So my neighbor recently tented her house. And this made me think: “What are the dangers of termite tenting?”
And here I am sitting at my computer, looking out my window, wondering if I should be scared or not.
That led me to start scouring the web for information regarding the safety of termite tenting, AKA “structural fumigation.”
Here’s what I found.
Last updated: 12/30/19.
Is termite tenting dangerous?
Termite tenting is relatively safe if you follow all the instructions provided by your pest control specialist.
Do NOT be near the premises during the fumigation.
After the sulfuryl fluoride gas is released into the air after the tent is removed, the home is safe for humans and pets. The gas, however, is not safe for the environment as it’s a potent greenhouse chemical.
Definitely obvious stuff.
The main danger of fumigation is simply from the sulfur gas, as it’s known to be a very toxic substance to humans, pets, fish, and even plants.
Of course, it has to be powerful so it can kill termites when the tent is up (and all the other pests hiding in your home).
Sulfuryl fluoride will quickly dissipate after the tent gets taken down. It’ll rise into the atmosphere and the home becomes safe for humans and pets again.
The US EPA states that we’re allowed to enter our homes again after the poison level drops to below 1ppm. The specialist will make this judgment call.
How about the environment?
Environmentally, sulfuryl fluoride is very dangerous.
The gas is a greenhouse gas which can contribute to global warming. It doesn’t recycle or break down quickly either.
And the residue can stay in the air for up to 40 years or longer and is actually a very good heat trapper compared to other gases like carbon dioxide (CO2).
It can stay in the air for up to 40 years or longer and is actually a very good heat trapper compared to other gases like carbon dioxide.
Gases that trap heat can contribute to warmer weather and climate change.
For humans and pets, termite tenting isn’t dangerous if the directions are followed.
You should never enter a tented home no matter the circumstance.
And your specialist should measure the poison levels before letting you back in after the tent comes down.
Make sure you double-check with the specialist that the chemical levels have been tested and have them show you proof.
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The reading for the toxic gas should be below 1ppm, with 0 being ideal.
Termite tenting process
Termite tenting is a pretty straightforward process without much to worry about.
A team will encase your home in an airtight tent that makes it look like a circus show.
How it works
They’ll use many tarps around your home to secure the gas using various materials and holders.
Then they’ll pump in sulfuryl fluoride, often with chloropicrin (tear gas).
Both of these gases combined provide a lethal combination that can kill any pest, human, dog, cat, fish, and pretty much any other living being. Termite tenting kills termites and termite eggs.
They’ll slap on wandering around the tent and let it sit for a few days. You’ll likely have to find somewhere else to temporarily stay until the fumigation is complete.
The gas will seep into every area and penetrates wood structures where termites eat and live. This also means that pests hiding in beams, walls, or even floorboards are covered. These areas are typically not accessible by ordinary means.
Afterward, they’ll release the gas into the air and take down the tent.
Several tests should be performed to make sure the gas levels are safe before they let you back into your house. You’ll likely find dead bugs everywhere as soon as you back in.
How safe is termite tenting?
The entire process is safe, provided that the team and specialists do everything correctly.
Obviously, after the tent goes up, you shouldn’t be wandering near your home (or your neighbor’s home).
As long as the gas levels are measured after the fumigation is complete and reads non-toxic levels, there should be no problem.
If you do something dumb like sneak into the tent or purposefully do something you know you shouldn’t, you could get killed.
Sulfuryl fluoride is no joke and is a central nervous system depressant, meaning you’ll lose control of your body and collapse.
This is a fatal chemical and you should NEVER enter or go near a tented home treated for termites or any other pest. Use common sense. Assume your own responsibility. Don’t do anything stupid.
There’s always the worry about the gas coming into a neighbor’s home or pests escaping and migrating. But both of those are very rare and pretty much irrational fears. Read on to find out why.
Termite tenting dangers for neighbors
Many times the neighbors (me in this case) are often worried about bugs escaping over or breathing the lethal gas.
Both of these are often speculated rumors with no solid evidence. If there are living things present in the tent, they’ll likely get killed from the gas within minutes if they don’t escape.
For the pests that do escape, there’s a real possibility that they’ll migrate to a neighbor’s home, but this is rare. The gas kills everything relatively quickly. And the home is often tarped completely around so that they can’t escape.
As for the gas, the gas will rise up immediately if there’s a leak somewhere, so you likely won’t inhale any of it.
As soon as the gas escapes the tent, it rises upward and almost instantly loses its lethality.
So that makes it very, very rare that you’ll actually end up breathing the poison.
This won’t happen unless you intentionally go over to the enclosed home and try to breathe the gas. Or if the specialist is incompetent and didn’t seal up the home correctly.
How long should you stay out of the house after fumigation?
After the fumigation, your specialist will measure the gas levels in your home.
