How to Get Rid of Wasps, Yellow Jackets, Hornets

wasps nest

Seeing one wasp whiz by your head is enough to make you nervous.

Finding a big nest in the corner of your front porch, busy with angrily buzzing, stinging insects going in and out, well that’s enough to be downright scared.

Wasps are pests for homeowners clear across the country. These predatory insects swarm and if disturbed pack quite a sting. Getting rid of wasps is not an easy chore.

Jennifer Pelham

“They are very defensive,” says Jennifer Pelham, director of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Martin County. “They will come after you if you get near their nest or even if you’re near where they are, they’ll readily sting you.”

As a protection against predators, wasps and other insects have developed stingers that contain venom. The venom from a wasp sting can contain a cocktail of poisons, and can vary by the type of wasp.

To some highly sensitive people, a sting from an angry wasp can pose a mortal threat. Allergic reactions to insect stings are common, and result in as many as 100 American deaths every year, according to the Texas A&M University Extension.

Even an ordinary, non-allergic reaction to wasp stings is no fun, either. It swells up for the first two days after a sting, and swelling doesn’t go away for five to 10 days.

Paper Wasps: The Worst

While there are tens of thousands of species of wasp and bee across the globe, only a handful of wasp species give American homeowners headaches.

As the Oklahoma State University Extension says, only a few cause problems for homeowners, mainly because they are not as docile as honeybees. They readily sting.

The biggest culprit is the paper wasp, so named because it makes its nests from wood fiber and saliva, compressing it into thin paper-like sheets with their mandibles, similar to a hornet nest.

“Paper wasps can definitely pack a punch,” Pelham says. Unlike bees, wasps don’t lose their stinger when they attack. They can sting you over and over again.

Identified by those nests, paper wasps can be yellow, black-brown or red based on the particular species.

Pelham says she finds their nests under leaves of landscape plants including saw palmettos. Unwary gardeners will trim the leaf or brush up against it and end up stung.

You’ll know it’s a paper wasp, no matter the color, by the style of its nest: a single, open-faced comb.

During the summer it will build nests on trees, shrubs, and especially building overhangs.

As Texas A&M explains, infertile female worker wasps take up most of the nest during the season, but come late summer, males and new queens are produced.

And as many as 75 wasps can live in a fully-developed nest.

Yellow Jackets and Hornets

If that description doesn’t fit the threatening insects you’ve got buzzing around your ears, they may be different types of wasps also common in the U.S.: Yellow jackets and hornets.

And the Oklahoma State Extension explains that while the nest is the dead giveaway, you can also tell which you’ve got based on size and appearance.

Yellow jackets are smaller, and as the name suggests, colored yellow with black stripes. The common cicada killer hornet is colored similar to the yellow jacket, but is much larger.

Yellow jackets, hornets and paper wasps all fall under the category of social wasps, meaning they nest in groups.

Solitary Wasps Less of a Threat

You guessed it, solitary wasps nest alone — or at least not in a large colony.

Fortunately, these wasps don’t pose much of a stinging hazard to humans, says the Oklahoma State Extension.

Mud-daubers, which built nests of mud tubes on walls and potter wasps, which build little clay pots as nests, are two of these.

Mud daubers are generally an annoyance only, Pelham says. Mainly spider-eaters, they make their mud nests near where spiders spin their webs.

They virtually never sting people, and control merely means cleaning the mud off your wall.

Spider wasps and cicada killer wasps are also solitary, and feed on their namesake insects.

Both burrow into the ground and can be seen flying low around your lawn hunting spiders or cicadas.

Mud-Daubers Leave an Unsightly Mess

Mud daubers nest
Mud daubers nest. Credit: Michele M. F., CC by-SA 2.0

All four of these solitary wasps feed on insects, which are stored in their nests. The only ones that are really of any concern to homeowners, though, are mud-daubers.

That’s because those mud nests, often found around moist areas like ponds or lakes, are commonly built on walls, porches, carports and pillars.

But wasps don’t have to build a nest on your back porch to cause you problems.

Nests in trees or burrows around your property can pose just as much of a stinging threat as their house-dwelling neighbors.

Luckily, when you choose to evict them, you don’t have to do anything different.

When to Leave Wasps Alone

In an article for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, Entomologist Alan Eaton explains the ins and outs of clearing out that nest.

The first consideration is whether you need to do anything about it at all. If you have a nest in a tree out back, but no person ever really comes into contact with wasps, then there’s no need for control.

Unless they’re nearby and pose a stinging threat, wasps are beneficial insects. They help your backyard landscape.

“They’re great pollinators,” Pelham says. “They pollinate just as much as other bees and wasps do.”

Also, as predators of other insects wasps play an important role in the ecosystem, the UNH article says, so if a nest is in a place where you can just avoid it, do so.

Take Precautions

Hands-off or spray-on, the choice depends on the species and situation.

And if you do decide the nest needs clearing out, there are some specific precautions to keep in mind, especially protective clothing:

  • If you’re highly allergic to stings, hire an exterminator.
  • Wear appropriate clothing to protect from stings, including long sleeves, long pants, boots, and leather or rubber gloves.
  • A beekeeper’s hat and veil will keep wasps away from your head and neck, but make sure it’s properly fastened.
  • Always follow printed instructions on pesticide products. A long-sleeved shirt doesn’t guarantee safety.
  • If stung, wash with soapy water to remove as much venom as possible. Some people report relief from peppermint oil. Essential oils are also a common repellent.

