It’s natural to bond with your plants. They are living after all. You feed them, prune them, nourish them, and bathe them on occasion. No wonder you fall in love with them.
You only realize how much when gnats, mites, mealybugs, whitefly, and any number of multi-legged and dual-winged creatures invade them, putting plant life in jeopardy.
Remember the Daleks from Dr. Who? Can you say Exterminate (say aloud in robotic voice – Or YouTube it if you’re intrigued)!
Anyhow, there’s ways and means to get things done. Some family and pet-friendly techniques work to get rid of indoor plant bugs… others are super toxic all around.
Enough already you say?
Alright. Let’s get to it. Pick one of the methods below or combine multiple for maximum bug extermination power!
10 Indoor Plant Bug Remedies: The Swiss Army Knife of Bug Zappers
1 – There’s the Castile Soap solution
And there’s a reason for that. Any internet research you’ve done up until now, is wrong (probably).
Explain, you ask?
Well, let’s assume for a second that you’ve read some clown’s advice about suffocating indoor plant bugs using a soapy water solution. Made up of… Dish-washing soap.
The problem there is… There’s no such thing. Dish-washing liquid is not a soap. It’s a detergent. Castile soap is a true soap.
That said, ivory dish-washing soap is the only other type of pure soap you can easily get your hands on (who’s the clown now?). The rest will harm your plants because of the additives.
Additives are things like:
- Fragrances including scented oils, essential oils and perfumes
No mistaking though, any type of watery soap mixture will kill soft-bodied insects. It’ll also strip the waxy coating from your plants leaves, leaving it very likely to dehydrate. Get the mixture too strong and you’ll kill your plant.
Enough said… If you want to risk it, take your chances… (pay attention to the cautions listed).
The DIY route for making your own castile soap insecticide is a triple-simples process:
- Get a spray bottle. If it’s a used one, clean it thoroughly.
- Mix a tablespoon of the liquid soap per quart of water (that’s a quarter gallon, two pints, or four cups).
- Give it a good shake/mix.
You can spray your entire plant. Better safe than sorry though. Coat only one leaf, leave it 24 hours and see if the spray damaged the plant any more. If it did, try something else. If didn’t, go ahead and use it on the rest.
Take precautions though, because the plant will need repeated applications and you won’t want to damage it further.
How many applications? Good question…
- For a light infestation – apply a second spraying a week later.
- If it’s more than a few insects, do spot treatments every few days. That means, inspect the plant, look for the bugs and directly spray them instead of soaking your plant. This works only on contact with the pests. They won’t be attracted to it since it’s not scented.
- For a heavy infestation, you may want to entirely coat the plant every few days with the solution.
Be sure to spray it in the morning when the temperatures are cool, because soapy water is only good when it’s wet.
Once it dries, it’s useless since it can’t affect the critters. Ideally, you want the mixture on the plant for as long as possible. Do that by spraying it in low temperatures since it won’t dry out as fast.
For this soapy spray to work, the soap solution needs to contact the pests. Once it does, it penetrates their membranes, attacking their nervous systems causing a complete shutdown. Death!
Good times (sounds evil).
Bad times are if the mixture is so strong that it damages the leaves to the point of the plant dehydrating. Then there’d be no point in killing the bugs. They’d leave all by themselves since they’d have no nourishment to munch on.
Words to make you wiser:
Most smaller insects prefer the dark so you’ll find them on the underside of the leaves. For best results with minimal risk (not saying there’s no risk), spray the liquid soap directly at the bugs you see rather than coating the entire plant.
Look closely on the underside of the leaves. That’s where they like to hideout.
For your plants safety though, take the word of the experts… The safer way to use insecticidal soap is to use a highly refined version.
For that, authors Carlin Munnerlyn and Joey Williamson, both of Clemson University along with Master Gardener Joyce D. Ubl report 10 commonly available commercial insecticidal soaps, much safer than the DIY variety.
