Last updated: January 4, 2018 – Out of all the pests that homeowners face, there are none that are as costly and as damaging as termites. These insects feed on cellulose, the organic fibrous material in wood and plants, meaning that they will literally eat your house, so you’ll need to get rid of them fast.
There are two main ways that termites may come to infest your house (assuming they weren’t already there in the first place); by air and through the ground.
A drywood termite infestation typically occurs when an existing colony sends out flying termite swarmers. Once these swarmers find a wooden crevice in your home, they shed their wings, carve out a little nest, and begin laying eggs to start a brand new termite colony.
On the other hand, subterranean termites, whose colonies are underground, may enter your home through its foundations. As these termites forage for food, they may stumble upon a rich new food source – your house. Subterranean termites commonly build mud tunnels over foundation walls to access the wooden parts of the structure. Subterranean termites are responsible for 95% of termite damage in the United States.
One of the main reasons that termites can be so damaging is that by the time that many homeowners discover the infestation, severe damage has already been done. A termite infestation is like cancer; detect it early and chances are pretty good, catch it late and the treatment will be painful and intensive.
Therefore, it is very important that you learn to spot the signs of a termite infestation. Keep a look out for the following:
1. Winged Termite Swarms
If you see a swarm of winged termites near or around your home, that’s a sure sign that a termite colony is nearby. Much like winged ants, these winged termites are likely to swarm around a light source. They also look rather similar, and the layperson will not be able to tell them apart.
Here’s how you can.
|Winged Termites||Flying Ants|
|• Straight antennae||• Elbowed antennae|
|• Broad waist; hard to clearly differentiate between body segments||• Pinched waists; Easy to differentiate between body segments|
|• Front wings and hind wings are the same size||• Front wings are longer than hind wings|
|• Wings are about double body length||• Wings are about equal to body length|
2. Discarded Wings of Swarmers
Termite swarmers don’t keep their wings for long. Once they shed their wings, they are in search of places to build new nests.
If you notice small piles of discarded swarmers’ wings on places like window sills, or caught in spider webs, there may be a termite colony nearby; or one about to begin.
3. Mud Tubes
Subterranean termites build mud tubes (sometimes known as shelter or foraging tubes) as links between their food source and their colony. These are made of soil, debris, and wood, and they help protect the colony against predators and conserve moisture.
If you have a subterranean termite infestation, you will find these tubes at the foundations of your home or in its substructure.
4. Termite Galleries
As subterranean termites eat through the wood of your house, they create ‘termite galleries’. These are the empty spaces left in the wood as they burrow through it. Typically, termite galleries run parallel to the grain of the wood.
5. Termite Droppings
Drywood termites leave behind their fecal droppings as they munch through the wood in your home. Their droppings, known as frass, are pellet-shaped, and look like heavy grains of sand or sawdust. If you find mounds of termite droppings in and around your home, you likely have a drywood termite infestation.
6. Hollow Wood
Termites will eat your house from the inside out; that’s what makes them so insidious. A piece of wood could look perfectly normal on the outside but be absolutely infested with termites on the inside. If you suspect a termite infestation at a certain area, tap or puncture the wood to see if it’s hollow. By the time cracks and fissures start appearing on the surface, the damage is likely to be very extensive.
7. Swollen Floors or Peeling/Bubbling Paint
Termites like dark and moist areas. That’s why they live just below the surface of the wood and bring in moisture into their termite galleries. This moisture can often cause the wood to swell. If you have termites in your wooden floors, the floors will likely start to swell. Similarly, the moisture can also cause the paint on wooden surfaces to bubble or peel; especially if the termites have eaten all the way up to the paint layer.
As these signs are similar to the signs of general water leaks (since they’re both caused by moisture), make sure to rule out any water leaks first. If you’ve determined that water leaks are not the cause, you can inspect further by seeing if the wood has become hollow.
