The Fluffy Killer: Treating Mealybugs

Mealybugs are gross. And they ruin everything. I hate them.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how to get rid of them forever because why? I hate them.

What are mealybugs? Besides fuzzy chlorophyll pillaging pimples of society, they are soft egg shaped bugs that love undersides and corners of leaves and stems. Apparently “adult females deposit 300-600 eggs within an excreted, compact, waxy cottony-appearing mass mostly found on the underside of leaves.” “Excreted” really takes that to another level.

How to get rid of mealybugs ||

What do they do? These tiny vampires have a large sucking mouth that eats sap from the plants’ tissue. Damage escalates quickly if these abominations remain undetected. Essentially they suck the life out of your plants, which die a slow painful death. Did I mention how much I hate mealybugs?

Where do they come from? Sadly a number of places. In my case I bought an infected plant at a garden center which then spread to a few others in my house. They also are birthed from infected potting soil, garden plants or veggies you cut. Panicking about having these on your houseplants? I bet. If you haven’t read Pests: What to Look for on Indoor Plants, you should begin inspecting your plants weekly if you don’t already. Now that winter has passed, many things (read: bugs) become alive again. As you poke through your plants, here’s what to look for:

  • Small white scaly eggs. These are the individual bugs themselves and in early stages one or two may appear on the undersides of leaves or in the little nook between the stem and where a leaf starts.
  • Large clumps of webbing in similar locations. Typically, it looks like the fuzzy mold on old lasagna or tight spider webs. It’s not either of these things, it’s that excreted female egg sack we now know of and love.

You found one? It’s ok, silent scream and take a deep breath. Before you grab the flamethrower, there is a non-toxic way to destroy them. I’m not a fan of using chemicals since I have two cats who have an urge smell everything. So, I’ve been using a natural approach that seems to work every time these devil bugs pop up – the key is diligence.

First, go grab some isopropyl / rubbing alcohol, rubber gloves, and some q-tips. For larger infestations you’ll need to do a 1:1: ratio of alcohol to water in a spray bottle (so like 1 cup water to 1 cup alcohol). Spray the plant liberally and as needed until bugs are gone. Usually this works great but isn’t enough – so I soak one end of the q-tip in the alcohol and dab on the mealy parts of the plant. This works really well if you only see one or two floating around. I’m never lucky to see a couple, so I go the spray bottle route. Sometimes I literally douse the stems in alcohol and wipe the bugs off with a cotton swab if there’s a mealy party.

I continue either process every couple days until I no longer see new life appear. I’ve also used neem oil as another alternative, although it’s not really cat or dog-friendly. To be safe, I always quarantine the plant victim for a few weeks even after no signs of life are confirmed. Mealybugs won’t harm your cat or dog, by the way, their more of just a nuisance that play with your sanity.

Still have an issue? Time to bring out the big guns: Insecticide. They’re not typically pet safe, so I suggest only using it if you can keep the infected plant outside during recovery. Many, if not all, insecticides are somewhat toxic to pets, so be aware. I have a bottle of Bonide Bon-Neem spray that’s lasted a few years and I use it for indoor or outdoor plant emergencies. Always follow directions on any insecticide. Every company is a bit different and toxicity can vary for humans and animals.

After owning plants for a number of years now I’ve only “lost” one plant to mealybugs, a jade. A couple years ago during my Sunday plant inspection I noticed white stuff under a leaf. It looked kind of like a spiderweb but finer and fuzzier. I chose to monitor it for a few weeks and soon noticed bulbous white blobs with tiny legs perched on the stem. A mix of winter dryness and the infestation eventually made Jade distraught. Leaves fell off one by one and she looked sickly. She’s still kickin’ – I actually didn’t lose her. Instead I planted each of those leaves and they actually became new jades! That was literally the only good thing to come out of the mealybug horror.

Good luck, and hopefully this either helps you solve or opens your eyes to the brutality of mealybugs. If I haven’t mentioned, I really dislike them.


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4 replies
  1. I share your feelings toward mealy bugs!! Thanks for this post! So far I mostly just give plants a good shower when I find mealy bugs on them, but I don’t always keep up with repeating it to keep them away for good. In fact, just this evening I found some on a polka dot plant so after my exclamation of disgust, haha, I immediately took it to the kitchen sink for a shower! I’m sure I’ll have to do it again – and I’ll have to give the alcohol a try! I always end up with mealy bugs and red spider mites at some point during the winter, but once it’s warm enough for the tender perennials to go back outside, it improves. Beneficial predator bugs take care of whatever is on the plants outside, and it seems easier to get a hold of things on the permanent house plants once there aren’t so many inside. Fungus gnats are another winter nemesis, but this year I am experimenting with putting sand in some pots and stones in other pots over the soil to foil their reproducing – hopefully!

  2. What happens if they are in your cats fur? I am infested and internally screaming. Verge of melt down.

    1. Oh no! They are really only attracted to plants so they most likely wouldn’t be happy in cat’s fur, but I would take your cat to the vet for suggestions on removal and in the meantime manually remove them by hand. Good luck!

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