honey bee myths

How to kill bees with vinegar (it never works)

Trying to kill bees with vinegar is probably a waste of time.

Household vinegar by itself is unlikely to kill bees. And it does not repel wasps.

We are always searching for magical ways to control household and garden pests. At the moment, the popular cure for unwanted stinging insects seems to be vinegar sprayed from a bottle. But can you actually kill bees with household vinegar?

I wasn’t aware that trying to kill bees with vinegar was even a thing until someone asked me if it works. My off-the-cuff answer was “no way.” But then (just to be sure) I spent hours reading dozens of websites touting the virtues of household vinegar. Apparently, it is the answer to all your bee and wasp problems. After I read all these incredible claims, my answer was still “no way.” None of them make scientific sense.

How vinegar is supposed to kill bees and wasps

According to these accounts, the pH of vinegar will kill stinging insects instantly. But wait. Household vinegar is a solution of 5% acetic acid (by volume) in water. Its pH varies slightly with the type of vinegar. For example, 5% apple cider vinegar is considered mildly acetic with a pH of 2-3. White vinegar at 5% has a pH of approximately 2.5.

According to the National Honey Board, the acidity of honey ranges from a pH of about 3.4 to about 6.1, with an average of 3.9. So a solution of 5% acetic acid by volume is more acidic than the most acidic honey.

But here’s the thing: nearly all the “recipes” I’ve read say to dilute the household vinegar in water at a rate of 1 teaspoon per quart of water or 1 tablespoon per gallon of water before you put it in your sprayer. That will further reduce the acidity, making it almost useless for killing anything as tough as a bee or a wasp.

Bees are accustomed to acidic conditions

I suppose I could calculate the pH of such a solution, but it’s not simple. To start, the pH scale is logarithmic, meaning a pH of 4 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 5 and 100 times more acidic than a pH of 6. In addition, you would have to know the pH of the dilution water and whether it contains anything that might affect the total pH, such as calcium or magnesium.

But even without a calculation, we know your solution won’t be more acidic than the vinegar that went into it. Most likely, it will be quite a bit less. 

According to the Material Safety Data Sheet, the pH of FormicPro (for varroa mite control) is 2, more acidic than your average household vinegar. But we trust that it won’t kill our bees when we put it in the hive. One article in Bee Culture suggested the pH of oxalic acid is down around 1, although it didn’t say at what concentration or in what format. Still, how many beekeepers successfully use oxalic acid in their bee hives? Most?

My point is that bees, especially honey bees, are accustomed to living around and eating very acidic things. So a solution of 1 tablespoon of 5% acetic acid in a gallon of water for killing bees makes no sense. Many beekeepers put more vinegar than that in their sugar syrups to prevent mold and the bees don’t give a wit.

Wasps are not repelled by the scent of vinegar

Some articles say the smell of vinegar repels wasps so they leave and never come back. They’re kidding, right? In truth, the smell of vinegar is a reliable wasp attractant. It’s the vinegar scent of rotting fruit that attracts wasps in droves to apple and pear orchards in the fall.

Vinegar is also used in some wasp traps to lure them into the catch jar. Since the wasps adore the scent of vinegar, you can trap them easily. In short, you can use vinegar to attract wasps and then kill them, but the scent of vinegar itself isn’t going to repel or kill them.

So how are bees being killed if not by acid?

Further reading explained how some of these methods “work.” Some articles instructed the user to stamp on the bees when they hit the ground. In this case, I assume the sprayed solution wet the bees’ wings enough that they couldn’t fly, so they fell to the ground. Then someone stepped on them. The lethal agent in this case was the bottom of a shoe, not the vinegar. If the bee wasn’t smushed, it would be able to fly again once its wings dried.

In other cases, the recipe contained “a few drops of dish soap.” Now dish soap liberally sprayed on bees will kill them. That’s because soapy water acts as a surfactant that destroys the surface tension of water and weakens the protective coating on an insect’s exoskeleton. Soapy water will kill bees and wasps quickly and efficiently: no vinegar is needed.

Not all vinegar is created equal

I should mention that you can also buy horticultural vinegar which is around 20% acetic acid by volume. Like oxalic acid, this is toxic stuff and the user should wear a respirator. Might it kill bees? Well, it depends on how much you dilute it. But in any case, why not just use a few drops of dish soap in a bottle of water and not bother with hazardous products that may or may not work?

Think about why you need to kill bees

I can imagine a few instances where a hive of bees might need to be killed. Perhaps a colony is excessively nasty, diseased, or built a home that is interfering with machinery or air ducts. Perhaps normal removal methods have been unsuccessful for some reason. But killing bees just because it’s more convenient than dealing with them is sad.

