Termites
Identify the signs of infestation, DIY monitoring tips, and termite treatment options.

How to Get Rid of Termites: The Definitive Guide

Termites cause billions of dollars in damage each year in the U.S to homes and businesses. They feast on the cellulose material in wooden structures, paper products, and dead trees, causing homeowners headaches across the nation. The moment you suspect an infestation, it is time to call one of the best pest control companies like Orkin or Terminix. They can spot the telltale signs by thoroughly inspecting your property. The good news is that these pest management providers typically offer this service for free. If you're curious about which cities are most plagued by these destructive pests, check out our list of the top 25 termite-infested cities in the U.S.

Eliminating termites from a property is typically not for DIY homeowners. However, it is good to know what you’re up against when confronting this challenge head-on. In this informative guide to effective termite control, you’ll learn:

  • The difference between the termite species
  • How to perform barrier treatments
  • Keys to effective baiting
  • How to identify and prevent termite infestations
  • What to look for in a reputable termite exterminator
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Common Signs of a Termite Infestation

Few insects strike fear in the hearts of homeowners the way termites do and rightly so. Termites work quietly and can do thousands in damage before anyone notices they're there. To protect your home, get familiar with the signs of an infestation and the treatment options. Termites are crafty when it comes to finding ways to enter structures in search of wood to eat, so it's important to understand the common entry points like cracks in foundations, gaps around pipes, poor quality wood, and areas of moisture accumulation that attract these destructive pests into your home.

Macro Shot of Termite

Termite infestations often go unnoticed until the damage is severe, but these insects do give some early warning signs. By staying alert for these signs, you can spot an infestation while it's still small.

Adventurous insects - The most common first signs of a termite infestation are the termites themselves or their dropped wings. Termites you see out and about in your rooms are usually winged "swarming" termites scouting for new territory where they can start another colony. Swarming termites are easy to mistake for flying ants, but the two insects have distinct differences. Termites have thick bodies, straight antennae, and four equally sized wings. Flying ants have narrow midsections, bent antennae, and front wings that are larger than their back wings.

Funny noises - If you suspect part of your home harbors termites, tap the wood there and listen closely. You might hear the soft clicking or rattling noises known as "head banging" termites use as an alarm signal. In addition, drywood termites sometimes create a rustling sound as they move.

Damaged wood - If part of your floor, wall or other solid wood surface sounds hollow when you knock on it, chances are it has termite damage.

Difficult doors and windows - When termites eat door and window frames, they cause damage and produce moisture that warp the wood and cause the doors and windows to stick when you use them.

For more insights into the impact of these pests, explore some eye-opening termite statistics and facts.

What Do Termites Eat?

Termites are notorious household pests, but what exactly do termites eat that allows them to damage homes so extensively? There are different termite species with different diets, but they all share a love for consuming wood and wood products.

Subterranean termites are the most destructive type and live in soil. They feed on any materials containing cellulose like wood framing, flooring, furniture, paper, books, and even living plants. To reach these cellulose sources, subterranean termites build earthen tubes from the ground up along foundation walls and structural timbers. Drywood termites infest and consume wooden structural lumber, rafters, trim, and furniture from the inside out. They do not need contact with soil and can thrive simply within a piece of wood if there is enough moisture present.

Dampwood termites feed strictly on wood and are found living in extremely moist logs or lumber. Lastly, Formosan termites have a voracious cellulose appetite like subterranean termites but also consume non-cellulose material when needed. All termite species work constantly to find sources of wood or wood products to consume as their energy source. Knowing what termites like to eat helps focus inspection and monitoring efforts.

Types of Termites: Know Your Enemy

Before you can formulate your plan of attack against a termite infestation, you need to know what type of termites you have. Several dozen species of termites live in the United States and U.S. territories, but just three are responsible for the majority of infestations. These bugs are more common in the south, but they can show up in any state besides Alaska.

Scientists have already discovered 3,000 species of termites worldwide, and they are finding new ones every day. The ones you will run into in the U.S. are listed below.

You can find the eastern subterranean termite from Northern Maine to the Florida Keys along the eastern seaboard. It extends westward to the Ohio Valley and south to the Mississippi Delta.

This species relies heavily on moisture. It also requires its workers to build mud tubes used for traveling for colonies underground to find suitable food sources.

