Your Friendly Neighborhood Exterminator: The Complete Guide

When it comes to pest control, there are many terms that are used to describe the specialists that handle this worldwide problem. Pest control professionals, pest control technicians, and most commonly, exterminators, are all correct when describing the same kind of technician. There are some minor differences depending on the specifications and training of an exterminator, but the goal of killing pests is always the same.

So, what is an exterminator? Exterminators are pest control professionals that receive specialized training and licensure to study and administer eradication techniques to destroy a wide range of pests. Exterminators use a range of tools, such as chemicals and traps, to address common household and business pests.

At City Pests, we strive to offer helpful guides and reviews to master DIY pest control; however, DIY efforts cannot address every type of pest problem (specifically bed bugs). In this guide, we will explore all there is to know about exterminators: what they do, how they are trained, the techniques they use, etc. Read on to find out more about pest control technicians and we hope this guide gives you a better understanding of the practice.

What Do Pest Exterminators Do?

Exterminators have long been a useful and needed service provider when it comes to tackling pest infestations of virtually every variety. If you have ever attempted DIY pest control and didn’t get results, you have likely wondered about what to do next, and hiring an exterminator is certainly the right answer.

So what do exterminators do? Exterminators receive specialized training in basic entomology with a focus on pests and how certain common pests behave. It is not feasible to learn how to destroy pests without knowing why they infest homes and businesses in the first place and how to address situations when they hide and multiply rapidly.

Exterminators are trained to assess a pest situation thoroughly in order to develop the best type of extermination plan based on the evidence they find. Some infestations may not be as severe as others, while it could be that outdoor pests are simply finding their way indoors, which would mean a treatment plan for outside of the home would be needed. Exterminators are first and foremost pest detectives basing their eradication plans on the severity of the infestation.

Exterminators primarily use insecticides to eradicate most of the problem pests that infest homes and businesses. Rodents and other pests like raccoons or even birds are handled in different ways such as the use of traps and removal. The potency of the chemicals used will depend on the type of insect, the size of the infestation, and if the pest has developed a resistance to commonly used insecticides.

Pest control worker spraying pesticides
Image credit: EdZbarzhyvetsky, Deposit Photos

At What Point Should I Hire an Exterminator?

Contacting an exterminator ultimately depends on the home or business owner’s judgment regarding the pest infestation. If you do not like to be around pests or have a phobia, you should definitely allow a professional to handle the situation. Other times, it could be that you simply do not have time to address problems with DIY procedures and this would be a useful time to call an exterminator.

Feel free to allow an exterminator to handle the problem no matter the severity, but there are times when it is absolutely necessary to contact a pest control professional. Although severe infestations from bed bugs or termites can be handled with relentless DIY methods, these two pests, along with rats, are certainly times when an exterminator is absolutely crucial.

You could end up spending thousands upon thousands of dollars and weeks, months, even years trying to fight these kinds of infestations on your own.

Hiring an Exterminator vs. DIY

Here are some key differences between handling a pest infestation on your own and when an exterminator would be necessary.

  • Finding pests. In DIY pest control, you will be responsible for knowing where to look to find the pests, how they are entering the home, and where they are hiding. This can be very difficult and you can never be sure you are on the right track. An exterminator can usually diagnose a problem immediately and uses their training in common pest behaviors to know where to search to find the pests and how they entered the home.
  • With DIY, you are usually left with over-the-counter insecticides that usually will not be powerful enough to destroy an infestation. Additionally, an exterminator will not only use powerful new products unavailable to the public, but they will also only apply enough of the product to get the job done and refrain from overapplying sometimes potent chemicals that could harm your family or pets.
  • Cost efficiency. There is a common myth that hiring an exterminator is not worth the expense; sometimes this could be true but for the most part, when the infestation is severe, this is not the case. If you are dealing with a pest like bed bugs or termites, the DIY methods you use will likely end up costing more money (and taking longer) than one or two visits from an exterminator and the problem being solved.
  • Controlling pest damage. The longer a pest infestation is allowed to persist, the worse the damage will become to your property. All pests can eventually cause long-term damage to a home or business, and since exterminators are trained to completely eradicate the infestation as quickly and efficiently as possible, hiring an exterminator is usually the best course of action to take.

What Is the Difference Between an Exterminator and a Pest Control Professional?

The terms exterminator and pest control professional are two names that popularly mean the same thing. A pest control worker's job description will typically have the same list of qualifications and purview of what the professional does, and most of the time, this is the same rather the professional is called such or called an exterminator.

