So, you need to get rid of whiteflies on your houseplants. Fast.
In this complete guide, you’ll learn:
- Why you have whiteflies on your indoor plants
- DIY remedies to control whiteflies on your houseplants naturally
- How to stop whiteflies and prevent them from eating your plants
- And more!
By the end of this article, you should have everything you need to know to control, manage, and exterminate these pests.
Ask me if you have any questions by leaving a comment at the end of this page.
Feel free to bookmark this article for easy reference.
Sound good? Let’s protect your houseplants!
What’s a whitefly?
Whiteflies are exactly what they sound like- a tiny white fly that flutters away when approached.
They’re voracious little buggers that eat up leaves on both indoors and outdoor plants.
These pests can be destructive if ignored as they can rapidly multiply and produce nymphs by the dozens.
Whiteflies congregate on leaves, specifically under each leg to hide from predators and sunlight.
They suck out the vital sap from the leaves like a vampire and eventually wilts the leaf. This is why you may notice yellowing, drying, or leaves with holes on your houseplants.
They’re most dangerous towards seedling and smaller plants.
Established, large plants will sustain whitefly damage for an extended period. But small plants are accessible to being destroyed rather quickly by their hungry appetites.
What do whiteflies eat?
These pests eat a variety of herbs, ornamentals, veggies, and crops.
They’re not picky at all and will eat any leafy greens, especially young seedlings.
They prefer warm-weather veggies like:
- Pepper plants
- Sweet potatoes
But the list of the plants they eat is limitless. They’ll eat a variety of herbs, fruits, and flowers with no limits to their appetite.
Whiteflies are also known as:
- Greenhouse whitefly
- Citrus whitefly
- Silverleaf whiteflies
- Cabbage whitefly
- Giant whitefly
- Trialeurodes vaporariorum
Just as their name hints, whiteflies are tiny flying bugs that are white.
Not all whiteflies are 100% pure white for their color, as they come in a variety of different shades like grey, silver, and sometimes even transparent white.
But for the most part, they appear as tiny flies with visible legs in the front and a large wingspan that folds in the back.
Small, ovular shape
They’re triangular in shape and are found in large clusters on the undersides of leaves. They range from 1-2mm in length. They’re extremely small and can sneak through mesh or screens.
Whiteflies are a very common pest on both indoor and outdoor plants. They’re also easy to identify and not get confused with other pests because they fly off in a flurry when disturbed.
If you’ve ever been busy gardening and then touched a plant only to have a bunch of flies scatter, those are whiteflies. They’re everywhere and can appear in an explosion of tiny whiteflies.
They scatter when approached
They’re not like your typical garden pest where they escape as soon as you approach. Whiteflies stay on the leaf and continue to feed until the actual leaf they’re feeding off of is disturbed or touched.
So you could be pruning a plant and not notice them until you get to the specific leaf that they’re eating. Then that’s when you’ll be choking on them as they scatter.
Similar pests to whiteflies
The closest bugs that look similar to whiteflies are mealybugs and aphids.
Mealybugs are known for their white webbing that looks like spider webs. If you notice a ton of small white bugs and you have noticeable webs on the plant, you probably have mealybugs rather than whiteflies- even though they’re both white-colored pests.
Aphids are more easy to discern because they have large wings that are many times larger than whiteflies.
Aphid wings also fold upright like a ship sail whereas whitefly wings fold towards their rear end. Aphids are also many times larger and don’t send off in a flurry when disturbed.
They also come in a variety of colors like green, yellow, and orange. So it should be easy to tell whitefly vs. aphid.
The easiest way to tell if you have whiteflies is to notice these things.
How to tell if you have whiteflies
These bugs damage houseplants by extracting the nutritious juices found within your plant leaves.
Think of them like tiny vampires that will feast on the plant juice all day long until the leaf wither and wilt.
Whitefly damage is noticeable because the leaves they eat turn yellow and eventually drop from the indoor houseplant.
