Want to know everything about professional exterminators? In this guide, you’ll learn when and why exterminators are better than DIY; how much professional pest control services cost; how they work; what products they use, and many more! You’ll also learn professional exterminators’ secrets and things your exterminator won’t tell you.
Pest control is one of those things we all hope to not need, but at some point, it’s an inevitability. It doesn’t matter where you live – the city, the suburbs, or the countryside. There are pests everywhere, and sooner or later, they will find their way into your house.
The real problem is, it doesn’t matter how clean you keep your living space; you will still occasionally get insects or other problematic species wander into your home. Of course, cleanliness and good maintenance go a long way in reducing these pests and discouraging them (they’re less prevalent with nothing overtly drawing them in), but you’re still going to get some curious natural explorers find their way in.
To really manage pests, you need to understand how they physically work, how they behave, how they get in, and so forth. This is where professional pest control shines – they know their stuff, to put it plainly. Unfortunately, there are just as many bad pest control companies as good, so you need to know what to look for when consulting them, and you need to know when the time comes for professional help, versus handling a sufficiently simple problem yourself.
Today, we’re going to learn a good bit about professional pest control, look at some true stories from both customers and the exterminators themselves, and learn some secrets they may not voluntarily divulge. You’ll know everything you wanted to know about professional pest control, but were too afraid to ask!
- How Do Professional Exterminators Work?
- How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Professional Exterminator?
- How and When are Exterminators Better than DIY?
- When Do You Absolutely Need to Hire a Professional Exterminator?
- Products Exterminators Use
- Real Stories from Professional Exterminators
- Real Stories from People who Used Exterminators
- 10 Rules to Follow to Find the Best Exterminator: What to Look For?
- Who are Exterminators and Pest Control Professionals?
- Secrets from Exterminators: What Your Exterminator Won’t Tell You?
- Safety of Children and Pets
First, before we really bite into how these services work, let’s draw the line between “an exterminator’s problem” versus “animal control’s problem”. Unsurprisingly, not all pests are insects, spiders, and other creepy crawlies. There are more complex animals that can become infestations, such as various rodents, reptiles, raccoons, squirrels and the like.
These common, “less dangerous” infestations are often within the purview of pest control companies. However, more dangerous animals such as some species of exceedingly dangerous snakes, large reptiles, or very large, aggressive wild animals fall within the domain of animal control.
Generally, an engagement with professional exterminators begins with a consultation, where they will inspect your home, inside and out. Depending on the type of infestation you’re experiencing, they will look in and for specific things. With the more common problems like roaches or ants, they’ll seek out how they’re getting in, and seek out less-traveled regions of a space, where they can hide undisturbed.
At this point, they’ll give you an assessment of treatment needed (this varies significantly depending on the type of infestation, type of structure and size of the infestation), predicted price, and potential further maintenance treatments to keep them out.
Once you’ve chosen your exterminator, and you’ve arranged an appointment, they will advise you on preparation for their arrival (including safety measures for children and pets – something we’ll touch on later). In the case of small rodents and bugs, this generally involves placing down chemicals along baseboards, foundations and behind furniture, as well as along points of entry. Larger animals may require traps and other measures, which can become complex and depends on your climate and the type of animal.
There is no single answer to this one. It depends on where you live (as cost of living directly impacts the cost of anything), what type of infestation it is, whether or not you choose to accept ongoing preventative treatments, how big your house is, and it depends on the exterminator themselves.
A general rule of thumb is if you have an average 2-or-3-bedroom single-story home if you’re paying more than a couple hundred dollars for a treatment (and more than 75% of that for preventative treatments after), you’re probably being extorted a bit. Of course, again, there are some areas of the country which have the extraordinarily high cost of living (parts of New England, parts of California and the Pacific Northwest), where these prices may be expected to increase by about 30%. More than 30%, though, is in excess.
In all honesty, if you suspect you have any kind of persistent infestation in your home, you’re probably best serve by a good exterminator. However, this is obviously a substantial expense, even if you get a good deal. So, if you’d rather opt for a DIY solution first, there are degrees of infestation that you can indeed handle yourself if you’re dead set on doing so.
Generally, if an infestation is pretty conclusively limited to a single room, and that room isn’t an open space, it’s possible to quarantine it and handle the problem with sprays or bombs (be careful with those). Other small, contained areas like vehicles can be handled by yourself as well.