Since the word exterminator has been around for decades, it is worth mentioning that historically there have been minor differences between an exterminator and a pest control professional. Both terminologies will use the same methods to eliminate pests, however, a pest control professional was historically more concerned with addressing how the pests got into the home and what pest behaviors could be addressed to work against the pests.

Exterminators were typically more detail-oriented in terms of eradication techniques no matter the type of pest and how severe the infestation may have been–which was not always the best action to immediately take. But in modern times, the word exterminator is just another word used to describe a pest control professional since all exterminators now receive intensive training that continues throughout their career due to an ever-evolving industry.

How to Become an Exterminator

To become an exterminator, a training course is required to obtain a license or certification to practice pest control. Each state requires certification to practice pest control, and this is crucial not to for mastery of pest behaviors but also for mastery of potentially dangerous chemicals and procedures that are used in pest control.

Certification courses can range anywhere between 3-6 months depending on the state, and there are certain pest control companies that will administer the required courses and exams that will need to be passed before certification is granted. Each certification course will cover the ins and outs of insecticide use in all its forms. Fumigation, heat treatments, chemical measurements and interactions, specific control procedures based on the pest, etc.

Particular attention will be paid to bed bugs, rodents, and termite eradication procedures since these three pests are typically the hardest to eradicate from a structure.

Since each state is different, you may find that your state only requires the successful passing of an exam to become certified whereas other jurisdictions may require a certain amount of pest control courses that need to be passed in order to take the exam. Let’s go through the process in more detail.

What Qualifications Do I Need to Be a Pest Control Technician?

The qualifications to become a pest control professional almost always include the passing of a comprehensive exam. Since you cannot pass this exam without studying, you will find that taking pest control courses, either online or in-person where available is the best course of action to take before you attempt the exam.

Once you successfully pass the exam, you are welcome to apply with pest control companies or even consider going into business for yourself. Some pest control companies also offer immediate hires if you pass the certification courses that the company sponsors you for.

Pest control worker or exterminator spraying pesticides
Image credit: EdZbarzhyvetsky, Deposit Photos

What Is Covered in Pest Control Training?

Pest control training is virtually the same in all jurisdictions and covers all that needs to be known about pest control. You can expect to learn about all of the major types of pests that infest homes and businesses, as well as common outdoor pests. This can include but is not limited to:

  • Cockroaches
  • Ants
  • Termites
  • Bed bugs
  • Rodents
  • Spiders
  • Flies
  • Wild animals

In addition to learning all about the behavior patterns of these pests and how they hide, you will also receive extensive training in all the control measures used to eradicate and prevent these pests. Insecticides will cover a large portion of the training and you can expect to learn about formulations, potency, mixture and dilution rates, and pest tolerance for commonly used insecticides.

A pest control technician course will also go over other treatment methods that are effective based on the specific pest. For example, heat treatments for bed bugs are one additional type of control method that requires specialized training due to the extremely high temperatures used to heat up a dwelling. Fumigation (tenting) is another method that requires special training and rodent/wild animal treatment and removal must also be mastered.

Additionally, a pest control technician will also have to be trained in how to look for signs of an infestation based on the particular type of structure and the behaviors of the reported pest. Exterminators will need to be able to judge what type of treatment will be best to eradicate the problem as well as a rough estimate of costs to accurately quote the client.

Also, exterminators will need to be able to drive and must also know how to drive with potentially combustible and dangerous chemicals on board.

There are numerous things that go into professional pest control, and the best way to ensure that you have mastered all the dynamics of the business is to take and successfully pass a pest control certification course.

How Long Is Pest Control Training?

Pest control training can vary depending on the jurisdiction. Much like becoming a real estate agent, you will only officially need to successfully pass the exam to become certified in most regions. But other regions will require a training curriculum in order to even sit for the exam.

Training can last anywhere from 3-6 months depending on the jurisdiction, with 3 months being the industry standard in addition to passing the final exam to become certified. Different pest control companies may offer training courses or even local community colleges and even online courses being a possibility in some areas.

How Much Is a Pest Control License?

You will have to pay for the cost of the exam in order to officially receive a certification or a license to practice pest control. Expect to spend on average anywhere from $100 to as much as $600 on the certification exam and depending on the jurisdiction, you may also have to pay for or finance certification courses.

Certain pest control companies may also offer the training courses for free or a small fee if you are taken on as an apprentice. The cost associated with obtaining a license to practice pest control is not as expensive as other specialties or certifications but there will be costs to plan for.

Is Being a Pest Control Technician Dangerous?

