How to kill bees with soapy water

I want to address this issue because lots of non-beekeepers land on this site looking for ways to kill bees without using pesticides. This is good news because it shows that people are becoming aware of the dangers of pesticides to our environment, children, and pets. But killing a swarm of bees with soap is not a walk in the park.

If you have stinging insects you need to get rid of, I strongly recommend you call a local beekeeper or a company that gathers wasps for medical purposes. These people will generally come out to your home for free. Once there, they will be able to identify the type of insect you have and either collect it or tell you what needs to be done. If a nest is firmly established in your walls, removing it may be a time-consuming and expensive undertaking. In any case, you will know a lot more after a bug person takes a look.

If the nest is small and outside your home, you can try to kill it yourself with a solution of soapy water (one part liquid dish soap to four parts water) in a plastic spray bottle or garden sprayer. Before you start you need to sequester your family and pets in a safe place and cover yourself from head to toe with protective clothing. Also, be sure no neighbors or pedestrians are nearby.

Soap kills insects because it is a surfactant—a substance that essentially makes water wetter. If you take a leaf and spray it with plain water, the water forms little round droplets. If you spray the same leaf with soapy water, the water flattens out into a thin layer. The wax of the leaf is a fatty substance much like the wax on the outside of an insect or the grease on your dishes—normally water cannot penetrate it. But add soap to the water and suddenly the water and the wax (or grease) form an attraction for each other.

In effect, the molecules of water—with the help of the soap—surround the fatty molecules. In the case of your dishes, molecules of fat surrounded by the soapy water are released from the dish and go down the drain. On the leaf or insect, the molecules of wax surrounded by soapy water allow more water to freely enter the insect’s body. Essentially, it drowns.

The homeowner who tries this method must be aware of several things:

Remember that pollinators of many types are endangered, so it’s best to have someone look at a nest before destroying it. If you know nothing of bees and wasps, stay clear of them until someone can identify them. If you live in areas with Africanized honey bees you don’t want to go near a swarm—even to kill it—until someone in the know has assessed the danger.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

The waxy surface of leaves is similar to the protective surface of insects. Soap can break down these layers and make them permeable to water. Flickr photo by Brett Jordan.
The waxy surface of leaves is similar to the protective surface of insects. Soap can break down these layers and make them permeable to water. Flickr photo by Brett Jordan.

Comments

Gretchen
Reply

This is not a “how to kill” comment, but rather a “how to gently repel” question. I’ve been wanting to ask it, but didn’t know where…

Lucky me, a new beekeeper that has developed an allergy to honey bees. I’ve spent the winter doing venom shots, and am now up to the equivalent of 2-3 stings per shot with no reaction. This goes a long way to reassure me and my continuance of beekeeping. We have about 2 acres that are open, and when the bees are active, they visit every corner of my life (the garden, front porch, kitchen, swing set, lawn chairs, etc). This is great, and I love it, but I don’t love the way they dive-bomb my bright red hair and face when there’s little to eat out there (early spring, late summer, fall, etc). I was thinking about a natural repellent I could wear or put on my sun hat that might make them say, “gee, I’d rather fly over there.” Something I also could dab on my nearly-3 year old daughter, who is a bit of a bee-whisperer herself.

Any suggestions?

Rusty
Reply

So, Gretchen, when you say you developed an allergy, do you mean you didn’t have one previously? I always wondered about that because I hear people say “developed” but I always believed you were allergic or not. But I worry about my husband who is allergic to lots of things, has had anaphylactic shock, but weathers honey bee stings just fine, at least so far. But one year I dropped a super and got 23 stings on my ankle. If that happened to him I’d be pretty worried.

As to your question — they say meat repels honey bees, but if you hung a piece of roast beef around your neck, the wasps and hornets would be after you instead. It seems to me that I read about a bee repellant, but I just can’t recall where or what. It’s such a good idea. Most things that repel them, like butyric acid, you wouldn’t want to be around. There are a bunch of so-called insect repellants available, but most contain lemongrass which apparently repels lots of six-legged creatures but attracts honey bees. Find the answer and you will probably make your millions.

I don’t think they are attracted to your red hair because they can’t see red, but perhaps it is a shampoo or soap you are using. I’ll keep alert for an answer, but I just don’t have one at the moment. Sorry.

Jason
Reply

Allergies do actually develop. You have to have an initial exposure to something before you develop an allergy to it. Upon first exposure your body releases antibodies to the substance which then attach to your mast cells. In subsequent exposure, your mast cells recognize this and produce histamines, and a bunch of other stuff which causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction. So technically, you can only have a reaction to something you’ve been previously exposed to, though my guess is that if a substance stays in your system for a bit it may be able to trigger a reaction on your first exposure. I think some people are more prone to allergic reactions than others, but it is not terribly uncommon to suddenly have an allergic reaction to something that you have been exposed to many times before with no issue.