A common problem in yards in the south – fire ants (and man, are these things a painful menace) – can often be handled with poison pellets formulated for them, sprinkled across the yard with the same equipment that distributes dry fertilizer. In fact, mixing it in with your fertilizer can be a good way to kill two birds with one stone in that aspect.
However, if you have more complex animal-like rodents or other mammals, DIY traps are only going to diminish their numbers, not eliminate them. And, make no mistake, these animals can be dangerous! You will want a professional exterminator with better traps, who is trained in handling these dangerous creatures.
Roaches are another thing that, even in a single room, honestly, are best handled by a professional. Roaches aren’t overtly dangerous (though they are unsanitary), but they’re a very resilient life form, and it takes some real science and skill to eliminate an infestation of these. The same can be said for bed bugs, which are notoriously difficult even for exterminators, and often result in tenting and fumigating an entire structure, to eliminate.
In the case of more dangerous animals, as said before, you shouldn’t even make an attempt at DIY control. Mice, rats, raccoons, squirrels, and snakes can be extremely dangerous animals, and they’re smarter than people give them credit for. If you have animals like this, you absolutely should immediately seek professional help – especially in the case of raccoons and squirrels (yes, squirrels, when cornered, are in fact vicious).
Other pests, while not true “infestations” can also be very dangerous. These include wasps and hornets, many species of painful or very venomous spider populations, etc.
Another infamous infestation, while not directly harmful to humans, does extensive damage to your home, and are pretty much impossible to handle on your own – termites. These pests destroy the infrastructure of your home, and the longer you wait to destroy them, the more damage they can do – this damage is itself potentially very dangerous. No DIY termite treatments really do much more than slow them down.
While it’s possible for people to purchase all the equipment and chemicals an exterminator uses, these are themselves tremendously dangerous, and should only really be handled by trained experts.
Okay, so this is something a good exterminator will actually voluntarily tell you – the industrial-strength chemicals and other treatments used by extermination companies are not different from the DIY treatments you can buy in stores. The difference is the strength of the mixes, the better equipment for applying them, and the expertise in placing these treatments.
That said, the products used depend very heavily on the infestation in question. Most treatments for insects fall into two categories – bait poisons and direct passive poisons. The former work best for social insects like ants and termites. They will mistake these poisons as high-value foods, and take them back to the nest. This will kill the queen, the workers, the nest maintainers and other castes of insects, from the inside out. These are toxic to humans and pets, though seldom lethally.
Passive poisons can be something of a misnomer. The poisons themselves can often kill insects directly sprayed almost immediately, but this isn’t usually the goal (the exception being hornet or wasp nests). These are the spray treatments done along baseboards, behind furniture, along foundations and other places where these insects like to travel.
While not social, things like roaches still tend to group together, and groom and court one another, which means these poisons spread from one to the next. Over time, they will die from attrition. These poisons usually work either toxicologically, damaging their exoskeleton (shell), or by preventing their ability to breathe.
Passive poisons are toxic to humans and pets, but again, rarely lethally if the contact is casual. We’ll be looking at the safety of animals, children and yourself later on.
For larger animals, bait poisons, traps, and direct invasion/capture of animals from nesting areas are the only real solutions. Bait poisons for rodents, raccoons and other vertebrates are, unsurprisingly, highly toxic to people and pets.
In the case of a major enough infestation (usually roaches, termites, bed bugs or sometimes fleas), fumigation may be necessary. The chemicals used in this situation are direct poisons that are highly-highly toxic to pretty much anything that breathes. These chemicals are stronger versions of what you see in “bug bombs”, and like those products, require the absence of people and pets for prolonged periods of time until they’ve done their job and completely dissipated.
There do exist some other treatments used for lesser infestations, or as preventative treatments in the case of insects – things like boric acid. Boric acid is technically toxic, but really only hazardous to children, who think they should put everything they see in their mouths. Animals will not eat it and, in fact, neither will insects. It’s a passive measure that causes the shells of insects to dehydrate and crack, killing them.
Any exterminator that argues in favor of “newfangled” devices that create sound or electrical pulses to drive insects or rodents away, is trying to pull a fast one on you – none of these devices have been verified as truly effective in application. The theory behind these is sound, but no commercial application of them has proven effective in clinical trials as yet.
