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What kills termites? How do I keep them away?

Figuring out what kills termites can prevent infestations like this

Given the opportunity, termites will be happy to feast on your home's wooden structures.

What kills termites? How do I keep them away?

By Dhanesh Misir on March 01, 2018

Understanding what kills termites is an important step towards reaching a lasting solution. 

If you’ve been trying to figure out what kills termites, it’s important to identify the methods that could best help with your particular situation. Although termites don’t pose a direct health risk to people, the eating habits of these insects can be extremely destructive to homeowners. They live off soil, dead leaves, paper and wood, which can translate to staggering amounts of damage to wooden structures over time. 

If you suspect that you’re dealing with a termite problem, diagnosing the issue so it can be addressed is the logical first step. Sometimes the signs can be unclear, but the sooner you can identify and resolve a termite infestation, the more damage you’ll be able to avoid.  

Identifying the signs of a termite infestation

Termite tendencies lead them to stay out of sight much of the time. When the insects create their tunnels, they typically don’t emerge from them — especially if they’re tunneling through one of their preferred food sources. Patrick, a home improvement Expert on JustAnswer, explains why many homeowners can be unaware of a termite infestation, even if they’re sitting right on top of it.  

“The problem with termites is that they live in the ground and come up and chew the wood and paper in your house,” he says. “(They) can do a great deal of damage before they make themselves evident.” Patrick recommends getting an exterminator to perform an inspection if you’re uncertain whether you have a termite problem. This is much better than risking the alternative. “If you have wood floors they can do lots of damage,” he warns. “You need to find them and stop them.”  

If you’ve encountered structural damage, or a swarm of some kind, there are some methods by which you might be able to identify what you’re looking at. These include:  

  • Using a tool with some reach, like a screwdriver, to probe exposed wood. Search for hollow spots, which would indicate that termites have fed on the wood.
  • Identifying insects based on characteristics. Termite swarms can be confused with ant swarms, so look out for wings that are the same length as hind legs and straight antennae. These factors would indicate that you’re looking at a termite.  

What are the best ways to kill termites naturally?

A full-scale infestation will usually require more extreme measures, but for localized termite issues, there are some fairly straightforward methods for eradicating these troublesome insects. If you believe you have termites afflicting a specific area, or a particular item (like a piece of furniture), there are natural techniques you can utilize.  

When a JustAnswer customer inquired about the best way to kill termites in their piano, Expert Michael Dean recommended exposing the instrument to sunlight. “Termites thrive in darkness, and the heat and light from the sun will kill them,” he advised. “On a sunny day, place your furniture outside for as long as possible - preferably 2-3 days.” Sunlight might not immediately come to mind when you’re seeking out what kills termites. However, given the tendency of these insects to remain hidden underground and in their tunnels, the sun’s deadly impact makes sense.  

This quality is also useful for spot-treatment, as you can use the sunlight to kill off any termites you're able to trap. To do this, Michael instructs: “Take a couple flat strips of cardboard, wet them, and stack them on one another in an area where termites are likely to be. Because termites feed on cellulose (cardboard), this makes for an excellent spot trap. When the cardboard is infested with termites, take it out in a safe area and burn it. Repeat multiple times, if necessary.”  

Evaluating potential home termite treatments

For instances where you require a home termite treatment for insects in your fence or another outdoor structure, Edward, a handyman on JustAnswer, recommends using Termidor SC. “If the price scares you away,” he adds, “most any insecticide will kill termites if you spray it directly on the termite.”  

There are a number of different treatment options for termites, which include chemical measures, barrier treatments and non-chemical alternatives. A breakdown of some possible options are:  

  • Physical barriers, which would usually be installed during a house’s construction phase (or as a part of renovations). Steel mesh and specially formulated sand particles can be viable barriers against termite invasions. 
  • Pesticide treatments for termites, or termiticides, are designed to protect structures from the insects, but given their potential dangers, they must also be used in accordance with approved directions. Examples include termite baits, special wood treatments, and soil-applied liquid termiticides.  

It’s important to remember that the incorrect use of pesticides can lead to contaminated homes and water supplies. As such, it’s vital to enlist the aid of a licensed professional for chemical termite treatments. And if you ever find yourself seeking out advice for identifying an infestation, or reliable information on what kills termites, ask an Expert on JustAnswer.

Have you had any harrowing experiences with these pests? Share your insights regarding what kills termites in the comments below!