How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs and Prevent Them From Coming Around

by Stacey

By Stacey Kelleher

Boxelder bugs are common household pests that live in and feed on outdoor trees during the warmer months. During the colder months, they seek refuge from the freezing temperatures in homes, garages, and other warm structures.

While boxelder bugs are relatively harmless, they can stain your furnishings, and when moved or killed, they produce a strong, unpleasant odor. Learn how to identify, remove, and prevent these pests with our handy how-to guide for getting rid of boxelder bugs.

boxelder bug on wood surface

Photo via Shutterstock

What Are Boxelder Bugs?

Boxelder bugs are nuisance insects that are from the same family as stink bugs and cicadas. Like their insect relative the stink bug, boxelder bugs give off a rotten scent when they are crushed.

Adult boxelder bugs are around ½ inches in length. Their bodies appear elongated and flattened, and they have orange-reddish markings on their backs. Their wings lay compact and flat to their bodies, overlapping to form an “X.”

Adult boxelders feed on seeds and plants from spring into early summer, and start the mating process a few weeks later. They lay their eggs on female, seed-bearing boxelder trees. (That’s where the insects get their name.) The adults continue feeding on a few preferred trees until the fall, when the insects start searching for protection from the cold. 

Why Are There Boxelder Bugs in My Home?

During the summer months, you may not even notice boxelder bugs because they live outdoors. It’s when temperatures begin to drop in the fall that you may see large groups of them congregating near cracks and openings in your home. 

If they can, they’ll come inside and make themselves right at home. They much prefer to be warm inside than to weather the frigid winter outside. You might catch the bugs in attics, walls, and other warm, insulated spaces. 

Boxelder bugs are relatively inactive throughout the winter, resuming activity once spring has arrived. That’s when they’ll look for an exit to go back outside, gravitating to sunny spots like windows and doors. And if they can’t find a way out, they'll remain trapped in your home. 

How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs in Your Home

While boxelder bugs won’t harm people or pets, the idea of hunkering down for the winter with hundreds of insects is not very appealing.

Vacuuming live and dead boxelder bugs throughout your home is the simplest and most effective way to remove them. It’s preferred over sweeping because moving them without containing them will only make them defensive and more likely to release a scent. 

Here’s a clever and sanitary way to collect boxelder bugs before they travel down into your vacuum canister.

Tools and Materials Needed: 

  • Vacuum cleaner with extendable wand attachment 
  • Nylon stocking 
  • Rubber band
  • Liquid dish soap (optional)

Step 1: Secure the Stocking in the Vacuum 

Take a nylon stocking and slip the foot into the vacuum wand. Secure the opening of the stocking around the end of the wand with a rubber band.

Step 2: Vacuum the Bugs 

Vacuum up any live or dead boxelder bugs you see throughout your home. Don’t forget to check attics, crawlspaces, closets, and garages.

Step 3: Remove the Stocking and Dispose of the Bugs 

Slip off the rubber band and remove the stocking now full of boxelder bugs. Knot the top of the stocking so they cannot escape. You can either release the bugs back outside or dip the stocking into soapy water before tossing it in the garbage.

What About Insecticides?

Insecticides generally aren’t recommended for boxelder bugs living in your home—they are really no more effective than vacuuming and disposing of the pest.

bag of diatomaceous earth

Photo via Wendi @ H2OBungalow

How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs Outdoors With Diatomaceous Earth

Eradicating boxelder bugs on trees close to your home can help prevent them from entering your home uninvited for the winter. Here are two safe and effective ways to get rid of boxelder bugs on trees outside your home. It’s best to tackle these preventative measures in the fall before the bugs look for a warm spot to hibernate in.

Diatomaceous earth is an organic powder made of the fossilized remains of microalgae. This powder is harmless to humans and pets, but lethal to boxelder bugs.

Tools and Materials Needed: 

Step 1: Put on Safety Gear 

Diatomaceous earth is non-toxic, but the dust can irritate your eyes and nose, so it’s best to wear goggles and gloves before getting started.

Step 2: Spread Powder Near Trees

Fill a duster or scoop with diatomaceous earth, following the recommended amounts listed in the package. Spread the powder around the base of any boxelder, maple, and ash trees near your home. 

Step 3: Spread Powder Near Home

Next, spread the powder around the perimeter of your home, focusing on areas near windows, doors, cracks, and other points of entry. Within a few hours of contact, the diatomaceous earth will penetrate the boxelder bugs’ exoskeletons to dehydrate and kill them.

How to Get Rid of Outdoor Boxelder Bugs With Insecticide

If you’re looking for a quick solution, you can use insecticides to kill off boxelder bugs outside. Here’s how to safely do so.

Tools and Materials Needed: 

Step 1: Put on Safety Gear

It’s a good idea to wear gloves and goggles anytime you’re working with products containing chemicals. 

Step 2: Spray Trees and Other Areas of Infestation 

From at least 12 inches away, spray host trees and any other outdoor surfaces where boxelder bugs gravitate to, particularly exterior walls, window screens, and storage areas. 

Step 3: Wait

Give the insecticide at least two hours to dry before letting any children or pets near the areas where it was sprayed. The product listed in our tools and materials list kills boxelder bugs for weeks after the initial application. 

Step 4: Reapply if Necessary 

If several weeks go by and boxelder bugs start to come back, reapply the insecticide using Steps 1-3. 

sealing window with caulk gun

Photo via Shutterstock

How to Prevent Boxelder Bugs

Like many things in life, prevention is the best way to avoid unwanted problems. That includes boxelder bugs. Making your home and yard less hospitable can often send them packing well before it gets cold and they try to enter your home.

Clean With Citrus 

Boxelder bugs are not fans of dish soap or citrus. Add a few drops of citrus essential oil and/or dish soap to your favorite multi-surface cleaning spray before wiping down windows, doors, baseboards, and other areas of your home to repel the bugs this winter. 

Decorate With Mums 

The scent of mums is another one that boxelder bugs are not too fond of (but luckily, humans are). Planting mums near doors, garages, and in window boxes can discourage the bugs from entering your home.

Seal Up Points of Entry 

Sealing up cracks and crevices is an essential step to keep not only boxelder bugs, but other pests such as stink bugs, carpenter ants, and mice from getting in. Take the time to walk around your property and look carefully to see where they can access the indoors. Common entry points for boxelder bugs include:

Remove Host Trees 

A more drastic option is to remove the trees that boxelder bugs feed on, which are typically female, pod-bearing boxelder, ash, and maple trees (an arborist can help you identify any trees in question). Although getting rid of these trees may seem like the only option for a frustrated homeowner, it’s not always foolproof. Because boxelder bugs can fly a distance of several miles, they can actually migrate to your property from another tree in your neighborhood.

While the sight of hundreds of boxelder bugs in or around your home is not a pleasant one, if you have boxelder bugs, there is no need to panic. They are actually among the least destructive pests that can invade your property. And taking steps to repel them outside and sealing up openings so they can’t get inside is fairly easy to do.

Have you encountered boxelder bugs in your home or yard? Share your experience below!

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 1 comment
  • Gigi Gigi on May 17, 2023

    I have one tree ... a boxelder. It's a very old tree I don't want to cut down. Some summers are worse than others. I keep a spray bottle of Dawn mixed with water and a little vinegar. That takes care of them on my warm sunny porch. They're weird ... they sense when I'm near, so I have to sneak up on them. There have been years when they've made indoors a living hell.