The same damage can occur outdoors as well, as they have no preference for indoor or outdoor plants- whiteflies will eat both.
Whitefly damage starts slowly but can bump up rapidly as the adults mate and give birth to more nymphs.
Adults and nymphs are both destructive and continue to eat leaves throughout their lifecycle. You need to act quickly as they can kill a houseplant within a few weeks if nothing is done to get rid of them.
Note that larger, sturdy plants tend to fare well against whiteflies compared to smaller house plants or seedlings. They can chow down and kill a smaller house plant quickly.
But a larger, established plant will take them much longer. Depending on what houseplants you keep indoors, the damage from whiteflies varies.
Whiteflies will extract plant juices and will leave behind their signature honeydew.
This is a sticky residue that attracts ants and will mold over time. If you notice a black sticky substance or visible damage, both of these are common symptoms of whiteflies.
Leaves will also turn pale or yellow. They may also wilt or fall off the plant. The overall growth of the plant may be stunted.
Other than directly seeing them feed on the bottom of leaves, you can check for honeydew. These substances are usually deposited when they’ve been feeding for quite some time on the leaf.
Whiteflies will leave eggs on the undersides of leaves. The eggs are visible to the naked eye and look like white, pale clusters scattered with no specific pattern.
They may be laid in a spiral pattern and also change color over time. You should remove these eggs by pruning the entire leaf and dip it into a container of soapy water to kill them.
Adult females can lay over 400 eggs which only have a short incubation time. The eggs may take anywhere from a week to a month to hatch.
Whiteflies are visible to the naked eye. They look exactly like their name implies.
From above, they have an ovular shape and can be seen walking in random patterns all over leaves.
They can be found feeding on the underside where the leaf veins are exposed and visible but can be seen crawling on stems and flowers also.
This is their signature evasion technique and what they’re known for- other than their voracious and dangerous appetite!
These pests escape in a flurry of white bugs when the leaf they’re eating is disturbed.
If you’ve ever tried to water or prune your indoor plants that are infested, you’ll see them fly off in every direction like an explosion of tiny butterflies.
Some owners never notice they have these bugs until they move their houseplant and disturb the pests. Then they finally see just how many flies they have and are alarmed by the numbers!
Thankfully, they take a long time to kill large houseplants.
And once you get rid of them from sapping your plant juices, your house plants will be much healthier.
Whitefly life cycle
Whiteflies begin as nymphs that feed on plant matter.
They overwinter when the cold season approaches on their host plant. Adult females then mate and deposit eggs in the spring.
Anywhere from 200-400 eggs are laid on a chosen host plant’s leaves. They’re deposited in a spiral pattern on upper leaves. After 1-2 weeks, the eggs hatch and the nymphs emerge.
They’re called “crawlers” and will move from the egg and flatten themselves to eat leaves.
They molt through a few instars and don’t move. Pupae form and young adults emerge after a week. Whiteflies can go from egg to adult in just 25 days depending on the temperature.
When are whiteflies active?
Most species of whiteflies are active during the daytime (diurnal), though there are some nocturnal species.
They reproduce throughout the year and can become a nuisance in hot climates which means a faster reproduction cycle. They can also overwinter so the cold doesn’t kill them.
They’re most apparent during spring to summer when the weather gets hot. They can be found both on outdoor plants and houseplants. Whiteflies are also a common pest that lives in greenhouses.
What causes whiteflies?
There are a few reasons why you have whiteflies:
- Plant stress
- Wrong plant for the climate
- Wrong hardiness zone
- Excessive use of fertilizers
- Failure to quarantine new plants
- Soil transfers
- Entry into the home through screens or mesh
- Transfer of infested plants, herbs, flowers, or vegetables
Why do my houseplants have whiteflies?
There’s really no “exact” cause of whiteflies.
They eat leafy greens. If you provide them their food source, all it takes is a few adults to mate and you’ll have a whole colony of whiteflies soon enough.