Pest control is not an overly dangerous position but there are certain aspects of the job that could allow it to become dangerous based on a range of different situations. Certain pests are aggressive when cornered, and this mostly concerns rodents and wild animals such as raccoons; extra care needs to be taken by exterminators to avoid being bitten and possibly picking up diseases like rabies.

When it comes to insects, outdoor pests like wasps or stinging insects could pose dangers to technicians, and arachnids like spiders, scorpions, and disease-carrying ticks can also be dangerous if allowed to attack. Pest control technicians must know how to avoid these dangers and what to do if bitten by a poisonous or disease-carrying pest.

Furthermore, although not dangerous, there are some pests like bed bugs that can attach to clothing or hair and travel home with exterminators. This means that the pest is now prone to infest the home of the technician as well. In homes or businesses with extensive termite damage, exterminators will need to know where to step or what to look out for in terms of decaying wood that could give out underneath them or fall down upon them.

Pest control technicians must also be prepared to crawl into dark and small areas like crawl spaces or underneath homes in order to treat for pests. It can be an alarming situation and these possibilities must be expected when undergoing training to become a pest control professional.

Perhaps the biggest danger that pest control technicians have to deal with is the administering of dangerous chemicals. Certain chemicals can be dangerous when inhaled or exposed to the skin, therefore, technicians must be fully trained in how to handle and administer potent chemicals as well as be fully aware of how to spread dangerous chemicals inside of a home or a business.

Being a pest control professional is not a deadly job, but there are instances where the profession can become dangerous based on both certain types of pests as well as the chemicals used to eradicate them.

Pest control worker exterminator lying on the floor
Image credit: EdZbarzhyvetsky, Deposit Photos

What Chemicals Do Exterminators Use?

There are numerous chemicals that exterminators use to destroy a wide range of pests. Typically, an exterminator will try some of the less potent chemicals first and then opt for stronger options if pests are not responding to the less potent chemicals. Additionally, the type of chemical used will depend heavily on the type of pest causing an infestation.

Here are some of the most commonly used chemicals.

  • This chemical works almost instantly upon being applied to the target area acting as a pesticide as well as a termiticide. This is one of the more potent solutions when it comes to insecticides so extreme care needs to be used when applying it as well as when it comes to those in the area at the time of application. This is also a versatile solution as it can be used indoors or outdoors, whereas many products can only be used one way or the other.
  • This chemical is a dual-action contact and residual insecticide that continuously kills difficult pests. With minimal toxicity and easy to apply efficiency, imidacloprid is a safe and effective indoor and outdoor insecticide. Plants, shrubs, and trees can now be treated with the product to control many pests that infest and harbor both in and on the plants. When using, exterminators like to make sure the plants in question are not in active bloom when applying the product, as the chemicals will likely cause the foliage to die. This product is perfect for ants, wasps, and bees, and bed bugs.
  • Many species of insects are able to develop evolutionary resistance to common insecticides and this mechanism is particularly enhanced in bed bug strains. Apart from the heat and some desiccant powders, as well as squashing with hands and shoes – there are no guaranteed remedies to kill bed bugs and pesticides must continuously evolve to keep up with the rapid resistance to chemicals that bed bugs undergo. This is why exterminators and pest control technicians prefer to work with a pesticide as powerful as metofluthrin.

Is It Worth It To Hire an Exterminator?

Hiring an exterminator is certainly worth it, but most people will usually try and achieve success with DIY methods due to the costs associated with hiring a pest control professional. While the costs of an exterminator can be causes for concern if you are on a budget, it is usually the case that having pest control address an infestation is usually cheaper in the long run since DIY methods consistently fail if not done correctly.

The main problem that makes pest control absolutely crucial is when insects or rodents infest a property so badly that it would be a herculean task to try and address the problem on your own. For example, a termite infestation is nearly impossible to eradicate without the specialized procedures that exterminators use to destroy a widespread colony. Similarly, a bed bug infestation is also another type of infestation DIY is not recommended for.

Termites and bed bugs hide deep within the structure of a home, which typically means that something more powerful than aerosols or ug bombs is needed to destroy the problem.

Having outdoor pest control is also beneficial if you have gardens and any sensitive plants. Never let the cost be a barrier to receiving effective and preventative pest control.


So, there you have it, everything you need to know about exterminators and what they do. As you can see, there is quite a bit of training that goes into becoming a pest control technician, and all exterminators are licensed or certified to ensure you that they know exactly what they are doing.

You can call them exterminators or pest control technicians and both terms mean the same thing. Even though there are some effective DIY methods for pest control, larger infestations and hard-to-kill pests are best served by hiring an exterminator to handle the problem and destroy the pests.

Featured Image credit: AndreyPopov, Deposit Photos