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What is the Difference Between Pesticide and Insecticide?

By Terrie Brockmann
Updated May 16, 2024
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The difference between a pesticide and insecticide lies in the different function each performs. A pesticide is a chemical substance that is used to kill, control, or repel pests, including mammals, fish, and insects. As the name implies, an insecticide affects only insects. This means that an insecticide is a subgroup of pesticides.

There are many pesticides besides insecticides, including algaecides, bactericides, and fungicides, among others. Some of the more commonly known pesticides are rodenticides like mouse or rat poison, medicinal fungicides that control fungi like athlete's foot, and herbicides like dandelion or crab grass killers. Specialty pesticides control microbes, invasive fish species, and other pests.

Some of the more common insecticides include wasp killers, ant killers, and June bug grub killers. Each of these chemicals uses a different method to kill the insects. The wasp killer is a contact poison, the ant killer is a stomach poison, and the tomato worm poison is a systemic poison. A fumigant is used to control soil-borne insects, such as the June bug grub. Sometimes stomach poisons are spread on the ground as bait, and sometimes they are sprayed or dusted onto a plant.

Both pesticides and insecticides kill by poisoning, suffocating, or paralyzing, but sometimes a person does not want to kill the pest or insect. In this case, most people use a repellent. A repellent uses color, odor, or other disagreeable elements and may be a pesticide or an insecticide.

Often people do not know the difference between a insecticide and a pesticide, use the words interchangeably. Often a person will ask a sales clerk at a gardening center for an insecticide to kill slugs, although the technical term is molluscicide or pesticide. Another misconception is that a nematocide is an insecticide, when it is actually a pesticide.

Typically, there are similar ways to make use of a pesticide and insecticide. Dusts and powders, emulsified concentrates, and aerosols or spray applications are popular techniques. Other applications include baits that attract the pests or insects; granules or pellets that may be poisonous baits, fumigates, or systemic poisons; and spikes that release the poison slowly over a long period of time.

Many countries, regions, and localities regulate pesticide and insecticide manufacture and usage. Insecticide and pesticide usage is common in agricultural regions, in industrial companies, and even in private homes. Sometimes humans and pets can be poisoned by pesticide and insecticide misuse. Typically, the product label lists important information, including the proper usage and recommended actions in case of accidental poisoning.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Jun 19, 2013

Do I understand this right-- insecticide is pesticide but pesticide is not necessarily insecticide?

Either way, I think they're both terrible ways to get rid of pests and insects. I don't like using poison against animals. If I have to get rid of pests, I prefer to do it the natural way, with a predator.

For example, if I have a mouse problem, I'd rather get a cat than poison all the mice with pesticide.

By burcinc — On Jun 18, 2013

@fBoyle-- You need a pesticide for mites, I don't think they're considered insects.

The reason I know is because I had scabies last year. I was using a topical cream to treat it and the active ingredient of the cream was categorized as a pesticide.

Pest is a very large category, it's basically any living thing that causes nuisance and harm. Insects are just insects like flies, ticks, spiders and ants.

By fBoyle — On Jun 17, 2013

What do I need to kill mites? Are mites considered pests or insects?

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