These pests aren’t picky at all.
Do whiteflies bite?
Whiteflies don’t harm humans. They are not known to bite, sting, or transmit diseases.
Even though they have piercing mouthparts, but they’re not used to breaking human skin. They only use their piercing mouths for sucking up plant juices from leaves.
So you don’t need to be worried about being bitten by whiteflies in your houseplants. They’re not interested in human skin. But the fresh leaves of a young plant? Definitely.
Do whiteflies live in the soil?
Whiteflies don’t live in the soil. They live on the undersides of fresh leaves on their host plant.
Although you may come across a few whiteflies crawling on your soil surface, they’re probably just in search of food.
These whiteflies will make their way up back onto the host plant and feed on the leaves. They may have fallen off the leaf or just happened to land on the soil.
Note that soil can transfer whiteflies to new plants.
Although they don’t live in the soil, they can be caught in it from farms and other packing plants which may transfer them to your area.
They may have been caught and looped into the soil. This is especially true for larvae which can end up in new packages of soil since they can’t fly. Or eggs that were trapped in the soil also.
Where do whiteflies live?
Whiteflies spend most of their time on their host plants.
Adults have developed wingspans and are capable of flight, but this is rarely used to randomly migrate between plants.
Rather, they fly to find new host plants to deposit eggs on. The nymph whiteflies don’t ever leave their host plant. They’ll continue to feed on the leaves until they become adults.
Then they’ll mate and find a new plant to feed off of. Nymphs also will remain on the host plant even during the cold season (winter). Whiteflies can overwinter on the underside of leaves, so the cold doesn’t kill them.
What temperature kills whiteflies?
Whiteflies are capable of overwintering on leaves even in extreme cold.
Unless you plan on using heat to kill them (which may harm your plant), you should depend on other DIY remedies rather than cold frost as this an ineffective technique to get rid of them.
Where do whiteflies come from?
Whiteflies come from various sources, but it usually involves some method of transporting infested plants or substrate to a non-infested area.
The most common sources of whiteflies are the following:
If you recently bought a new plant from the store or nursery without quarantining first, this can introduce pests to your existing plants.
You should always quarantine plants that are foreign to your home or garden for at least two weeks before transplanting them.
They can be infested and have many hidden bugs that won’t surface or show damage for days. The soil can also be a harbor for additional bugs.
If you bought new substrate or soil that’s contaminated with whiteflies, worms, or eggs of other bugs, this can easily be the reason why you have new pests you’ve never seen before.
Even store-bought soil that’s packaged can be contaminated straight from the farm it came from. Or bugs can have made their way into the soil package through holes, rips, tears, or just chewing through the plastic!
This is why you should never buy soil that’s been discounted because of damaged packaging.
Cracks and crevices
Whiteflies can also be native to your area and they can simply sneak their way into your home through a crack.
Damaged window screenings, open doors, crevices around your weatherstripping- the possibilities are endless.
Any source of entry can be a possible way for a whitefly to enter your house and eat your indoor plants. Since these bugs are tiny, they can make their way through some barriers.
Transporting plants from the outdoors into your home can introduce these pests to your houseplants.
Since they feed naturally on a variety of foliage (herbs, fruits, vegetables, etc.), they can be transported to your home and then fly off the plant in search of other plants to eat.
This isn’t limited to just plant matter though. Any object you bring in from the outside can be a possible vessel.
Things like garden gloves, weed whackers, aprons, hats, shoes, and even wood from your yard can all be targets.
How to get rid of whiteflies on indoor plants naturally
Here are some home remedies you can use to control whiteflies in your houseplants without dangerous chemicals.
These are natural and safe for plants. And most are safe for humans and pets.
Of course, you’ll want to do your research before partaking in any DIY remedy.
Will dish soap kill whiteflies?
You can use a DIY recipe for the soapy water to make an insecticidal soap.
