How To Get Rid of Termites (Complete Guide)
Looking to learn how to get rid of termites...
Well then this is the guide for you!
There's one word that will widen the eyes of every property owner, no matter who they are or where they live...
One of the most dreaded words in the English language for homeowners far and wide, these creepy-crawly creatures will take a bite right out of your home and degrade its structural integrity a little more every day.
Just how do you get termites out of your house?
And what are some signs you might have termites?
What animals eat termites, if any?
Keep reading for our in-depth guide on how to take your home back from these expensive pests.
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Termites and The American Dream
The American Dream, your own home, so precious and valuable that you worked hard to achieve and now maintain is vulnerable to something smaller than a grain of rice.
We worry about, storms, tornadoes, house fires and earthquakes that destroy homes or significantly damage homes every year. Yet little thought is given to the lowly termite even though more homes are damaged annually in the United States by termites than tornadoes, fires and earthquakes combined!
Out of sight, out of mind, right? That is until you find out your home is infested with them.
Termites are in every state except for Alaska, different species are widely distributed but all destructive. Termites are cryptic, you will not see them until there as significant damage as they destroy the infrastructure behind the finished walls and floors.
This is not hype or drama folks this is real.
Despite the hard facts regarding the destructive nature and history of termites and the challenges professionals have controlling them they are one of those things we put out of our mind until we have them.
There are only two types of homes. Those that have termites and those that will get termites.
What're The Main Types of Termites?
There are a variety of termites in the United States and for the most part all eat wood or wood products. Depending on what part of the country you are in will determine the main threat and species you must look out for. Some of the most common and more destructive will be listed below for your information.
While there are a variety of species termites are normally broken down into three major groups:
- Subterranean Termites "Subs": Consists of mostly Eastern Subterranean Termites and Formosan Termites, which are the most destructive types
- Drywood Termites: Second the subterranean, Drywood Termites don't live in soil and prefer dry wood as opposed to other termites that like moist wood.
- Dampwood Termites: As their name describes, these termites like moisture the most and will mostly never be seen by homeowners but we wanted to include it for reference.
What Causes Termites in the First Place?
Where do these bugs come from, and why are they attracted to wood?
By understanding the social structure of a termite community, you can go forward in eliminating your resident termites with ease.
How Do You Get Termites in Your House?
Depending on the type of termite, they can get into your house in a number of ways.
- Subterranean Termites: These termites usually enter your house through underground mud tubes. Unlike drywood termites, they prefer to be near moist soil and will setup temporary nests inside the walls of your house made of fecal matter. These nests are used to maintain a certain level of moisture while the termites are away from their main nest and soil.
- Drywood Termites: These termites can fly inside from outlying areas as swarmers or find a small crack or crevice around your house to gain access. As mentioned earlier, these termites don't need to come into contact with soil to survive, but rather live off the moisture they produce themselves and/or the moisture of the
Termites are highly intelligent pests that work together in a colony (not unlike bees) to further their species.
"Worker termites" are in charge of finding food for the "soldier termites" (who provide defense and security to the colony), and of course, for the "king and queen" (who are in charge of reproducing).
All three types of termite subsist primarily on the same thing in different forms: wood.
The gut of a termite features a protozoa, which converts wood into fuel and breaks down fungi. The worker termites will search far and wide for food for the colony, and when they arrive at your home, it's like they won the lottery.
Because termites have such destructive jaws, they can essentially eat their way inside. The worker termites build tubes made of mud that provide a passageway to wooden structures.
Once they get to the wood of your home, they will gnaw their way right through.
What Do Termites Eat Besides Wood?
While wood is a necessary staple of the termite's nutrition, they have been known to subsist on other items from time to time.
- Paper products
The food source for a termite is cellulose, which is found in wood.
But worker termites may go out in search of other sources of cellulose that have been sourced from wood.
Checkout this guide where we break down all the various things termites like to eat.
Early Signs of Termites
So, how should you know when to take action against termites?
