Mealybugs aren’t picky about which indoor plants they’ll feast on so getting rid of these pests as fast as possible before they spread to other houseplants is very important. Rather than expose your already-stressed indoor plants to chemicals like pesticides, I’ve included a list of the best natural methods for removing mealybugs from a wide variety of indoor plants. Here are my tried and true favorites.
Natural ways to remove mealybugs from indoor plants include:
- Garden hose
- Dunk in hot water
- Reduce temperature
- Neem oil
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Essential oils
- Apple cider vinegar
- Beneficial bugs
- Water + soap
- Diatomaceous earth
Ahead, I’ll explain in plenty of detail how to apply every one of these natural methods to rid your indoor plants of the unwanted, plant juice-sucking pests known as mealybugs. I’ll even include steps and recipe quantities where appropriate!
How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Houseplants Naturally
Mealybugs are incredibly tiny pests, measuring from 1/20th of an inch to 1/5th of an inch. If they were a little bigger, I’d recommend flicking them off your plants, but that won’t work due to their size.
What will work is using a garden hose to spritz them away. You don’t necessarily need your hose on full strength to get the job done, but that depends on how bad the mealybug infestation is.
Don’t forget to spray both sides of the leaves as well as the stems from all sides.
I wouldn’t recommend hosing off all indoor plants, especially houseplants that don’t like getting their leaves wet. Using this particular method on indoor plants with fleshy or furry leaves might only stress the plants out further, which makes the plant more susceptible to succumbing to an infestation.
Also, I must note that using a garden hose to remove mealybugs is not a treatment, per se. It will get the bugs off your plant now, but unless/until you address what’s causing them, the mealybugs will come back.
Hot Water Dunk
If you’d rather not bring a garden hose anywhere near your home, I can’t blame you. This alternate method works the same way, except it relies more on water temperature than pressure.
Mealybugs are very temperature-sensitive, as you’ll see in this section and the next one. By cranking up the heat, you can kill the mealybugs on your indoor plants.
I’ve heard some indoor gardeners say that lukewarm to warm water suffices for this. I’ve also had it recommended that water temperatures need to be around 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the sake of your plant, I’d start with lukewarm water and then gradually increase the water temperature until the mealybugs die off.
Again, only some indoor plant species are candidates for this method. Those plants must have a high heat tolerance. They must also not mind getting very wet.
You don’t want to keep your plant in its hot water bath for long, only a couple of minutes. Even plants that love high temperatures might start to wilt or turn yellow if they’re soaking in hot water for too long.
If you want to use temperature control as a mealybug removal method but you’re afraid of dunking your plants in hot water, fear not. You can always induce cold temperatures to kill mealybugs.
Camellia, citrus trees, and fuchsia plants are three examples of indoor plants that can tolerate that kind of cold. Not a whole lot of other plants can.
Thus, as I’ve said the whole time, you have to choose your plants carefully. If 60 degrees is considered chilly for your houseplant, then the cold shock they can experience in mid-30 temperatures could kill the plant along with the infestation of mealybugs.
Make sure you’re looking out for signs such as wilting foliage, black spots (which indicate the cells might have died), trunk or woody stem splits, and root balls that easily come out. These are all symptoms of cold shock.
Of all the solutions I’m recommending today, neem oil might be the harshest. It’s technically a chemical, as it’s a natural pesticide.
Neem oil contains azadirachtin, a compound that’s often used in commercial pesticides to kill off insects. The compound is sourced from the oil itself.
How do you use neem oil to remove mealybugs on indoor plants?
In a spray bottle, combine water and neem oil. You need a gallon of water for every four tablespoons of neem oil you use.
I recommend starting with a patch test where you spray the oil on your plant’s leaf and then wait 24 hours to see what happens. Ideally, you want that to be nothing.
If your plant doesn’t have a strong reaction to neem oil, then you can proceed with using it. Apply the neem oil and water anywhere your plant has a mealybug infestation, including the undersides of the leaves.
If the houseplant you’re treating with neem oil lives in a spot that receives a lot of sunlight, I recommend moving your houseplant during its neem oil treatment.
When applied near sources of direct sun, neem oil may accelerate leaf burning.
You’re not dousing your indoor plants in neem oil, by the way, just be sure to wipe it on both sides of every leaf as well as the stems and branches. use it generously.
Keep applying the neem oil generously to the plant with mealybugs daily for at least one week to rid your indoor plant of mealybugs. If not, then continue for another week.
Avoid using neem oil for older, sicker, or younger plants, as the chemical composition might be too intense for them.
Here’s a natural mealybug removal method that you might already have in your houseplant tools collection: hydrogen peroxide.
