How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs and Keep Them From Invading Your House

Hundreds of these insects can find their way inside for the winter. Here's how to keep the pests at bay.

As the weather cools off in fall, boxelder bugs start looking for a cozy spot to spend the winter, like your home, garage, or garden shed. These black-and-red insects are mostly harmless as far as indoor pests go, but they can still be a nuisance when they sneak their way inside. Like their fellow fall pest, the brown marmorated stink bug, boxelder bugs like to congregate in large numbers. And though they won't cause any structural damage, hundreds of insects sharing your space isn't exactly an appealing idea.

Here's how to get rid of boxelder bugs in your home and keep them out this fall.

close up of black and orange boxelder bug
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1. Seal Up Cracks Around Doors and Windows

The best way to defend your home against boxelder bugs (and several other indoor pests) is to prevent them from coming inside in the first place. Make sure to weather-strip your doors and windows and seal up any other apparent cracks or holes you find on the outside of your home, like torn window screens and openings around vents.

Boxelder bugs aren't very big, so you likely won't be able to completely seal your house against them, but blocking off a few obvious entry points can help reduce the number that get inside.

2. Vacuum, Don't Squash the Bugs

IIt's tempting to squash these pests when you find them in your house, but that can cause more problems you don't want to deal with. When squished, their orange-ish innards can leave stains on your walls, carpet, and flooring. Boxelder bugs can also release an unpleasant smell when crushed or otherwise disturbed. That odor helps them avoid predators outdoors, but it's unpleasant to have it linger in your living room.

Vacuuming up boxelder bugs is a less messy solution. Just make sure to empty your vacuum into a sealed bag immediately, in case any of the bugs survived the trip, and try to crawl out. You can also try sweeping them back outside to reduce indoor populations.

3. Skip the Pesticides

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, using pesticides should be the last resort for how to get rid of boxelder bugs. Over time, boxelder bugs have developed a resistance to many standard formulas. That means you won't have much success using insecticides against them. Plus, these chemicals could also harm pets, small children, and non-target insects such as pollinators.

    4. Make a Soap Spray

    A simple solution made from soap and water will kill boxelder bugs. Add a tablespoon or so of liquid dishwashing soap to a spray bottle full of water and shake gently to combine. Spray the mixture directly on any bugs you see. The soap breaks down the bugs' outer shells, so they dehydrate and die. If possible, you can also try knocking the insects into a bucket of soapy water, where they'll drown.

    5. Avoid Boxelder Trees

    As their name suggests, these bugs love boxelder trees, a weedy type of maple native to North America. The seed-bearing female boxelder trees are a big draw for these insects, so if you've got one or more in your yard, you could replace it with a tree that's less attractive to these pests.

    According to the University of Idaho, replacing these trees may reduce their numbers only slightly. The adults can travel a long way, so even a boxelder tree hundreds of yards away could host bugs that find their way to your house. Raking and disposing of the seeds that appear in spring could help cut down on the problem, though, because young boxelder bugs typically survive on fallen seeds early in the year.

    Remember, boxelder bugs may be annoying, but they won't hurt you or damage your home. Keep your vacuum cleaner and soap spray handy for any pests you spot. When spring arrives, these insects will make their way outside again, where they belong.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    • Where are boxelder bugs a problem?

      Boxelder bugs are native to the western portions of the United States but can also be found in the eastern United States and Canada. They love warm areas, so they are drawn to structures with sunny southern or western exposure. They seek out cracks, gaps, and holes in walls, trees, and rocks to overwinter in large groups. And of course—as their name suggests—they are drawn to boxelder trees but can also be found in maple or ash trees. 

    • Are boxelder bugs harmful to pets?

      Boxelder bugs are not poisonous and do not sting, so they are not harmful to pets. They do, however, taste quite nasty and may cause drooling, indigestion, vomiting, or diarrhea if ingested. These symptoms should clear up in a few hours and are unlikely to have a lasting effect. Boxelder bugs are not known to bite, but they are capable of inflicting tiny puncture wounds (like a mosquito bite) on the skin if provoked. 

    • How long do boxelder bugs live?

      Boxelder bugs live for approximately one year. Their eggs typically hatch in the spring (usually around April) and adult boxelder bugs will mature over the winter months and then lay eggs and die the following spring. 

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