If you’ve ever dealt with pests in your garden, you’ve probably tried any number of supposedly effective home remedies that don’t actually work and just harm your plant, leaving the insects fat and happy. Or, you may have tried something more extreme by going down the route of toxic pesticides and been shocked to find out that these chemicals linger on your vegetables. The good news is, there is an easy solution for soft-bodied pests that requires only two ingredients and is totally natural. Read on to find out more about insecticidal soap and how you can make your own.
What is insecticidal soap?
Insecticidal soap is a solution, either storebought or homemade, that is used to help eradicate small, soft-bodied pests such as aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, and mealybugs and keep them from eating or destroying your plants.
Though aphids don’t look all that intimidating, they can quickly destroy your vegetables, flowers, and houseplants. Keep an eye out for these nasty pests and use insecticidal soap to eradicate them as soon as possible.
It works by penetrating the insect’s outer layer and drying them out, killing them and causing cell collapse. Other bugs may be suffocated by the spray, which could help eradicate some hard-shelled pests such as scale insects. Remember, beetles and caterpillars won’t be fazed by insecticidal soap so if you are experiencing issues with these chewing insects, you’ll want to consider other options.
Benefits of insecticidal soap
Unlike pesticides, insecticidal soap is totally safe and non-toxic, which makes it a desirable option for many organic gardeners or for vegetable gardens where harmful chemicals could leach into your food. It is also a more gentle option that will target the pests and leave your plant foliage untouched.
Not only does insecticidal soap work to get rid of a variety of insects, but it also works on pretty much any plant. Houseplant, fruit, vegetable, flower. You name it. Insecticidal soap is safe for a huge variety of garden dwellers and will also be one of the first things you reach for when you see those little spider mites taking up residence in your indoor palm.
Palms are an incredibly popular houseplant but they are often subject to spider mites. Inspect your palm regularly and if you notice any white specks, webbing, or borning leaves, treat it with insecticidal soap immediately.
Considering that insecticidal soap uses a tiny amount of soap and water, you aren’t going to be paying much for it, no matter how many insects you need to kill. One bottle of soap could last you years, which makes this a totally economical and effective way to keep your plants pest-free and healthy.
Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap
If you’re not a fan of the DIY option and just want a quick, easy solution to your pest problem, Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap is a wonderful choice. It is safe, non-toxic and will kill aphids, earwigs, grasshoppers, harlequin bugs, leafhoppers, mealybugs, and mites and keep your plants safe.
DIY Insecticidal Soap
This easy soap can be thrown together in just a few minutes and is a great, non-toxic option for keeping pests at bay.
What you need:
- Soap. While regular dishwashing soap will work in a pinch, the best soap to use as a natural insecticide is a pure soap with fatty acids that will work to eradicate bugs and will mix easily with water. Purse Castille soap is a great, inexpensive choice.
- Water. Tap water should get the job done but if you have water that is loaded with hard mineral deposits, you may want to use distilled water instead to avoid harming your plants with soap scum buildup.
Make enough insecticidal soap to treat all of your affected plants. Adjust the recipe and the size of your spray bottle as needed.
- Spray bottle. Your bottle size will vary depending on what you need your insecticidal soap for. If you have a few plants with pest problems then you will want to make a decent amount, but otherwise, one medium-size spray bottle should be enough. You can easily put together another batch if you need to.
What to do:
- Step 1: For a one-quart spray bottle, simply fill it up with warm water.
- Step 2: Add 1 tablespoon of soap. (This amount will need to be adjusted depending on the size of the batch but a good measurement to go off of is 1 tablespoon of soap for every quart of water)
- Step 3: Screw on the lid and shake to mix well.
While the above recipe is certainly effective and will eradicate most soft-bodied pests, many gardeners find that adding a little something extra can be helpful in dealing with particularly nasty infestations. Here are a few ingredients you can add to your insecticidal spray if you need to increase its potency:
- 1 tsp garlic or 1 tsp crushed red pepper (helps repel chewing insects because of the pungent flavor)
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar (helps with powdery mildew)
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil (helps the spray stick longer)
Olive oil or vegetable oil can be added to your soap to help increase its effectiveness and help it stick to the leaves. Vegetable oil is often cheaper than olive oil and is just useful so it may be the better choice.
Many gardeners also make insecticidal soap by combining one cup of vegetable or olive oil with one tablespoon of soap and then mixing two teaspoons of this soap and oil concoction into one cup of warm water. Try both methods to see which works best for you.
How do you use it?
Like carpet cleaner, you always want to test a patch before you spray insecticidal soap over your entire garden. Who knows, you may have made the solution too strong, or your plants could react badly to it. In any case, spray it on a few leaves and let it sit for at least 24 hours. If it hasn’t damaged the leaves at all, (look for browning, wilting, spots, or wrinkling) you are cleared to continue using it.
Remember, you should never use insecticidal soap on stressed out, wilted, or newly transplanted plants as it could prevent them from recovering.
Test your spray on a small part of the plant and inspect it the next day for any damage.
Always shake the bottle well before using your spray, as the soap and water may have naturally separated. Cover the entire affected plant in a generous coating of insecticidal spray, getting the undersides of the leaves as well as the top soaked in soapy water. Be sure that you aren’t using it on a rainy day as it could just wash right off before it has a chance to work. However, it is also important that you don’t do it at a time when the sun is beating down on your plant as it could lead to burning and sun damage. Stick to an early morning or evening application.
Unfortunately, insecticidal soap is not a magic solution that will immediately get rid of all your pest problems. Check your plant about a week after application and reapply if needed. Continue weekly reapplication until the pests are gone.