What is the Difference Between Insecticide and Pesticide?

What are the differences between insecticides and pesticides?

  1. Chemical formulation
  2. Targets
  3. Types of insecticide
    • Systemic
    • Contact
    • Ingested
  4. Types of pesticide
    • Herbicide
    • Rodenticide
    • Bactericide

Different kinds of pests and insects exist in the environment. It is for this reason that one should learn the difference between a pesticide and an insecticide.

It is far too often the case that people use the terms “pesticide” and “insecticide” interchangeably. While on the surface, the misnomer might seem inconsequential, this can lead to potentially inefficient use of a particular chemical agent. Simply put, one can find themselves in a situation where they’re using the wrong kind of chemical agent in order to terminate a pest or a type of bug in their home.

Continue reading to learn more about the differences between the two, so that you may be able to distinguish their uses in the future.

Chemical formulation

One of the most important determining factors to tell insecticides and pesticides apart is their respective chemical formulations.

Typically, both pesticides and insecticide contain an active ingredient which is the main chemical providing the exterminating action on the target animal. Insecticides can be manufactured into any of the following types of agents, namely sprays, dusts, as well as liquid and station baits. In terms of the duration of the effect, insecticides can be classified as either residual or non-residual.

The effects of residual insecticides can be seen from as short as a few hours, to as long as a few days or weeks. Just some of the possible active ingredients in residual pesticides can be allethrin, bifenthrin, boric acid, diatomaceous earth, to name a few. Meanwhile, non-residual insecticides commonly contain the active ingredient of pyrethrin.

Pesticides, on the other hand, contain an active ingredient and other additional ingredients which are typically called inert ingredients. These inert ingredients can range anywhere from edible oils, spices, to other types of potent chemical compounds. The inert ingredients typically have many functions, but they are added to the pesticide to increase its potency, add a layer of protection for the applicator, or to increase the shelf life of the product.


Based simply from the name itself, insecticides are generally used to kill insects such as beetles, bees, wasps, ants, cockroaches, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, and dragonflies, just to name a few. On the other hand, pesticides can be used to kill rodents, bacteria, fungi, and larvae.

Insecticides can penetrate an insect’s body in a variety of ways. For example, dermal contact refers to when the insecticide enters the animal’s body through the skin. This can occur when an insecticide spray is directly targeted at the insect or if the insect itself comes into contact with the chemical compound.

Another method in which the insect can come into contact with the product is if it directly consumes the poison. This can be achieved through the direct application of insecticide on food products.

As for pesticides, one can look at the example of rat poison, which mainly contains an active ingredient called bromadiolone. Rat poison may come in the form of pellets which will have to be strategically placed in the infested area. The poison will take effect after the rat has already ingested the bait.

Types of insecticides

Generally, three types of insecticides exist. These are systemic, contact, and ingested.


This type of insecticide is most commonly applied in the soil, where the plant roots absorb it. The chemical then enters the plant’s system where any insect which ingests it would become poisoned by the chemical compound.


Contact insecticides can be found in household settings. These usually come in the form of a spray which is directly applied to the intended target, such as a cockroach, for example. While this may be the most common and most convenient method of application, it cannot be classified as a preventive measure, unlike systemic insecticide.


Simply put, ingested insecticide refers to insect control substances that are placed in different locations in an area. The purpose of the substances is to bait the insects into consuming them.

Types of pesticide

While there exist several types of pesticides depending on the target, this portion would focus on the following in order to provide context: herbicide, rodenticide, and fungicide.


The production of healthy crops and food is one of the main goals in agricultural settings. As such, the growth and proliferation of unwanted and disruptive plants is something that should be ceased.

An example of a disruptive plant would be weeds. Herbicides are only able to affect its target, leaving the rest of the main plant relatively unharmed.


As mentioned before, rodenticide is used in the extermination of rats and mice which can be found in great numbers inside an unkempt home. Rodenticides, in particular, contain a compound that stops blood coagulation in rodents.


Similar to herbicides, fungicides are predominantly used in exterminating spores and other types of bacteria which can destroy agricultural crops. These pests can create holes in plants’ leaves, for example.

Fungicides are generally used to inhibit the growth and the progression of the bacteria or spores.

Key Takeaway

One can just as easily conflate the difference between a pesticide and an insecticide. Based on the information above, it can be concluded that an insecticide can be classified as a type of pesticide. Nevertheless, the two remain largely different, in that pesticides are used to exterminate a wider range of animals, while insecticide only focuses on insects.

The guide above has hopefully helped you with clearing up the confusion between these two chemical agents.

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