How to Get Rid of Stink Bugs
16–18 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
Stink bugs are aptly named because of the odor they release when they’re crushed or when they sense a threat. More than 200 kinds of this pest call North America home and feed on plants, fruits, and crops, making them a threat to farms and gardens.
Stink bug damage can render certain fruits and crops unfit for sale. This pest seeks out comfort – especially warmth – and knows when winter is coming. This can pose an enormous problem for homeowners when they seek shelter indoors from the cold. Understanding how they live and thrive can help you prevent or eliminate a mass of these insects during fall and winter.
- Stink bugs are also called shield bugs owing to the shieldlike shape of their bodies.
- They walk on six legs and carry two straight antennae.
- Because their wings stay folded close, it’s easy to forget that adult stink bugs actually fly.
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
This is the most common type in the U.S., thanks to its arrival from Asia in the 1990s. Since first being seen in the Northeast, stink bugs rapidly spread to 41 states and both coasts. Today they’re found mainly in the eastern half of the U.S. People living in and around the Washington, D.C. area have noted the most problems with stink bugs.
How To Identify:
Roughly 3/4 inch in length
Nearly as wide as they are long
Adults blend in against tree bark, but younger stink bugs have a combination red/black color
Does not reproduce inside buildings or cause damage
Major agricultural impact by feeding on fruits such as apples, peaches, and apricots and crops such as beans, corn, and tomatoes
Southern Green Stink Bug
Its dull green color makes this type stand out more than the brown marmorated stink bug.
How To Identify:
1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in length
Hides in trees and leaf litter
Found mainly in the southeastern states from Virginia to Florida and as far west as Texas
Attacks crops such as peas, cotton, and soybeans
Known to live roughly 60-70 days
One Spotted Stink Bug
A lookalike to the brown marmorated, the one spotted stink bug is found in the eastern states and the Pacific Northwest.
How To Identify:
Common throughout the U.S.
Agricultural threat to corn
Dusky Stink Bug
Seen throughout North America, dusky stink bugs are less widespread than the onespotted or brown marmorated.
How To Identify:
Roughly ½ inch in length or even smaller
More consistently brown in color
Seen in fruit-growing states in the eastern U.S.
Attacks all tree fruits, but prefers apples and peaches
Spined Soldier Bug
This species may be introduced into farming areas as a beneficial predator.
How To Identify:
Mottled brown color
May not need to be treated as a threat since it preys on other invasive pests
1. It’s About Where and When
Stink bugs common to the U.S. are more of a nuisance than a real concern. As the seasons change, they look for warm places to escape the chilly winter months. So they naturally search for tiny spaces to lead them indoors toward more comfortable temperatures. Easy entry points in homes and buildings include:
- Holes in siding and screens
- Door and window frames
- Walls that receive much sunlight
- Eaves and vents
- Window air conditioners
- Generally any space large enough to fit through
Once inside a home, stink bugs will search out crevices in walls, attics, folds in drapes, and other areas that get little attention or movement. Warmth makes them active, and your HVAC or the arrival of spring make them more likely to fly around. Since stink bugs are agricultural pests, your home may be at greater risk if you live near a farm or orchard or if you have a garden.
2. Can Stink Bugs Do Structural Damage?
Unlike termites, these pests pose no real threat to the structure of your home. A stink bug’s eating and mating behaviors are done outside, and the main issue is the smell it gives off when crushed. If you detect a scent in your home similar to coriander, stink bugs have gathered in large enough numbers to produce an odor – a definite sign of infestation. Because stink bugs’ bodies are brown, green, or gray, they may be tough to locate at first glance. But they may congregate outside on a sunny area on a wall, making them easier to notice. When you find them in those spots, expect a gathering of scores or even hundreds.
3. Check Trees, Plants, and Garden Areas
These are the feeding spots for adult stink bugs as they emerge from their overwinter sites. After chewing on leaves and stems to suck out juice, they leave their eggs on the underside of leaves. When the eggs hatch, the young stink bugs (“nymphs”) look nearby for food, often found in yards and gardens. This is a major reason stink bugs are known more as a threat to crops and agriculture.
How Changes in the Seasons Affect Stink Bugs
September typically marks the change in stink bug behavior from active feeding to sheltering for the winter inside man-made structures. While inside buildings and homes, they will not feed. After January, the heating system in your home can cause stink bugs to become active again. This is why you may see them flutter inside the rooms of your house — they’re reacting to temperature. Spring – and most likely May – launches the stink bugs into their next reproductive cycle, as they seek out plants and crops for feeding and sites to lay eggs.
Caulking the various crevices and thin cavities in your home can not only deny access to stink bugs but also seal in your climate control. Even better, this low-cost solution also makes cosmetic improvements.
True to its name, the stink bug emits a characteristic odor as its main defense against predators. The smell is produced from special glands in its abdomen, and it can be poisonous if ingested in large enough amounts.
Because of this odor, a stink bug infestation is a particularly nasty problem to have.
