How to Control Bugs With Soap & Water


Bugs attack plant roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruit on plants. Soap and water offers a human-friendly alternative to pesticides. Insecticidal soap is mainly used to control soft-bodied arthropods like aphids, mealybugs, psyllids and spider mites. Larger bugs like boxelder bugs and Japanese beetles are also susceptible to soap. Soap has been used for over 200 years as bug control. Soap and water control does not have residual effects and it can damage some plants.

Step 1

Separate your pest infested plant if possible. For houseplants, just move the plant pot into an area away from any other plant. For a single plant in the garden, place a bucket over it. This minimizes the infestation. For garden plants, you may not be able to isolate the infested plant.

Step 2

Mix together 5 to 8 tbsp. of insecticidal soap in a gallon of water. This will create a 2 to 3 percent solution. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle.

Step 3

Spray a small area of the infested plant two days before using the soap and water mixture all over the plant. This tests the plant for phytotoxicity, which is a reaction to the soap by the plant. Watch for browning in the area sprayed. If the area starts to turn colors and die, then you cannot treat it with soap and water.

Step 4

Spray the plant with the soap mixture thoroughly in the early morning or late afternoon so the plant stays wet longer. Cover the pests by spraying under the leaves and in other protected areas. Watch for bugs hiding in curled leaves.

Step 5

Rinse the plant off with clear water two hours after soap and water application. This will help minimize any damage to the plant. Repeat the soap and water application every four to seven days while the infestation lasts. Spider mites and scale crawlers take several repeated application to control.

Tips and Warnings

  • Dry dish soap and laundry detergent is too harsh to use as bug control. These chemicals will kill the bugs, but it will also kill your plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Insecticidal soap
  • Water
  • Spray bottle


  • Colorado State University Extension: Insect Control: Soaps and Detergents
  • University of Florida IFAS Extension: Houseplant Arthropod Pest Management
  • University of Florida IFAS Extension: Insect Management in the Home Garden
Keywords: bug control, insecticidal soap use, home insect control

About this Author

Karen Carter has spent the last three years working as a technology specialist in the public school system. This position included hardware/software installation, customer support, and writing training manuals. She also spent four years as a newspaper editor/reporter at the Willapa Harbor Herald.