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December 01, 2022 5 min read

Insecticides are a popular way to kill or repel insects. Whether you're dealing with cockroaches in your kitchen or mosquitoes in your backyard, insecticides can effectively get rid of them. But how do insecticides work? There are different types available, each with its own mode of action. In this blog post, we'll explore how insecticides work so that you can make an informed decision about what type of insecticides you should get for your needs.

How Insecticides Work

Insecticides disrupt the life cycle of insects, causing them to either die outright or prevent them from reproducing. There are three main ways that insecticides achieve this.

1. By Targeting the Insect's Nervous System

Insecticides that work by targeting the nervous system are called neurotoxins. These substances interfere with the transmission of nerve impulses, causing paralysis and, eventually, death. These insecticides are typically very effective, but they can also be dangerous to humans and other animals if they're not used properly. This class of insecticide is very effective against ants, cockroaches, flies, and mosquitoes. How else do insecticides work? Read on.

2. By Damaging the Insect's Exoskeleton

Insecticides that damage the exoskeleton are called chitinases. These substances break down the tough outer shell of insects, causing them to dehydrate and die. Usually, these insecticides interfere with chitin production, which is a key component of an insect's exoskeleton. This insecticide is effective against many insects, including beetles, moths, and cockroaches. 

3. By Disrupting the Insect's Hormonal System

Insecticides that disrupt the hormonal system are called endocrine disruptors. These substances interfere with the production of hormones necessary for growth and reproduction, causing developmental problems and sterilization. How do these insecticides work? They effectively prevent the insect from developing into an adult by affecting the insect's metabolism. These types of insecticides are best for preventing populations of insects from growing rather than killing existing adults. 

In addition to these three main types of insecticides, a number of other substances can be used to kill or control insects. For example, some insecticides work by targeting the digestive system, while others work by causing dehydration. Insecticides can also be categorized by their mode of action, which is how they kill or control insects. We'll discuss that below.

Understanding the Modes of Action

There are three main modes of action or types of insecticides: contact, systemic, and stomach poisons. All these insecticides have different ways of killing insects. In this guide, we will discuss the key question. How do these insecticides work? This will help you make an informed decision about which one to use for your particular needs.

1. Contact Insecticides

These insecticides work by physically touching the insect. This contact can kill the insect outright or simply disable the creature so that it can no longer feed or move. These insecticides work well against crawling insects, but they are not as effective against flying insects since they can fly away before the poison has a chance to take effect.

2. Systemic Insecticides

These are poisons that are absorbed by the plant and then circulated throughout the entire plant. These insecticides are ideal for killing sucking insects such as aphids and whiteflies. How do these insecticides work? Since the insecticide is already inside the plant, the insects cannot avoid coming into contact with it and will eventually die.

3. Stomach Poisons

These are insecticides that work by being ingested by the insect. These types of insecticides are effective against both crawling and flying insects like wasps and hornets. Once ingested, the poison will kill the insect outright or disable the creature so that it can no longer feed or move. Stomach poisons are typically made from plant toxins or artificial chemicals.

Now that we've answered the question of how do insecticides work, it's vital to understand that the type of pesticide or insecticide you use will depend on the type of bug you're trying to get rid of as well as the specific situation. For example:

  • If you're trying to kill ants, you might use contact poison so that only the ants that come into direct contact with the poison will be killed.
  • However, if you're trying to kill aphids that are infesting a plant, you might use a systemic insecticide so that the poison will be absorbed by the plant and then circulated throughout the aphids' bodies.

The Active Ingredients in Insecticides Matters

There are two main types of active ingredients in insecticides: natural and synthetic. Natural ingredients are derived from plants or other natural sources, while synthetic ingredients are man-made chemicals. Some common natural ingredients include pyrethrin, neem oil, and boric acid. Some common synthetic ingredients include carbaryl, permethrin, and malathion. As we understand how insecticides do work, it's important to note that the active ingredient used in a specific insecticide formulation will determine how that insecticide works to kill insects.

For example:

  • Pyrethrin is a natural ingredient derived from the pyrethrum plant. Pyrethrum has been used as an insecticide for centuries and works by causing paralysis in insects upon contact. Once insects come into contact with pyrethrin, they will quickly become immobilized and eventually die.
  • On the other hand, carbaryl is a synthetic ingredient that works by inhibiting an enzyme essential for nerve function in insects. When this enzyme is inhibited, the nerves are unable to send signals, and the insect becomes paralyzed. Carbaryl is considered a "broad spectrum" type of insecticide, meaning that it is effective against a wide range of insects.

Application of Insecticides

Person Spraying Insecticides on Plants

With a clear understanding of how insecticides do work, learning the right application methods is straightforward. Insecticides can be applied in many different ways, including spraying with aerosol sprays, dusting, baiting, and soaking. The application method will depend on the type of pest being controlled and the area that needs to be treated. For example, spraying is typically used to treat large areas outdoors, while dusting is used to treat small areas indoors. Baiting is ideal for controlling pests that feed on food sources, such as rodents or cockroaches. Soaking is mostly used to control wood-destroying pests, such as termites or carpenter ants.

Learn More at DIY Pest Warehouse

Insecticides are a popular way to combat pests because they're relatively easy to use and can be quite effective. At DIY Pest Warehouse, we stock a wide range of insecticides that can help you get rid of pests quickly and easily. That's why we also provide resources that help you learn more about insecticides, like how insecticides do work, how to choose the right type of insecticide for your needs, and how to apply them safely.

Visit our blog or pest guides for more information.