A Less Toxic Alternative To Tenting

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - June 15, 2011
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A termite enjoys dinner. Photo courtesy UH Termite Project

Eight years and one month ago I wrote in MidWeek that Hawaii’s dry-wood termites could be killed with sodium borate, basically Borax in spray-on-the-walls form.

That column drew the wrath of a tenting company’s honchos here, and even some scientific people who had their doubts because microwaves and hot air hadn’t been living up to their early billings as termite killers, and still are not.

Now, sodium borate is becoming a common Hawaii treatment, advertised by some of those former tenting-only firms, and will be more so as the gases used for tenting become more of an environmental concern and are banned. That’s already the case in California. Gas also requires you to remove pets and people, food, plants and it kills grass or shrubbery around the tent base.

But change comes hard, just as so many redo their roofs rather than cover their old shingles with a rubberized sealant that, like mine, can easily last 15 years and at much less than the price of re-shingling.


Sodium borate is harmless to us. It’s a salt-like spray. You stay home, your animals, too. No harm to your plants or food. The termites can’t smell it. They ingest it as they eat the glucose in wood and then return to and kill their nest.

It’s not been a perfect eight years for me. We get droppings, but they keep decreasing. We’re gradually “inoculating” our house. Problem with tenting is, sure it kills everything, but termites come right back the next day. The borate is soaked up inside the wood. Termites come back, termites eat and die.

The downside is that spraying your house structure doesn’t protect your furniture, drawers or doors. You have to call in your exterminator. He has to have the talent to find the termite air holes and spray in there. So you need a contract that says he’ll keep coming back and won’t charge you.

Dean Kozai prepares borate spray. Photo courtesy Cheryl Kozai

I’m told those petroleum-based supermarket sprays only chase termites from where they are to some other place. They smell the stuff and skedaddle.

My termite exterminator isn’t taking new customers so I’m not selling his company here. And we’ve worked eight years to get my house down to a just-now-and-then incident, usually in a plywood door, the interior roof structure or a piece of furniture.

It’s obvious to me that sodium borate is the treatment of the future and I’m glad I found it early on. States are rapidly shutting down toxic gases. They should have done so a long time ago. We should have done so. We tend to run behind on serious environmental issues.


P.S. If your house is in extremis with termite damage, neither tenting nor sodium borate is going to make it whole again. The idea is to get treatment started early. Many did when I wrote about it eight years ago.

Aren’t you glad you are a MidWeek reader?

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