Aside from their odor, stink bugs are agricultural pests that can destroy crops. These bugs feed on plants of all types and will adapt their feeding habits to an available plant species. They have been enough of a threat to warrant official government attention for many years. Because they attack plants in swarms, they can do extensive damage quickly.
In 2010, the stink bug epidemic caused over $37 million in damages to mid-Atlantic farmers. Their favorite crops tend to be grapes, soybeans, apples, peppers, peaches and tomatoes. The pests alight on fruits and vegetables and suck the juice from the plant from the outside. Fruits that have been attacked by stink bugs will showcase white, green or yellow discoloration at the point of entry, and the fruit may also knot up.
While the stink bug does have natural predators, the insect has far outpaced the population of those predators in North America. Their numbers are already so large that pesticides might actually cause more harm than good if applied on the scale necessary to control them. The best treatment for stink bugs is to prevent their appearance in the first place.
DIY Prevention Methods
If you know that your land is probably going to be attacked because of the season, the crops you have on your land, or a nearby infestation you’ve heard of, there are some easy solutions that will keep your home and property safe. Better yet, these solutions can also help keep other insects away from your land and house.
1. Cultivate Your Land
Your stink bug management approach may depend on the vegetation around your home and the level of infestation your property has incurred. Keep in mind that most stink bug infestations will occur near uncultivated areas. These bugs love to move to ground covers in the weeds where uncultivated areas dry up. So whether you’re already dealing with an infestation or preventing one from forming in a stink big-dense area, your first step is to cultivate the area around your property as much as possible.
2. Care for Your Crops
You may have to take extra steps if you grow crops that stink bugs prefer, such as corn, berries, alfalfa, and wheat. Keep your gardens and orchards free of weeds, especially if you have these crops on your property. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is to try to mow the weeds where stink bugs reside. This will not get rid of them; the bugs will simply move into adjacent trees.
3. Seal Entryways
Stink bugs love to make nests in the damaged linings of doors and windows. One of the easiest ways to get rid of them during the winter is to ensure that all of your doors and windows are properly sealed.
- Repair any torn window screens.
- Vent your attics and crawl spaces.
- Weather strip your doors and caulk your doors and windows.
- Secure your crawlspace entries.
- Pay special attention to your fireplace or other entryways that you may not usually take note of.
4. Inspect Your Property
Note outside entryways and inspect your property at least once every three months to find any cracks that stink bugs can use as an open door to your property. Use the previous sealing methods we outlined if you find any new cracks or crevices. Caulk and expandable foam are both cost-effective materials that make it easy to plug even the hardest-to-reach places.
5. Vacuum Often
Stink bugs can be physically removed from walls and windows with a simple vacuum cleaner. This method is one of the best to kill stink bugs and prevent infestations from forming. Only squash stink bugs as a last resort, as this will cause their odor to release. Keep in mind that if they have already released their odorous chemical, the smell will linger for some time.
6. Wash Your Plants
The first time that you see a stink bug on tomato plants or apple trees, spray them with water directly. This will physically force the bugs from the plants. You can mix some mild dish soap with the water as well, and this solution will serve to break down the stink bugs’ exoskeletons and dehydrate them. For a more long-term solution, you can mix water with vegetable oil, lavender oil, or olive oil. Use a garden sprayer or regular spray bottle to apply this treatment, and it will serve as a deterrent.
7. Stink Bug Deterrent Spray
If you’d rather buy a stink bug repellent to protect your crops, there are plenty of options available for purchase that can be even more effective than a DIY solution.
DIY Spray Recipe
1 part water
1 part dish soap
1 part lavender oil
Add all of the ingredients to your spray bottle and be sure to shake before each use. While the dish soap will help kill off stink bugs, the lavender oil smell deters other stink bugs from coming back to your plants.
8. Plant Distraction Crops
Give stink bugs a place to congregate away from your cultivated crops. Because stink bugs are attracted to yellow, you can plant sunflowers, mustard, millet, garlic, or lavender as far away from your other crops and house as possible. Doing this will also attract more of the stink bug’s natural predators to help get rid of them.
9. Control Your Weeds
Simply taking care of your garden will help you to control your stink bug population. These bugs love to move into your territory on weeds that are unattractive to gardeners in the first place, so weeding will reduce your stink bug problem naturally without having to use pesticides.
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DIY Treatment Methods
The following treatments have been proven effective for stink bug control. If you are not sure about how to apply the pesticides or traps listed, you may have to employ professional help.
1. Fenpropathrin and Clothianidin
- During Peak Bud and Bloom Seasons – Both pesticides should be applied liberally, drenching the ground with a spray to cover the entire crop at once. Professionals recommend using from 100 to 300 gallons of water per acre when applying these treatments.
- When Stink Bug Activity is Noted – Fenpropathrin should be applied as soon as any stink bug activity is noted. The higher concentrations of this pesticide should be applied in the instance of higher pest concentrations. Clothianidin should not be sprayed directly onto a crop nor allowed to drift onto any other crops. Both pesticides are highly toxic to bees.
