What to Know About Termite Fumigation

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 03, 2023
5 min read

If you live in certain areas of the U.S., you’ve likely seen large, temporary tents erected around buildings. These are a sign that some sort of pest removal is happening on the premises. 

For decades, experts have relied on large-scale fumigation methods to eliminate damaging pests like termites. Termite fumigation isn’t right for every situation, but it’s a well-tested practice. Read on to discover whether or not it’s the right choice for you.

Termites are a type of insect that eats wood. They can become a major problem when they get into your home or building. 

Dry wood termites are a particular problem in certain parts of the U.S. People in California alone spend over 300 million dollars each year to control these pests and repair the damage that they’ve caused.

If you believe you have termites, your best bet is to call an expert. These pests can be very difficult to get rid of — especially on your own. An expert can try techniques like localized pesticide application. 

But when small-scale techniques don’t work, you’ll need to try a much broader approach called termite tenting.

Structural fumigation — or termite tenting — is a large-scale way to eliminate pest problems. This method involves erecting a large tent around a house, business, or other structure. The often colorful tent is meant to contain all of the chemicals involved in fumigating your space. 

This type of pest-control method is common in warm-weather areas, including: 

  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Florida

In fact, professional fumigators conduct around 100,000 tented fumigations each year in California alone. 

This process is used to eliminate a large array of pests, not just termites. Specifically, people have used this method to solve pest problems that involve: 

The basic steps to this technique are to erect a tent around the structure and then flood the space with pesticides for a certain period of time. The pesticides are applied as gases so they can get into almost every crevice in a building and kill the termites. 

Termite fumigation costs largely depend on the size of the building being fumigated as well as other factors. Local professionals can provide the best estimate for your space.

The main termite fumigation chemical is sulfuryl fluoride. This chemical is a colorless, odorless gas — which means that you won’t be able to see or smell it when it’s present in an area. 

It was first registered as an insecticide and rodenticide in 1959. It then underwent laboratory testing and was re-registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1993. It’s classified as a restricted-use pesticide. This means that only trained, registered applicators can purchase this chemical. 

Multiple brand names for this chemical are all independently registered with the EPA. All of these approved pesticides have registration numbers with the EPA. 

All other termite fumigation chemicals are meant to warn you that a colorless, odorless gas is being used in the area. The main chemical that helps with this is called chloropicrin. It’s a warning agent that comes in the form of a visible, yellowish gas professionals flood through the building first to warn people that the pesticide is coming.

All chemicals are vented from your building after the fumigation is complete. Fumigation companies will test the air inside the building before anyone is allowed back inside. The concentration of sulfuryl fluoride should be down to one part per million or less before it’s safe for you to enter the building. 

Luckily, studies have shown that the chemicals dissipate quickly once released into the open air. Once ventilated, they shouldn’t stick around long enough to harm any animals that weren’t inside the tent.

Research shows that fumigating a building with sulfuryl fluoride is an effective way to completely eliminate pests from your building — particularly dry wood termites. Though this method is extreme, it is very reliable.

It’s important to make sure the job is done safely and correctly. Find a fumigation company that you trust to do the job properly. 

For the most effective fumigation, the company you hire needs to be able to construct a tight tent with minimal leakage.

You and your pets should avoid exposure to high levels of sulfuryl fluoride. You’ll need to evacuate the premises before the chemicals are applied, and you won’t be allowed to return until they’ve been safely ventilated.  

Inhaling small amounts of sulfuryl fluoride should only cause mild eye and respiratory irritation. Other symptoms from a mild exposure can include: 

Sulfuryl fluoride is considered a biocide. This means it’s capable of killing all living things if they’re exposed to large enough quantities for a long enough time. 

Repeated exposures can cause lung and kidney damage. Entering a building that’s actively being fumigated with this chemical could result in death. 

The warning chemical chloropicrin will also irritate your eyes and respiratory system — including your lungs and throat. Symptoms of exposure to this chemical include: 

  • Tears
  • Burning eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Coughing

The company that you hire needs to follow every safety regulation to ensure the health and well-being of all building occupants. 

Call Poison Control immediately if you believe you’ve been exposed to dangerous quantities of any chemical involved in the fumigation process. The number for Poison Control is 1-800-222-1222.

The company you hire to fumigate your home or business should provide safety information before they begin. Make sure to thoroughly read this information. 

To prepare for any form of tented pest removal, you should first take all upholstered objects out of your house. This includes couches, chairs, and other fabric-covered surfaces. You can also remove clothing and other fabrics as an extra precaution. 

You’ll need to remove other objects as well, including: 

  • Plants
  • Food
  • Animal feed
  • Medicines
  • Everything you want to keep safe in your refrigerators and freezers
  • Plastic-covered objects — the fumigant has trouble penetrating plastic surfaces

Double-bag anything you can’t — or don’t want to — remove. 

You must also turn off all flames, including pilot lights and those in your heating system. 

Keep in mind that sulfuryl fluoride may linger longer in fabrics than it does in the air. 

Be extra careful with your carpets following fumigation. Some research indicates that sulfuryl fluoride can remain in your carpet in dangerous quantities for weeks after a fumigation process. Try to find a way to keep your pets off of all carpeted surfaces in the weeks immediately following a fumigation project. 

If you have any questions about the fumigation process there are many people that you can contact, including:

  • State regulators
  • Licensed pesticide applicators
  • Trained sulfuryl fluoride fumigators

Make sure you fully understand termite fumigation before deciding whether it’s the right choice for your home or business.