Gretchen
Reply

Maybe they are just attracted to my sweet personality. Or maybe they hate my deodorant. At least I can stop blaming my hair…

I say “developed” because I have been stung off and on throughout my life, including my first few months as a beekeeper, with no problem. Then I got stung on my face and neck (bees got stuck in my hair after I took off my gear — I now assess myself for hitchhikers with a mirror before taking anything off), and developed hives on my torso. Lab work revealed I was definitely in the range of honey bee allergy. Perhaps I was borderline before, and the facial sting sent me over (exact same thing happened to a friend whose wife is a beekeeper). I was later stung on the knee (kneeled on a poor gal), took antihistamine right away, and had a normal reaction.

One repellant I read about is tea tree oil with benzaldehyde (which is in many cosmetics, but also carries an occupational hazard warning, so don’t know about that…). I will experiment with just tea tree oil to start. I also thought of the almondine scent of Fishers Bee Quick (they won’t reveal their ingredients). I will let you know if I seem to have success, and you tell me if you hear of anything. I think for someone like your husband, this type of gentle repellent would be ideal.

Rusty
Reply

Gretchen,

I frequently add tea tree oil to my sugar patties to attract the bees to it and they love it. It is one of the oils I read about several years ago and then did some experiments with.

W.T. Self
Reply

I sometimes use drier sheets [ fabric softner ]. I place one in my hat and bees seem to avoid me.

Rusty
Reply

I can see where that might work. I know fabric softener sheets keep me away.

David
Reply

When trying to split a hive of bees, how is the best way to collect them (NOT KILLING THEM)? I saw a show some time back where a guy was gathering wild bees to put in a hive (box). He sprayed them with soapy water so they could not fly away, but NOT to kill them. Any suggestions???

David in SC

Rusty
Reply

David,

Soap is a surfactant that breaks down oils and fats into fine particles and reduces the surface tension of water (which is why it cleans grease off of dishes and dirt from your clothes). A thin layer of soap causes water to be absorbed through the bee’s exoskeleton and, essentially, it drowns. I’ve never heard of a soapy water spray that prevented them from flying but didn’t kill them. Perhaps it was just a really weak solution that almost killed them? I don’t know.

But here’s the important point. Splitting a hive will not cause the bees to fly away. When you split a hive of bees, all the foragers will return to their original hive. All the nurse bees (the bees that have never been outside the hive) will remain with the brood they are caring for. When you are in the process of splitting the hive, it may look like pandemonium, but it will all sort itself out in a few hours and no bees will have flown away.

If you are doing what you say–splitting a hive–you have no need to collect the bees; all the bees you see in the air will go back to the parent hive (assuming you haven’t moved the parent hive) and the brood and nurse bees you split from the parent hive will stay with the split.

LINDA
Reply

Try a bottle of tree oil from Wal-greens. It is about 8 dollars. Most insects cannot stand tree oil, so take a cotton ball and dip it with the tree oil and wipe the cotton ball in the place you don’t want insects to be.

valdemar
Reply

gostaria de saber como e que eu faço para espantar umas abelhinhas que faz colmeia pequenas no meu muro do quintal.

Rusty
Reply
Sheila Retherford
Reply

I’ve just been driven into my house by guard bees from one of my hives. Sunny day, 60 degree weather, flowers blooming here in Eatonville, but these bees started stinging my gloves the instant I opened the hive after lightly smoking them. Each time I lifted a frame to check the brood pattern and look for swarm cells, about 10 bees would lift up and start buzzing my face mask.

Eventually, I wound up surrounded by a cloud of bees and my dogs even ran for the house when the bees went after them. I have 5 hives, been doing this for 4 years, this is a surviving hive queened with Olympic apiary Russian hybrid last summer. I’m ready to get out the soap suds!! So far, I decided to break the hive down, 3 medium boxes to 1 box each, and go back another day to look for the queen, planning regicide. Any other suggestions?

Thanks,
Sheila

Rusty
Reply

Sheila,

I think re-queening is your best bet. I find that bees are usually fairly docile this time of year, so a hot hive is probably an anomaly. Of course, it may already be queenless . . . maybe that is the problem.

Jen
Reply

Hi Rusty,
I just stumbled across your blog/website. With all of the news about colony collapse and bees dying off or disappearing why would you suggest killing bees and not deterring them? The end of your article is the best part and would really help people understand the importance of pollinators and not killing them.

Jen

Rusty
Reply

Jen,

How to kill bees is the number one question directed to my website. Since pesticides cause far-reaching and long-lasting damage to the environment, to health, and to countless pollinators including bees, I’m elated to have people kill them with soap rather than pesticides. The people who are seeking this information are going to kill them anyway, so I’d rather they kill them without harming the rest of the environment in the process.

