How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Houseplants

It feels like a personal achievement when we can keep houseplants alive longer than a month, but in our defense, there are a lot of obstacles. One obstacle is insects that feast on houseplants, and one of the worst is the mealybug. How do you get rid of these sap-sucking plant vampires?

Rubbing alcohol is the most effective way to kill mealybugs and other insect pests because it kills them instantly, but is a time-consuming process. Other methods for killing mealybugs include oil and soap solutions, bathing and repotting the plants, and a mixture of garlic, onion, and cayenne pepper. 

Keep reading to take a look at these methods of mass insecticide and find out which one may be the easiest for you to try. If one doesn’t work, don’t worry, there are 5 other methods to try in this article. 

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Alcohol and Soap

For light to moderate infestations, it’s possible to remove a mealybug problem by gathering together, 

  • A spray bottle
  • Gloves
  • 70% rubbing alcohol
  • Mild dish soap
  • Cotton balls and swabs
  • And a bowl.

Remove the visible fuzzy white bugs by taking a cotton ball with your alcohol and wipe the mealybugs off the top sides and undersides of the leaves and stems. Use the cotton swabs and alcohol to get into the harder to reach places of your plants.

Make a solution with 30oz of water, 1 cup of rubbing alcohol, and just a few drops of the dish soap, which is only used to dislodge the bugs. Dawn is the most popular mild dish soap to use for plants because it doesn’t damage the leaves as much as other brands. Mix well.

Use this solution in your spray bottle to spray the plant down all around to kill any invisible mealybugs you might have missed. Spray the topsoil too because the pests can reach the roots.

If this doesn’t seem to be working the first day, repeat on every 3rd day for about 6-9 days. 

Baby Oil and Soap

For this solution, you will need to gather,

  • A spray bottle
  • Baby oil
  • And a mild dish soap or insecticidal soap

Baby oil and mineral oil act as coatings around the mealybugs, cutting off their air supply and suffocating them.

Fill your spray bottle with clean tap water until it’s ¾ of the way full, or full up to the neck. 

Put two tablespoons of baby oil and a few drops of dish soap in the spray bottle. Shake to mix everything together. Remember that too little oil won’t give you the shine on your plant that indicates it’s well-coated, and too much oil will make your plant sticky.

Spray down your infected plant all over – the tops and bottoms of leaves, stems, cracks and crevices, and topsoil. Shake your bottle every now and then to keep everything mixed together.

Repeat this process about every three months to control any start-up infestation and spreading.

Garlic, Onion, and Cayenne Pepper

For this culinary solution, you will need,

  • 1 garlic bulb
  • A small onion
  • 1 tsp of cayenne pepper
  • Your blender
  • Dish soap
  • And a spray bottle

These ingredients aren’t random. The onion and garlic have sulfur compounds that produce an unpleasant odor for the mealybugs and the cayenne pepper has its capsaicin, which makes it spicy, repels and deters pests as well.

First, blend your garlic, onion, and pepper together in your blender to mix them really well.

Next, mix with 1 quart of water and let steep for about an hour to draw out the insect-killing nutrient goodness.

Now, strain your mixture into a bowl through a cheesecloth so that your solution can go through a spray bottle and add 1 tablespoon of soap.

Put your mixture into a spray bottle and spray all over your infected plant. As usual, that means the top and bottom of leaves, the hard to reach cracks, the stems, and the topsoil.

Bathing and Repotting

Do you have a bad mealybug infestation, but there’s still hope? This should help you.

Start by giving your plants a bath underneath the shower head or your sink in warm water so that you don’t shock the plant. This will start knocking off the clumps of mealybugs. Utilize the spray nozzle at your sink as much as you can with your plants to get into the deep spaces.

Your plant should already be looking 10x better. Remember to tip your plant in the sink and continue to rinse to get rid of the mealybugs that were washed off but went down into the cracks and stems.

Now to repot your plant. This will help you get rid of any root mealybugs that are stubbornly hanging out in your plant’s current soil.

Gently remove your plant from its current pot and remove any loose soil. The first few inches from the topsoil down are the most critical to look at because mealybugs won’t usually go any deeper than that.

Rinse off the top of the root ball and base of the plant that you couldn’t get to before. Clean the old pot the plant was in thoroughly and sanitize with a bleach and water solution. Let it dry. And finally, repot your plant with fresh soil.

Watch your plant carefully over the next week, because it’s possible for mealybugs to access your plants if they are in your potting soil. You can smother anything that you missed or came out of the soil with a neem oil spray or solution.

Create a Cocktail

Another solution for advanced mealybug infestations, this is the last straw if everything else fails. If it’s come down to this, you will need:

  • A spray bottle
  • Neem oil
  • 70% rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer or aftershave lotion
  • Mild liquid dish soap

Put 500ml of water in your spray bottle and add 

  • ½ – 1 whole teaspoon of Neem Oil
  • 1 cup of 70% rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, or aftershave lotion
  • And about 10 drops of mild liquid soap.

Shake your cocktail well and spray on one leaf as a patch test to see whether or not your plant would die within 1-2 hours if you tried to use it on the whole plant. If it lives, go ahead and spray the entire plant down.

Get a New Plant

If you have a plant that is extremely infested and a high risk to other plants you have because there’s no way you’re going to be able to completely isolate it, it’s better to just get rid of it. 

It’s just too difficult to perform pest control on heavily infected plants where the spread is too severe.

You’ll know if your plant is beyond the point of no return if you see the mealybugs and ants together on your plant. The ants protect the mealybugs and move them to the tips of the leaves of your plants quickly, in return for the honeydew that the mealybugs excrete. Diatomaceous earth can remove both, but it can hurt pollinators and if that fails, just get rid of your plant.


Knowing how to get rid of your pest problem is fantastic but prevention is even better. Prevention will never be 100%, but you will do a great job keeping insects like mealybugs out if you check plants, fruits, and vegetables you want to buy thoroughly before buying them and bringing them inside. These are two ways that mealybugs tend to get into your house.

Don’t forget to clean your plants with a moist paper towel once every two weeks to remove eggs and young green mealybugs.

Kate Inskeep

Kate Inskeep is a mom of three from Illinois who loves growing things. She fell in love with houseplants after a friend gifted her some succulents. Before long, her windowsills were full of plants, and she was hooked.

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