When they reach under 1ppm, the EPA states that this is usually safe for entry. After this point, the dangers from the tenting should be gone and safe for pets and humans.
Be sure to have the specialist check multiple times in different locations to test the gas levels.
But if you’re paranoid, you can stay out of your home for a few more days just to be sure.
However, there’s no real timeframe you should stay out after the tent comes down.
The gas leaves quickly and is generally safe to enter when the levels drop below 1ppm.
How to prepare for fumigation
Some basic tips are included here.
Of course, each situation is different so this is just a quick little list of common things to look out for.
Choose the right fumigation company
This is probably the biggest factor in ensuring your safety.
You want to make sure you’re only working with a company that’s licensed, bonded, insured, and has an excellent reputation. You want to work a company that knows exactly what they’re doing.
Since there are so many termite tenters out there, take some time to do your research. This will lessen the dangers of termite tenting overall.
Bag your clothes
You can bag up your clothing or take them with you to your temporary residence.
The bagging won’t prevent the gas from reaching your clothes, but rather prevent bugs from crawling into them.
Remove all living things
This means pets, fish, animals, and yourself.
This is self-explanatory. No living thing should be left in the home- other than the pests.
For mattresses that are wrapped in plastic or waterproof sheets should be unwrapped before the fumigation. This allows gas to enter your mattress to kill things like kissing bugs, chiggers, or silverfish.
Control gas lines
Shut off any active gas lines, pilot lights, and electric heating elements. Unplug all your electronics.
Turn off any appliances that are unnecessary, such as AC systems or heaters.
Turn off the power main
If possible, cut off the power to your interior home to prevent any electrical fires (or wasting any electricity).
Do multiple inspections
Triple check that you have everything unplugged and that you’ve packed everything you need.
Make sure you don’t leave any valuables behind. Check to make sure you have all your pets (and family) present.
Also, check for possible hazards and think ahead, such as if an earthquake were to happen, would anything fall over?
Here’s a video that may also help you out (Via Quantum Termite):
What needs to be removed before fumigation?
You should prep everything you need before you leave your home.
Pack clothing, toiletries, blankets, and everything else you need for at least 72 hours away from your home.
Get your electrical chargers for your phones, medications, or anything else you or your family may need.
Just pretend you’re packing for a vacation.
After the fumigation of your home
When the tent comes down, you’re probably wondering exactly what you should be doing to clean up after the termite tenting.
What do you clean after termite tenting?
Some common questions and answers are presented here. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. You can read more here.
Does my mattress need to be washed?
No. The gas will escape from your mattress and there’s really nothing else you need to do.
Mattresses that are covered or enclosed in plastic covers should’ve already been removed prior to the fumigation.
Do I need to wash my clothes after termite fumigation?
Yes. You should wash your clothes after fumigation just to get rid of the pests that may have died in your clothing.
The same goes for your bedsheets, blankets, pillowcases, curtains, drapes, carpet, surfaces, counters, etc.
How do I protect my wine bottles?
You should probably take them with you to be safe.
Does toothpaste need to be replaced?
You should also take your toothpaste with you. If you didn’t, toss it out as there may be gas trapped in the tube.
Does fumigation ruin your stuff?
No. fumigation doesn’t ruin your home as the gas doesn’t really interact with anything.
However, the dead bugs may.
Depending on the type of pest, they can leave some pretty nasty stains all over your home’s walls, floors, and surfaces.
The setup outdoors may also damage some parts of your home, such as damage gutters, roofing tiles, and your plants.
The tarps they use are super heavy and can easily break something on the exterior of your home.
Some people like to use fans, AC, open windows, doors, and patios just to release the gas right after they get access back to their home.
However, this is actually unnecessary as the gas quickly drops down to non-toxic levels very quickly after the tent comes down.
Can termites return after fumigation?
Yes, it’s very possible.
No termite tenting is completely proven to stop termites forever as they can always migrate back.
However, many tenting companies offer some kind of termite protection plan for a set number of years after the renting process.
This may be something you’ll want to consider. Fumigants don’t provide protection against future termites.
Do you have to tent your house for termites?
No. Termite tenting isn’t the only way to kill termites.
There are many other methods that are proven to be effective against termites.
The most common alternatives to tenting are:
- Humidity reduction
- Spot treatment
- Heat treatment
- Direct wood treatment
- Orange oil
- Customized termite plans (stakes, traps, sprays, etc.) provided by your pest control company
Termite tenting isn’t dangerous when done correctly
All in all, fumigation is an often misunderstood process for treating termites.
Tenting is safe provided that all directions are adhered to.
As long as everyone exercises common sense and follows all the steps of the process, there shouldn’t be any problems.
Tenting is pretty safe. This is why I haven’t left my home yet even though I’m literally 20 feet away from a tented termite home.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.
I hope this clarifies the process a bit more for you.
Thanks for reading.
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.