One person whose blog I read was going to boil a cauldron of apple cider vinegar in his backyard. He believed the vapor would kill all the native mining bees in his lawn by infiltrating their nesting holes deep in the ground. It’s sad that he thinks it’s necessary, but it’s also kind of funny. The bees, nestled in their underground chambers, were probably laughing themselves silly as the guy toiled away, stirring and chanting on a blistery summer afternoon as his vapor wafts away on a light breeze.

If you have a bee problem, call a beekeeper. They may be able to help, regardless of the type of bee. These days, more and more beekeepers are aware and sensitive to other bee species and may know where you can find some help. Ask before you kill and you will be doing the planet a favor and looking a lot less silly.

Honey Bee Suite


  • Unfortunately humans won’t be happy until they kill everything off. They never think how beneficial something might be.

  • I have never had to kill a colony of honey bees. But you are right about the soapy water. I kill several yellowjacket colonies a year with soapy water and it is fast and effective.

  • I don’t have any comment on the bee-killing vinegar but you referred to horticultural vinegar around 20% acetic acid and said “this is toxic stuff and the user should wear a respirator”. I may have inherited some of that, which I believe my domestic partner used to kill weeds in the cracks between pavers. No respirators involved. Also, I thought he was using it because it was reasonably safe, and it definitely smelled nice, though I wasn’t actually sticking my nose in it.

    • Hey Roberta,

      I’m linking to the EPA MSDS for one brand of vinegar. Each brand gets its own EPA label, but this one is 20% acetic acid. There is a list of PPE on page 5. (I tried to copy it here, but I only got code.)

      I noticed too that some vinegar goes up to 30% acetic acid (I think it’s called industrial).

      • I enjoyed reading that link. Of course, we all know that the label is the law and we all follow that religiously, but I found it interesting that they had such strict rules for rinsing the empty container so many times and properly disposing of the rinsate (who knew that was a word?). It seems to me that if you have the container as much as a quarter full, and then fill it with water, it would become only 5% vinegar, which you can buy in the grocery store and drink like pickle juice. Not that I’m argumentative or anything.

        • Roberta,

          Rinsate is a cool word that I learned somewhere along the line, but I never remember it. I should try to weave it into something as if I use it every day. Let me think.

    • Yes, it’s usually best not to kill bees. But if a hive of bees is badly diseased, it is best for all bees to kill that group before it spreads to others.

  • There truly is no room to exterminate beehives [bee colonies] nowadays. It is understandable that aggressive bees may pose a danger. When properly handled in safe areas, they are teaching us about the way they manage pests and diseases on their own. It would be best to contact a professional honeybee rescue team like ourselves. We could safely relocate the hive to a suitable location where the hive can prosper and help in the fight to keep bees alive. Thank you!

    • I still disagree. If do not exterminate colonies that have highly infective brood diseases like American foulbrood, you are doing a grave disservice to the bees.

  • Bring on the hate mail in the comments but I’m here to tell you I’m trying to work on my van in the bright sunshine here and there are two bees that are stalking me they keep buzzing by me and landing right next to me and buzzing around my head. I sprayed vinegar all over the area and all it did was make them more aggressive. So when I sprayed it toward them that just pissed them off. Now I looked at this article to learn how to kill two bees and nothing on this page is telling me how to do it. I love bees I love honey I love blind melon in the bee girl. Don’t get me wrong and I know the benefits of bees and how the plants are in trouble and everything else but I’m scared to death of these things I’ve got to fix this van and I want to kill two bees how can I do it? By the way, I don’t have access to a sink or dish soap where I’m at. And I’m not going to stomp on them they’re too fast. On the bright side I have invented a few dance moves while dodging these bees I’ll be posting those for those of you that are interested later on my Facebook page. Just kidding but seriously. I’m in Southern California and these two B’s are pissed off at me for no reason and I want them to die.

    • Just a thought…. you mentioned you were able to spray vinegar on the two bees that were pestering you and that only increased their anger. If it is possible, couldn’t you possibly get a spray bottle and fill it with the dish soap and water at home and bring it with you to the worksite where you are working on the van? That seems to bee (pun intended) the most logical solution. But that’s just me.

  • I have a bee problem at home. They make their hive in the soffit. Called a bee remover and they did but 6 months later were next to the previous site. I called several beekeepers, but no one is up to receive or relocate my bees, so there is no option but to try to kill them.

  • Just a thought…. you mentioned you were able to spray vinegar on the two bees that were pestering you and that only increased their anger. If it is possible, couldn’t you possibly get a spray bottle and fill it with the dish soap and water at home and bring it with you to the worksite where you are working on the van? That seems to bee (pun intended) the most logical solution. But that’s just me.

  • Interesting article the only problem is there’s different types of acids and vinegar versus honey. Specifically, vinegar has histidine, methionine, cysteine, tryptophan, and tyrosine. Whereas honey contains weak acids like gluconic acid (the most prevalent acid in honey), pyroglutamic acid, aromatic acids acetic acid, butanoic acid, formic acid, citric acid, succinic acid.