The Damage Termites Can Cause
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, termites cause $40 billion per year in damages globally and are responsible for destroying 600,000 homes in the United States annually. The total annual cost of termite control and damage repair in the United States is $2 billion. This does not include costs to the military from the Formosan termite (a subterranean species).
Does that sound steep? It is steep, and that figure just covers the cost of removing the termites. When you factor in repair costs to your home, the total cost could easily reach $10,000 and up.
So if you suspect that you might have a termite infestation, ACT IMMEDIATELY. Delaying action could literally cost you thousands of dollars of your hard earned cash.
Professional termite control is expensive; there’s no doubt about that. After seeing just how expensive, it’s natural to wonder how you can kill termites yourself and whether or not it would be effective. The good news is that if you detect the infestation early enough, you stand a great chance of taking care of the termite problem yourself.
We’ve compiled six of the best DIY methods on how to kill termites yourself right here. These methods are ranked from the strongest to the weakest. However, this doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to start at Method #1; if your infestation is more minor, one of the lower ranked methods can work just as well.
Method #1: Liquid Termite Barrier
This method will not only kill the termites already present in your house, but it’s a good preventative method too. The idea behind a liquid termite barrier is to completely surround your house in a pesticide barrier that will poison termites upon contact. While it is commonly used around the entire foundation of the home, it can also be used around specific wooden structures, wood piles, or tree stumps.
As for which termite killer you should use to create the liquid termite barrier, we recommend Termidor Termiticide Suspended Concentrate. When it comes to eliminating termites, Termidor is the leader in the field and it is used by the majority of pest control professionals for exterminating termites.
Here’s what makes Termidor so effective:
- It is completely undetectable by termites; they can’t avoid what they can’t smell or see.
- Multiplier effect. Termidor can be spread by contact; a single affected termite can spread the poison to other termites in the colony.
- Slow acting; giving affected termites ample time to spread the poison to other termites.
- Non-repellent; older liquid termite barriers were designed to repel termites, meaning that termites would avoid the barrier. Repellents have been proven to be less effective and does not benefit from the multiplier effect.
How to Use This Method
- Create a solution of 0.8oz of Termidor to 1 gallon of water. One 20oz bottle above can yield 25 gallons of the finished solution.
- Dig a 6 by 6 inch deep trench around the foundation of your home. For concrete areas, you will have to drill a half inch by 18 inch hole about 2 inches from the foundation wall at a rate of one hole for every foot.
- Using a high quality sprayer, spray the Termidor solution into the trench or holes at a rate of 4 gallons for every 10 feet.
Here’s a video detailing the instructions for those who prefer it:
Termidor is most effective when used as described above. The trench allows the Termidor solution to bond with the soil, and when applied in this manner, the barrier can last for as long as 10 years (although it is best to reapply the barrier every one or two years).
While it is entirely possible to skip the trench and hole digging process and just spray the Termidor solution directly onto the foundation, the barrier would not be as effective nor would it last as long. Nevertheless many people have found great results even with this less effective method of application.
- There is a very high chance that you can kill the entire termite colony due to the transference effect of the poison.
- One single application can last for years.
- If you hire a pest control professional, they would likely use this method to treat your home as well.
- Extremely effective against subterranean termites.
- You may need to use hundreds of gallons of the solution in order to cover the entire perimeter of your home, which may be time consuming and costly.
- As with all pesticides (in this case fipronil), it comes with minor health risks (such as slight skin irritation if there is accidental contact with skin).
- Not as effective against drywood termites.
Method #2: Poisoned Bait
For some people, the liquid barrier treatment, though undeniably effective, is a little too radical for them. They might not view their termite problem as too serious, or perhaps they do not feel comfortable with having gallons of pesticide being sprayed around their home.
For such individuals, we recommend using poisoned bait. You don’t have to spray pesticides around your home; the bait will attract foraging termites that will then spread the poison back to the colony.
For this method, we recommend using Spectracide’s Terminate Termite Detection & Killing Stakes. This is the best termite baiting and detecting system that we have seen on the market right now.
