and/or dryer lint thoroughly. You want them really wet on each side.
  3. Dry out the cotton / dryer lint. Set the tray inside and allow it to dry. I let mine dry overnight, then I flip the balls/lint over to let the other side completely dry.
  4. After everything has dried completely, put the cotton into the tubes. You don’t need to pack the tubes tight, just get enough in there so that it won’t fall out on its own weight.
  5. Now your tick tubes are ready for use. You can place them around your property.

This is a shortened HOW TO video of this article…..think of it as the cliff notes.

Where to place your homemade tick tubes

You want to place the tick tubes in areas where you think mice are likely to live / have nests. I like to place them in brush piles or near firewood. Tall dense vegetation is a good location for placing tick tubes, too. Place a tube every 10′ along the back edge of my property.

Here is a picture of my backyard. I’ve circled the area that I will focus on placing my tick tubes.

My main areas that I get ticks are the plants along the woods. This area stays a bit more humid which is a great habitat for the ticks.

This is a ‘brushy’ thick area where I placed a tube.

Thick, dense weeds is a good area to place a tube.
I weighed the tube down with a chunk of dirt that was nearby. Since permethrin isn’t water soluble, it doesn’t matter if it gets wet.

This stack of logs that I’m drying is a good place for putting a tick tube.

I just slid the tube in-between two logs. I wedged it a bit so it wouldn’t blow away.

Finally, my ‘brush’ pile is sure to draw in the mice.

I just placed the tube at the bottom of the pile, and gently set a rock on top of it.

You should go back and check your tick tubes every week for about 3 weeks after putting them out into the yard. If there is cotton missing, then you have a good spot that has mice. If no cotton or lint is missing after two weeks, then it is likely that there are no mice nearby. So consider moving the tube to another location.

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How To Make Tick Tubes

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