Wasps are beneficial when they exist out in nature, but they are predators, aggressively defending their nests by attacking humans. If you see wasps around your house or yard, you will want to know how to get rid of them.
Wasps have developed stingers that contain venom, and the venom from a wasp sting can contain poisons that will kill people. But even an ordinary, non-allergic reaction to wasp stings will hurt. Even worse, wasps are able to sting over and over.
“They are very defensive,” says Jennifer Pelham, director of the University of Florida 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.” Getting rid of wasps is not an easy chore, but we’ve got the knowledge you need to take the sting out of getting rid of these aggressive insects.
How to Get Rid of Wasps Outside
If you have a wasp nest attached to your home, you may want to take action. Here are a few ways to remove wasp nests around your home.
How to Remove Wasp Nests Naturally
- For a small nest, use liquid soap: Put a half-cup in a spray bottle with that much water. Spray them. Works on contact. A direct DIY method for homeowners.
- For a larger nest in the eaves of your home: Add several drops of tea tree or peppermint oil to a cup of liquid soap, put it in a hose end sprayer, and spray the nest from the ground. Do it until the nest falls.
The liquid soap kills the wasps and the peppermint or tea tree smell might keep them from returning. (Some people believe it does, but there is no scientific confirmation of it.) You can also purchase peppermint or tea tree castile soap.
How to Remove Wasp Nests With a Chemical Spray
- 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. If the nest is in a tree or on a branch, tie flagging nearby.
- Buy a jet spray for wasps. Choose one that will spray a solid stream 10 feet or more, rather than a mist.
- Treat at night. Most all of the worker wasps will be in the wasp nest at night, and inactive. Use a flashlight with a red filter, since wasps don’t see red well.
- Spray the nest with a solid spray that lasts several seconds. This ensures that the insecticide penetrates deep into the nest. Soak thoroughly.
- Leave the area of the wasp nest and stay away for a full day. For wasp colonies on the ground, cover the entrance with a shovelful of dirt before walking away.
- Remove and discard the wasp nest only when all the wasps are dead. That could take two days.
A Pro Tip: While there may be some homemade concoctions out there to treat wasps, Pelham advises against it. Mixing pesticides up at home, with no labels or safety precautions is not a good DIY project. And sprays don’t cost much; some are as little as $3.
When to Leave Wasps Alone
There are times when it is necessary to get rid of wasps (when they are attached to or close to the house), but there are also times to leave wasps alone. Before you get out the spray, first consider whether you need to do anything about the wasp nest at all. If you have a nest in a tree that people do not come in contact with, there is no need for wasp 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.”
- They are predators of other insects, playing an important role in the ecosystem, even in your yard.
Take Precautions If You Approach a Nest
If it is necessary to remove the wasp nest, take precautions:
- Hire an exterminator if you are highly allergic to stings.
- Wear protective clothing to fend off stings, including long sleeves, long pants, boots, and leather or rubber gloves.
- Wear a beekeeper’s hat and veil. Fasten the veil and hat so that they are secure. Don’t let them get in and then be trapped.
- Always follow printed instructions on pesticide products. A long-sleeved shirt may not guarantee safety.
As a general rule, you should wear long sleeves, pants, shoes, and socks any time you work in the garden, says Jennifer Pelham. Be aware of what you’re pruning and where you are putting your hands, she adds.
A Hands-Off Approach: Traps
A way to take the fight to wasps without getting too close is to use wasp traps.
Traps baited with fruit juice around the yard in mid- to late-summer can significantly reduce paper wasp populations.
- Chemical traps can work, but be careful in applying them. Wear protective clothing, including a veil, gloves, and tops and bottoms tied at the wrists and ankles. Be wary of the wasps: In fleeing the chemicals, they may attack the person applying them.
- Wet traps (traps that can hold a liquid) can be baited with soft drinks or juices.
- Food baits can be used, but the bait has to be replaced every few days as they lose their attractiveness.
- A bait trap can be made by suspending fish or liver on a string just over a bucket of water with detergent. The yellowjackets will try to fly away with pieces of fish or liver that are too heavy for them, and will fall into the water/detergent mix and die.
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 or infestation. And while spray may be an option, wasp control can call for extra precautions and work.
Or you could just hire an exterminator to clear the wasps out. A LawnStarter study found the average cost for professional wasp removal runs between $240 and $855, depending on the type of treatment and the size of the nest.
How to Get Rid of Wasps Inside the House
When wasps start nesting inside a house, you have a real problem. If you find evidence that you have wasps in the walls, a crawl space, or an attic, it is likely time to call in a professional exterminator.
Experts don’t recommend taking on wasps inside your home as a DIY project because you don’t have many good options. Here’s why:
- Sprays won’t drive away the wasps. The insecticide seldom reaches very far into the nest.