My website is full of information on why bees should not be killed; if these people are interested they will read about it, otherwise I can’t force them to. In the end, soap is the best answer.

Chrystal Hays
Reply

Why not just slow them down with sugar water? The last thing anyone needs to be doing is killing honeybees. Sugar water stops them; they have to lick themselves clean, like tiny cats. You can just brush them into a box, or better yet, go away and wait until they leave. I’m surprised it is even legal to kill bees for no reason…maybe by now (2014) it is not.

Rusty
Reply

Chrystal,

If someone is scared to death of bees, they don’t want them slowed down, they want them dead. We have to accept that not every one is a bee lover. The point of my post is I would rather have them killed with soap instead of pesticide, which will kill everything else and damage the environment as well.

By the way, it is perfectly legal to kill honey bees. They are not protected by the endangered species act or similar legislation because they are an introduced species in the US, not native.

roberta
Reply

Seriously. Dawn dish detergent will kill bees? I just doused my shed with a spray bottle with Dawn dish detergent & then doused over the wetness with HI-Yield Livestock, Pet & Garden Dust – so tell me, did I end up killing all kinds of insects…………Sucks! I learned about Dawn dish detergent last year to get rid of the yellow jackets building their nests – but I really didn’t know it killed them. Wow. I have this website favorited……..I am interested in keeping bees – just so they have a home – nothing else.

Rusty
Reply

Roberta,

Well, I didn’t list any specific brands, but soap is soap and, yes, it will kill any insect.

roberta
Reply

I also found “scientificbeekeeping” website that I was directed by the Austin Area Beekeepers Association. Enjoy that site also. Also found Jack Mills Bee Helper Blog. I miss my bees & want them back ;-)

Lynne
Reply

PLease HELP me. Have honey bees. Can’t get them to leave. Please my # is 214-215-3285. Talked to 3 beekeepers, but no has showed up. Please help me.

Rusty
Reply

Lynne,

First, you need to calm down. Second, you need to say where you live. Not once in the 22 e-mails you sent did you even hint at where you live. In any case, flooding my inbox is not a good way to get a fast answer.

Mary
Reply

This entry made me feel so sad, having to give info on how to *kill* bees when so many of us are trying so hard to save them, but I certainly understand your reasons for doing it – the lesser of several evils. But on to more positive info, I don’t use soap to clean my feeder jars or anything else. I’ve always read that using soap to clean a hummingbird feeder is harmful because it leaves a residue even after thorough rinsing, and only bleach should be used to get rid of mold (the bleach becomes inert after 24 hours?) – I follow that line of thinking with the bees as well. I try to let my syrup sit for 24 hours so the tap water chlorine dissipates – learned that from keeping an aquarium. I don’t know if any of it helps, but it can’t hurt.

lindsay
Reply

Hi,

Having a major issue with what someone identified as honey bees. I have been trying everything in the book, all miserable fails. Orange oil mixed with water, peppermint oil, almond oil, cinnamon, cucumbers. Then I tried spraying the soap water and saw more bees then I ever want to see in such close proximity. Basically they congregate by the dryer vent in the apartment complex. I have a dog so I don’t want to spread harmful chemicals, although have had the pest guy spray twice in the past few years. Just need a better antidote, none seem to be working to deter these bugs.

Rusty
Reply

Lindsay,

If they are honey bees, orange, peppermint and almond oils will attract them, not deter them. If they are congregating by the dryer vent, they may be attracted to the scent of fabric softeners, too. If they are just congregating there, and don’t actually live there, the soapy water won’t kill them all; it will only kill the ones it gets on. So even if you get some, others will come later or the next day.

Are they hurting anything by congregating at the dryer vent? Is just leaving them alone an option? You haven’t said what the real problem is. Usually dryer vents are in out-of-the way places. Have you or others been stung?

charles brown
Reply

I’m wondering what’s the best way to get rid of bees around a leaky pipe, no hive. I turned off the water, treated the pipes with water and soap, but the bees won’t leave.

Rusty
Reply

Charles,

The easiest way would be to fix the leak.

Louisa
Reply

I need help to get bees away from my backyard fish pond. They do not live on my property but come to my pond for water. I am not able to do yard work, tend to my fish, or enjoy my yard and pond. I have reached out to neighbours but no one can locate the hive. How can I get them to stop coming into my yard?

Rusty
Reply

Louisa,

I don’t know of a way short of getting rid of the pond. The bees could be coming from many different managed hives or they could be coming from wild hives not managed by anyone. When cooler or rainy weather comes they will probably stop visiting. In any case, they are very unlikely to sting when they are away from their hive like that. Enjoy your yard and try not to worry. The bees are a consequence of having a pond.

seeta
Reply

Hello

How can I get rid of bees that are inside of the roof of my front porch.