Well, despite the fact that these are very secretive, burrowing creatures, they do leave some clues behind to alert homeowners of their presence.
Most often, one can spot the mud tubes created by worker termites on the outsides of homes and even in basements or attics.
Also, the fecal matter left behind by drywood termites is very distinctive in pellet form, and easily recognizable. If you can physically see drywood termite pellets, it's a surefire sign of an infestation.
The king and queen of each termite colony have wings and are sometimes called "swarmer termites," so it's possible to actually see these termites with wings if you have a termite problem.
Want to see what a termite queen looks like? Watch this video:
More About Subterranean Termites
Eastern “Subs” are the Big Daddy of the termite world when it comes to distribution in the US, they range from as far south as Florida reaching as far north as Canada and as far west as Utah and Texas.
These stealthy social insects form enormous colonies from 20,000 to 5 Million workers per colony and are the most economically destructive termite because of their wide distribution.
Eastern Subs, like all termites, form complex caste within the colony from Soldiers that protect the colony to workers that carry the food (wood cellulose) back to a fat queen that is an egg laying machine.
The queen is mostly immobile due to her enormous size producing up to 2,000 eggs per DAY and can live up to twenty-five years!
They nest below the surface and surface to feed on the infrastructure of your home.
Workers forage through the soil and above the soil in termite mud tubes seeking wood (wood cellulose). They live in the soil and surface in the walls, through pipe chases in the slabs behind the finish walls and floors to feed on your home.
Because they are cryptic and hidden, the home owner is not aware of the damage beneath or behind the walls, until the floor gives way or a wall begins to crumble exposing damage and active worker termites.
Thousands of dollars worth of structural damage can occur before you even know you have them. Most homeowners have their homes under some type of termite warranty which includes annual inspections.
A lot of people think termite warranties and inspections are a scam, however, the fact almost $2.5 BILLION dollars a year is spent annually on termite work in the United States alone should disprove that myth.
Remember, Eastern Subterranean Termites do not (in most cases) live in the home being attacked, they live beneath the soil under the slabs or near the house and are tunneling in to feed on the wood.
The workers are active 24/7 (they do not sleep). Like a million little dump trucks they are going to and from the house carrying the digested material back to the queen and colony and through a disgusting process called Trophallaxis they regurgitate the digested wood back to the queen and colony for feedings.
Every minute of every day, the workers feed on the home and return to the nest, back and forth, constantly eating your wood.
What Should You look Out For?
Because Eastern Subterranean worker termites cannot survive without moisture they must work within moist mud tubes or in wood with a certain moisture content, exposure would dry them out and they would die very quickly.
They build those mud tubes as a highway going and coming from the food source to the colony. A mature colony could have hundreds if not thousands of mud tubes and tunnels, most may be inside the walls of under the floors out of sight. Mud tubes coming up from the slab or out of exposed timbers or on exposed timbers are definite sign of termites.
Depending on what part of the country you are in, Eastern Subs will produce a “swarm” in early spring normally after a rain on a hot humid day.
Swarmer’s are reproductive termites (alates) swarming is a natural event designed to spread the colony. Most will die within hours but a few will survive, mate and start their own colony as king and queen.
They are black to dark brown, about the size of a grain of rice and the wings are longer than their body. Swarms can be alarming with hundreds to thousands flying out to the first light source, normally a window or light fixture.
Swarmer’s are often the first sign homeowners see that indicates they have termites. Caution should be used as swarming is an event, it is short lived and only happens about once a year. Some homeowners ignore it and those are the ones that will pay heavily later.
Termites forage constantly looking for more food sources (wood). Often, when foraging inside finished walls they will produce small pinholes in drywall or other wall types appearing to be nothing more than a pinhole but closer examination you will find small particles of dirt.
.This is indicative of termite activity behind the walls and under the finish floors.
Termite Damaged Wood...