The primary diet of the eastern subterranean termite is wood from any structure. However, they will also devour cardboard, wallpaper, and dead tree stumps.

The western subterranean termite lives in areas along the Pacific Coast and can extend as far east as the Permian Basin in Texas. Although it is slightly smaller than its eastern cousin, it can do nearly as much damage to a home. Also, since it is adapted to live in drier regions, it requires less water than most subterranean species.

The Formosan termite is a subterranean, invasive species that scientists believe originated in the Burmese region near Southern China. It migrated to the Polynesian Islands via passenger boats and was introduced into the U.S., probably around the early 1900s.

Formosan termites are larger and more aggressive than their native counterparts. Colonies can number in the millions and can sometimes be impossible to eradicate once established.

The dampwood termite thrives along the pacific coast, from British Columbia, Canada, to Baja, California, to Mexico. You can also find them along the Gulf Coast Region, from Galveston, Texas, and into the tropical areas of Florida.

Dampwood termites infest moist, rotting wood above ground. In addition, it creates circular galleries used for laying eggs, feeding, and storing waste products.

Since this species lives in small, localized colonies, scientists caution against treating it with termiticides. Instead, it is best to replace damaged wood as needed.

You can find the drywood termite living in the southwestern regions of the U.S. and Mexico. It does not require constant contact with moist soil like its subterranean cousin. For that reason, it can infest all parts of a structure in a shorter period.

A licensed professional should determine the species of termite you have on your property. Only then can you determine the proper course of action to eliminate infestations.

Today's Homeowner Tips

If you have doubts about the species infesting your home, ask a pest control professional.

How to Identify a Termite Infestation

To determine if you have a termite problem, you first need to complete a thorough inspection of the entire home. Start at the ground level in the basement or crawlspace. Next, check the outside area around the foundation and work your way up to the attic, eaves, and roof.

Close Up of Termites

Along the way, look for signs of infestation. Here are some examples of the techniques used by professional termite inspectors:

  • Hollow wood: A hollow sound when you knock on a piece of wood means that you have found a gallery or nesting site. Also, try pressing down on the wood with a screwdriver. It may reveal live termites burrowing through the area if it caves in.
  • Mud tubes: Since subterranean termites require constant contact with the soil, they will create mud tubes for traveling back and forth from the ground to your home. Look for them near plumbing lines.
  • Frass (termite droppings): Typically, you will have already discovered termite locations if you spot frass, an accumulation of barrel-shaped droppings. However, dried-up termite waste without live activity can signal a dormant gallery.
  • Swarm evidence: The presence of winged reproductive swarmers during the spring or summer can indicate an infestation. During mating season, they drop their wings, providing further evidence of a problem.
  • Peeling paint: Once you detect peeling paint on a surface, run your finger over the area. If it caves in at any part, and you notice dirt or mud, you’ve found a termite travel tube.
  • Headbanging: Soldier termites bang their heads together to warn the colony of danger. However, the noise created by this behavior is too faint to hear, so you will need a stethoscope or other specialty device to detect it.
  • Seeing live termites: You can distinguish between ants and termites by their general appearance. Termites have thick bodies, while ants have thin, segmented bodies. Both possess two sets of wings, but the termites are equal in length, and the ant’s wings are unequal in length.

6 Steps to Prevent Termites

It’s always more cost-effective to keep termites away than to treat them once an infestation is present in your home. For that reason, we list the six most effective prevention measures here.

  1. Check for leaks: Termites can immediately sense a water source for up to 100 feet away.
  2. Clean pipes and gutters: Moist soil can accumulate in these areas where termites like to hide
  3. Fill in foundation cracks: Caulk and seal any cracks in the foundation where pests can hide.
  4. Limit termite food sources: Keep firewood at least 50 feet from your home, if possible. Also, get rid of old tree stumps and downed logs in the yard.
  5. Consider alternative mulch types: Natural yard mulch can attract termites, so it is best to use an alternative such as gravel or rubber instead.
  6. Schedule regular termite inspections: Set up periodic inspections of your home with a licensed termite inspector. This one act of prevention can save you thousands of dollars.

Getting Rid of a Termite Infestation

The most effective way to get rid of termites depends on the termite species. Generally, killing a subterranean termite colony requires treating the soil in which it's located. For drywood and dampwood termites, which live inside wood, you'll need to treat the wood directly. These two methods aren't mutually exclusive, however, so an exterminator might recommend both.

