Interior Pests

How to Become an Exterminator: Education, Licensing, and Insurance Requirements to Know

Becoming an exterminator often requires the completion of certain certification or training programs and practical on-the-job experience with an established pest control company.
Danielle Fallon-O'Leary Avatar
A worker in a full white suit poses in a living room with a pest control tool.
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Wherever insects, rodents, and invasive wildlife exist, so too will the demand for exterminators. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the pest control field is expected to grow 3 percent by 2032 across the United States.

For those thinking of pursuing a career as an exterminator, it’s important to be well equipped to handle the various challenges of the pest control industry. A prospective exterminator will want to start by acquiring the necessary certification or training to gain foundational knowledge and skills. On-the-job training and experience with an established pest control company are also crucial so exterminators are able to apply this knowledge to real-world scenarios.

So, what do exterminators do and how does one enter this field? This guide will explore the basics of how to become an exterminator, including how to gain the requisite initial experience and lay the foundation for starting a company that offers exterminator services.

Before You Begin…

Before beginning the journey to becoming a certified exterminator, it’s important to be aware of the health and safety risks associated with handling chemicals and other hazardous materials commonly used in pest control. Education on the proper application of these materials, along with the necessary precautions to take when handling them, is essential for pest control exterminators to stay safe (and keep clients safe) on the job.

Prospective exterminators will also need to understand and maintain legal and regulatory compliance. Different regions may have varying requirements for exterminator training, certification, and licensing. For this reason, researching these specifics can help exterminators prevent legal pitfalls and ensure professional integrity.

Finally, aspiring exterminators will want to consider the physical and emotional demands of the profession, such as working in confined spaces, dealing with distressed clients, and managing the eradication of household pests. Preparing for these aspects before committing to the exterminator certification and training process can help prospective professionals make an informed decision about pursuing this career path.

For those who feel they are up for these challenges, a career in extermination can be an incredibly rewarding and dynamic one.

Tips for Becoming an Exterminator

  • Research and understand the specific certification and licensing requirements in the state or region, as these can vary significantly and are essential for legal, professional practice.
  • Develop strong communication and customer service skills, as engaging effectively with clients is crucial for building trust and ensuring successful job outcomes.
  • Stay current with continuing education opportunities and advancements in pest control techniques and products, as well as the best pest control software (like Jobber) for managing client jobs.
A pest control expert in a white suit uses a tool to spray a solution under a TV console.
Photo: istock.com

STEP 1: Research the eligibility requirements in your state to work as an exterminator.

Specific exterminator requirements can differ across jurisdictions, so it’s important for an aspiring pest control pro to understand the laws in their home state or city. These requirements often include the successful completion of pest control certification exams, which demonstrate an exterminator’s thorough understanding of pest control practices and safety protocols. Some states also mandate a certain number of hours of hands-on training or an apprenticeship under a licensed exterminator before granting a new exterminator the ability to work independently.

Jeremy Counter, owner of American Pest Management, an Anchorage, Alaska-based pest control company, explains that in Alaska, all exterminators need to become certified applicators to legally work in the industry.

“This involves passing a written test and proof of liability insurance,” Counter says. “Termite control also requires a special certification and, in some cases, additional insurance.”

As another example, a North Carolina exterminator must become a Commercial Certified Applicator for general indoor pest control, says Damon Milotte, Vice President of Tailor Made, a company in Charlotte offering pest control and lawn care services.

“To treat wood-destroying insects, you will need to have at least two years of experience as a Certified Applicator and obtain an additional Structural Pest Control License,” Milotte adds.

Other than training, certain requirements need to be met before becoming an exterminator:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Have a valid driver’s license and a clean driving record
  • Pass a background check

STEP 2: Consider taking pest control courses at a local community college or vocational school to help you stand out when applying for jobs.

Job-specific educational programs provide in-depth knowledge and practical skills related to various aspects of pest control. This includes identification of pests, application of treatment plans, and adherence to safety and regulatory standards.

By pursuing a formal education in the field, an aspiring exterminator not only gains a competitive edge in the job market but also demonstrates a commitment to professional development and a serious approach to their career in extermination. The correct education can help an aspiring pest control specialist succeed in their industry and compete with the best mouse exterminators or the best cockroach exterminators in their area.

STEP 3: Apply for an entry-level position with a pest control company and get on-the-job training.

