An adult spotted lanternfly. Photo by Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
When insect pests invade your garden or landscape, Penn State Extension cautions against the use of home remedies that often include household items such as dish soap, vinegar, salt, boric acid, vegetable oil, garlic, chili/cayenne peppers, etc. These suggestions, often found on the internet, may have the potential to harm humans, pets, and plants, do not come with precise directions, may not be effective, and their use can violate federal law. Spotted lanternfly is now invading people’s backyards and crawling on homes, cars, and decks. Some people are suggesting the use of home remedies to treat these populations and we caution strongly against this. It is very important to understand that these home remedies have not been tested against spotted lanternfly and their use can be both unsafe and illegal.
Registered pesticides are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and must go through extensive testing to scientifically support that the product does what it claims and is safe when used according to the label directions. These products have a detailed label that include an EPA Registration Number, how to apply it, what it can be used on, and what precautions must be taken (wearing gloves or goggles, do not use near water sources, etc.). It also includes basic first aid information if needed, and how to store and dispose of the product. Reading the label is of utmost importance in using pesticides safely. In contrast, home remedies provide very little detailed information, potentially putting you and your family at risk.
Pesticide products are toxic as they are intended to control a pest. However, recognize that all products have a toxicity level, even water. When choosing a pesticide, start with the least toxic product that can solve the problem or is recommended for use; if the appropriate level of control is not achieved, move to a stronger pesticide. The majority of pesticides available to consumers have a Caution or Warning label on them, meaning they are slightly to moderately toxic to humans. However, any pesticide regardless of its toxicity, can be dangerous if not used according to its label.
Because home remedies use products that may already be in your home, some people assume they are safer. For example, a common home remedy uses dish detergent or antibacterial soap mixed with other products to control insects on plants. These products may contain additives for the following purposes: surfactant, solvent, pH adjuster, cleaning enhancer, opacifier (not transparent), viscosity (thickness) adjuster, preservative, colorant, fragrance, product stabilizer, antibacterial agent, and foaming agent. Products suggested to be combined in these home remedies may include additives that could harm the environment. The dish detergent label does not provide any directions on how to use it on plants to control insects, and whether it might harm beneficial insects (such as ladybugs) or the environment. Spraying home remedies that contain dish detergent on plants on a sunny day can injure the plant by burning its leaves.
Home remedies often lack specific mix or use rates or identify how often to use it. Not using enough may not control the pest, while using too much may be harmful to the environment. They also lack information on the use for specific pests or plants. Insects go through several life cycle stages, with some stages being more vulnerable to control than others. You need to know what pest and what life stage you are targeting and where the pesticide can be used. Just because it may be safe on flowers does not mean it is safe for fruit and vegetable plants.
Handling some of these home remedies can be harmful to humans. Pepper sprays can be very potent if it gets on your skin or in your eyes. Exposure to boric acid can cause health effects, including death, in humans and animals. How and where you store these home remedies is also an issue. Curious kids and pets, and even adults, can be accidentally exposed to something in a container that has no label or first aid instructions. Another issue to consider is the process of preparing the home remedies. Some of these remedies require cooking and letting the mixture sit. This raises concerns regarding safety in using cookware and utensils that will also be used to prepare food and ensuring children, pets, or wildlife cannot access them. Fumes that could be released while either mixing several products together or during cooking could be dangerous to breathe and be irritating to your eyes and skin.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) are two major laws that regulate pesticides. Using pesticide products in ways not listed on their product labels is against the law. For a pesticide to be legally applied under FIFRA, it must either be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency or have an official exemption from the requirements. In particular, it is very important to not use home remedies on food crops or livestock used for food. Using products in ways that are not listed on their labels, even around your own home and yard, is never a good idea and can have unintended consequences as described earlier.
When researching information to find out the best way to manage pests in your home or garden, go to reputable sources, such as Penn State Extension. Information on spotted lanternfly from Penn State can be found at the extension's Spotted Lanternfly website. At that website, you can find information about identifying spotted lanternfly, attending local meetings, locating the quarantine area, and managing spotted lanternfly. Methods to control spotted lanternfly that do not involve the use of chemicals include tree banding and host removal. When infestations are severe, the use of an insecticide may be needed, and several options are provided, including a few organic products. However, no home remedies have been approved for use on spotted lanternfly. Furthermore, milkweed has been suggested to deter or kill spotted lanternfly, but no data has supported this claim. Other notions suggest that lavender oil repels spotted lanternfly while spearmint oil attracts them. Both products are expensive to apply and illegal to use in this manner. Remember, spotted lanternfly does not bite, sting, or cause any structural damage to your home. If spotted lanternflies are crawling around your home or yard, they have likely found a plant or tree nearby to feed on, such as tree-of-heaven or black walnut. Treating the food source with labeled insecticides approved for this use is currently the most effective way to remove spotted lanternfly from your property.
Homemade Pesticides. Government of Canada. July 22, 2016.
Leach, Heather, David Biddinger, and Greg Krawczyk. Spotted Lanternfly Management for Homeowners . June 2018.
Lizotte, Erin. Are Homemade Pesticides Legal? Michigan State University Extension. March 7, 2017.