Rusty
Reply

Seeta,

First you should find out exactly what they are, bees or wasps—they can be hard to tell apart if you are not familiar. If they are wasps some people will come collect them for their venom. If they are honey bees, sometimes a beekeeper will come and get them for the bees. However, if they are hard to get to, you might have to pay someone to get them out. Sometimes it requires special equipment and some carpentry.

I would start by having someone take a look and assess the scope of the job. By the way, in certain places, pesticide companies won’t kill honey bees because of public pressure, so knowing what you have is important.

Sue
Reply

For the past several months I have found that I cannot go on the one side of my house and do any work without being completely harassed by bees. They actually follow me until I get out of the area. I have routine pest control service (not for bees but he would have told me if there was a hive) so I am fairly certain there is no hive on my property. I suspect there is a hive in my neighbor’s bushes nearby. I guarantee that this neighbor will not do anything about it. Since I cannot access / locate the hive, what can I do to get rid of these bees (they are not wasps)? It is creating a real problem for me not to be able to work on this side of my house. Sometimes I run to get away from them and they follow me (on this side of the house only)! I do not have any flowers on that side of the house to attract them. thx!

Rusty
Reply

Sue,

It is hard to say what to do unless we know specifically what they are. You say they are not wasps, and that might be true, but they are sometimes not as easy to distinguish as you might think. I’ve seen entomologists debate over whether something is a bee or a wasp, and sometimes it takes a laboratory analysis.

That said, there are a few bees and wasps that are easy to distinguish, so perhaps you are absolutely right. There are 4000 species of bee in North America and about three times as many species of wasps, but most folks can recognize a honey bee, bumble bee, yellowjacket, or bald-faced hornet.

If they are ground bees, you wouldn’t see a nest or hive, you would see little holes in the ground. Most ground bees are extremely gentle, though, and they only show up about six weeks a year.

One question you might ask yourself is whether you are wearing any scented personal products. The fragrances in perfumes, shampoo, deodorant, hand soap, and so forth can often attract both bees and wasps. Another question is about running. Bees detect motion. They are not so apt to see you as the motion you create. Whenever a bees chases me, I just stand absolutely motionless for a few moments until it leaves. By running or flailing at them, you make yourself much easier to find.

Once they find you, bees are just curious, hoping you are a source of nectar. Wasps may want a bite, depending on how close you are to their home or how threatened they feel. Flailing at them is definitely threatening and grounds (in their minds) to sting.

If I may say so, the most disturbing part of your question is the “routine pest control service.” If they are using chemicals (and most do), you, your family, pets, and children (if any) are all being exposed on a routine basis as well. These chemicals are not harmless, and most have known exposure thresholds at which poisoning may occur. We hope the chemical companies and the applicators get it all right, because some of these toxins persist in the environment or in living tissues for years. Just like x-rays or drugs, we should limit our exposure to these products as much as possible. “Routine” poisoning of your home is an unhealthy idea and I hope you will reconsider.

Sue
Reply

My pest service (and many nowadays) use eco-friendly products (at my request). tx

Clifford
Reply

Rusty, as you know I am a new beekeeper this year and recently found your site. I enjoy reading it and was a bit surprised to find “how to kill bees”. After I think about it a bit I can see people wanting to know that. I got a call from a man in Amarillo, TX. That is 5 hours away from where I live. He wanted me to come and remove bees from a house he owned because the pest control company would not exterminate them unless he could produce a letter from a beekeeper that stated they could not be removed from the house. It is against the law to bring them over the state line without a certificate of good health for the bees from a vet. I didn’t go to remove them and didn’t produce the letter for him. There are so few bees in that part of the country that few people are beekeepers out there. Just wanted to say that some exterminators are still trying to help beekeepers.

Rusty
Reply

Clifford,

Many people are surprised by that post, but as I explained, I would rather people kill them with a non-toxic substance than some poison they bought at Home Depot. Any poison that persists in the environment is bad for all of us.

Yes, more and more frequently pest control companies are passing on killing honey bees. Some still do, though, so you have to be selective.

Deb
Reply

I never see any hive or nest or swarming just 3-4 honey bees and yes they are honey bees! I have st2unk twice in the last 36 hours sitting on my deck in the country, today was on the lip. Now we had Dr, Pepper and beer on the deck. could that be attracting them? How can I keep them away? my neighbors and I should be able to sit on the deck without being annoyed and stung

Deb

Rusty
Reply

Deb,

That sounds so unlike honey bees. Honey bees rarely sting when they are away from their nest, but if say they’re honey bees, they must be.

So what attracts them? Maybe the drinks, maybe perfume, shampoo, deodorants, or anything with fragrance, maybe flowers on your deck or a water source. Could be a lot of things.

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