The bait stakes can easily be installed in the ground around the perimeter around your house. When the bait is consumed, these stakes pop up; thus serving as a termite detection system as well. The poisoned bait will also be brought back to the termite colony, allowing the poison to spread.
How to Use This Method
- Determine how many stakes you need for your property. We recommend either 10 or 20 stakes, depending on the size of your property.
- Plot out a drawing of your property on the provided graph paper and locate areas that are likely to support termite activity.
- Using the enclosed auger, install the stakes at the predetermined locations around your property. The stakes should be placed 2 to 3 feet away from the foundation and no more than 10 feet apart.
- Frequently inspect the stakes that have popped up for signs the bait has been eaten and/or trapped termites in the stakes.
- If you find an infested stake, replace it with an active stake and install at least 3 more stakes within a foot of the infested stake.
- Make sure to replace or remove all stakes every 12 months.
Here’s a quick preview of how the stakes are installed:
- Still a high chance that the entire termite colony can be wiped out from the poison (some studies have shown an efficacy rate of at least 85% for baits compared to at least 90% for liquid barriers).
- Less costly and time consuming compared to a liquid barrier treatment.
- Bait systems are also used by pest control professionals.
- Highly effective against subterranean termites.
- Excessive rain, moisture or worms may cause the stakes to pop up i.e. false positives.
- Effectiveness limited against drywood termites.
- Minor health risks from pesticide if accidentally exposed, although the active ingredient hexaflumuron is classified as a ‘reduced risk pesticide’.
Method #3: Direct Chemical Treatment
While a liquid barrier treatment or poisoned bait is very effective for the outside of your home, you can’t really use it for the inside of your home. Don’t get us wrong; liquid barrier and poisoned bait treatments are perfectly able to kill the termites within your home due to the poison transference effect. We are just saying that you cannot directly use the products within your home.
That means that if you spot some termites in a crevice in your wall, attic, and rafters etc. you need something to take care of them right there and then. And that’s where Termidor Foam comes in.
As we mentioned before, Termidor is THE name in the industry when it comes to eradicating termites and is the choice of the professionals. First off, you should know that it’s a dry foam, not a spray. Sprays aren’t really effective against termites since they are so rarely exposed in the open.
Instead, Termidor foam expands to up to 30 times its volume after leaving the can. That means that one can will give you 5 gallons of foam! The nozzle allows you to shoot the foam into the hard to reach crevices and voids where termites might be hiding, and the expanding foam will take care of them. The foam will slowly evaporate after application and leave behind an invisible residue that will poison termites upon contact. This residue will last for at least a month. The foam is also odorless, a great benefit since it’s for indoor use.
How to Use This Method
- Locate termites in the void and crevice areas.
- If necessary, drill a hole into the wall to access the void areas.
- Insert the can’s nozzle into the hole and fire away. Be sure to wear gloves and eye protection.
- You may want to reseal the hole.
- Reapply to infested areas after 30 days if necessary.
Here’s a video on how it’s done:
- Very cost and time effective.
- Excellent at killing both subterranean and drywood termites.
- One application can last for at least a month.
- Unlikely to kill off the entire colony.
- Minor health risks from fipronil if accidentally exposed.
Method #4: Boric Acid
Boric acid is considered to be the best ‘in between’ solution when it comes to the pesticides vs. natural solutions debate on pest control.
It works on most insects, including termites, where it is theorized that it affects their digestive and metabolic systems. After contact, it would take anywhere from 3 to 7 days for an exposed termite to die. And while not exactly a natural remedy, it is much lower in toxicity compared to the stronger insecticides used in the previous methods.
Boric acid, also known as Borax is widely available and most often sold in powder form. While you can most likely pick it up at your local hardware store, our recommendation is Duda Energy’s Fine Powder Boric Acid. This is 99.9+% pure industrial grade boric acid and is an excellent value for money.