I am in a unique position myself, for a few reasons. I live in a part of the country where pest control is an ongoing problem – Florida is a place where it never gets cold enough to stop the onslaught of invasive creatures. This means that I happen to have an ongoing business relationship with a very solid local exterminator, and contend with several invasive species despite my home being clean. I also happen to have done some web design, POS software programming etc. in the past, for exterminators in other parts of the state. This has allowed me to collect a few interesting true stories from real, professional exterminators that I think shed some unique light on this whole thing.
This first one comes from my local exterminator Pinpoint Pest Control, of whom I am a customer. In Florida, the three nastiest infestations tend to be roaches, fire ants and bed bugs. I’ve been fortunate enough to never have problems with the latter (cleanliness actually does go a long way in thwarting those). But roaches and fire ants are something that everyone gets, clean or dirty, rich or poor. It’s too warm here, even in the winter months, for the bugs to ever go dormant.
He regaled me with a horror story of someone who’d been obsessed with more “homeopathic” remedies for both fire ants and roaches in their home, trying to use natural treatments. The result, according to him, was a boosted population of roaches that thrived on the treatments. The dead roaches and they do have short lifespans, would then build up behind the customer’s icebox, which attracted the significant population of fire ants in their backyard, due to it being a food source. This created a perfect storm of not just unsanitary conditions from the roaches, but also a dangerous invasion from the ants.
For those who don’t live in the south, let me tell you, fire ants are pure evil. They’re tiny red ants, they look harmless. Unless you happen to be allergic to them, it’d take a major attack for them to kill you. But, if they crawl on you, even unprovoked, they instantly bite/sting. Their sting feels like a harsh, acidic burn that leaves little-swollen pustules that itch and sting for days.
The lesson to take away from this story? One pest leads to another due to the interconnectedness of our planet’s ecosystems, and those home remedies do not work!
The next one comes from a larger exterminator company I used to do some web work for some time ago. They actually have branches all along the eastern seaboard, which means they deal with a few different climates and local ecologies. The story they shared, which really hammers a point home, deals with raccoons.
In North Carolina, a family had bought a home in the mountains. Now, this wasn’t some little cabin or rural house – this could’ve been converted to a successful lodge – it was basically a chalet. Unfortunately, up in those mountains, bugs aren’t the biggest problem – it’s larger critters. Raccoons exist all over the country, but their native habitat are forests like these.
Well, being something of a spendthrift (which is undoubtedly the best way to attain financial stature to afford such a nice place), the new owner’s answer to the raccoon infestation of the basement and attic, was to combat them himself. He’d set up simple animal traps, hoping to be humane, and intended to trap them all and turn them loose some miles away, in hopes they’d be unable to find their way back.
There are three mistakes with this idea:
- The first is assuming that raccoons are stupid – they’re very clever. Some raccoons will fall for these traps (mainly the younger, inexperienced ones), but not all will. Their family members becoming trapped will actually increase the agitation of the entire troupe, making them more hostile and dangerous. They’re a semi-communal species, after all.
- The trapped raccoons, when released, will often not just take off into the forest. They will violently attack the person releasing them. Raccoons, when angry, are some of the most vicious, dangerous small mammals out there.
- Finally, they will often find their way back, unless you go more than 30 miles away to release them.
The lesson from this is larger animals like these need professionals who can trap and chase away the entire colony, and who know how to safely do so!
Let’s take a look at a couple of stories from the other perspective. The first one comes from me, in fact, and hammers home an important thing to consider when it comes to sources of cockroach infestations.
I had a neighbor across the street, whom I never liked as a person. Long story short, they were one of those know-it-all people who always played on my kinder nature to get rides to places. Their house was a wretched pit of filth, which left them with a horrible cockroach infestation. I myself hadn’t seen but the occasional palmetto bug (these look like giant roaches) in my home before she came along.
Well, roaches will hitchhike on your clothes, in your purse or messenger bag, anywhere they can get into. She had infested my car, though I didn’t notice this right away. What I noticed was the occasional German cockroach showing up in my kitchen and my bathroom sometime after I’d finally told her to stay away from me. I screened several exterminators immediately, because heck no.
The one I went with was a local business, and the exterminator that came to handle things was the owner/operator himself. He was very courteous, didn’t talk down to me, and gave me a chance to show what I knew about the pests, before clarifying things for me. He respected my due diligence when it came to research and my intelligence.