Often used on indoor plants as a method for fixing root rot, hydrogen peroxide can also be used as a method to kill mealybugs. Once the hydrogen peroxide and water meet, the two ingredients will begin actively bubbling and fizzing.
This reaction must occur or the hydrogen peroxide won’t kill the mealybugs. I know this method is not for everyone but it works really well for killing mealybugs on your plants.
You need a ratio of one part hydrogen peroxide to five parts water. Also, the hydrogen peroxide you use should be additive-free to successfully rid your indoor plants of mealybugs.
I know some indoor gardeners that take this a step further by taking their plant out of the pot, applying the hydrogen peroxide & water mixture to the soil, and then directly to the roots.
This method allow the roots to soak in the hydrogen peroxide mixture for roughly 10 minutes. This method is a kind of homemade systemic solution where the mixture is made to soaked into the plants root and stem system.
This more extensive version of the method may work better for you if you have a deep mealybug infestation, but I would recommend starting with the surface-level application of hydrogen peroxide and working your way out from there.
Plant roots are sensitive, especially during an infestation, and you don’t want to put your plant under any unnecessary further duress.
Here’s a method for removing mealybugs from your houseplants using essential oils!
These plant-derived oils are beloved for their scents, and even better, it turns out that essential oils can kill mealybugs as well.
That said, some types of essential oils are more effective at this than others. This 2013 publication of the Journal of Insect Science notes that thyme-leaved savory, citrus, and peppermint essential oils have the greatest effect on mealybugs.
Cinnamon and lavender might also be impactful, although not to quite the same extent. If you have only a very mild mealybug issue, you might try these essential oils.
In a spray bottle, mix a cup of water with 12 drops of your preferred essential oil. Mist your plants in the infected areas the same way you did with the neem oil.
If that mixture isn’t doing the trick, then reduce the amount of water you use and maybe uptick the number of essential oil drops.
Do keep in mind though that essential oils can damage especially sensitive plants. That’s good to know if you regularly use essential oils around the house or office!
Apple Cider Vinegar
This next solution for natural mealybug removal is one of the easiest methods and more than likely, you already have apple cider vinegar in your home.
Unlike some of the other ingredients I’ve talked about, apple cider vinegar shouldn’t be the least bit dangerous to your houseplants. That said, you still want to dilute the apple cider vinegar with water.
Once the sun has gone down, apply the treatment to your plant, including the underside of the leaves and the stems if they’re affected.
Mealybugs cannot molt when exposed to apple cider vinegar, which interrupts their growth cycle. Plus, the apple cider vinegar might be strong enough for some mealybugs (especially young ones) that they die.
I’ve written other posts on the usefulness of influencing your indoor plants ecosystem with natural predators before here on indoorplantsforbeginners.
Why not harness the power of these insects by inviting those that are natural predators of the mealybug?
I’m talking specifically about minute pirate bugs, spiders, brown or green lacewings, and ladybugs.
Since there are so many, you can choose which insects you want in your indoor garden.
Many gardeners opt for ladybugs. Unlike minute pirate bugs, ladybugs don’t bite, and they’re generally a more acceptable species of insect (even among those who don’t really like insects).
Ladybugs like a warm environment, especially when the weather outside gets cold. You can use a small wooden box to entrap them and then add a few droplets of sugar water or some raisins.
Besides ladybugs, your trap might also lure in green lacewings and sometimes bees as well. All will slowly help rid you of the mealybug pests.
Water and Soap
No time to run to the store but you need to take care of your mealybug problem ASAP? You only need some water and soap to do it, dish soap, specifically.
Indoor gardeners frequently reach for Dawn dish soap, and while this is fine, an organic soap might be less likely to cause damage to your plants.
Make the mixture by combining a quart of water with a tablespoon of dish soap. Make sure you shake the ingredients well until they begin sudsing.
Then spray all over your plant where the mealybugs have struck. The soap will suffocate the insects and your plants will soon be rid of the mealybugs.
My last natural mealybug removal method is to use diatomaceous earth.
This white, powdery substance comes from the fossilized remains of diatoms, which are a type of teeny-tiny organism that lives in the sea.
Their remains are comprised of silica, like the silica gel you always see packed in tea sized pouches found with new clothing and shoes.
Rather than dilute it with water, you directly apply diatomaceous earth to your plant’s soil as well as the leaves. Sprinkle it on lightly, when it comes to applying diatomaceous earth to the leaves of your indoor plants.
I personally find diatomaceous earth works really well when I’m planting a new. plant or repotting a plant and I’m adding in new soil. I mix a few tablespoons of diatomaceous earth into the soil directly to help future proof my plants from random insects, pests and of course mealybugs.
As a testament to how much I use diatomaceous earth in my daily indoor plant routine, you can read the article I wrote titled: Why Every Indoor Gardener Needs Diatomaceous Earth .