Damaged wood is unique and easy to spot. Termites eat only the soft springwood and leave the harder summerwood in place so it appears the damage is in layers, almost like the pages of a book.
The damage follows the grain of the wood which they leave mud in the open galleries, when touched or handled the wood simply crumbles in your hand. Often the damage is behind the paint, termites will eat the wood and not the paint giving the appearance the wood is intact but when touched the paint breaks through exposing the damage.
How To Get Rid of Eastern Subterranean Termites
While Eastern Subterranean Termites are the most widely spread and economically damaging they may be the easiest to treat simply because they return to the soil and in most cases nest in the soil.
Chemistry for termite treatments in the last three decades has improved significantly but still not to the point the homeowner can treat adequately and safely themselves.
Eastern Subterranean termite treatment begins with the soil, unless you are Superman with x-ray vision none of us can see beneath the ground and thus termite treatment can never be a “spot” treatment. The entire structure must be protected on the full exterior at a minimum.
Liquid Soil Applications For Easter Subs
Liquid Soil Applications are injected into the soil with high pressure equipment, sometimes hundreds of gallons (active mixed with water) around the entire structure and sometimes by drilling under the slabs on the interior if infestation requires it.
- Barrier applications Until the new chemistry for termite treatment came along a few decades ago soil injections were made around the exterior of the home with repellent products (still used today in some cases) that basically kill termites if they came into contact with the “Barrier” but more likely simply repelled them away from the structure, hence the word “barrier”. Termites are blind but can sense the product and that repels them away from the treated area. For years this was the only chemistry once Chlordane was removed from the market. Most of these products were formulated from the Pyrethrin and Pyrethroid family that replaced some of the organophosphates. Compared to the new generation termiticides it lacks the efficiency and is a poor choice today. Barrier products do not kill termites in so much as they keep them away from the structure however any break in the barrier the termites will find and attack the structure non-stop and unnoticed.
- Zone applications: The new generation non-repellant termiticides do not repel termites, as a matter of fact it is virtually unnoticed by the termites and they interact with the product as they pass through the treated soil. As they interact with the treatment zone they carry the product back to the nest resulting in a higher, stealthier mortality rate spreading the toxic agent the entire colony. Significantly more effective than barrier termiticides. The best chemistry of the new generations liquids today are Imidacloprid and Fipronil.
The Bottom Line About Liquid Termite Treatment: Don’t get caught up in brand names as today the manufacturers are producing their own generics of the same chemistry at half the cost to the termite companies who should pass this price on to the homeowner.
Our favorite chemical is the Bayer imidacloprid sold under several generic names as well as their brand name Premise 75 WSP.
The popular Termidor, (Fipronil is the active ingredient for this one) is a close runner up and in some cases better but price wise it does not outperform Imidacloprid for the difference in price.
Bayer generic is the same as the main Premise 75 WSP so why pay for the brand name go generic?
Termite Baits For Eastern Subs
Termite Baits (non-liquid) are a popular and expensive option for subterranean termites with a “Green” advantage that some consumers find attractive.
The two most popular baits are not stomach toxicants but more IGR based (Insect Growth Regulators in a sense) disrupting the reproductive cycles of termites causing the population to shrink and die off.
With baits there are no ground contamination or injection, no toxic products introduced and no drilling or soil disruption. The most common baits are listed below. Termite bait tubes are placed around the structure “hoping” the termites will feed on the bait which contains the active ingredients. Termites then go back to their nest and through throphallaxis regurgitate the food and bait to the queen who then produces a genetically incorrect termite that cannot form their exoskeleton efficiently. Thus, no worker termites to tend the colony which is supposed to result in termite elimination (or so the story goes).
- Dow Sentricon System: Dow AgroScience lead the way in termite baiting taking the industry by storm when it hit the market. Sentricon was advertised heavily and can be found around most influential buildings like the White House, Statue of Liberty, schools and government buildings. Winning several “Green” awards. The active ingredient, Noviflumuron is a chitin synthesis inhibitor which interferes with the insect to form the exoskeleton need for growth.
