The Tick and Mosquito Project


How to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder Bugs are well-known in many parts of the country as a harmless but annoying pest.  The small black and red/orange bugs are invasive, and can multiply with impressive speed and effectiveness.  They are considered a nuisance for homeowners, which is why many people try to contain or eliminate them.

Boxelder bugs are persistent.  We have known brand new homes to have boxelder bugs entering through cracks and crevices, even though the home is almost entirely sealed.

This article will give you ideas on how best to do that.

The Best Way to Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs

Before we go in to a bit of detail about boxelder bugs, we will get right to the point.  There are a few proven ways of eliminating the boxelder bug, each with its own pros and cons.  The good news is that you don’t have to be content with these little critters crawling around.

  • Try to Eliminate Boxelder Bugs Inside Outside With Dish Soap

    Yes, sometimes the most effective pest control methods are the simplest, using ingredients you already have in your home.

    We often see boxelder bugs breeding on boxelder or maple trees, or crawling around a warm surface on a sunny day such as house siding or a trash bin.  In these cases, we like to mix one part of seventh generation dish soap with about four parts tap water.  Put it in a clear, heavy-duty spray bottle (like this one on Amazon), and spray away directly at the bugs.  The fact that the dish soap is relatively safe means you are not harming your environment, and it also should not stain the surfaces you are spraying – in fact, it just might

    box elder bugs many
    If you find a place where the bugs are congregating, spray it.

    clean them!  What you will find is that within seconds of spraying them, they will be stunned and die.  The best way to do this is to find a surface that has dozens of the bugs on it, and then hit it quickly.

  • Use an Insecticide

    If you feel that your job warrants a professional product, then consider an insecticide like the one from Buggslayer (on Amazon).  This product is designed for stink bug use by homeowners.  While stink bugs and boxelder bugs are a little different, the chemical will work very effectively on boxelder bugs.  This is a bit more harsh chemical, and unlike the home potion advised above, we would be careful when using this indoors and around people.  For both boxelder and stink bugs, you might want to focus on areas around windows, near doors, and around foundations of homes.  This chemical has active ingredients of permethrin, butoxide, and tetramethrin.  These agents are found in many chemicals, but we always err on the side of being safe and careful with them.

  • Seal Windows and Doors

    Having windows and doors that seal tightly is a key way of keeping boxelder bugs out of your home.  The bugs burrow their way into small cracks and crevices, and end up inside your walls.  We have seen relatively new homes, or those with recent window upgrades, get their share of boxelder bugs….. so it is most definitely a problem that is not just in old houses.  Still, having good screens, caulk in major gaps, and taking similar preventative measures is a good way to reduce the number of bugs that get inside.  How to you seal?  Just use a tube of window caulk (find on Amazon), with a simple caulk gun.  A great do-it-yourself job.  Just be careful on the ladders.

  • Vacuum them Up

    When we see boxelder bugs inside a house, one of our favorite things to do is vacuum them up.  If you have a hose attachment on your vacuum, this technique works great.  You aren’t fixing the core issue, but you reducing the number inside. This is a great thing to do a couple times a day during the high season, and we will admit that it can be incredibly satisfying.  We have also noticed special bug vacuums on the market, like this one on Amazon.  Although we have not used them first-hand, it seems like they are a good idea. You don’t need much suction to vacuum up a bug, and these devices are priced low enough so it won’t break the bank.

  • Get Rid of the Sources

    Boxelder bugs love maple and boxelder trees (hence the name).  We would never want anyone to go out and cut a majestic old sugar maple tree – but a boxelder tree that is growing near a house could probably be removed.  Keeping boxelder trees at bay within up to 100 feet of your house will likely have a major impact on the number of bugs you see each fall. These trees have a reputation of growing in poor form, creating many seedlings nearby, and toppling over in storms.  In fact, many cities and municipalities view Boxelder tree removal very favorably.  You will not only be doing your landscape a favor by getting rid of them, but you will also see the number of boxelder bugs drop significantly.

When Do Boxelder Bugs Invade?

caulk windows
Sealing gaps around windows is a good practice for many reasons, including to keep bugs out

We see boxelder bug infestations mainly during two times of the year:  The first is when the spring thaw occurs and the bugs are waking up, and looking for food and mates.  This usually occurs sometime between March and early May, but on warm days you might even notice activity in February.  What is happening is that the bugs actually found a warm nook or crevasse of a home back in the fall (unbeknownst to you!), when they were finding a place to winter.  They probably sense that the weather is warming up enough to begin to make their way back outside.