He diagnosed my problem – the car had been infested, and the roaches hitched rides in grocery bags etc. into my house. He offered me an immediate treatment of both at a very reasonable price and recommended a tri-monthly return to just maintain the presence of the chemicals he used. He told me outright that his chemicals were nothing special, and that what he did, I could do myself if I really, really wanted to. I didn’t want to – I wanted a trained professional to do it right the first time.
He also went out of his way, noticing the fire ant problem in my yard (a thing every yard in Florida has). He said he could treat it, but instead, gave me instructions to treat that myself – the very same I mentioned earlier in this piece.
The lesson here is to be careful whom you let in your car or house – if they live in filth, their filth will follow them.
The next story comes from apartment dwellers in Brooklyn, NY. They had a mouse problem, which is pretty common in big cities like that.
Rodents love the refuse and the many hiding places metropolitan environments can provide. Traps only do so much, as they noticed, and can provide danger for cats, dogs, and children (they can injure you). A lot of superintendents will only provide basic traps when complaints of pests are made.
The real problem was, these rodents badly distressed their dog.
While cats will enjoy the opportunity to hunt and kill these pests, dogs and other animals are distressed by the intrusions, and this stress is very bad for them. These rodents also carry disease, fleas, and can bite people in their sleep, even unprovoked.
They called a good exterminator in the area, who diagnosed the main problem – the placement of better traps, and the undefended areas through which they were entering. He empowered them to maintain a defense from these pests on their own moving forward, and sealed off these points of entry, and showed them what to look for in traps and the placement of them.
The lesson here is that a good exterminator cares about helping people, not just exploiting one of those unfortunate facts of life for a paycheck. And, it also shows that for those who rent, property owners love to cut corners when it comes to pest control.
So, let’s take a moment to talk about guarantees offered by exterminators. There’s actually something of a sweet spot for reasonable guarantees in this industry.
No guarantee at all is the sign of either an ineffective, greedy company or someone not entirely confident in their ability, having just started out.
Conversely, guarantees extending past a quarter of a year are overblown, and you’ll probably notice the fine print on these stating that after 90s days, any return visits claiming this guarantee, are something of a copay arrangement.
Realistically, when it comes to things like rodents and insects, a good exterminator will give you a 90-day (3 months) guarantee. This is the time most of the chemicals and other products they use, remain potent and effective. They’ll recommend a visit every 90s days, and generally, if you agree to an ongoing preventative treatment program, they’ll give you a good deal. This is similar to the better deals you get by contracting with communications providers – promise patronage, get a lower price for being locked in.
Now, this may sound like they just want an excuse to keep you spending money, but no, a quarterly visit is actually a good idea. As I said, that’s about the lifespan of most treatment products, and the prices from a good exterminator will be far cheaper than having to do a heavier treatment when infestations return.
Any exterminator that says they need to visit you monthly, however, wants your money and dilutes their product. We’ll talk a bit more about this dilution problem shortly.
Alright, so by now, we’re getting a feel for what defines a good exterminator, just from some stories, from understanding infestations and treatments, and so on. It’s time, however, to dive into 10 important things to use as guidelines for finding your exterminator.
- Guarantee Duration – As we said a moment ago, the guarantee that an exterminator gives you will say a lot. You want about 90 days, no more, no less.
- Company Size – Honestly, the locally-owned and operated companies are more personable. They’re hungry and lean, and passionate, caring much more about customer relations.
- Transparency – You want an exterminator willing to explain every step in detail, not guarding some “trade secrets”.
- Background – While it’s best to avoid the nationwide chains, local exterminators with some experience having worked for them, gives them an edge.
- Experience with Your Area – You want an exterminator that has a good understanding of your environment, its ecosystem and its climate.
- Online Ratings – Look online, and read stories on Google and Yelp, about the company. People online aren’t afraid to point out flaws!
- Transportation – Take a look at the transportation they use. If they’ve got an average, but branded vehicle, they’re focused on professionalism, while being down to earth and providing quality service.
- Advertising – Avoid exterminators that have far too fancy business cards, and websites. Their service and reviews tend to speak for their quality, which means overblown advertising is compensating for a lack of positive testimonials.
- Equipment – If they’re just using off the shelf stuff you can buy at any department or hardware store, run away fast.
