How to Get Rid of Termites
15–17 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
There are more than 2,300 known species of termites around the world, with over 50 in the U.S.
But despite their important ecological role of ingesting and recycling dead wood and plants, they cause over $1 billion in property damage each year. Because all homes are built with some degree of wood-based materials, your best first step as a homeowner is to educate yourself about termites.
Common Species of Termites
All termites are insects, which means that they have six legs and three main body parts. Yet termites are unique in their ability to damage and weaken structures.
As the name suggests, this species prefers to feed to damp wood — particularly wood that is either damaged or directly in contact with the ground. Stumps, lumber, and logs tend to attract dampwood termites.
How To Identify:
½” – 5/8” long
Common to the Pacific states, but also seen in the Southwest and southern Florida
Do not usually make contact with soil and do not make tunnels like subterranean termites
DIY treatment will likely be insufficient
All of the moisture these termites need is pulled from humidity and the wood they consume. They can access a home through exposed wood or furniture and build nests in dry wood above the ground. The resulting damage may be extensive and widespread.
How To Identify:
Light brown or tan color
Found mainly in the South and Southwest, as well as coastal states
Colonies hold up to 2,500 members
DIY treatment will likely be insufficient
Introduced to the U.S. in the 1940s, this is perhaps the most destructive of subterranean termite species. The Formosan accesses homes through wood that touches soil, and unsealed joints or cracks also provide easy entry. Moist wood and wet soil practically attract this pest, which is known to reproduce faster and consume more wood than other native species.
How To Identify:
Most often seen in warm climates such as the South
Colonies may be up to 300 feet long, housing more than 10,000 termites
Likely to live underground, but also build mud nests inside walls of buildings
DIY treatments may be ineffective
Seen all over the continental U.S., the subterranean species prefers warm, humid climates. As indicated by their name, this type lives in the soil under and around homes. Entry into structures comes from the mud tubes they build to connect the soil with wood.
How To Identify:
1/8” – 1” inch long
Creamy brown color
Found mainly in the Southeast
Colony may house 100,000 – 1,000,000 termites
Known to build honeycomb-shaped patterns in damaged wood
DIY treatments may be ineffective
Step 1: Determine Which Pest You’re Seeing
Is it a “swarmer”/winged termite — which is a sign of infestation — or is it a winged ant? This is an important question because their similarities:
- The swarmers have four pairs of wings of equal size which are twice as long as their bodies. For the ants, the wings are larger in the front.
- Ants’ bodies are more segmented, whereas termites’ bodies are nearly the same size from front to back.
Step 2: Probe the Ground
Simple tools like ice picks or screwdrivers are effective for this task. Dig into the soil or wood near the foundation of your home to check for signs of mud tubes. These tubes, which are usually ¼” in diameter, resemble streams of mud ascending walls or along the foundation. If the tubes are larger, the infestation may be quite large.
Step 3: Know What an Infestation Looks Like
Some evidence of damage warrants professional pest control:
- Small mud tubes on exterior walls or wooden beams
- Small, creamy white worker termites within the mud tubes
- Wood that sounds hollow when tapped
- Winged termites near your propertyCracked or bubbling paint on damaged wood or drywall
Since termites try to avoid direct sunlight, pay particular attention to wood near shrubs and bushes. Often they inflict damage within wood that is not in clear view. Some infestations can be hidden behind walls, floors coverings, or insulation.
Not only is an infestation costly to treat and repair, but it can also make the sale of a home more difficult. Most home sales require a current and valid inspection report as a condition of purchase.
Seasonal Behavior and Weather
Termites head for their comfort zone as the weather warms. During spring and summer, winged termites begin mating and scouting sites for a new colony. Add rain to the warmer months and you’re likely to see swarmers take flight – but usually not farther than 100 meters from their original home.
Unfortunately, winter doesn’t bring much of a change to termite behavior. The subterranean species will typically move deeper underground, but mild Southern winters do little to alter the habits and feeding of other termites. In fact, egg production from the queen often continues with few differences. This means that termite season – especially in warmer regions – is likely to remain a constant.
Termites are one of the pests that homeowners fear most of all.