- Pesticide dusts can be effective when blown into the wasp nest opening, but as a rule, their use inside a structure is prohibited.
- Wasps might only be agitated, instead of killed. At that point, the wasps will escape through crevices into other areas of the house.
- A foul smell might linger in the house as the wasp nest decays, an awful experience for homeowners.
- Never plug the opening to these nests. The wasps will chew their way out, often into the interior of the house.
If a single wasp has ventured inside, you can probably DIY this with no problem:
- Throw a rag on it, then let it go outside, away from the house.
How to Discourage Wasps
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program has a series of recommendations to make your home less inviting to wasps:
- Put food away, including after meals.
- Clean up drinks, especially sodas and fruit juices, without letting them sit out. (Are you really going to want them as they warm up?)
- Put a lid on trash cans, a good one, and frequently empty the ones from the house. Move the outside bins away from buildings.
- Keep it dry. Repair faucets that leak, and fill in the places where rainwater becomes puddles. (Or build a rain garden.)
- Plug holes in buildings and repair screens.
Wasp Stings Can Kill
The sting of a wasp can kill, as people can have an allergic reaction to the venom. Symptoms, especially nausea and dizziness, appear within 10-20 minutes. Death can occur within an hour.
More people have died from hornet, wasp, and bee stings in each of the last five years of reported data, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which also believe the deaths are underreported, too often mistaken for heart attacks or sunstrokes.
- The venom of a sting contains compounds that can cause intense pain.
- Stings inside your mouth or near the head, eyes, and neck, call for special attention.
- Wasps often travel in places that aren’t clean, and that can cause an infection of its own at the site of a sting.
- Some 2.5 million Americans are sensitive to stings. However, doctors can’t predict who among them might be so vulnerable that a sting will put their life at risk.
- An allergist can determine if you have a sensitivity to stings. If you do, the allergist can give you a prescription for an emergency kit that has antihistamines and a syringe of epinephrine.
How to Avoid Getting Stung by Wasps
No matter how much you try to discourage them, wasps may show up from time to time. If you happen to encounter one, here’s how to deal with them without getting stung.
- Don’t swat them if they appear.
- Move slowly if they fly near you.
- Avoid nests. If you disturb one, run from attacking wasps.
- Clean up any food and drink if you are eating outside.
- Be aware of your scents. Avoid the more fragrant colognes, perfumes, and hair sprays when you are out and about.
- Bright clothing attracts wasps. Tan, khaki, denim, and dark colors are best.
- Picnic carefully. Avoid it in areas near trash cans or where tables haven’t been properly cleaned.
What to Do if You Are Stung by a Wasp
The University of Oklahoma Extension recommends the following if you are stung by a wasp:
- Wash the area of the sting.
- Put ice on it to help with the swelling.
- Apply baking soda, mixing it (or meat tenderizer) in a paste. It reduces swelling and the spread of the venom.
- Take antihistamines. They help with the swelling and can fight off any allergy issues.
- Get to a doctor if you suffer dizziness, nausea, a blood pressure, or any serious response. You might need epinephrine, and right away.
What To Do If Someone Else Is Stung by a Wasp
If someone else is stung by a wasp, the CDC recommends the following:
- Stay with the person to be sure they don’t have an allergic reaction. If they do, get them to a doctor immediately.
- Wash the site with soap and water.
- Remove the stinger. Wipe gauze over the area or drag a fingernail across it. Do not use tweezers or squeeze the stinger, the CDC says.
- Put ice on it to keep the swelling down.
- Prevent scratching the sting. It can lead to swelling, itching, and even infection.
Life Cycle of a Wasp
- Adult, becoming one of three types:
- Drones (the males, who mate with the queen to produce the eggs)
- Workers (the females)
Common Types of Wasps
Paper Wasps: The Worst
While there are tens of thousands of species of wasp and bee, only a handful of wasp species create pain. The biggest culprit is the paper wasp. “Paper wasps can definitely pack a punch,” says Pelham. Unlike bees, wasps don’t lose their stinger when they attack. They can sting you over and over again.
The name “paper wasps” comes from the nests it makes from wood fiber and saliva, compressing it into thin paper-like sheets. Those nests are regularly found under the eaves of your house or any building overhang.
In addition, paper wasps will build their nests under leaves of landscape plants, Pelham says. People will trim a plant in their garden, brush up against the nest, and end up getting a sting.
- As many as 75 wasps can live in a nest.
- Each paper wasp’s body is slender, 3/4 inches long.
- They have vibrant coloring (yellow, brown, red, and/or black).
- The wasps of a colony will sting in defense of the nest.
- Swarms may form atop tall structures or on the second or third floor of your house.