- Consultation – A good exterminator offers a free consultation and inspection. If they charge you to investigate the problem, their service may be fine, but expect bad prices and bad customer relations for your entire journey.
So, you might be wondering, what type of person chooses to combat creepy crawlies and dangerous animals for a living? Extermination is hard work, often in rough weather, tight spaces and so on. Who’d want to do this for a living?
In most cases, they’re people whom first and foremost have a serious work ethic. Because, again, it’s hard sometimes dangerous work. They tend to be people who have had experience in their life, with a horrible bug or other pest problems (perhaps growing up in infested homes), and care about improving the quality of life for others.
Like any other serious service industry, extermination/pest control is best served by people who enjoy helping others and providing relief to them.
In all honesty, a good exterminator won’t keep any secrets from you. This is a problem with the big, nationwide providers.
That said, here are a few things those big chains won’t tell you:
- Big chain exterminators dilute their chemicals significantly, to increase the number of visits needed as well as cut corners.
- Ants are a very easy infestation to remedy on your own, if they’re not a hostile species, by simply leaving out bait poisons and sealing up places they can enter.
- Cockroaches can eat things we can’t, such as paper, rubber and other debris we don’t consider pest fodder. Big chain exterminators omit this information, which may mean the infestation will persist so they can provide more service.
We’ve hinted at the potential dangers of pesticides and other treatments to children and pets. Honestly, when it comes to pets, most treatments (those sprayed for passive prevention) are relatively safe. Pets know toxins when they smell them, and these tend to go to places where pets don’t go.
The danger for pets is bait poisons. If they’re designed to entice animals to eat them, well, pets are such animals, and they may not detect that they’re toxic to them. Most pest control people will ask that pets be kept away from areas while treatments are going on (same for their food and chew toys), and will advise traps be where they can’t easily get to them.
Children are actually more susceptible to hazards. Let’s be honest – kids aren’t very bright, but they’re smart enough to defy their instincts, unlike pets. They will grab at anything that interests them, and they’ll put anything they get ahold of in their mouths. Keeping traps and bait poisons entirely out of their reach is critical.
Enforcing rules that they stay away from sprayed areas is also critical, though honestly, passive treatments become mostly inert to anything bigger than a rat after a few days.
Today, we’ve learned that pretty much nobody is safe from some level of pest infestation in their home. Nature is persistent, and has declared war on any human constructions – nature will always be trying to invade and reclaim your home.
While some infestations can be handled yourself, it’s almost always better to find a professional. They know what they’re doing, they understand the creatures they’re combatting, and they know how to handle the chemicals and treatments properly.
We’ve learned what to look for, and we’ve heard some stories from both sides of this relationship – one of them from me! With this information in mind and a little additional research, you can find an exemplary professional to help you.
You should never leave these infestations unattended – if you have something uninvited in your house, responding right away, with professional help, is always the way to go.
What’s best: huge corporations or small & local pest control companies?
Now, when you’ve finally decided to hire an exterminator, another decision you have to make is which company to call: a big, small, local? Both huge corporations and small local companies alike have their own benefits and limitations. Let’s quickly look at some of the pros and cons of calling each.
- They spend a huge amount of time and provide an ample number of trainings to certify and educate their professionals
- There is a set of standard procedures for any area and for any particular pest. These are standardized protocols, which pest control operators of big companies have to strictly follow
- Customer service and guarantees are pretty impressive and could be relied on
- Big companies have local branches practically everywhere within the country
- High costs associated with the services
- Inconsistent quality: since huge corporations have branches all over the country, some branches perform better than the others, thus ratings of these departments vary greatly
- Everytime you hire a big pest control company, you may end up with a different operator each time, which is not always convenient, because you’ll have to explain the situation all over again and that personal bonding and trust could be easily lost
Small and local pest control services
- Most companies are pretty small and you’ll be able to get in touch with anyone from the operator to the owner, if you’d like
- They sometimes know much more about the local problems and pests than huge corporations
- They try to maintain their reputation because it’s the only marketing tool that they sometimes have
- Small companies usually develop personal relationships with their consumers and employees alike
- Lack of training: small pest control services sometimes can’t afford professional training for their employees
- There are usually no standardized protocols and each time the results can be different
- Customer service can be slow to respond because it’s just not enough people in the company to make the response time faster.