- Bayer Advanced Natria Insecticidal Soap (view on Amazon)
- Bonide Insecticidal Soap
- Concern Rose and Flower Insect Killer II
- Espoma Earth-tone Insecticidal Soap
- Lilly Miller – Worry Free Insecticidal Soap
- Natural Guard Insecticidal Soap
- Raid Earth Options Insecticidal Soap
- Safer Insect Killing Soap
- Schultz Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap Insect Killer
- Whitney Farms Insecticidal Soap
Note: This was retrieved from Factsheet HGIC 2771 from the Clemson Cooperative Extension and was last updated: Aug 12, 2015. Disclaimers apply. It’s only a list. Not an endorsement.
Still though, there’s more tricks to put up your sleeve.
Check this out…
2 – Neem Oil – A Superb All-Rounder that Insects Hate
What doesn’t sound good about this?
It’s pet-safe, family-safe, organic (always great for plants), able to control hundreds of different insect breeds, adult, larvae and their eggs.
It’ll even fight off predatory nematodes.
In other words, it’s a dream oil for your plants and get this… It’s ideal for indoor use!
Here’s how to make your own neem oil spray:
What you’ll need:
- A pale or bucket large enough to mix the amount of spray you’re making.
- An empty (and clean) spray bottle.
- Neem oil extract (link to Amazon) – cold pressed is best.
- Liquid castile soap (link to Amazon) for an emulsifier.
For your neem oil…
Try to use pure but definitely go with cold pressed neem oil extract because the active ingredient (Azadirachtin) is more potent.
Then you’ll need an emulsifier (because oil doesn’t mix with water) and for that, go with the trusted liquid castile soap.
The quantities you need for 10 liters at 2% (1% is for general purpose) neem oil spray are:
- 200 ml neem oil
- 30 ml liquid castile soap
- 10 liters water
Adjust the concentration to suit the quantity you’re making.
As an example: 5 liters at 2%, half the quantities to 100 ml neem oil, 15 ml liquid castile soap and reduce the water to 5 liters. If you want to make it stronger, say for a heavier plant infestation, increase the amount of neem oil while leaving the other quantities the same.
How to put it together
- Add the liquid castile soap to the warm water
- Slowly pour in your neem oil (constantly stir this to get it mixed thoroughly).
- Once it’s dissolved, put it in your spray bottle, shake it well and keep shaking it. Use it right away by drenching your plant with it. The mix is only good up to 8 hours, then it loses potency.
You need to know this part…
This will need repeating as it’s not an instant bug killer. It takes time. Give it a week before retreating the plant and keep spraying on a weekly basis until the bugs are gone.
Once the infestation’s cleared, you can drop the concentration to 0.5% of neem oil to use it as a bug repellent.
Or there’s this organic bug controller:
3 – Pyrethrum spray – An Instant Contact Poison for Insects
That’s pronounced pie-wreath-rum. Think festive. Christmas pie, wreath on the door and a bottle of rum.
It’s not the same as permethrin spray. That’s something used to control other insect pests like bed bugs, mosquitoes and insects around the home that aren’t making a home in your plants.
Look at it this way:
- If your bugs are bugging you. It’s permethrin spray.
- If the bugs are infesting your plants… it’s pyrethrum spray.
Like neem oil, it’s a contact poison.
When insects come into contact with this, their nervous systems are attacked. To the point it shuts down and they die.
But, get this… Whilst it is organic, it’s not long-lasting. High temperatures and exposure to UV light will reduce its potency. For that reason, like neem oil, spray when the temperature is cooler, but instead of in the morning, apply it at night.
It’s not good to assume. Like because it’s safe for indoor use, you can safely use it in the garden.
It’ll kill beneficial insects too. More importantly, the kind that’s on the endangered species list – the Honey Bee. That means, you can’t be (or shouldn’t be) knowingly killing them.
