What is an exterminator?

An exterminator - or pest control professional - is trained in all facets of pest elimination, and uses a variety of methods to prevent future infestations from occurring. Independent exterminators are available in most areas, but most homeowners hire extermination companies to handle the work. While there are many viable do-it-yourself extermination products and methods on the market, it's often necessary to call in the professionals.

Humans have been fighting back against pests since the dawn of civilization. Pest control was mainly used to protect crops in ancient civilizations, but companies began offering the service to homeowners and businesses in the late 1800s. Since then, a wide range of household pest control products and extermination techniques have been developed.

Tools of the trade

Today, exterminators have an army of potential options for combating pests of all shapes and sizes. Different tools and methods work well against different pests, so it's important for an exterminator to have extensive training about all of the available methods.

Some of the most popular pest elimination methods include:

Traps – Both kill and no-kill traps are available. Traps are mostly effective against small infestations and are not designed for elimination of large pest populations. Variations include catch-and-release traps, spring-loaded traps (traditional mouse trap), sticky traps and electronic traps. Spring-loaded, electronic and multi-catch traps are most commonly used for rodents and snakes, while sticky traps are effective against a wide range of insects. Visual traps that use light to attract pests are effective against many types of insects as well.

Baited traps – This method involves placing poison bait in a “bait station” that permits a pest to enter. The idea is that the pest will consume the poison and then leave the area.

Poison Spray - Poisoned spray is ideal for situations in which pests are confined to a specific area. It is commonly used to exterminate insects.

Fumigation – Fumigation is the process of sealing off a structure and filling it with poison gases or pesticides. If it's feasible to seal off an entire house, this method can tackle large areas quickly and easily. It is used for everything from spiders to flying insects.

Hiring an exterminator

It's better to preemptively hire an exterminator for regular inspections than it is to wait until there’s a problem. Unfortunately, pests don’t give warning in anticipation of a strike, so you never know when you will need the assistance of an exterminator.

Tips for hiring an exterminator:

In many states and jurisdictions, exterminators must be licensed. Check with your state pesticide agency to find out if this applies to your area. The exterminator may also be required to a hold a license to use certain pesticides or chemicals. Ask to see the exterminator’s license before making a hiring decision.

Look for a company whose employees are bonded, which means the company will reimburse you if damages are caused by its employees.

The exterminator should be able to design a specific plan to identify the types of pests that need to be controlled, the extent of the infestation, the best removal method and steps to lower the risk of future infestations.

A quality extermination company will have a strong track record. Check reviews on Angie’s List and ask your friends and relatives for recommendations.

Green and humane extermination

Like many homeowners, you may prefer to hire an exterminator who is willing to use eco-friendly or cruelty-free eradication methods. Many professional exterminators will be happy to offer these options upon request.

A few of the most common and popular elimination methods include:

No-kill traps - These types of traps confine pests to small areas and allow them to be released back into the wild at a later time.

Diatomaceous earth - Otherwise known as DE, this is a compound that is made up of algae skeletons. It kills insects by breaking down their waxy outermost layers.

Biological control agents - In some cases, predatory or parasitic insects like nematodes and mites can be used to eliminate pests.

Additional methods - Sometimes, very simple measures will help get pest infestations under control. Exclusion methods like window screens and weatherstrips often work well to plug gaps where pests enter the home. Regular cleaning will help to remove the food source that most pests seek. Habitat modification, which often involves the removal of weeds and plants from around the periphery of a home, will also limit pests.

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