The Science Behind Ultrasonic Pest Repellents: Do They Work?


Pests are annoying but common in many households. That’s why people are always looking for the next best way to repel pests, and many people claim that ultrasonic repellents are one of the options on the market.  

While some evidence exists that shows that ultrasonic pest repellents have been successful, science is still determining whether or not they work on pests. Some studies claim that ultrasonic pest repellents work while others claim that they don’t offer any benefit.

To learn more about ultrasonic pest repellents, you have to understand how they work, what they do, and how they affect other members of your household. My goal for this article is to give you the evidence already published for these repellents, and let YOU make your own decision as to whether or not they work.

What Are Ultrasonic Pest Repellents?

FULL DISCLOSURE: I own one of these ultrasonic pest repellers, and my parents have a few repellers back home. I still have bugs in my apartment (it’s a mystery bug hiding under the baseboards) and my parents do not have any bugs. So, keep that in mind during the rest of all this good stuff.

Personally, throwing aside any empirical studies. I believe that some of these products can work, but not all of them. In theory, they should work when targeted correctly.

I think that ultrasonic repellers need to be used consistently and have constant changes in frequency PLUS with multiple devices or else the insects will get used to the noise and be unaffected by them (more on that later).

Ok, so now lets get to it.

An ultrasonic pest repellent is a device that shoots out noise at a high frequency. This noise deters pests like bugs and mice since it bothers them, and they won’t go near it. Unfortunately, the noise can be blocked and hampered by objects placed on its way since sound can’t travel through solid objects.

This is a loophole, of sorts, for insects and mice who can hide behind these objects from the sound. Any frequency above 20kHz can’t be heard by humans, which is where the threshold starts for ultrasonic repellents 1

Keep in mind that dogs can hear a frequency if it’s up to 40kHz, and cats can hear a frequency up to 60kHz. Some rodents can hear frequencies up to just below 100kHz, so keep this in mind when purchasing these devices — the frequency should be higher than your pet can hear 2. If you have pets like hamsters, bugs, etc., the sound will affect them as well since they can hear a higher frequency. 

Pros And Cons Of Using Ultrasonic Pest Repellents

Ultrasonic repellers may useful products, but they come with their own fair share of cons. The main arguments for and against these repellents is that they’re safe and claim to repel pests by the manufactures. The against is that there is questionable evidence to the effectiveness of these repellers.

Pros

  • These devices are generally safe for humans and pets.
  • Ultrasonic pest repellers are not that expensive, and they don’t consume a lot of power.
  • Most of the time, there will be a one-time investment with the only maintenance cost being the electric bill.
  • They claim to be able to handle many different pests, depending on which product you get.

Cons

  • The effectiveness of these devices has been questioned over the years.
  • Devices may not repel the pests completely but only reduce their number.
  • Like every creature on Earth, pests can get used to these devices and the sound they release to where it won’t bother them after a period of time (devices with different frequencies aim to combat this).
  • Ultrasonic pest repellents only cover one room at a time and their sound gets easily blocked by objects in their way.

The Evidence Against Ultrasonic Pest Repellents

Science has still not concluded whether these devices are beneficial. As mentioned, it’s still a heated debate, and there have been several studies on the effectiveness of electric pest repellents.

One study from the International Journal of Engineering and Science published a review in which they found that in general, insects, bugs and pests can become accustomed to the sound emitted from ultrasonic pest repellers 3.

More research on ultrasonic pest repellents from Kansas State University found that the devices can work on specific pests but not work so well against other pests plaguing homes, due to the level frequency of sound emitted by each device. In their specific study, researchers from Kansas State University found that months were the most affected insect repelled by the ultrasonic when multiple insects were tested 4.

As with every study, the main conclusion was that more research is necessary in order to confirm or deny the effectiveness of these devices and that the results will ultimately depend on the specific product used. Another study found that like other insects, bed bugs were reported to be mainly unaffected by ultrasonic pest repellers when presented 5.

For some of the brands who make these devices, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning in 2002 that warned them about making false claims about their repellent devices citing that some claims weren’t true 6. So, take that as you will.