This is one of the most popular home remedies for whiteflies on plants and will kill the little white bugs.
The water kills the whiteflies instantly as it drowns them in bubbles of dish detergent. You can also use organic soap if you’re worried about keeping your houseplants organic (herbs and veggies).
How to make your own whitefly spray
Add 8 drops of dish soap to 1 liter of warm water and allow the mixture to settle. Then pour some into a spray bottle and use it directly on your planned leaves.
The infected plants should take well to the soap, but if you notice damage, dilute the spray by using more water or less soap.
Test the soap on a not obvious leaf first- such as one that’s already damaged if you don’t want to kill a healthy leaf. The only problem with this is that you may notice damage but don’t know where it’s coming from. So this is why you should use it on a new leaf.
How to use the spray
Spray down a leaf until it’s saturated with soap and then leave it alone. You want to cover the entire leaf as a safety measure to test how much the plant can take.
After you spray, check if you notice damage from the soap 2 days later after spraying. If no further damage has occurred, then it should be safe for the whole plant. If it’s still green, you’re good to go.
Cover the plant in dish soap to kill the whiteflies. Rinse the plant after you spray to remove the dead bugs as they can attract other pests.
Why dish soap?
Dish soap is one of the most effective techniques to control whiteflies. The recipe is cheap and you already have the things you need at home. Reapply the spray every other day until the whiteflies are gone.
You should be able to fully get rid of them and exterminate the rest of the nymphs within a few weeks. You can also adjust the dosage as needed. Quick, easy, and cheap!
Note to only spray the underside of leaves. Whiteflies don’t eat the top part and you’ll be blocking the plant from receiving natural light.
Will vinegar kill whiteflies?
Vinegar is one another effective home remedy for whiteflies on your plants. You can buy pure vinegar.
Dilute it in equal parts water and spray it on your houseplants to kill whiteflies.
You can adjust the concentration by using more or less of each part of the flies that aren’t being killed or if the plant is burned. Be sure to test on a small part first before spraying the entirety of the plant.
Spray some neem oil
Neem oil is a natural essential oil that you can use to kill whiteflies and keep bugs away.
It has a lasting residual effect so you don’t have to constantly spray it over and over again.
And it can be used both as a natural pesticide to kill whiteflies or as whitefly prevention because of the lasting scent that sticks to the plant leaves.
The little white bugs on your plants are no match for neem oil.
Neem oil can be bought at most horticulture stores. Buy a bottle and add 1 teaspoon to 1 liter of water. Also, add 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap.
You may be wondering “why add dish soap?” if the neem oil is the pesticide.
Neem oil vs. dish soap
The dish soap helps the neem oil stick to the leaves of the plant. It’s optional but highly recommended if you don’t want to keep spraying the oil repeatedly.
But the real power is in the neem oil. Also, spray only the underside of leaves to avoid blocking photosynthesis.
The water helps dilute the mixture so it’s not too concentrated to prevent plant burn.
Add all three of the ingredients together into a spray bottle.
And then test it on a small leaf of your houseplant. Wait 2 days and check for any burning or damage. If you notice some burning, use more water or less neem oil.
Otherwise, go ahead and spray the entire plant with the mixture. The neem oil will stick to the leaves and kill any whitefly nymphs and adults.
The first few times you spray, be sure to rinse off the dead whiteflies from your leaves. Leaving them there will attract other pests like ants.
Also, don’t use neem oil on houseplants that are directly in the sun. The oil traps heat and this can overheat and dehydrate the plant.
Reapply every few days until you notice the whiteflies are gone.
Hot pepper wax
Pepper wax is another effective DIY solution.
You can buy this spray at most stores. Get a natural or organic one. Use as directed.
The pepper wax burns the whiteflies and has a lasting residual effect to keep them off your plants.
This oil can be useful to smother whiteflies and kill eggs and nymphs. You can buy this oil at stores.