    When sprayed directly on a bee, the acid will dissolve its protective layer, causing it to die.

    • John,

      While vinegar contains some amino acids (such as you list), they are present in very low concentrations and do not significantly affect the acidity of vinegar.

      The acidity of vinegar is primarily due to the presence of acetic acid, which is produced during the fermentation process. Amino acids are not directly involved in this process and are typically present in vinegar at concentrations of less than 1%. In fact, the contribution of amino acids to the overall acidity of vinegar is so small that it is considered negligible.

      However, amino acids can have other effects on vinegar, such as contributing to its flavor and aroma. For example, the amino acid glutamate is known to contribute to the umami taste of some types of vinegar, while other amino acids can contribute to the fruity or floral notes of vinegar. But again, these effects are primarily related to the flavor profile of vinegar rather than its acidity.

      The acetic acid in vinegar is produced through the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. This process is often called “acetous fermentation” or “vinegarization.” During this process, the acetic acid bacteria convert ethanol into acetic acid and water in the presence of oxygen.

      The amount of acetic acid in vinegar determines its level of acidity and taste. Typically, commercial vinegar has an acetic acid concentration of around 4-7%, while some specialized kinds of vinegar can have a higher concentration.

      A small amount of vinegar diluted in a large amount of water (which people are advised to do) won’t kill bees.

      • The three pKa values of aspartic acid are 1.89, 3.65 and 9.60, depending on the form of the aspartic acid it can be extremely acidic.

      • I forgot aspartate also contains carboxylic acids. Carboxylic acids may initiate polymerization reactions; like other acids, they often catalyze (increase the rate of) chemical reactions. Corrosive to tissue.

  • I have an irresponsible neighbor who has bees in city limits and his bees are swarming my pool. I have not been able to use my pool in a month but most importantly I could have a possible deadly reaction to a bee sting. Last year from a single sting they thought they were going to have to intubate me. According to the state of Mississippi and local law ordinance he is in his right to have his bees and there is nothing I can do about it. Apparently bees lives are more important than my own life on my property! When I spoke to the neighbor he folded his arms and said it wasn’t his bees even though their flight patterns are straight to his property he had no concern about my possible life threatening allergies to bee stings. With grants being given to anyone who who want to keep bees every idiot can become a bee keeper with no training or anything and this is the result of happens. It sickens me that on my own property I can’t go anywhere near my pool or in it and his bees and himself have all the rights and this sick person doesn’t care that I keep small children and that I could loose my life because of his ignorance regarding bees! If you want to keep bees you need to be trained, your hives should be inspected, if you are not providing everything the bees need on your property, you should face a huge fine ! I’m sorry but my life is more important than his bees and my dad will attest to that since I am his caregiver. Nothing I’ve tried has helped in controlling this problem . Don’t think for one second if there was something available that I could spray them with and they take it back to the hive and kills his entire colony I would do it in an instant!

    • Lisa,

      You say, “If you want to keep bees you need to be trained, your hives should be inspected, if you are not providing everything the bees need on your property…” However, no amount of training, no amount of inspecting, and no amount of “providing everything the bees need” would prevent those bees from flying around your swimming pool, at least occasionally. I don’t see anything to indicate the beekeeper is at fault. If you don’t like your state and local ordinances, write to your elected representatives or vote differently.

      The problem, of course, is that bees are necessary to food production, so governments all over the world are favoring the rights of the majority to affordable food crops over the rights of the minority who have health problems. It is unfortunate that you have this problem, but remember that nearly every person has one problem or another, whether they be physical health, mental health, financial health, or whatever. We each need to deal with the problems we have. Blaming the people around you is usually counterproductive and can turn you into the “bad guy.”

      • Dear Rusty,

        Apparently I have a colony of mason bees having burrowed through the grout of the bricks surrounding my front door. Reading all previous posts, might it not be effective to use 75% vinegar (15 times stronger than regular vinegar) and mix it directly with dish soap? According to previous posts both should have the action of dissolving the protection bees have and allowing them to be killed. My grandchildren are highly allergic to bites.

        • Rudy,

          I would use one or the other, not both. I don’t know what happens when you mix dish soap and vinegar. In some mixtures, one chemical cancels out the effectiveness of the other. You can try, but keep in mind it might not work as well as you think.

          Now, a couple of other points. Mason bees seldom, if ever, sting and they never bite. I suppose they could bite—they do have sharp mandibles—but, in any case, a bite wouldn’t inject venom. Venom comes from the stinger on the other end. It doesn’t sound like mason bees to me because mason bees don’t live in colonies.

          The most important thing is to make sure your grandkids are diagnosed correctly by a physician and carry epipens, if need be.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.