Termites in Nest

If you realize a piece of furniture, firewood, or another wood item you brought in is carrying drywood termites, it might be enough just to remove that item from the house. Then either treat it, destroy it, or store it least 20 feet from the house. Drywood termites spread fast, though, so stay alert for signs they're still in your home.

If your house is infested, you might be able to treat the infestation yourself as long as it's small. For damage covering more than around 10 sq. ft., you're better off calling an exterminator. A professional exterminator has the knowledge needed to correctly identify the termite species, choose the most effective treatment, and locate the colony in order to eradicate it completely. If left untreated, some termite species can cause major structural damage surprisingly quickly, so knowing how long it takes for termites to destroy a house can help motivate you to take action against an infestation.

Subterranean Termites Extermination

Termiticide Barriers

Subterranean termites live underground and require constant contact with the soil. Therefore, the first line of defense against these menacing pests is a chemical barrier.

This method involves digging a four-inch-wide trench around the home’s foundation and filling it with a diluted mixture of termiticide, such as Termidor SC with fipronil. Other suitable active ingredients include:

  • Imidacloprid
  • Chlorantraniliprole
  • Permethrin
  • Cypermethrin
  • Bifenthrin

Products containing these substances labeled for termites will work on most species. However, it is vital to read all label directions before applying them.

Foam Treatments

It is often hard to reach into wall voids, cracks, and crevices with liquid termiticide. Products containing a foaming agent solve this problem. They can reach these tight areas where termites live and eradicate colonies at their source.

Termite Baits

Termite bait stations containing a low dose of slow-acting, non-repellent insecticides are effective when installed around the perimeter of your home. They include a cellulose attractant that will infect the rest of the colony and eventually cause it to die off when eaten by worker termites.

Utilizing termite bait stations is an effective method for long-term control and prevention. However, they should never be used as a stand-alone treatment for active infestations.

Beneficial Nematodes

Beneficial nematodes are microscopic parasites that burrow into the host insect to deposit lethal bacteria. Although gardeners often swear by their efficacy to kill grub worms and other pests, they should never be used to treat termite infestations.

Drywood Termites Extermination

Fumigation

Unlike their subterranean cousins, drywood termites do not require contact with moist soil to survive. For that reason, they can reach much higher into a structure, infesting as far up as the roofline.

Fumigation, in severe cases, is often the only way to eradicate a drywood termite colony from a home. This process requires draping the entire house with a tent-like structure. Then, the termite specialist releases a fumigant, such as sulfuryl fluoride, for up to several hours, eventually killing the colony.

Heat Treatments

The latest advances in thermal technology allow technicians to by-pass the dangerous process of fumigation and utilize a more environmentally sound approach. This method involves raising the temperature of selected sections of the structure over 120 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 33 minutes.

Spot Treatments

Drywood termites build longitudinal galleries and should not be confused with dampwood termites, which build circular galleries. In either case, you can spot-treat these areas using a wettable powder insecticide spray containing cyfluthrin.

Inject pyrethrin dust directly into the openings using a bulb duster for longer-lasting residual control. However, it will be necessary to eventually replace the damaged wood areas since using putty to fill the holes is not a viable solution.

Essential Oils

Standard DIY solutions, such as orange oil and neem, smell nice and can be effective against some species of garden insects. However, they should never be used as a stand-alone treatment option for termites.

General Termite Extermination

Termite Frass

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a natural insecticide produced from crushed diatoms mined from dry lake beds. It has the consistency of baby powder, and you apply it with a special bellows duster.

For long-term residual control of termites, you first have to drill 1/8-inch holes in the drywall every six feet. Next, slowly release the DE into the wall void. Last, be sure to patch all the holes when finished.

Boric Acid

Use boric acid in the same way as diatomaceous earth. It is also effective when injected directly into termite galleries or as a crack and crevice treatment application.

Cardboard Trap

DIY pest control enthusiasts often point to cardboard traps as effective against termites. The idea is to sandwich several pieces of cardboard together, creating a cellulose trap where worker termites cannot escape.

While this can be a fun science experiment for children, homemade cardboard traps should never be used to control termite infestations.