- Advance Termite Bait: Same process with installing the bait stations and same mode of action as Sentricon, however the active ingredient is Diflubenzuron. While still a chitin synthesis inhibitor it has a different matrix and claims longer life.
The great news with baits is that it is environmentally safer than liquids.
The bad news is that it is very slow acting.
Termites must find the baits, consume it, pass it to the queen and colony and wait for the process to work. In many cases the infestation is so far advanced the product just works too slow, while the homeowner is waiting on the product to work termites are working 24/7 eating the house.
Today many companies are using liquid applications and backing it up with bait.
The Bottom Line About Termite Baits: Baits might be a great preventative treatment but if you don’t have termites why would you want to “bait” them to your home. If you have termites eating your home, who has the patience to wait on blind termites to find the bait tubes, consume the product and wait on the colony to slowly die off? If you have a severe cavity you need a root canal, it is painful but it is quick and it works. Baits are slow, often ineffective and expensive.
How To Get Rid of Formosan Subterranean Termites
Formosan Termites are the most aggressive of the subterranean termites, if their distribution were as wide as the Eastern Subterranean termites this species would be king of the termites.
If you live in the southeast, southwest as far as Louisiana or as far north as North Carolina you must worry and deal with Formosan Termites.
Considered a subterranean termite like the Eastern Subterranean termite however this termites species does NOT require constant soil contact.
Formosan termites can and will build above ground nests called “Cartons” normally behind finished walls or under finished floors or attics. They can devastate a home in very short time rendering structural damage. In New Orleans, LA the estimated cost of damage per year is over 3 million a year.
Like other subterranean termites, Formosans swarm once a year and have a complex caste system. Fortunately, they struggle with colder weather and their range has been limited northern range unless they adapt later which would give the Eastern Subterranean termites a run for the most economically damaging.
Fumigation For Formosan Termites
Because Formosan do not require returning to the soil, even though they are considered subterranean termites, ground applications like baits and trenching are not always effective.
Their ability to live in carton colonies in the walls without soil contact presents a significant challenge for treatment options.
Fumigation is the only procedure that can guarantee immediate kill. The entire house is tented and Vikane fumigant gas is pumped into the structure within the tented area. The active ingredient is Sulfurylfluide, extremely lethal, it will kill anything that breathes air.
While this process is effective immediately it is labor intense, expensive and time consuming while the house is tented for a few days.
The issue, other than the above mentioned, is that Sulfurylfluide leaves NO RESIDUAL, so once the tent is pulled and the house clear Formosans could renter through the soil and re-infest the home AGAIN.
Recommend that soil treatment, as the type recommended above with Eastern Subterranean termites, be placed at the same time as the fumigation to prevent re-infestation. Above ground bait stations like Sentricon can be used in conjunction with liquid soil treatments to assist in interior infestations as well.
More About Drywood Termites
Different from subterranean termites, drywood termites do not need to come into contact with soil moisture in order to live.
Even Formosans are considered subterranean because they are soil dwellers that can live above ground in carton colonies. Drywood termites are exclusively above ground wood dwellers that can infest homes, furniture, fence post, etc. The most widely distributed are the Southeastern Drywood Termites and Southwestern.
Because these woods destroying social insects do not need ground contact they can infest furniture which can be transported to new homes and spread the infestation, they can infest homes by exterior swarmer’s entering the structure.
Unlike the subterranean termites who like moisture the drywood termites like dry wood for the most part which makes attics attractive.
You'll usually find these guys in attics, wooden fences, decks, or in pieces of furniture.
They can do significant damage but they tend to have smaller colonies than their cousins the subterranean termites. Evidence of infestation is small pinholes, galleries exposed in damaged wood, swarmer’s once a year but no mud tubes!
Checkout the video below to learn more about these creatures!
These types of termites like to create tunnels and tubes in blocks of wood with their teeth. This creates a very distinctive pattern of bite marks and detailed tubing.