How to Use This Method
There are two main ways to use this product, either as a powder or as a borate solution. For the powder, use as follows:
- Fill up a high quality powder duster with the boric acid powder.
- Simply use the powder duster to apply the boric acid powder into areas where you suspect the termites may be traversing like cracks or crevices. You can use this both indoors and outdoors, such as on your garden.
- If you manage to locate the termite colony, you can apply the boric acid powder directly into it.
The borate solution is used to treat the wooden surfaces of your house. You can also find ‘pre-treated’ wood, which is wood that has been pressure treated with a borate solution prior to construction so that it seeps into its interior. Nonetheless, you can also make your own borate solution and use it ‘post construction’; however the solution would not penetrate as deeply. The borate solution can also be sprayed directly onto infested soil to target subterranean termites.
Here’s how to do it with the borate solution:
- Create your borate solution by dissolving one teaspoon of boric acid with 8fl oz. of warm water. This creates a borate solution of approximately 2% concentration.
- Spray the borate solution onto wooden surfaces or infested soil.
For both the powder and the solution, make sure you do not apply it in areas that children or pets may reach.
- Very cheap and easy.
- The EPA has determined the toxicity of boric acid to be very low, also considering the fact that it is typically applied in much lesser quantities compared to other pesticides.
- Does not last very long, meaning that repeated applications are necessary to see any success.
- Unlikely to destroy the whole termite colony.
- Rain can drastically reduce the effectiveness of boric acid applied onto the soil.
- Borate solutions applied post-construction on wood may still leave the wood interior exposed to termites due to lack of penetration.
Method #5: Beneficial Nematodes
Now we are getting wholly into the ‘natural’ methods of termite removal. No pesky chemicals required, however be warned that chemicals and pesticides are used for a reason; they are extremely effective. That said, if your termite problem is on the minor side or if you are looking more for prevention rather than cure, these natural methods are a good option with zero health risks.
Beneficial nematodes are microscopic roundworms that feed on harmful insects, such as termites. Before going any further, we just want to clarify that beneficial nematodes are 100% safe and have no effect on humans. While there are species of parasitic nematodes that can and do infect humans, this is not one of them. In fact, this particular species (Steinernema Feltia) do not even attack beneficial insects such as ladybugs or earthworms.
When these beneficial nematodes come into contact with termites or other harmful insects, they invade its body and begin feeding on it. In the process the nematodes release gut bacteria that cause blood poisoning and subsequent death of the host. After the host is dead and consumed, the nematodes move on to their next target, while breeding and multiplying the whole time.
When it comes to high quality beneficial nematodes, you can’t go wrong with Dr. Pye’s Scanmask Live Beneficial Nematodes. One box comes with 10 million of these beneficial nematodes and can treat an area of 200 square feet.
How to Use This Method
- Add one cup of cold water to Scanmask container and allow the mixture to sit for half an hour at room temperature.
- Moisten 5 quarts of potting soil, peat moss, or vermiculite with 2 quarts of water.
- Mix the mixtures from steps 1 and 2 together and add another half of cup of water to the final mixture.
- Gently stir the mixture until the Scanmask container contents are evenly distributed.
- Apply the mixture on infested areas and around plants. Water the soil first if it is not moist. Apply the nematodes at dusk if possible as they are sensitive to heat and sunlight.
- Do not apply fertilizer to applied areas for at least 2 weeks as it can negatively affect the nematodes.
Note that if you do not use all the nematodes right away, you can simply store them in your refrigerator for up to a month.
Here’s an instructional video showing how to do it:
- 100% non-toxic.
- Can eliminate large numbers of subterranean termites.
- An inexpensive solution.
- Can only be applied outdoors; not effective against drywood termites.
- Nematodes may be insufficient to kill off the entire colony.
Method #6: Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms known as diatoms. Their skeletons are made of silica and they accumulate in the sediment of lakebeds, rivers, and oceans.