Pyrethrum spray is highly toxic to all insects. Beneficial or plant-wreckers. It doesn’t discriminate. Since honey bees are usually outdoors in pollinated areas, it’s unlikely they’ll be of concern indoors.
You can make your own, but you’d need to have grown flowers from the chrysanthemums family or Tanacetum family. The most common is the perennial daisy.
If you’re doing that, when the flowers bloom, (wear gloves since this is harmful) pick the flower heads, dry them out in a cool and dark place. Then grind it down until it’s course. For every 1 cup (130 grams), add the grinded powder to 2 liters of warm water, then leave it to stand for a few hours.
Then drain it so it’s just the water left.
Add a teaspoon of liquid castile soap and a teaspoon of cooking oil, mix it together…
Add that to a spray bottle and you’re ready to apply it to your plants.
But, it’d really be much easier to just order a bottle of ready to use pyrethrum spray online or pick up a spray at your garden center. Some garden centers may only sell the powder form. If it’s only powder, make the spray by adding a little pure soap, cooking oil and warm water.
Another reason to buy it ready to use: It comes with instructions. Follow them!
This spray is not family and pet friendly so always use with care. Especially when you’re putting it in unlabeled spray bottles.
Or use what you’re already careful with…
4 – Alcohol
Vodka, stale beer, rum… you name it. Don’t use it on your plants.
When people talk about using alcohol to get rid of pests, what they really mean is to get rid of slugs and snails.
For that, it’s called a beer trap.
All you do is put stale beer in a shallow dish, put it where your slug problem is, indoors or out. Slugs and snails are attracted to the sugary content caused by fermentation. They can’t help themselves from going into the dish and slugging away.
When they do, they get drunk. They might drown but either way, take the dish outside in the morning to return them to mother earth.
Here’s what you ought to know about alcohol and plants.
First, there’s three types of alcohol.
Isopropyl is sold as rubbing alcohol. It’s as high as 70% concentration. That’s antiseptic levels. Not like your old-style country western movie antiseptic used for cleaning gunshot wounds with whisky.
- Ethanol will stunt plant growth.
- Methanol will encourage plant growth.
However, with ethanol alcohol, 5% concentrate stunts plant growth but at 10% it stresses your plant. 25% concentration will kill it.
Isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) is the most appropriate. Besides, you can use it for far more. Like glass cleaning, or sterilizing anything, including your pruners and scissors.
Even better… It’s cheap to buy. Cheaper than a bottle of any spirits.
To use it as a pest control method, all you do is use cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol and dab it on top of the pests. They hate it. Especially mealybugs.
Now, if you don’t fancy inspecting for bugs and dabbing each one, you can make a spray with rubbing alcohol.
All you need are the quantities:
- For every quart of water, use one to two cups of alcohol
Quick reminder: “a quart is a quarter gallon, two pints, or four cups”
That’s assuming your rubbing alcohol is 70%. If it’s less concentrated, increase the amount. If it’s more potent, reduce the amount you’re using.
Or, here’s one you can apply just now, if you’ve got this stuff in the kitchen already anyway.
5 – Garlic or hot pepper spray – Or mix them both for a max bug killing punch
Garlic spray on its own used to treat the plant foliage will be effective to get rid of bugs. Using the garlic water in soil plants, you’ll be able to treat both nematode problems and get rid of fungus gnats in houseplants.
To make the garlic solution, you’ll need:
- A processor/blender
- 1 head of garlic
- A jar big enough to hold a couple cups of water
- A container big enough to hold a gallon of water
- A spray bottle (cleaned out) for application
Here’s what to do:
- Put the garlic through the blender until you’ve got a smooth consistency
- Pour in two cups of water
- Pulse the mixture twice
- Pour it into a jar, cover it and let it sit somewhere dark for a day
- Strain the mix
- Pour it into the bigger container and top up with water to bring it up to 1 gallon
- Fill your spray bottle and apply it to your plant
Apply your garlic mix weekly until the pests are gone.