Oftentimes, they'll expel fecal matter into these tunnels to add insult to injury. Because they love to eat through support beams, this kind of termite can cause serious damage to your home if not dealt with quickly.
The not so good thing about Drywood termites is that a traditional homeowner will never see them because they will be burrowed inside of the wood things you own. Unless you are specifically looking for them, it's unlikely you spot them.
How To Get Rid of Drywood Termites
Fumigation For Drywood Termites
The best way to get rid of Drywood Termites is very similar to the Formosans listed above, except the soil treatment as a backup is not an option as Drywood termites do not re-enter the soil so it would be a waste.
In exposed wood such as attics or basements there are liquid applications with borates that can be applied to the exposed wood but that is less effective.
Remember, with fumigation there is no residue after treatment. Be careful of furniture you bring in, have your homes inspected by licensed pest control inspectors once a year in areas where Drywood termites are active.
How To Get Rid of Dampwood Termites
As their name suggests, these are the termites that will eat through moist, rotting wood. Because of this preference, you'll usually find dampwood termites outside of the home, infesting logs and dead trees.
Dampwood Termites are the least of your worries as a homeowner.
But if there's some kind of water leak in the structure of the home, it's a serious possibility that these termite could be lurking within the damp wood structures.
What makes dampwood termites distinctive (aside from their preference for moisture) is that their tunnel systems are almost unnaturally smooth.
Whereas their drywood cousins create rough and jagged tunnels, the dampwood termites make tubing networks within the wood that seem to be almost sandpapered.
Normally, repair the cause of the moisture problem and remove the damaged woods with limited soil treatment should solve most issues with Dampwood termites.
Effective Home Remedies for Termites
Let's say you've called an exterminator and you've been given a wait time of a few weeks. Or maybe hiring a professional just isn't in your budget right now.
While we highly recommend seeking professional help, but here are some DIY hacks that you can use right now in the event that a professional exterminator isn't available for some reason.
You know that tub of petroleum jelly that you bought five years ago?
The one that's probably sitting in the back of your medicine cabinet, mostly unused? That can help you significantly with your termite problem!
Because petroleum jelly contains phenol, a chemical compound which repels termites, this is a perfect short-term solution for a termite problem. Simply spread a layer of the jelly to surfaces you want to protect like doors, beams, baseboards, etc.
Nematodes for Termites
Despite their weird-sounding name, nematodes are incredible organisms. We've given the lowdown on how these helpful parasites can knock out the nasty cycle of fleas on pets and in the home, but the benefits of nematodes don't stop there.
Simply put: nematodes are microscopic roundworms which live and thrive in soil. They are parasites which permeate the outer shells of insect bodies and feed on them from the inside out. Because of this implosive style of eating, there are no gross insect corpses to clean up after the nematodes have worked their magic. The nematodes, in turn, die and biodegrade once no more hosts (AKA: your pests) are present.
You can purchase these guys online or in local gardening stores, but here's a tip: use them as soon as possible. Because they are live organisms, they can die off in the packaging if not stored properly and used immediately.
This is one of the most ubiquitous insecticides out there. Boric acid works by poisoning insects that ingest it; causing difficulty with digestion and short-circuiting the nervous system.
This chemical is available in several different forms, including (but not limited to):
- Liquid solutions
There are health risks associated with possible exposure to boric acid, so it's best to use extreme caution when placing this type of chemical in and around your house. This is especially true for homes with children and animals.
The Bottom Line About Termite Removal
If your home becomes one of the hundreds of thousands that fall victim to termite damage each year, don't fret.
The collective termite damage cost may hover in the billions each year, but it's important to understand that fast action can make all the difference in the degree of damage your home may face with a termite infestation.
With our detailed guide on how to get rid of termites, you should have all the information you need on how to identify, eradicate, and prevent these costly pests.
Other Termite Guides
Curious about other termite artcles? Check out our other detailed guides to help you deal with your pest problems.