A single colony of termites can cause considerable damage – according to the EPA, billions of dollars in property damage in the U.S. Some researchers estimate termites damage about three times as many homes as those damaged by fire. And because they dwell underground, a lot of termite damage goes unnoticed until major building problems occur in joists or studs, trim and floors, or even in wood sills that “hold up” most homes.
DIY Prevention Methods
It’s always better to prevent a termite infestation than to deal with the aftermath, and making your home unattractive to termites can go a long way toward keeping them out. The good news is that there are plenty of simple prevention strategies you can use to head off any future termite problems, and most have to do with inspecting your house exterior and keeping your lawn clean.
- Make sure your gutters and downspouts work well and that the ground is sloped away from the house to prevent dampness around your building exterior.
- Take note of where any water congregates after rainfall. If you notice spots where water is pooling, make sure you fill any holes or take the steps necessary to even out your lawn. Pools of water like these are where termites tend to congregate.
- Routinely check your gutters and clear out any leaves or debris that might be stopping water flow or absorbing moisture.
- Fill in any cracks in your foundation and thoroughly caulk, grout, or cement around openings where pipes and utilities pass through the walls.
- Fix any leaky plumbing right away.
- Keep brush, wood piles, mulch and plants away from the exterior walls of your home. Better yet, if you have piles of unused debris or materials, remove them from your home altogether and have them taken away to be disposed of properly.
- Keep air vents unobstructed to prevent dampness inside and promote good air flow.
- Let in as much sunlight as possible. Termites are burrowing creatures and can die when they’re exposed to a lot of sun, so you can place infested furniture outside for a day or two and make sure your landscaping promotes sunlight falling on your lawn.
Schedule Routine Termite Inspections
The termites is a unique pest in that you can’t spot them regularly like you would with cockroaches, ants or other indoor pests. One of the best preventative measures you can take is to make sure a professional is regularly checking for signs of termites. Be sure to schedule routine termite inspections – typically once each year to make sure your home and other structures stay free from termite damage.
Termites can also form new colonies at any time, so part of your prevention strategy should include periodic professional re-treatments. The frequency of treatment depends on many factors, including the size of the colony, how close it is to your home or other structures, the product being applied, and the expertise of the company performing the application. Some professional-strength products are designed to last five to seven years.
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Termite colonies, particularly subterranean termite colonies, can extend so far underground that only an expert can reliably eliminate them.
We’ve already outlined some of the best termite treatments you can seek if you’ve identified an infestation. Nevertheless, some substances may mitigate an infestation. There are also some approaches that, used consistently, can repel termites from vulnerable structures in your home without the use of insecticide.
DIY Treatment Methods
1. Cardboard Traps
Cardboard is made of wood fibers, and you may be able to attract some termites by dampening some cardboard and placing it in an area where you believe termites may be active. Once the termites gather on the cardboard, they can be disposed of. This method will require close maintenance, as you’ll want to make sure you dispose of the cardboard once you see termites gathering, rather than letting them fester and multiply.
Beneficial nematodes are microscopic worms that act as parasites on a variety of pests, including termites. Once in a pest’s digestive system, nematodes release a bacterium that eventually kills the host. Working nematodes into the soil near a termite colony may be an effective termite killer, at least in the more superficial layers of soil. Available for purchase in-store and online, these worms are usually a very cost-effective way to help rid your yard of termites.
Borax is a standby DIY treatment for termites and other pests. For example, boric acid powder or any sodium borate product (sodium borate is the salt form of boric acid) can be very effective, as boric acid fatally damages termites’ nervous systems. You can use the following recipe to create a paste that can then be brushed onto the wood service in your home.
DIY Borax Paste Recipe
1 part water
1 part borax or boric acid powder
If you have the powder form, mix it with water. The recipe can vary depending on how much you want to use. Once it’s mixed together, use a paintbrush to cover wood surfaces throughout your home. Alternatively, use the same recipe with two parts water so it’s a thinner solution, add it to a spray bottle, and then spray your wood surfaces as a spot treatment. If you purchase a pre-made spray or termite control product, look for borax or boric acid as the active ingredient.
4. Essential Oils
Substances like orange oil or neem oil (the product of an evergreen tree that grows in India) can also help you get rid of termites. These essential oils kill insects slowly by preventing them from laying eggs or shedding their shells. The termites die after direct exposure to neem and orange oil, so focus on infested areas and spread the oil over any nests, wood surfaces, obviously infested materials.