If you want to make it more effective, toss some chopped up spicy herbs (jalapenos, Habanero etc.) to your mix and add a teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
Listen up though… This stuff’s harmful to pests but it’s also super unpleasant for you (if you’ve a bad memory: Read that last sentence 7 times more so you remember it).
Spicy herbs are potent and when mixed like this, it’s unpleasant on your throat, and certainly don’t touch your eyes after handling these.
Wear gloves and cover your mouth and nose with something (a winter scarf should do the trick).
To help the peppers infuse into the water, heat them up, bring them to a simmer and give them 15-minutes. Then let it cool down and mix it with your garlic solution.
Or…You could grow your own pest repellents:
6 – Herbs you can grow indoors that are fly and bug repellents
Both of these spread like wildfire when grown outdoors, but they can be potted and grown indoors.
So can catnip. Cats love that, but you’ll need to alternate between outdoors and indoors as catnip needs plenty of sun.
None are fast acting like the others, but once your pests are gone, they’re handy to have around the plants for the scents to keep them away.
What we perceive as pleasant smells, bugs absolutely hate the scents.
If you’d like to take a shot at growing herbs indoors, grow them near your other plants so the smell stops any other pests being attracted to your plants.
For another safe way to flush the bugs out…
7 – Just use water and a garden hose
Yup! Simple as that. Take your plant outside, perch it down, give it a shower with the strongest jet spray it can handle, and wash those bugs away. Works particularly well with aphids on indoor plants.
You could also use your shower to give your plant a shower.
Here’s one for the most common of all – Gnats.
8 – Apple Cider Vinegar is Effective at Killing Adult Gnats – Stopping Reproduction
Gnats. Annoying as they are, they’re idiots. The adult ones anyway.
They’ll drown themselves, provided you set the bait.
That bait… A bowl filled with apple cider vinegar. They’re attracted to it. Cover it with cling film, take a fork and pierce the tiniest of holes in it.
They’ll crawl into the bowl then drown because they can’t crawl back out the minuscule hole they struggled through to get into the bowl.
There’s still going to be larvae and eggs in the soil so the problem’s not gone. For that, there’s a trick coming up you’ll love – It’s a real heavy hitter!
For more info about getting rid of gnats, see my in-depth guide.
For now, let’s cover…
9 – Diatomaceous Earth – Food Grade Only Though if You’ve Kids and/or Pets
This is a great way to protect your plants and family and address a deeper issue – how to get rid of bugs in soil. Food grade Diatomaceous Earth is lethal to every insect to come into contact with it.
The easiest way to use it… In a plastic soda bottle.
Just use a funnel to add the powder, pierce the lid a few times (narrow holes) and then when you squeeze it, out puffs the powder to coat your plants. Great use of plastics, eh?
Also handy is to coat your pot with the powder before you pot your plant. Do that if you’re going to repot your plant.
Then each time you water it, add some more powder to the top soil. Any larvae or eggs won’t survive long enough to develop wings.
If that’s not enough, here’s the heavy hitter:
10 – Bring in your own front-line army to fight to your battle for you
Now we’re talking getting super nasty with the bugs. All-out war! Nematode war that is.
There’s good nematodes and there’s bad nematodes. None are frogs, by the way.
And get this: it’s been proven that beneficial nematodes can be used for pest control management. Safe for everything else, bar insects. Farmers needed these and now use them.
And you can too.
Tiny little roundworms (not the type you protect your dog from) but the type that preys on predators.
The same things lurking in soil munching your plants, these good guys eat them for breakfast, while leaving your plant nourished and thriving.
24/7 protection! Can’t get better than that.
On a final note:
As soon as you notice a plant with any type of bug problem… Quarantine it! Separate it from all other plants. Put it in the shower cubicle or a room with no other plants around.
Always isolate infected plants.