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How to Become an Exterminator


Once in a while, we hear from people who are interested in entering the field of pest control and who are curious as to what is involved. Unfortunately, the answers vary widely depending on what state you live in; and if you live outside the United States, then quite frankly, we have no idea what your country's requirements may be. We have enough difficulty keeping track of U.S. laws.

But here's a general overview of the typical requirements to become a pest control operator in the United States.

General Requirements

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All pesticide applicators in the United States come under the jurisdiction of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). But each state has a "lead agency" (usually the state's department of Agriculture or Environmental Protection) that actually implements the FIFRA requirements, and they do so quite differently. So what appears here is very general in nature. For more accurate information, contact your state's pesticide lead agency or Cooperative Extension department.

In most states, candidates to become certified pesticide applicators must be at least 18 years of age and have a certain amount of experience working under a certified person and/or have completed an approved training course.

Applicants to become certified must also "be of good character." Different states interpret this differently. In almost all cases, convictions for certain crimes involving the environment, pollution, or terrorism will bar an applicant from working with pesticides. Other convictions may or may not prevent certification, depending on the state and the nature and circumstances of and time since the conviction.

Many pest control companies also require their technicians to be bonded.

Educational Requirements

Most states require that applicants for certification be able to "speak, read, and write the English language," and a few require that a candidate have attained at least a high school diploma or GED. Increasingly, however, states are requiring that candidates for certification or employment in the industry complete a state-approved training program.

In some states, candidates must attend a certain number of hours of professional training, but it need not be in the form of an actual "preparation course." Other states require that applicants attend a specialized training course that is designed for newcomers to the field. Some states allow correspondence courses to satisfy this requirement, others don't. Most states also require experience under the supervision of a licensed exterminator in addition to completing a training program, and some will accept a certain amount of experience instead of a training course.

Training courses commonly are available from a state's Cooperative Extension department, community colleges, employers, or pesticide companies. There also are companies who do nothing but teach pest control training courses. Often, these companies are run by retired exterminators. Course costs vary from literally free to several thousand dollars, with the majority falling somewhere in between. There are also many good pest control training books that will help you improve both your knowledge of pest control and your chances of passing the licensing examinations.

Testing Requirements

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In most states, applicants for certification as pesticide applicators must pass at least two written examinations. One (commonly called the "Core" exam) tests the candidate's mastery of basic concepts common to all pesticide applications such as knowledge of rules and regulations, record keeping, the ability to read and comprehend label instructions, mastery of the math needed to properly mix and apply chemicals, and knowledge of the procedures to be followed in the event of a spill or other emergency.

The second written test is commonly called a "Category" examination, and focuses on factors specific to the type of pest control the candidate wishes to practice. The category tests measure things such as the candidate's ability to properly identify pests common within the specialty, special safety considerations for that type of pest control, and how to select and apply pesticides commonly used in that specialty.

Some states require that individuals pass the Core examination before they're allowed to work under the license of another person who is not physically present on the job.

In a few states, oral or practical examinations also are required.

Insurance Requirements

Most states require pesticide applicators either to carry liability insurance or to work for a company that carries liability insurance.

Continuing Education

In most states, individuals certified as pesticide applicators must either earn a requisite number of continuing education credits, or else be re-tested, before they may renew their certifications.

What's it Like to be an Exterminator?

Pest control, like any other job, has its good and bad points. Exterminators tend to spend a lot of time in basements, crawl spaces, attics, and on roofs. The job requires a lot of time driving between stops and the ability to deal with often-distressed customers. But on the positive side, exterminators work independently without a great deal of "looking-over-your-shoulder" supervision, and the job is diverse enough that it usually isn't boring.

Pay rates in the pest control industry have lagged a bit behind other skilled trades, although that's starting to change as licensing requirements become more stringent. On the other hand, jobs in pest control tend to be less sensitive to changing economic situations, so layoffs are rare.

Most pest control companies also offer health benefits, paid vacations, uniforms, and ongoing continuing education. Some also pay their technicians' license fees.

For More Information, You can Contact the Following:

National Pest Management Association Inc.,
8100 Oak Street, Dunn Loring, VA 22027
(703) 573-8330

or your state's Cooperative Extension department.


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