Opt for an organic or natural version and use it as directed.
Prune damaged leaves
While it may sound obvious, keeping your plant leaves pruned can be a quick way to control a whitefly population that’s out of control.
You can remove leaves that are eaten or damaged or have visible whitefly adults or nymphs.
Use a pair of pruners and trim the leaves and toss them into a trash bag. Don’t bother trying to trap the flies- they’ll escape as soon as you touch the leaf to cut it off.
Pruning helps remove whitefly eggs and nymphs that have yet to emerge wings.
You can dunk the trimmed leaves into a bowl of rubbing alcohol or dish soap/water mixture to kill the whitefly eggs and nymphs.
Sticky traps are a quick solution that works relatively well and don’t harm your plants.
If you’re busy (who isn’t?) and don’t have time to manage whiteflies on your indoor plants, use these traps.
You can buy them from hardware stores and they’re commonly called “whitefly traps” or “whitefly tape.”
They come in both a hanging sticky trap and a tape form. Either one works.
Choose accordingly to your plant:
- If you have a small house plant that’s close to the soil, use the tape.
- If you have a taller houseplant that’s elevated from the soil, use sticky traps.
The tape is easy to use. You can just stick it around the plant stem and across the soil from one side of the planter to the other. Stick it horizontally.
Any whiteflies that come across the soil or land on the strip will get stuck to it and perish. Use it as the package directs.
Yellow sticky traps
The sticky traps are usually tied to a piece of yarn that you hang from branches.
This is perfect for taller plants. Find areas where you notice a lot of whiteflies or are dense with foliage and hang a trap there. Use as directed.
The trap will pick up whiteflies that come across it and you can just leave it there to kill them passively. You don’t have to do anything to control them which will save you a ton of time.
The only drawback to sticky traps is that they don’t get rid of the source of the problem. Not all the whiteflies are dumb enough to fly into the trap.
Thus, there will always be some that stay behind and mate, lay eggs, and produce more nymphs. Sticky traps can help reduce the population, but will rarely actually completely exterminate them.
However, they’re usually safe for plants, non-toxic, and are super cheap. You should use them in conjunction with another pest control technique but not rely solely on sticky traps.
Just like sticky traps, you can also buy sticky stakes.
These are just small stakes that you stick directly into the plant soil. When flies come across the stakes, they get stuck.
These are especially useful for indoor plants that expand horizontally and have a lot of ground cover rather than taller plants.
Manual removal by vacuum
While it sounds crazy and ineffective, vacuums can be very useful against escaping whiteflies.
Use a shop vac or a hose attachment to a traditional vacuum and suck up any whiteflies from the plant.
As soon as you power on the vacuum, place the hose near the leaves with flies. They’ll scatter. Suck them up as they fly away.
This will help you get rid of whiteflies in your potted plants. The vacuum hose can suck out flies on the rim of the pot which makes it easy to remove them.
You can also combine vacuuming and neem oil for a double-powerful method of exterminating and repelling!
Use a hose
You can use a strong hose to blast them off with water.
Take your houseplant outdoors and spray it with a hose. This will make them scatter and leave the plant.
After they leave, spray with neem oil or soap water. This will help keep the flies off your plants since they coat the leaves. Neem oil has a residue that can repel them for some time.
Soapy water also does the same. This will make it hard for them to leave eggs or et the leaves.
Spray the undersides of leaves since that’s where they feed. You also don’t want to block photosynthesis. Never spray with water or essential oils/soaps during the day.
Attract whitefly predators
Some natural predators will eat whiteflies without hesitation.
The trick is to find out which one of them is native to your area and research how to attract that predator.
Some of the most common predators of whiteflies are:
- Pirate bugs
- Damsel bugs
- Phytoseiid mites
- Big-eyed bugs
- Green lacewings
Of course, since you’re dealing with an indoor plant, you have two options:
Use a mini greenhouse
Buy a miniature greenhouse and release the predators into the contained environment and let them eat the whiteflies.