In New York, a judge allowed a lawsuit to proceed because an individual had mice crawling next to a device specifically designed to repel the rodents.

Lastly, in 2015, the University of Arizona completed and published a study about ultrasonic pest repellents. It showed that commercially available devices for deterring pests are not effective. They identified that there’s an increase in the number of these devices on the market, but that none are generally as effective as the marketing campaigns promise 7.

The Evidence For Ultrasonic Pest Repellents

Now, this all isn’t to say the devices aren’t effective. There is still MUCH research to be done regarding the claims manufacturers make. In positive news, noise is most definitely an effective repeller against insects, specifically mosquitos 8.

A study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology found that Cockroach activity increased in the presence of an ultrasonic device and there were less roaches found in an area when a device was present 9.

Another study found that using sound to repel Canadian geese led to a reduction of traffic to the area by 71% 10.

Lastly, one study testing the responsiveness of dogs to ultrasonic sounds, showed that ultrasonic sounds can repel dogs from an area effectively when given a specific frequency 11. Basically, these studies tell us that there is some hope for ultrasonic repellents or sound as a repellent overall. However, there are some discrepancies.

Scientifically Speaking – Do Ultrasonic Pest Repellents Really Work? 

Yes, and no. There is evidence that specific sound waves targeted at a specific species can work to repel that specific insect. However, you need a device that is targeted specifically for that species to have a chance at success.

You should look into each specific device and try to find solid user reviews. My parents have three ultrasonic devices at home and they don’t have any insects. In my apartment, I have a big ultrasonic repeller but I don’t believe it did much for me at all.

However, I believe this could be due to either A: not purchasing a device that automatically changes frequencies or B: not having enough devices.

While there is certainly more evidence needed to make a final decision, it seems that there is more readily available evidence supporting that the devices aren’t effective rather than the evidence supporting they are.

This could be due to either the sound waves not being the correct frequency for a specific pest OR due to the fact that insects can easily get used to a sound and not let it bother them (also called habituation).

Habituation is when an insect or individual will hear the same consistent noise or have the same thing consistent thing happening to them and they will learn to not let it bother them. it can happen to both humans and animals and is an integral part of conditioning and learning 12.

I encourage you to research all of these products on your own and make an educated decision based on this information. Try and find some information on what type of insect or rodent you think you have in you have and research the specific soundwaves of that pest and try to find a device. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t.

Personally, my bottom line is that in theory, they really should work. You’re not going to walk towards a high pitch ringing noise if it hurts your ears every step closer you get towards it, right?

However, if you got used to the noise, you may end up being able to walk up to the device.

All in all, if you’re going to go this route, you need to get a device that changes frequencies automatically.

Do Ultrasonic Pest Repellents Affect Pets?

Regardless of their effectiveness, you CAN still hear many of these ultrasonic repellers depending on what setting you have them on. Aditionally, your pets can hear them as well.

Most people would like to know whether using ultrasonic repellers would harm their pets. The answer can depend on the device and the type of pet you have. For example, high-frequency sounds won’t bother your dog, but they’ll be able to hear them. 

Dogs

Ultrasonic devices are used for dog training, and they can hear them on a daily basis, so they generally won’t react to those sounds unless its something trying to repel them specifically 13.

More nervous dogs will be affected by the volume of the sound. Dog owners have carefully studied the behavior of their beloved pets, and they usually report these types of behavior when an ultrasonic pest repeller is introduced into the home. 

  • They will move further away from the device and show anxious behavior
  • On the other hand, they might be curious about the device, spending a lot of time around it, licking or sniffing it, head tilting, etc. 
  • They may be completely indifferent to the sound and the device. 

Keep in mind that none of these reactions mean that your dog is harmed by the device. However, they could cause your dogs some stress if they are spending a lot of time in the room where ultrasonic pest repellent is turned on, especially over time. You can always consult your dog’s vet before getting this device, and they could give you some advice based on your dog’s personality and health. 

They’ll also be able to see signs of discomfort in your dog and let you know whether the device bothers them. Naturally, dogs will be vocal about their stress in their own way. You just have to understand their body language. 