In an entry-level pest control job, a new exterminator can learn the intricacies of the job directly from experienced practitioners. Whether a prospective exterminator works with a national brand like Orkin or Terminix or apprentices with a local business owner, this experience offers valuable insights into daily operations, customer interactions, and problem-solving strategies. It also provides real-world context to theoretical knowledge.

“Look at companies that offer a wide range of services so you can get plenty of hands-on experience handling a variety of problems,” advises Counter.

Milotte adds that new exterminators should seek entry-level positions with companies that will pay for any additional training and certifications necessary to do the job.

STEP 4: Check the licensing requirements for exterminators in your state.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), federal law requires an exterminator who either applies or supervises the application of restricted use pesticides (RUPs) to be certified. In most states, this involves attending a Pesticide Safety Education Program and passing a certification exam. Aspiring exterminators will want to familiarize themselves with the requirements in their state to ensure they are operating legally.

The process of obtaining an exterminator license typically involves a combination of education, experience, and examinations, all of which are designed to ensure that the exterminator possesses the necessary knowledge and skills to perform their job effectively and safely. The specifics can vary significantly from one state to another. Some states require formal training courses, while others mandate a period of apprenticeship under a licensed exterminator.

Applicants are often required to pass a state-administered exam that tests their understanding of chemical safety, pest identification, and control techniques. Understanding and fulfilling these requirements allows a professional to become a licensed exterminator and earn the necessary credentials to work legally and competently in the field.

STEP 5: Get business insurance coverage to protect against financial liability.

Obtaining coverage from one of the best small-business insurance companies (like NEXT Insurance or Thimble) is critical for any person or entity operating in the pest control industry to protect themselves against potential financial liability. More importantly, it’s often a requirement for the legal operation of an extermination business.

Insurance policies can cover a range of scenarios, including accidents that may occur on the job, such as property damage or injuries, as well as legal issues that could arise from the services provided. Those who want to work for an established pest control company will want to ensure the owner holds adequate business liability and workers’ compensation insurance as a protective measure.

STEP 6: Keep up with continuing education requirements to ensure you’re up-to-date on pest control methods.

Staying current with continuing education in the pest management industry ensures that an exterminator stays informed about the latest methods, technologies, and best practices in the field. Ongoing education is often required to maintain licensure, but beyond that, it empowers exterminators with knowledge and skills that can significantly enhance their effectiveness in the field.

Participating in continuing education keeps exterminators abreast of emerging trends and industry changes, such as eco-friendly pest control methods or new regulatory requirements. This commitment to continuous learning signals to clients and employers alike that the exterminator is a knowledgeable, competent professional who proactively adapts their practices to meet the latest standards.

STEP 7: Consider your career path and, if desired, make a plan to start your own extermination company.

There are numerous career paths someone can pursue in the pest control industry. They can choose to stick to working with common pests such as termites and ants, or they can opt to gain additional education and experience for more complex pest problems. They can also learn unique pest control techniques to help them stand out in the industry.

Eventually, a pest control professional might consider starting an independent extermination company. Doing so not only offers the potential for a higher exterminator salary but also provides the exterminator with an opportunity to establish a unique vision and approach to pest control services.

It’s a good idea for an aspiring exterminator to do plenty of research on the pest control industry, as well as gain experience working for an extermination company, before they start their own company. This includes conducting thorough market research so a new business can establish its service offerings and set prices on par with other local exterminator costs.

From there, an aspiring pest control entrepreneur will want to create a solid business plan and understand the legal requirements for running a business. They’ll need to determine the right structure for their business (for instance, a sole proprietorship, an LLC, or a corporation), which in turn determines a business’s tax and liability requirements. Entrepreneurs who are unsure about the process of registering a business may want to work with one of the best LLC services, such as LegalZoom or Northwest Registered Agent, to ensure they follow the correct steps and file all necessary paperwork.

Entrepreneurs will also need to educate themselves on practical aspects of business ownership such as marketing, customer service, and financial planning.

“My advice is to take some basic business courses in accounting and even marketing,” Counter says. “There is so much more to running a pest control company beyond just spraying for pests!”

By carefully planning and considering the above steps, an aspiring exterminator can better understand the path to becoming an exterminator, whether they want to work for one of the best pest control companies or run their own extermination business. Additionally, staying informed about industry standards and advancements can encourage professional growth and increase an exterminator’s standing in the pest control field.