You’d place your houseplant in the greenhouse and then release the predator eggs or nymphs.
Over time, they’ll stop the flies. Once you notice there are no more, you can release the predators outdoors if they’re not an invasive species and then put your house plant back to its regular locations.
This is useful for making sure you kill every egg since they’ll scavenge the plant.
Move your plants outdoors
The other option is to put your houseplant outdoors in partial shade. If you have these native predators in your yard and know how to attract them, do whatever it takes to get them to your infested plant.
Take it outdoors and put it somewhere that is in reach of the predators. They’ll land on your houseplant and eat the whiteflies.
Over time, this should eventually get rid of all the eggs, nymphs, and adults.
Companion planting is the act of pairing plants that are susceptible to pest damage with another plant that repels them.
This is a safe and natural technique that’s widely used among farmers and professional gardeners.
All you need is to add a new plant (be sure to quarantine first) to your infested plants by placing it nearby. Since the whiteflies are eating your houseplants, you’ll need a companion plant that works indoors.
You can check out plants like nasturtiums, zinnias, pineapple sage, hummingbird brush, or bee balm. Mints, parsley, cilantro, onion, or any other strong-smelling or aromatic plants can be used.
Whiteflies shy away from the strong-smelling foliage so you can use this as a natural repellent to deter them.
Use aluminum reflective mulch and repel whiteflies
Use aluminum reflective mulch on your plants to stop whiteflies from infesting them by challenging their sense of direction.
The reflective nature of the reflective mulch makes it hard to locate the host plant. You can buy reflective aluminum mulch at most hardware stores or nurseries. Use as directed.
Reflective or silver mulching has long been a DIY remedy for whiteflies. Using it indoors can help if you have plants that are directly under sunlight.
How do I keep whiteflies off my plants?
Whiteflies are a persistent pest that can be difficult to keep away from your indoor house plants.
Even after you think you’ve gotten rid of them, just a few adults can breed and lay dozens of eggs. Then they hatch into another swarm of tiny flies that eat up your plant leaves.
This is why it’s important to not only take measures to kill them but also set up repellents to prevent further whiteflies from coming back.
How to stop them permanently
Okay, you can’t really stop them permanently, but you can get pretty darn close just by doing basic TLC.
Here are some steps to take to stop whiteflies permanently:
- Use a combination of DIY home remedies and set up repellents simultaneously
- Use soap sprays, neem oil, and other natural remedies first
- Set up sticky traps, sticky stakes, and other repellents to keep them away
- Don’t get lazy- constantly monitor your houseplants for further whiteflies
- Check leaves for eggs and nymphs
- Prune your plants and remove leaves that are wilted
- Always quarantine new plants and soil
- Never transport outdoor plants into your home without checking them for pests first.
Seeing whiteflies in the house can be managed by using these best practices. You can get rid of the tiny whiteflies from your home.
These tips should help you stop future whiteflies. Combined with regular maintenance and basic TLC, you can completely eradicate these pests from your plants for good.
Remember that it just takes some effort and the key is to try different things and see what works. And then keep doing it until the pests are completely eradicated.
Here are some references you may find useful:
- Whitefly – Wikipedia
- Whiteflies Management Guidelines–UC IPM
- Whitefly – outdoors – Missouri Botanical Garden
Did you get rid of all the whiteflies on your houseplants?
That’s all I have for you.
By now, you should have everything you need to know to get started on saving your houseplants from whiteflies.
It takes patience and consistency. But just keep it up and you can get rid of those buggers. They’re not easy to control and will fight you to extract those precious leave sap!
Use some of the techniques here and see what works for you. Then scale it up!
If you have any questions, just post a comment and I’ll check it out and get back to you.
Let me know if you got some use out of this article. If you did, consider telling a friend who may also be dealing with whiteflies!
Thanks for reading.
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.