- During Preharvest Months – You can use Fenpropathrin or Clothianidin during May and June or any other preharvest months. During these seasons, apply these pesticides to trees. Start applications when the first stink bug activity is noted, using higher concentrations for a more sever stink bug invasion. To protect bees, make sure that you do not allow the pesticide to drift onto neighboring weeds or crops.
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2. Trapping and Baiting
A past Virginia Tech study found that homemade stink bug traps could actually be more effective than professional traps. However, this could depend on the scale and severity of your stinkbug infestation.
DIY Soap Trap
- Use desk lamp with white, black or blue light to bring the bugs to a specific location where you are setting the trap. Stink bugs are naturally attraction to these types of light as well as certain pheromones.
- Put a pan of soapy water underneath the desk lamp. The stink bugs should begin to come to the pan after about 12 hours. The soapy water will then kill the bugs.
DIY Towel Trap
- Soak a towel in water, and ring it out so it’s damp.
- Hand the towel outside in an open area, ideally away from your home.
- The stink bugs will congregate on the towel to drink the water, and the next day you’ll have a nice collection of them.
- Kill the stink bugs by dunking the entire towel in a bucket of soapy water.
- Be sure to wash the towel thoroughly before you use it for anything else.
Place traps where stink bugs are likely to congregate. Keep in mind that these insects tend to form nests outside during the summer months and inside during the winter. The advantage of DIY traps like these is that they are pesticide-free. However, they are only effective for smaller scale problems. You can find various stink bug traps for different environments that use electricity, sticky surfaces, and smells.
Stink bugs are also very slow-moving pests, so they’re luckily very easy to trap on your own without the use of any bait or special contraptions. If you see a single stink bug inside your home, you should be able to easily guide it into an empty container, which you can then dump outside or into a toilet. Remember – resist the urge to squash them while you’re inside or you’ll be even more miserable with the smell!
3. Chemical Perimeter Spray
If you’re already dealing with a stink bug infestation surrounding your home, you’ll want to take immediate measures towards keeping the bugs out of your house. It’s one thing to have the bugs outside where their odors won’t be as strong, but if they’re trapped inside your house with you, the smell could definitely start to impact your well-being.
A perimeter spray is done with either liquid or powder pesticides and is often executed by pest control professionals. But these pesticides are readily available on the market, and you can easily perform the treatment on your own and save some money.
Using an insecticide sprayer, you should treat the perimeter of your home every 30 days throughout the seasons that stink bugs thrive in – summer and fall. Pay special attention to windows and doors, areas where cables and pipes enter your home, around eaves and soffits, and around any crack or crevice that you may notice in your foundation or roof. Stink bugs entry points will be very small and hard to see, so you’ll need to pay very close attention or even employ professional pest control.
Find out which stink bug pesticide sprays fit your budget and needs. When using any pesticides, be sure to keep children and pets away until the poison has dried.
4. Natural Perimeter Barriers
Squashing Stink Bugs Outside
An additional natural method you can use to secure your house perimeter is squashing any stink bugs you find there. The odor that they release will repel other stink bugs from coming nearby. This method isn’t reliable as you can’t count on being able to squash a stink bug every time you see it in the right place, but it can be a helpful thing to do whenever you do see them. We don’t recommend stomping on them with your foot, since you can easily track their carcass inside afterward and create a mess in your house. Instead, try to use something that can be easily rinsed off or thrown away afterward, like a rolled up magazine or plastic fly swatter. Note that squashing stink bugs should only be done when you’re outside and the odor can disperse, rather than inside where the odor will be trapped around you.
Neem Oil Spray
Neem oil, like lavender oil and other essential oils, gives off an odor that stink bugs are averse to. You can give them a taste of their own medicine by creating a neem oil spray and using it around the perimeter of the house. This will deter the bugs and prevent them from sneaking into your home.
DIY Neem Oil Spray
Full spray bottle of warm water
2 tsp of neem oil
When using this recipe, be sure to shake your spray bottle thoroughly before using it. You can spray the solution in areas where stink bugs tend to congregate as well as on your plants and vegetation.
This recipe is also great for indoor control because it doesn’t contain any pesticides that can emit fumes or pose as a threat for children and pets.
However, keep in mind that if you have stink bugs inside your home, you’ll need to continuously monitor for bugs that have died or may have been squashed. The odor of squashed bugs does help repel other stink bugs, but it can attract other types of insects and cause an entire other type of infestation which you won’t want to deal with.
A pest control expert will use professional-grade pesticides and repellents that will work better at eradicating and keeping the pests away.
Despite the many do-it-yourself solutions for stink bugs, sometimes the sheer size of the infestation is too overwhelming. If you continue to find the same number of bugs after treating and waiting a few months to retest, a larger-scale solution may be necessary. It’s particularly important not to delay calling in a professional help for stink bugs because of the damage they can do and the havoc that can ensue if they enter your home and subject you to their stink. A pest control expert can easily identify all the areas where the stink bugs are congregating or sneaking in, and they’ll use professional-grade pesticides and repellents that will work better at eradicating and keeping the pests away.
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