Mealy bugs are an unwanted but common occurrence in house plants. Apart from being unsightly, they can harm a plant's health, causing it to sicken and eventually die. They can also spread quickly from one infested plant to other house plants in the area. It is important to deal with them swiftly and safely, in a way that avoids endangering your plants and your family. Sometimes chemicals are the only way to treat mealy bugs, but a few alternatives are worth a try.
Identify the mealy bugs infesting your plant. You may not see them at first, but you may have noticed their paths of destruction. Plants suffering from mealy bug infestations may have an unexplained sticky, shiny residue on their leaves. The leaves also may have started to atrophy, curling up and developing yellow or white spots. If you do see the bugs, they are tiny and flat and look as though they have been coated with some sort of flour or other granular meal --- hence their name.
Try picking the bugs off by hand and squashing them. They are safe to handle, though you should wash your hands after handling the bugs and before handling anything else.
Try killing the bugs with rubbing alcohol. Use a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol and apply it directly to the bugs you see.
Give your houseplant a shower. Bring it into your bathtub or shower stall and turn the shower hose loose on it, knocking the insects right off the plant with the force of the water. This is only advisable if your shower hose has strong, steady pressure.
Give your houseplant a bath. Use some dish detergent mixed with water and gently wash the leaves by hand. Do not use any sort of scrubbing device on the leaves, as it will damage them.
Resort to spray insecticide as your last option. Choose one that indicates on the container that it's used for mealy bugs. If you have pets or children, make sure that the insecticide you choose is safe for use around them. Mark Shour of the Department of Entomology at Iowa State University advises against using granular insecticides that can be applied to the dirt surrounding houseplants. These can be toxic to plants and to human and animal life.