Pelham recommends long sleeves, pants, shoes and socks every time you’re working in the garden. Be aware of what you’re pruning, where you’re putting your hands, and be cautious of irritating wasps.

Get Rid of Wasps With Sprays

Got those safety measures checked off? It’s time to get to work.

The most common and most effective method of control, says the UNH article, is a pressurized can of wasp and hornet jet spray. The brand is not important. Its spraying action is.

With some know-how and planning, that spray is all you need to get rid of your pesky wasp problem.

Pelham says to make sure you get one labeled for wasps.

Cockroach and ant killer will have the same active ingredient, but the wasp-specific stuff will have the special nozzle that lets you spray the nest without putting yourself in danger.

Spraying Wasp Nests: 5-Steps

Eaton lays out how to clear out that infestation in five steps:

  1. Find and clearly mark the wasp nest. For ground nests, use wire flags or strips of cloth laid in an arrow pointing to the entrance. On a tree or branch, tie flagging nearby.
  2. Buy pressurized wasp and hornet jet spray. Once you have the nest marked, head off to the store and get your spray. Choose one that will spray a solid stream 10 feet or more, rather than a mist.
  3. Treat at night. Most all of the worker wasps will be in the nest at night, and inactive. Use a flashlight with a red filter, since wasps don’t see red well.
  4. Shoot! Spray the nest with a solid spray that lasts several seconds. This ensures that the spray penetrates deep into the nest. Soak it thoroughly.
  5. Leave. After spraying, leave the area and stay away for a full day if you can. For ground colonies, have a shovelful of dirt ready to cover the entrance after spraying and before you walk away.

After You Spray the Wasp Nest

The Texas Extension advises you remove and discard it only when all the wasps are dead. That could take up to two days.

Pelham agrees, noting that sprays have residual effects. A well-soaked nest can also poison a wasp that has been out foraging and comes back home.

She also says not to worry about grabbing a different product for different nest locations. The active ingredient will do the same job anywhere, and won’t peel the paint off your house.

While there may be some homemade concoctions out there to treat wasps, Pelham says that she and the Florida Extension advise against it.

Mixing pesticides up at home, with no labels or safety precautions is not a good idea. And given the low cost of sprays — some as low as $3 — they’re the best option.

Dealing With Wasp Colonies Inside Walls

Not all wasps’ nests are created equal. Some cases may take special consideration, the UNH article notes. Colonies inside walls can pose a particular problem.

They can be treated with a spray, but that often causes agitated wasps to emerge from crevices inside the building. Bad news.

Treating a large nest in this way can also cause a foul smell to linger in the house as the nest decays. If you can stand the annoyance, simply wait until winter when activity dies down, and then seal up the area.

A Hands-off Approach: Traps

Wasp traps are another option — one that won’t wear out your trigger finger.

According to the Utah State University Extension, traps baited with fruit juice around the yard in mid- to late-summer can significantly reduce Paper wasp populations.

That’s especially true for people who have fruit-bearing plants like apple trees or blackberry bushes or even garbage cans in their backyard, which serve as food sources for wasps and bees.

How to Make a Wasp Trap

  • Cut the top of a clear plastic soda bottle at the “shoulder.”
  • Turn the cut part over and place it back into the bottle to form a funnel.
  • Bait with one part fruit juice to 10 parts water, one teaspoon yeast, a piece of ripe fruit and several drops of liquid dish soap.
  • Place the traps about every 30 feet around the perimeter of food sources such as fruit trees or bushes.
  • Refresh every two weeks.

Traps may kill wasps, but they won’t clear out a whole nest. And while spray may be an option, those tricky wasp colonies can take some extra precautions and work.

Or you could just hire an exterminator to clear the wasps out.

Cost of Professional Pest Control Service

Whether it’s because of an extreme allergy, a particularly large nest or one in a difficult location, you may not want to diy this one.

Wasp sprays come in a variety of sizes, strengths and styles, but a 16-oz spray bottle of wasp and hornet killer will run you under $5 at Home Depot or Amazon.

Even cheaper options are out there, as are more expensive ones, but nearly all can be had for less than $20.

Other sprayers, extensions and accessories for sprays are available too, to make your job easier.

Hiring an exterminator, on the other hand, may sting you where it hurts: your wallet.

According to Angie’s List, just how much the pest control service will charge you depends on the size, location and accessibility of the nest.

But the national average starts at $90 and goes as high as $450. The lower end will be something like a nest in the bushes. The more expensive services will be for removing a nest on the eaves of a three-story house or built among the inner workings of your air conditioner.

Either way, once you get rid of wasps, you’ll clear the air and be able to enjoy your lawn without looking over your shoulder for those little buzzing fighter jets.

Derek Lacey

Derek Lacey

Formerly the agriculture writer for the Hendersonville Times-News, Derek Lacey’s articles have appeared in U.S. News & World Report, The Charlotte Observer, News & Observer, and The State. He has won 15 awards from the North Carolina Press Association and GateHouse Media, for pieces ranging from news features and investigative reporting to photography and multimedia projects.