Insider Guide: What Pesticides Do Pest Control Companies Use?

by | Jan 18, 2021 | Ant Control, Pest

After the fifth trip to the hardware store for ant control baits & sprays, you might ask yourself: “What pesticides do pest control companies use?” This article will summarize a few chemicals and how they’re best utilized. I’ll also make some recommendations for pollinator safety.

Which Chemicals Do The Best Pest Control Companies Use?

Today there’s HUGE interest in reducing pesticide pollution for ecological safety and human health reasons. In Portland eco-friendly and pollinator safe pest control is a must. Safe ant control is especially important around our homes and families. So let’s take a look at a few chemicals your pest control company might be using.

Shadowy History

The insecticide DDT and other early pesticides were introduced in the post-war era of the 1950’s. You may have heard of DDT since it is a common example of the dangers of pesticide overuse. It was infamous for leading to insects evolving resistance and ill effects on non-target birds & wildlife. DDT contaminated soils and groundwater, appearing in unexpected places.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book publication Silent Spring highlighted and publicized theses risks. In 1972 the EPA banned the use of DDT in the United States, however it is still used in many countries today.

Old School Pest Control Companies

The next class of insect & spider killing chemicals was organophosphates. Examples include Malathion and Parathion. Organophosphates work by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, a neurotransmitter essential for the normal function of insects, humans and animals.

Exposure by inhalation, ingestion and dermal absorption can cause a toxic build up of acetylcholine in the body. Gradually this can lead to neurotoxic effects. In 2001, the EPA banned all pesticide products containing organophosphates for residential uses. However forty-some products remain registered for use in agriculture.

Newly registered classes of pesticides are significantly less harmful to people and pets. Acute toxicity of new products is usually less than bleach, table salt or caffiene. Although, they can still be a danger to bees and other beneficial insects.

Third Generation of Pest Control

Fortunately, there have been many 21st century developments in pesticide technology. Pest professionals have access to new and safer ways of managing ants, rodents and other pests.

Safety note: NO insecticides are safe for insect pollinators when applied incorrectly. Even natural, organic or so-called eco-friendly insecticides can be lethal to honeybees if allowed to come into contact with flowers while bees are foraging. Neem oil included. Continue reading to be extra-savvy on insect-killing pesticides, so you can make the best choices next time ants invade. We’ll touch on what pesticides pest control companies use.

always choose organic produce text over a background of fresh chard, onions, arugula, and beet greens

Always Choose Organic

Before we move on I want to highlight the importance of seeking local, organic, regenerative farms. Purchase produce, fruits, herbs and veggies there if limiting pesticide residue exposure is something that is important to you. Making a habit of supporting organic farms will help decrease demand for mono-cropping, and therefore pesticide usage and pollution.

We are making progress in this area. In 2020 Oregon Department of Agriculture announced it will be phasing out chlorpyrifos. This commonly used organophosphate will be phased out for most uses in agriculture by 2023. There will be a few exceptions, like for christmas tree spraying.


Currently the most commonly used insecticides in the world are pyrethroids. So, if you’re asking yourself: “What pesticides do pest control companies use?” Pyrethroids are surely one. These insecticides are often used to control spiders, centipedes, silverfish, box elder beetles, stink bugs, millipedes, beetles and other pests.

Synthetic chemicals are derived from a naturally occurring compound from flowers in the chrysanthemum genus. The flowers are good at repelling insects and have lethal effects to arthropods if exposed in even very small concentrations.

When combined with piperonyl butoxyl, synthetic phyrethroids are highly lethal to insects and spiders. Portland pest control professionals are likely using this formulation. So this is probably one good answer to the question “what is my pest control guy is spraying?”

Raid Ant & Roach spray, Ortho Home Defense and dozens of consumer grade insecticides contain pyrethroids. NOTE: Ants can smell and avoid pyrethroid sprays, avoid using these products directly before professional treatment.

Busting out Ortho or Raid for ants in your kitchen may cause them to dissapear for a while. But it will make it more difficult to track down and treat the colony. Examples of pyrethroid products not to use for ants include permethrin, cypermethrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin, esfenvalerate and others.

The pyrethroids are generally thought to be safer to humans than organophosphates. Remember they can still pose a significant hazard to pollinators and beneficials in the environment if applied carelessly outdoors. Never allow sprays or dusts to come into contact with flowers where bees are foraging.