DIY Essential Oil Spray Recipe
Two cups of water
10 drops of orange or neem oil
A couple drops of dish soap
In this recipe, the dish soap will help suspend the oils within the water and prevent separation. If you don’t have the dish soap, simply use the recipe without it and remember to shake your solution before every use.
5. Diatomaceous Earth
Made from silica, diatomaceous earth damages insects’ exoskeletons and ultimately dehydrates them. Sprinkling it on infected areas and around the foundations of your home will kill current termites and discourage future infestations. Some experts recommend using food-grade diatomaceous earth (the kind used as a dietary supplement), as this is less harmful if inhaled and non-toxic to humans and animals.
6. Household Items
Some people also recommend using items like white vinegar or cayenne pepper to control termites. Simply spread the vinegar over infested areas or sprinkle the pepper over infested areas to kill the insects. These methods are slower than other options, but also discourage the insects from returning in the future. Termites are averse to these types of products and will be repelled from their odors.
7. Termite Bait Traps and Termite Spray
Termite bait uses cylinders or spikes inserted into the ground to attract the insects. The bait is consumed and carried back to the colony where it is regurgitated, infecting the colony. Termite baiting requires a lot of expertise for proper placement; pest control companies use professional-strength termite bait as part of a termite-control strategy.
Termite spray and powder pesticides, such as Termidor, are also available for treating the soil as well as the structure itself. Again, professional-strength applications are far more effective in protecting your home and preventing termite damage. Many termite sprays and termite baits on the market are great to use on your own in order to prevent a termite problem from growing larger or even prevent the pests from moving towards your home.
Last update on 2019-09-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Methods to Avoid
Setting fire to a termite colony is never safe. Nor is it wise to try to burn them out (or smoke them out) inside a tree, your home or any other structure. The fire will be too difficult to contain and can pose more of a risk to your home than even the termites themselves.
2. Motor Oil
Dumping motor oil – used or unused – is illegal and provides no kind of long-term protection against termites. It also poisons the ground and can eventually leach into groundwater. This oil contains cancer-causing chemicals, so coming in contact with it or breathing in the fumes is dangerous. It will end up posing a huge threat to you, your family, your pets and the wildlife around your house.
3. Household Chemicals
Randomly dumping bleach, household cleaners or copious amounts of pesticides or other chemicals into the ground serves no purpose. There are thousands more termites below the soil in an area where the pesticides aren’t reaching. This tactic simply creates an area of highly concentrated poison that is bad for groundwater and plants and dangerous for children, pets, and wildlife.
Last update on 2019-09-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Because termites can destroy your home, you should call a professional any time you see them.
Since termites can destroy your home, you should call a professional any time you see them – even if they’re in your backyard away from your house. Colonies can be huge, and a nesting site could be a lot closer to your home than you think. Even if you don’t spot termites, have routine professional termite inspections to look for signs of termite activity and perform any necessary “spot” treatments. Ongoing treatments maintain a termite-free barrier around your home.
The preventative methods we’ve outlined above will be good habits to adopt, and the treatment methods will be helpful as part of a full-scope treatment process for getting rid of any termites or infestations. Yet even under optimal circumstances, only a small number of termites will be destroyed by DIY methods, leaving hundreds of thousands to take their places. Termites are tenacious, and that means they need a multi-pronged approach using specific types of products applied in very specific ways to truly provide protection.
Professional pest control services that specialize in termites know how to locate colonies, assess damage, and identify entry points. They usually use multiple types of treatments to target termites, including planting termite bait traps laced with insecticides (such as Termidor termite treatment) in strategic spots in your yard as well as using insecticides around your home. Depending on your property’s needs, some treatments use holes drilled into exterior walls to apply a chemical barrier inside your home’s structure, an area not easy to access with DIY treatments. In extreme cases, a pest control company may opt to use sulfuryl fluoride or other fumigation agents as a whole-house termiticide.
Be sure the pest control company you choose has the expertise and experience needed for termite treatments. Preventing a termite infestation requires a very specific skill set, and deviating from best practices even slightly can compromise both your protection from termites and your investment in your home.
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