Solitary Wasps: Less of a Threat
Most solitary wasps sting an insect, bury it, lay an egg on the carcass, and move on. Sometimes they put so many in one spot, it looks like an organized nest.
They seldom sting humans. If they do, there is so little venom, they don’t hurt.
Some kinds of solitary wasps:
- Mud-daubers build their egg-laying site out of mud, often on the wall of a house. Just hose it off.
- Potter wasps build their nests out of clay. The potter wasp doesn’t defend its nest, so if you see one, just knock it down.
- Spider wasps get their name from the females, who sting spiders into paralysis, then take them to their burrow and feed them to their young. Meanwhile, the males go about pollinating flowers.
- Cicada killer wasps burrow into the ground, going 3 to 5 feet across and a foot down. If you find such a nest, spray the entrance.
Yellowjackets: They Like to Sting
Yellowjackets are a type of wasp. (Who knew?) They are so similar in appearance to honeybees that people can’t tell them apart at a glance. But yellowjackets are more aggressive. There are people who swear that yellowjackets sting just for the fun of it.
Yellowjacket colonies start with a single queen in the spring, but by August, those colonies can have 5,000 workers.
- Yellowjackets have yellow or orange and black bands, leading them to be commonly mistaken for honeybees.
- They lack the hairy body of the honeybee.
- Do not lose their stingers when they sting. But honeybees do.
- Usually nest underground. People mowing a lawn will fail to notice the small hole that is the entrance to the nest and mow over it, provoking the colony.
- Attracted to sweet things, such as a can of soda, which will bring them in contact with humans.
- Nests are discovered in dark, enclosed areas of a building, such as walls, an attic, or the crawl space.
- Nests are enclosed in a paper envelope, but not one you will see. Instead, the envelope is built against the ground.
- Yellowjackets aggressively defend their nest as a group, and sting repeatedly.
- Some people are severely allergic to yellowjacket stings. Within 10-30 minutes, they will have difficulty breathing. They will need medical treatment immediately.
- Most people suffer only localized pain from stings.
- They are annoying at cookouts, stealing bits of meat and other food.
Why Do People Like Bees But Not Wasps?
Here is one thing to keep in mind: Wasps mostly feed on insects. Bees mostly feed on pollen or nectar.
Some other differences:
|Nest construction||Wax comb||Paper comb, no envelope|
|Nest location||Hives, large hollows||Under eaves, in small voids|
|Size of colony||Up to 10,000||Less than 100|
|Feeding||Nectar, pollen, sweet things||Live insects|
|Stinger||Barbed, pulled out when it is used||Not barbed, can be used repeatedly|
Source: Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Will Essential Oils Keep Wasps Away?
A clove, geranium, and lemongrass essential oil mixture has been proven to repel worker wasps in one study. Mix together a cup of water with 5-6 drops of clove, geranium, and lemongrass essential oils, and spray it in an area to drive away wasps.
In general, there are people who believe that spraying an area with essential oils will serve as a potent wasp repellent, while also driving away other insects. People believe that wasps and other insects are more sensitive to smells, and that sharp ones will cause them to scurry.
A scientific study published in the Journal of Applied Entomology found that certain essential oils have “potential to be used as repellents to prevent wasps’ approaches and foraging.” More research will be needed to make certain.
Do Wasps Help With Pollination?
Wasps are pollinators, and serve an important role in doing that, according to the USDA. However, unlike bees, wasps do not have bodies covered with fuzzy hairs. Pollen sticks to the fuzzy hairs in bees, making them much more efficient at pollinating than wasps. Still, wasps get around and are especially important for pollinating figs and orchids.
Why Do Some Consider Wasps to be Heroic?
When the emerald ash borer was threatening $280 billion worth of trees, the U.S. Department of Agriculture went after them by releasing wasps, a natural predator of the pest. From 2007 through 2020, the USDA released more than eight million wasps in 30 states. A USDA study reported that the wasps killed up to 80 percent of the emerald ash borers.
How Do Wasp Bodies Compare to Other Insect Bodies?
Wasps have the same basic body as any insect:
- Two wings
- Six legs
- Two antennae
- An exoskeleton
A Call to Action
If you see even one wasp in your house and yard, you want to take action. If it is outside, you might decide to avoid a certain part of the yard and let the wasps do their thing. However, if they are in the house, you want to act immediately. Swat it, catch-and-remove it, or call an exterminator. But don’t delay.
If you have a large nest or infestation in an area that can’t be avoided, take action. Go after the nest as a DIY project, or hire a professional. If you have any reason to believe you might have an allergic reaction to wasp venom, take action. Prepare in case you ever get stung.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. Consult a professional exterminator for assistance if you encounter wasps on your property.
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