A dog will display these types of behavior if the device is causing them stress. 

  • Run in the direction opposite to the device
  • They will back away from the device
  • Their tail will be tucked
  • They will whine and bark, or even both

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t put these devices in rooms where your dog spends the majority of their time. Particularly, those rooms where they eat and sleep. If you see that your dog’s levels of stress are increasing, stop using the device completely. 

Cats

Cats can hear higher-frequency sounds higher than dogs, between 48Hz to 85kHz 14. So, they will definitely hear the device. While cats aren’t generally trained through the ultrasonic sounds like dogs, they use these sounds for hunting rodents, since rodents make ultrasonic sounds as well.

Cats are good at noticing changes, and they don’t like them most of the time. A change like an ultrasonic sound device can cause them discomfort (but generally shouldn’t). They don’t like loud noises. While an ultrasonic device can’t cause them any direct harm, a high-pitched noise suddenly being present all the time can stress them out. 

At the same time, it’s harder for you to see if a cat is stressed than if a dog is stressed. They use body language too, but it’s more subtle. Look for signs like: 

  • Not using their litter box, soiling areas outside of the litter box
  • Scratching too much when it’s not appropriate and doing so continuously
  • Your cat will hide more than usual, especially away from the device
  • It will be more clingy — they will probably walk everywhere with you and sleep on your lap more
  • They will eat less than usual, leaving their favorite foods behind 
  • They will groom themselves constantly, looking for comfort

These signs don’t have to be a result of distress from the ultrasonic pest repellent, but they could be a sign of a medical problem. Before you deactivate your device, take your cat to the vet and check whether the repellent is the problem or something else. 

Rabbits

While these devices may not have any significant impact on dogs and cats most of the time, they definitely have an effect on rabbits. If you have a pet rabbit in your home, you’ll spot a lot of issues. Rabbits are rodents, and they are animals that are common prey, so they will always be scared and on alert, even if you have domesticated them completely. 

They easily get scared, and a stimulating sound could make them stressed. Rabbits do not respond well to stress. 

Here are the signs: 

  • Jumpiness, but more than usual
  • They will be restless, always on the lookout for trouble
  • They might get aggressive and difficult to handle
  • On the other side of the spectrum, some bunnies become lethargic, and they will do nothing but sleep and rest
  • They won’t show any interest in food, leaving their pots empty
  • You may notice them breathing rapidly, or if you touch them, that their heartbeat is faster than usual
  • They will be agitated easily, and you may even notice some screeching when you come close
  • Their eyes will be full of fear, bulging and looking for trouble
  • Another sign of fear in bunnies is when their ears are pressed against their head
  • They might also stump and thump on the ground more than usual
  • Their coat will start thinning, and you’ll soon notice some bald patches
  • They will exhibit some repetitive behaviors

Rabbits are naturally always under stress, but these devices can increase their stress levels. They like things predictable and safe. So, if you are introducing a device into their daily life, you should do so carefully and over time. 

The volume of the sound coming from an ultrasonic pest repellent is generally too loud for them and can have the same effects on bunnies as it has on mice and other pests you want to get rid of. Even brands state that you shouldn’t use the ultrasonic pest repellents if you have bunnies in your home. 

Rodents

If you have a hamster, a guinea pig, a gerbil, or chinchilla, you should know that they will most certainly be negatively affected by an ultrasonic pest repeller. The problem is, these devices are often designed to target rodents without distinction between pets and pests. So, they will create intolerable stress and pain for those animals. 

Amphibians

If you have a frog as a pet, you should know that they also hear ultrasonic sounds, and they will be able to hear the repeller. There’s not much research on how these sounds affect them, so it’s better to test the devices carefully before fully introducing them into space where your amphibian pets spend a lot of time. 

Reptiles

Reptiles are rarer as pets, but some people do have snakes and lizards. Snakes won’t be affected by the ultrasonic pest repellent, no matter how loud it is. Lizards have a better hearing, though, and they will be affected by the device. In fact, some of the devices are marketed as an effective way to get rid of lizards around the home. So, if you have a snake, you will be alright. But, with a pet lizard, you should probably not use an ultrasonic pest repellent. 

