I’ve had several readers ask me if bleach will kill termites. I think this question stems from their search for an effective DIY termite treatment and a belief that since bleach kills other bugs, it ought to exterminate termites too. Bleach does kill termites that come into contact with it, but rarely addresses a termite infestation. Even pouring bleach on termite infested wood in a home is ineffective since subterranean termite colonies can live “hundreds of feet” from infested structures. Likewise, applying bleach to drywood termites you see in your home might kill the visible worker termites, but there are likely thousands more in your walls, attic, or furniture that your bleach treatment wouldn’t reach.
How does bleach kill termites?
Termites and other insects breathe through tiny holes in their exoskeletons. Bleach interferes with termites’ (and other insects’) respiratory system. Soapy water does the same and is probably less prone to accidents (like accidental bleach staining your carpets or other fabrics).
Is it safe to use bleach for exterminating termites?
Bleach dilluted with water is relatively safe, assuming you:
- Don’t use too much
- Don’t get bleach on your skin
- Don’t breathe in the fumes.
Breathing in strong bleach fumes can damage your lungs and getting undiluted bleach on your skin can burn it. Additionally, bleach is corrosive to many items and can stain fabrics. If you dilute it properly, however, bleach is commonly used for cleaning and disinfecting hard surfaces (floors, kitchens, and bathrooms, for example).
There are, however, safer DIY methods of exterminating termites that you see with everyday items though. For example, you might want to try one of the following methods instead (but remember these only kill termites you see, not the entire colony):
- Pour boiling water on termites outside: Only exterminates termites within a certain area and is not guaranteed to reach the entire colony.
- Spray soapy water on visible termites: This can work inside or outside but is not guaranteed to reach the entire colony. Soapy water (dish soap works best) suffocates many types of insects, including termites.
Are there situations where I could use bleach on termites?
Some folks recommend using a bleach and water mixture to kill termites in a lawn or yard and I’ve heard of people pouring bleach water into the soil where they observed termites.
Problems with using bleach to exterminate termites outside
If you use bleach to attack termites in your yard, you should be aware of several issue that bleach can cause.
Bleach won’t likely get to the the queen termite
While this will likely kill some termites you see in the soil, again, unless the bleach touches the queen termite, you’re only putting a dent into the termite colony.
Bleach damages plants
Additionally, you’ll likely damage plants or grass near that area. Bleach has a higher pH than what most plants thrive in, so you can expect that highly concentrate bleach water will hurt your lawn or landscaping near where you pour the bleach.
Bleach takes a while to dilute in soil and can harm children or pets
Also, bleach can sit in the soil for a while before rainwater or watering your lawn dilutes it. This means children or pets might unintentionally get bleach on their skin when playing in the yard.
Boiling water to kill termites in your yard
An easier, more natural, and safer termite extermination method is pouring a pot of boiling water over the termites you observe. In fact, entomologists recommend pouring hot boiling water over fire ants nests in areas where they’re invasive. The same should work for termites you observe near the surface of the soil (but boiling water won’t likely make it’s way all the way down to the queen termite).
Pouring boiling water on termites in your lawn, however, like bleach, will damage your lawn.
Borax to kill termites outside
Another safe DIY alternative is Borax. You can use Borax in your garden to control quite a few different types of insects, including termites. But again, Borax won’t eliminate an entire termite colony unless it reaches the queen termite, but at least it’s less toxic than bleach.