What is a Pesticide?

Always read and follow label directions before buying or using a pesticide. Follow all appropriate federal, state, tribal and local regulations.

Which substances are pesticides:

The first step in safe use of pesticides is to know what substances are pesticides.

Pesticides are not just insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides sprayed on crops or pests. If you use insect repellents, ant baits, ‘weed and feed’ lawn products, pet flea collars, sulfur dust on your garden, disinfectant wipes, the list goes on…you are using a pesticide.

Pesticide law defines a “pesticide” (with certain minor exceptions) as:

  • Any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.
  • Any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant.
  • Any nitrogen stabilizer.

From https://www.epa.gov/minimum-risk-pesticides/what-pesticide


Pesticide Types:

Pesticide active ingredients are described by the types of pests they control or how they work. People often use the term “pesticide” to refer only to insecticides, but it actually applies to all the substances used to control pests.

 Well known pesticides include:

  • insecticides,
  • herbicides,
  • rodenticides, and
  • fungicides.

Less well-known pesticides include:

  • disinfectants,
  • attractants,
  • plant defoliants,
  • swimming pool treatments, and
  • plant growth regulators.

The following list will help you understand the wide range of types of pesticides:

  • Algicides kill algae in lakes, canals, swimming pools, water tanks, and other sites.
  • Antifoulants kill or repel organisms that attach to underwater surfaces, such as barnacles that cling to boat bottoms.
  • Antimicrobials kill microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses.
  • Attractants lure pests to a trap or bait, for example, attract an insect or rodent into a trap.  (However, food is not considered a pesticide when used as an attractant.)
  • Biopesticides are derived from natural materials such as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals.
  • Biocides kill microorganisms.
  • Defoliants cause leaves or foliage to drop from a plant, usually to facilitate harvest.
  • Desiccants promote drying of living tissues, such as unwanted plant tops.
  • Disinfectants and sanitizers kill or inactivate disease-producing microorganisms on inanimate objects.
  • Fungicides kill fungi (including blights, mildews, molds, and rusts).
  • Fumigants produce gas or vapor intended to destroy pests, for example in buildings or soil.
  • Herbicides kill weeds and other plants that grow where they are not wanted.
  • Insect growth regulators disrupt the molting, maturing from pupal stage to adult, or other life processes of insects.
  • Insecticides kill insects and other arthropods.
  • Miticides (also called acaricides) kill mites that feed on plants and animals.
  • Microbial pesticides are microorganisms that kill, inhibit, or out-compete pests, including insects or other microorganism pests.
  • Molluscicides kill snails and slugs.
  • Nematicides kill nematodes (microscopic, worm-like organisms that feed on plant roots).
  • Ovicides kill eggs of insects and mites.
  • Pheromones disrupt the mating behavior of insects.
  • Plant growth regulators alter the expected growth, flowering, or reproduction rate of plants (does not include fertilizers).
  • Plant Incorporated Protectants are substances that plants produce from genetic material that has been added to the plant.
  • Repellents repel pests, including insects (such as mosquitoes) and birds.
  • Rodenticides control mice and other rodents.

From https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/types-pesticide-ingredients