Now you might be asking “Well then what pesticides do pest control companies use for ants?”

Pest management professionals have recently adopted the use of the new neonicotinoid class of insecticides. In the late 1980’s and early 90’s these products started entering the US market. For pest control technology these are relatively new tools. The word neonicotinoid refers to the compounds’ similarities to nicotine, the natural & addictive chemical found in tobacco.

Traditionally, farmers made juice from tobacco leaves to apply to their crops in order to repel and control insect pests. Dinotefuran, imidacloprid, acetamiprid, clothianidin, and thiacloprid are examples of neonics. Residential pest control, agriculture, and even flea and tick control on your pets are some uses of neonics. Indeed, the most frequently used insecticide in the world is imidacloprid.

Residential Pest Control vs. Agricultural

Neonics are considered generally safer for birds and mammals than organophosphates. However, research suggests that they can be hazardous to bees and other pollinators when applied near flowers during bloom. The European Union has taken drastic measures to limit the use of neonics. Their ban was based on limiting threat to pollinating insects, arthropods & their habitat. Here in the US, the EPA mandated a “bee advisory block” on the labels of common neonicotinoid products in 2013.

Now you know a few pesticide classes and their brief history of use. We’ve discussed potential hazards to pollinating insects and arthropods.

Keep in mind the vast majority of insecticide use is in conventional agriculture, so when you hear about bee kills, this is far more likely to be coming from a thousand-gallon 40’ boom sprayer on a hundred-acre monoculture farm than your neighbor’s exterminator with a one-gallon spray can.

Termiticides and Pollinator Safety

That said, your neighbor’s exterminator has access to different products than what farmers use, for instance; termiticide. As an industry insider I can tell you this. Portland pest control professionals use termiticides widely for ant control. Fipronil is the active ingredient in many of the most popular termiticide products. Many also have a special formulation that allows it to be particularly effective at traveling systemically throughout an insect colony.

Why Termiticides Can Be Bad For Honeybees

Remarkably, one ant exposed to a fipronil-based temiticide killed all the ants that touched it. Like something out of a zombie film, those dead ants were capable of tertiary control of another entire petri dish of live ants.

Red Flag: this can be a major concern for apis mellifera, the common honey bee. Honey bees, like all bees, wasps and ants belong to the insect order Hymenoptera. Fun fact, the term hymenoptera means ‘membranous wings.” Almost all social insects belong to this order, with the main exception being termites which are related to cockroaches in the order Blattodea.

So, insect colonies are highly susceptible to termiticides. These are also the products that are habitually being placed along the foundation of our Portland homes for routine ant control.

How You Can Help Pollinator Safety

Perhaps you see where I’m going with this. If these products are allowed to contact flowering plants during their bloom it can be hazardous for bees. Avoid exterior treatments when the temperatures are warm enough for the bees to be active and foraging. There is one thing you can do to manage ants and other pests around your home without causing harm to bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

Kindly ask your pest control technician to manage spray drift and treatment within five or more feet of any flowering plants, especially during the daylight hours when bees are buzzing around actively foraging. You could even opt to move flowers away from the sides your house if you’re under heavy ant or other pest pressure. This is a next level step to protect neighborhood habitats and pollinators.

What Your Pest Control Company Wants You To Know

The important thing to note is that the twenty-first century products that are in use today belong to the newest technology in the categories listed above. There are also new formulations of foams, dusts, and solid, gel or liquid baits that allow for the application of just a few grams of problem-solving products without ever having to spray or apply products outdoors where they could pose a threat to pollinators.

Using Organic Pesticides

Organic insecticides like thyme, geraniol, citric acid, tea tree, rosemary, lemongrass and other essential oils can be incredibly effective at killing bugs. But they are not necessarily safer for your family, pets, or the environment and rarely produce desired results.

Ants in particular will avoid essential oil sprays. If you don’t mind using weekly, it could be one way to kill individual ants. However, the colony will bypass the sprayed areas.

The best way to control pests without causing hazard to beneficial insects & pollinators is to follow Integrated Pest Management (IPM) guidelines. In Portland eco-friendly ant control is an important service. Both homeowners and pest management professionals share responsibility for protecting pollinators and beneficial insects. You can even help pollinators like bees by adding flowers to your landscape and caring for your soil so your plants grow strong and healthy. Don’t hesitate to contact us for questions or other information on how to get pollinator safe pest control for your home in Portland, OR.


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