Birds

Birds can hear sounds similar to humans, so if you have a pet bird, you should be able to use an ultrasonic pest repellent without harming your pet. However, they do have a higher sensitivity to sounds, so you should watch out for signs of discomfort. Look for aggressive behaviors, problems with feathers, etc. 

Fish 

Fish are another common pet in households, perhaps more so than amphibians and reptiles. These pets depend on hearing, so a loud noise will affect them negatively. They can hear an ultrasonic sound even if they are in a tank or an aquarium. 

Having an ultrasonic repeller will most likely harm your pet fish. Their behavior will change, and their health will deter. Some studies have found that an ultrasonic sound to fish is like if a dog would be constantly exposed to the sound from a dog whistle. 

All of the animals in your household will react when introduced to a stressor. Being exposed to it for a prolonged period of time will harm them and shorten their lifespan. They are not prepared well for the devices that humans create, and the repellent is just one of the examples of what could harm them. 

Animals rely on hearing and smell to understand the world. If you introduce loud noise into their daily life, you could be inadvertently harming them. 

Wrapping It All Up

Ultrasonic pest repellers are devices that are designed to disorient and deter pests like mice and bugs. While anecdotal evidence shows that they do work in some cases, some studies show that their effects are limited. The results will depend on your household, in particular, so you should probably test the device before investing in a system that can cover your entire property. 

Be aware that these devices can harm your pets, depending on their species. Before you buy, ask around with friends, family, and read online reviews to find which brands are the most trustworthy. 

References

  1. Blackmer, D. E. (1998). The world beyond 20kHz.
  2. Heffner, R. S., Koay, G., & Heffner, H. E. (2001). Audiograms of five species of rodents: implications for the evolution of hearing and the perception of pitch. (1-2), 138-152.
  3. Ibrahim, A. G., Oyedum, O. D., Awojoyogbe, O. B., & Okeke, S. S. N. (2013). Ultrasonic pest control devices: a review of their necessity, controversies and a submission of design considerations, 26-30.
  4. Bhadriraju, S. “Ultrasound and Arthropod Pest Control: Hearing is believing!.” (2001): 2012.
  5. Yturralde, K. M., & Hofstetter, R. W. (2012). Efficacy of commercially available ultrasonic pest repellent devices to affect behavior of bed bugs (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). (6), 2107-2114.
  6. https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2002/08/ftc-alleges-electronic-mosquito-repellent-claims-are-false
  7. https://extension.arizona.edu/pubs/sonic-pest-repellents
  8. Kahn, M. C., & Offenhauser Jr, W. (1949). The First Field Tests of Recorded Mosquito Sounds used for Mosquito Destruction1, 2. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene, 1(5), 811-825.
  9. Ballard, J. B., Gold, R. E., & Decker, T. N. (1984). Response of German cockroach (Orthoptera: Blattellidae) populations to a frequency sweeping ultrasound-emitting device. Journal of economic entomology, 77(4), 976-979.
  10. Mott, D. F., and S. K. Timbrook. 1988. Alleviating nuisance Canada goose problems with acoustical stimuli. Proceeding of the Vertebrate Pest Conference. 13:301-305
  11. Blackshaw, J. K., Cook, G. E., Harding, P., Day, C., Bates, W., Rose, J., & Bramham, D. (1990). Aversive responses of dogs to ultrasonic, sonic and flashing light units. (1-2), 1-8.
  12. Jones, D. M., Macken, W. J., & Mosdell, N. A. (1997). The role of habituation in the disruption of recall performance by irrelevant sound. British Journal of Psychology88(4), 549-564.
  13. Blackshaw, J. K., Cook, G. E., Harding, P., Day, C., Bates, W., Rose, J., & Bramham, D. (1990). Aversive responses of dogs to ultrasonic, sonic and flashing light units. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 25(1-2), 1-8.
  14. Heffner, R. S., & Heffner, H. E. (1985). Hearing range of the domestic cat. (1), 85-88.

Recent Content