How to Find a Good Exterminator
Last updated in November 2017
If you have a pest problem, before you call in the pros, find out what you can do on your own. In the "Exterminators" section of our website, we provide several articles that describe the most common household pests and offers tips for eliminating them. Except for termites and bedbugs, you should be able to cure most pest problems with a modest amount of effort and without hiring a pest control service.
If you have a problem you can’t handle on your own, many pest control services will happily step in. For help with your critter control, our Ratings Tables provide you with information on the quality of service and prices offered by local outfits.
Ratings from Customers
Our Ratings Tables show how area consumers (primarily Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers) we surveyed rated the companies on several aspects of service. As you can see, many of the companies received high ratings. On the other hand, some of the companies were rated “superior” by only a small percentage of their surveyed customers. For more information on our customer survey and other research methods, click here.
The most common type of complaint we receive from pest control service customers is that companies fail to show up for appointments. But we also often get gripes about sloppily applied treatments that don’t do the trick, alarming termite inspections that lead to unnecessary work, inept termite inspections that fail to detect infestations, and salespeople who push expensive annual contracts.
Our Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington Office of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period and complaint rates relative to the volume of work companies do. Click here for more information on reported complaint counts and rates.
How They Approach the Problem
Different outfits have different strategies for treating, or preventing, pest problems—for example, baits versus sprays or long-term contracts versus one-time treatments. We describe these approaches and choices in our articles advising on how to deal with specific pest problems. Some companies are flexible, but others offer one approach only. Discuss options with each service you consider, and choose one that makes sense for you.
In pest control, as in most fields, it’s good to withhold payment until work is complete. In the case of termite jobs, however, some firms require partial payment prior to completion.
Of course, any company that offers guarantees on either termite work or household pest treatment is likely to get your money before its obligations end. In these situations, the main line of protection is a written contract or receipt specifying the length and breadth of your guarantee. You should have no problem obtaining a written commitment.
It’s important to compare companies’ guarantees. For work with roaches and other household pests, many firms offer guarantees ranging from 30 days to one year, depending on what you agree to pay. For termite work, some companies offer a single one-year guarantee, but most let you pay to extend it; most companies charge a yearly premium for a year’s extension of coverage and a yearly inspection.
For both household pests and termites, guarantees generally cover continuing service to attack old infestations and new ones while the guarantee is in force. Some companies offer termite guarantees that also cover structural repairs.
Qualifications of Staff
You naturally want the company you choose to send you professionals who are well-trained in pest control. All companies must have on staff at least one employee who has taken classes and passed a state test to qualify as a certified pest control applicator. But a company may employ only one certified applicator and send out uncertified employees to do the work. To obtain some assurance that the operator you get has at least minimum qualifications, tell companies you are considering that you insist on having a certified applicator do your work—and request a certified applicator each time they send someone to your home. If you need termite service, find out whether the company will send a certified structural pest technician who has met the training requirements and passed the test administered by the state.
Getting a Good Price
Since so many companies provide good service, cost can be a key consideration.
For household pest work, you can often get price quotes over the phone or via email, and companies that will not quote by phone will almost always come to your house to give free estimates.
For termites, too, most companies give free estimates, although all companies charge a fee for the formal paperwork required for inspections for real estate transactions.
If your problem is cockroaches, our ratings table provides some idea of comparative prices. On our Ratings Tables, we report our price comparison score. These scores are based on phone shopping by our undercover shoppers who collected companies’ prices to treat for roaches in a single-family home. Our price comparison scores are intended to suggest the price a customer might expect to pay for pest control work that would cost $100 at the “average” company. A price comparison score of $110 for a company, then, means that its prices were about 10 percent above average; a score of $90 means that its prices were about 10 percent below average. To calculate these scores, we used each company’s quoted prices for a one-time treatment for roaches (or the smallest number of treatments the company offers) and its charge for an initial treatment plus a follow-up treatment 40 days later.
When comparing prices, you’ll find that some companies will let you pay for treatments one at a time, as you need them. Most offer contracts for regular treatment (usually monthly or every other month). Some companies offer only one arrangement or the other; others offer a choice. Unless you have bedbugs or termites, which require special approaches, we recommend paying for individual treatments. But because most companies let you cancel their term contracts without penalty, compare the cost of one or two pay-as-you-go treatments with the cost of paying for a few months of service under a contract.
To get the best plan for your situation, press companies to describe all the available alternatives. The least expensive plan is not always the first offered.
If your problem is termites, you will have to do your own price shopping. Similarly, most companies are reluctant to quote prices for a bedbug treatment plan without an on-site inspection. Because companies charge drastically different prices to solve the same termite or bedbug infestations, get at least three estimates. To treat a small termite infestation, companies quoted prices ranging from $585 to $1,950 to one of our undercover shoppers.
Keep this in mind: Our evaluation revealed no relationship between prices charged for household pest treatments and customer satisfaction. Several highly rated companies charge low prices, and several poorly rated companies charge high prices. In other words, paying more doesn’t necessarily produce better critter control.