Termite Control Methods

To prepare for treatment application, a trench of 6 in. deep must be dug all the way around the foundation. The trench is then filled with liquid termiticide and backfilled with soil. Concrete areas must be drilled into once per foot, and termiticide poured into each hole. This kills any termites returning to the colony and prevents future re-infestations.

For interior treatment, the floor covering must be pulled back to allow access to the concrete foundation slab. This slab will also be drilled, and a termiticide applied in the holes. If you're willing to do the digging and drilling, you might be able to treat a small infestation yourself with a borate-based product such as Tim-bor or Bora-care.

Termiticide sprays and foams are formulated to be used above ground on termite-infested wood. For most of these products, holes must be drilled into the infested wood, and the treatment solution injected into these holes. The major producers of borate-based DIY soil treatments also make products for direct wood treatment.

This method involves setting out bait stations that contain a poisoned termite food source. In theory, the termites should pick up this food and carry it back to the colony, gradually killing off the whole colony. In reality, baiting is the least effective method of termite control. It's also a slow method that's vulnerable to changes in the weather. Baiting is reserved for locations where standard treatments are impractical, such as near concrete surfaces that would be difficult to drill into. If you want to use this method, get guidance from a professional first.

Used for extensive infestations of drywood termites, fumigation involves covering the whole house with a tent, then pumping in a gas fumigant to kill the termites. After treatment, the house is uncovered and aired out. The air is then tested for safety before you can return. You'll need a licensed fumigator for the job. While some small jobs can be done in less than a day, others take a full week. For this time, you'll need to find somewhere else for your family and pets to stay as well as remove all food, medications, and plants and store them elsewhere.

Also called heat fumigation, this method is reserved for large colonies of drywood termites. It involves heating the entire house to temperatures of at least 120 degrees for at least 35 minutes to kill the termites living inside the wood in your house. Before the treatment, you might need to remove certain items from your house and turn of certain equipment. Your pest control professionals will then bring in specially designed heaters that blow hot air through your house. The process takes less than a day. It can easily fail if done incorrectly, so if you go this route, choose a company with proven experience in termite heat treatment.

Some termite species can do extensive damage in a matter of months, so if you spot signs of termite activity, contact a pest control professional for guidance as soon as possible. Even if you ultimately decide to treat the infestation yourself, tips from a pro can make the difference between success and ongoing destruction.

Professional Pest Control Companies

The first step in hiring a licensed professional to treat your termite problem is to schedule an inspection. Like Terminix, most of the top exterminators in the country will do it for free if it is not tied to a real estate transaction.

It will probably surprise you to see how long it takes to complete a termite inspection. This is because most states put a fair amount of liability on the company performing it. If the inspector misses anything and your house gets damaged due to an infestation, the business could be found guilty in court.

With the overall cost associated with termite treatment, a reputable termite control provider will take every aspect of the process seriously. From the inspection to the treatment, your termite specialist will calculate every step carefully to ensure nothing is left to chance.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are signs I have termites?

The first telltale sign is structural damage. Termites burrow through sound wood to create vast galleries that appear as hollowed-out tunnels.

Another way to quickly tell if you have termites is by the presence of mud tubes. Look for them near plumbing areas and near foundation walls in crawlspaces.


What chemicals kill termites?

Non-repellent active ingredients such as fipronil provide the best residual control of termites. In addition, insect growth regulators containing imidacloprid work well long-term.

Conversely, it is best to avoid products containing bifenthrin or permethrin. These chemicals are mostly repellent and may break down quickly under certain conditions.


What is the fastest way to get rid of termites?

The fastest way to eliminate termites is to follow these six steps :

  1. Perform a thorough inspection of the home or structure
  2. Correctly identify the pest as being termites
  3. Identify the species
  4. Write a detailed action plan with all the steps included
  5. Gather all the equipment you’ll need to perform the job, such as a pickaxe, shovel, termiticide, bait stations, etc.
  6. Prepare to perform follow-up treatments as necessary

Even if you follow all these steps, your DIY methods might not be enough. For that reason, it is always preferable to consult an experienced professional at the first sign of termites.


How much does it cost to get rid of termites?

Here are some ball-park national averages to consider. However, keep in mind that prices vary greatly based on various factors, including the size of your home and the species.

Spot treatments: $300 – $500

Bait stations only: $500 – $1,000

Standard barrier treatments: $1,500 and up

Barrier treatment and bait stations: $2,000 and up

Tent fumigation: $5,000 and up


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