It is 100% non-toxic (you can even eat it if you want, but we don’t recommend it) and is the top choice of natural pest control.
The way that diatomaceous earth works is that its molecular structure is like tiny razor blades to insects. It slices and dices their waxy exoskeletons, leaving them exposed for dehydration and eventual death.
Our top product recommendation is Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade. This product is 100% diatomaceous earth with no additives and is certified organic. And unlike other brands which package their diatomaceous earth by hand, this one uses stainless steel equipment to ensure zero contaminants.
How to Use This Method
- Fill a good powder duster with the product.
- Apply the diatomaceous earth to form a barrier in areas such as exposed wood and insulation in your basement, attic, crawl spaces etc. You can also apply it directly on the soil of your garden.
- If you use it outdoors, you must reapply it each time it rains. If you are in a humid climate, you must reapply it every few days.
- 100% non-toxic.
- Can be used both indoors and outdoors.
- Highly cost effective solution.
- Only works on above ground and exposed termites; ineffective against subterranean termites.
- Zero chance of killing off the entire termite colony.
- Excessive moisture will dramatically reduce its effectiveness.
Should You Consider Professional Pest Control Services?
Whether or not you should use a professional pest control service instead of one of the methods above will depend on your own situation and budget.
While we showed you how to do it yourself, some homeowners may not want to spend the time going about digging a trench and drilling holes in their foundations, or they may simply not know how.
Professional pest control companies are also experts in detecting termite infestations and assessing its severity. While we described the signs of an infestation that you can use to spot one, the fact is that their experience will give them the edge on really evaluating the severity of the infestation.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when making this decision:
- How severe is my termite problem?
- Do I have drywood or subterranean termites? (A severe drywood termite infestation would require tent fumigation to eradicate, something only professionals can do).
- How handy am I around the house? Am I capable of some of the basic level skills required to implement the DIY solutions?
- What is my home value? Do I plan to sell it soon? Is it worth it to take the risk of doing DIY, failing to resolve the infestation, and losing home value?
- What guarantees does the pest control company provide? What will they do if termites return after treatment?
- What are the contract terms of the pest control company? What is the annual contract renewal cost?
Ultimately, only you can make the decision of whether you want to do it yourself or hire a professional pest control company. Just remember that if you opt for the former option and it does not succeed, you will likely have to end up hiring a professional pest control company. This means that you will be ‘paying twice’; once for the DIY, and once for the professionals. We’ve heard it both ways; we’ve had people who saved a lot of money by going the DIY route, but we’ve also had people who ended up spending more money from paying twice.
How Can You Stop Termites from Coming Back?
Everyone has heard the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And given how costly termite treatments can be, it applies doubly in this case. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting a termite infestation in the first place, or a termite re-infestation.
Maintaining DIY Treatment Methods: Any of the DIY methods in this article can also be used as a prevention plan. The termite swarming season is in the spring or summer, so make sure you are prepared by then.
Clear Their Food Sources: While you cannot remove all wood within your home, you should clean up any wood debris or mulch in or around your home. Stack firewood at least 20 feet away from your house; even better if it’s elevated. If possible, remove all wood to soil contact, especially in your basement. Also do not allow leaves to accumulate in your gutters and drains.
Reduce Moisture Levels: Termites need water to survive too. Leaky faucets, roofs, gutters etc. should all be repaired. Better home ventilation also means lower moisture levels; you can also install dehumidifiers. Heavy brush around your home should also be removed as they can create areas of intense moisture necessary for a colony. Make sure there is proper drainage around your home and that rainwater is being properly diverted away from your house.
Seal off Access Points: Seal all cracks and holes in your home’s foundation.
Professional Prevention Plan: Most professional pest control companies will provide some sort of prevention plan, either as a post-treatment option or as a standalone preventive.
We hope you find this article informative in helping you understand the various options on getting rid of termites. If you do, please share this article by using one of the fancy buttons to the left!