The second time people really notice the bugs is in fall, when the bugs are particularly active and trying to find a safe place for the winter, they can be extremely active.  This spike of activity is usually the largest of the year, and is concentrated from a period of late September to early November. They tend to be around all year long, though, and you will often see them active even on warm, sunny days in the winter, if they can find a warm surface.

Are Boxelder Bugs Harmful?

No.  They do not bite, and they do not spread any known disease to humans or pets.  Unlike mosquitoes, known to be disease vectors, boxelder bugs are purely a nuisance.  They are annoying but do not transmit diseases.

The one thing that boxelder bugs can mildly damage are plants and trees. While the level of damage pales in comparison to other insects like the elm bark beetle or the emerald ash borer, if feeding is intense the bug can cause foliage to be pale and can stunt the growth of some plants.  All part of nature, though, and nothing to really take action for.

There have been several reports of pets eating boxelder bugs and then vomiting.  Boxelder bugs are not believed to be poisonous, so there are likely no major health risks to your pet.  It is simply a matter that a boxelder bug carries a very foul taste that can make your pet gag.  If your cat or dog eats a boxelder bug, be on the lookout for a possible vomiting spell.

Do Boxelder Bugs Bite?

No, with a caveat.  Boxelder bugs are naturally prone to biting humans.  Unlike a tick or a wasp, getting bitten by a boxelder bug is not something you should need to worry about.  However, on occasion, a boxelder bug will bit in a defensive way.  For example, if you saw a boxelder bug and picked it up in your fingers, it may feel threatened enough to give you a very lite bite.  However, they are not built in a way to hurt humans, they can’t “sting” and their rare bite has no venom.

What is the Difference Between Stink Bugs and Boxelder Bugs?

A plain old spray bottle, with a mix of soap and water in it, is the simplest defense against boxelder bugs.

Boxelder bugs and Stink bugs are different, although they have similar behaviors.  They both like to get into a home through windows and doors, they reproduce like crazy, and they both tend to be particularly active in the spring (peaking in April) and fall (peaking in October).  The boxelder bug is more colorful, though, with its longer body and reddish-orange accents.  Stink bugs tend to be gray with slightly yellow accents and can be about twice as large.  As you could guess by their name, Stink Bugs are able to transmit an odor (smells like a pungent coriander herb) as a natural defense mechanism, to prevent being eaten by predators. Stink Bugs are also known to bite, although they are believed to do so accidentally. They are typically not aggressive toward humans.  Neither the Boxelder Bug or Stink Bug are harmful, they are just pesky nuisances.

As for geographic range, the stink bug tends to be found most heavily in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, especially in a line from Pennsylvania down to Virginia, as well as in the surrounding states.  Then, there is another strong population that seems to be growing in the Pacific Northwest.  They can live up to 8 months, so that gives them plenty of time to grow their range.

The range for boxelder bugs, on the other hand, is really a swath of the US that following the Ohio River, Mississippi River, and Missouri River valleys and surrounding areas.  They are most commonly found in a triangle from Pennsylvania to Texas to Montana.  They have not made their way West of the Rockies yet, but we expect they could.

Why are Boxelder Bugs Attracted to Houses?

It is always interesting when a pest that is designed to live its life outside, in the wild, is so attracted to someone’s (your) home.  But it happens, especially in the fall and spring.

The reason boxelder bugs like your house is two-fold.  First, they love the warmth that your house provides on a cool fall day.  The siding on your house retains some heat from the sun, and this feels great to the bugs. They will often congregate on the sunny side of your home exterior, bathing themselves in the warmth that the siding is giving off.  Then, they will find their way in, because the inside of your house is even warmer.  You might notice that they love sunny windows because of the heat.

But once inside, boxelder bugs realize that the nooks and crevices in your house are great places for them to winter and lay their eggs.  That is why the boxelder bug activity seems to increase so much just as it is getting cold outside.  The bugs you see inside in the spring probably spent the winter as eggs inside your walls.

Do Boxelder Bugs Bite?

One of the most common questions we get every April and October is if Boxelder Bugs bite.  The short answer is not usually, they are not biters.  They certainly do not sting, so you don’t have to worry about that.  However, they have been known to give a little bite defensively at times.  Purely a self-defense move, and rare.  But they are not going around looking for people to bite or sting.

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