How to Catch a Spider Safely
Okay, I'm going to assume that you don't want to kill Mr. Spider, because spiders do a lot for you without you even knowing it. They're a little like cats taking care of your mouse problem, except they have 8 legs instead of four and they catch and kill flies and mosquitoes instead of rodents. Killing spiders is just plain unnecessary. SO assuming you want to get that spider out of your life without hurting the spider or smashing all of your furniture, this little guide will help. There are ways to coax your little 8-legged helper out of the bathtub or down from the kitchen wall without smashing him, and while there will be the occasional arachnid fatality, more often than not your little file-eater will live to find a nice place to spin a web and keep working.
There are, of course, a couple of spider in North America that you do truly want to avoid. These are the black widow and the brown recluse. I treat each one of them here, and give you a link to places where you can get a better identification. If your spider matches one of these bad boys, then call an exterminator or even a medical center and have them deal with it. It's super-unlikely that one of them will ever bite you, and even then the bite is usually no worse than a bee sting, but sometimes a bite can get pretty bad.
For the vast, vast, vast majority of spiders, a little care and caution will help everyone live in harmony. They're in your house anyway, and they're not moving out, so let's just all try to get along, shall we?
How to Safely Catch a Spider Method One -- A Jar
This system is foolproof -- kind of. Kids have been catching bugs and spiders with jars for over a hundred years, and as one of those kids, take it from me when I tell you it works. You need a jar of course, and one with a lid, since most spiders have special pads and hooks on their feet and can climb up glass, no problem. The other thing you need is this secret knowledge: BUGS ALWAYS CLIMB UP. Yes it's true, and once you know that, you will always win. Carefully but with purpose place the jar over the spider and give it the opportunity to climb onto the glass. Slip a piece of paper or the lid under the jar and keeping it upside down, transport it to the nearest dark basement corner. If you're squeamish, just leave the jar upright and open for a while. The spider will figure things out and crawl away. Nice job! That spider will immediately start killing centipedes and mosquitoes and fruit flies for you, just to show her gratitude.
Spiders -- Do You Love Them or Hate Them? - Take a quick spider poll
How to Safely Catch a Spider Method Two -- Your Hands (with Gloves)
This might work for you, but to be honest it's not an option for me. That's because for some reason, even though I can handle all kinds of bugs and things and not worry much, spiders absolutely freak me out. I'm working on it, but at this point I am NOT comfortable picking up a spider of any kind, even with gloves on.
That said, YOU may be fine with spiders, and in that case you should know that you can pick pretty much all of them up without too much fear if you're wearing simple dishwashing gloves. They can't bite you through them (though some may be able to bite through thin latex (rubber gloves), so you'll be fine in the event that the spider does try to defend itself with its fangs.
By MSGT PAUL HOLCOMB [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A Venomous Spider to Avoid -- the Black Widow
This is one of the very few deadly spiders in North America. The black widow is a large black spider with long legs and a red marking on the underside of its abdomen. Its scientific name is Latrodectus mactans, and it possesses a strong venom that it uses to kill and liquidate the insects that it feeds on. Unfortunately, the venom is also highly toxic to humans. This spider lives in a tangled web in dark corners, and occasionally humans put a hand in the wrong place and wind up with a bite. If your spider looks at all like this photo, take its picture and back away. Contact a doctor or the police and tell them what you've got. Don't risk a bite by picking it up!
How to Safely Catch a Spider Method Three -- A Tissue - Not so safe for the spider...
This is a good way to smash and kill the spider, which we're not about here, are we? You can use a tissue if you have an ultra-light touch and you're sure you won't smash it. Pick up the little guy with all care and escort him outside, where he can resume his life eating all those nasty flies and mosquitoes that would otherwise come after you.
Another Venomous Spider to Avoid - The Brown Recluse
This spider, unlike the Black Widow, doesn't spin much of a web. Instead it spends its time wandering around looking for the small insects and centipedes it eats, and also for a potential mate. That means that brown recluses occasionally wind up coming into contact with humans. Brown recluse bites are sometimes serious and sometimes not, but when they get bad they can turn into a huge, life-threatening wound. Stay away from these guys -- don't risk a bite!
Look for the characteristic "violin" mark on the spider's back.
How to Safely Catch a Spider Method Four -- The Bug Vacuum
I love these little gadgets. There are a lot of different kinds, and they all do the same thing. These are basically little, low-powered vacuum cleaners that suck up all kinds of insects without hurting them. The you simply take it outside and shake it out. These cool little things work with spiders, but also all bees and wasps, which you REALLY don't want to pick up with your hands. Bug vacuums can also be used as an insect collecting tool. Entomologists often use them to snatch up little beetles and other insects feeding at flowers. That's how you know bug vacuums work -- they're good enough for professionals!
BugZooka Bug Catcher Vacuum
This is a cool unit, mainly because it doesn't need batteries to work. The last thing you need is to grab your bug vacuum, only to find that it has run out of juice. A spider on the wall is not going to wait around for you to find the AAA's. A slick bellows-powered design makes the Bugzooka a cut above the rest. Also, it has a pretty cool name.
How to Safely Catch a Spider Method Five -- Frozen Spider Supreme
This one's a little different, but it does allow you to safely identify the spider you found: once you have the little guy corralled, either with jar or bug vacuum, pop him into the fridge or freezer. If you leave him or any other little bug in freezer for any length of time it will be fatal, so take that into consideration. The cold will incapacitate the spider for a few minutes, long enough to get a good look and consult a reference (or take a picture) so you can make sure it's not going to hurt anybody.
One word of caution -- if you do pop that spider in the fridge or freezer, you may want to alert other members of your family to the situation. Or else, you know, someone may fix themselves a nice banana/spider milkshake.