Home gardeners have long used homemade insecticidal soap for insect control and killing harmful garden bugs on plants. Over a century ago fish-oil soap was a common solution.
“Natural control” of pest is not something new in today’s green, eco-friendly world.
What Makes Insecticidal Soaps Work
So, what is insecticidal soap?
Some people believe there is a pest control secret to mixing a DIY insecticidal soap in water and spraying a plant.
Somehow, this helps remove bugs from your garden. Nope! A good blast of water can wash bugs away.
The secret (if one exists) is in the “soap” used to make the “insect killing soap.”
Use a true safer soap, like Dr Bonner’s Castile soap and not a dish detergent or dish soap – more on recommended soaps later.
The insect killer power comes from the potassium salts of fatty acids contained in the soap.
The fatty acids work effectively killing soft-bodied insects like aphids, mealybugs, leaf piercing spider mites, thrips, scale insects, and whiteflies.
Read more on: How To Get Rid of Aphid Infestations
These fatty acids dissolve or remove the garden insects cell membranes and their natural protective waxy coatings, causing death from excess water loss.
Potassium salts in the soaps are the most useful in making insecticidal sprays to control plant pest.
One of the most well-known potassium based insecticidal soap spray products is Safer Insecticidal Soap, which controls many plant bug pests found on houseplants, vegetables, and fruit.
I like to use Neem oil for plants. Another favorite is Diatomaceous Earth. In Australia, they make white oil insecticide.
Advantages of Garden Horticultural Soap
- When made and used correctly, organic insecticidal soap sprays are Eco-Friendly to people, plants, animals and the environment.
- No residual effect
- Effective against mealybugs, aphids, spider mites, and thrips (soft-bodied insects) when coming in direct contact
- Biodegradable and nontoxic (right soap required!)
- Safe for beneficial insects, bees, etc
- Perfect for organic gardening and OMRI listed.
How To Make Insecticidal Soap & Recipe?
Though there are garden soaps available to control insect pests, you can make your own insecticidal soap inexpensively.
Dishwashing detergent made for dishes may not work. The right soap is key.
The Soap – You want the real thing, pure soap which includes the active ingredient of fatty acids – the bug dissolver! Try to get a liquid soap to make mixing easier.
Look for an all-natural pure soap, like Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, found in many grocery stores or local natural-foods markets.
The soap should have no synthetic chemicals, degreasers or skin moisturizers. Experienced gardeners also recommend Naphtha soap.
The Water – Use Pure Water, distilled is good. If your tap water is good use it, but if you have hard water use bottled water instead.
The Sprayer – A clean spray bottle (1 quart) or a garden sprayer will work. It really depends on how much you need to apply. DO NOT USE a weed killer sprayer!
The Insecticidal Soap Mix:
Aim for 2% soap solution:
For a 1 Gallon Solution:
- Mix in 1 gallon of water 5 tablespoons of liquid soap
For a 1 Quart Solution:
- Mix in 1 quart of water 1 tablespoon of soap
Insecticide Soap Recipe Variations
You’ll always find variations in any homemade garden recipes or home-brewed formulas calling for more or less of some component.
Two consistent fundamentals in any of the various home-brewed insecticide formulas: stinky or hot tasting ingredients make the best insecticidal soap additions.
Cayenne pepper, red pepper, garlic, powerful herbs and extracts, cider vinegar and even a cooking oil.
No “set formulas” exist, this is all trial and error. What works for one may not work for someone else.
The rates below are all for 1 gallon of spray mix:
The Bug Chaser: Garlic or Pepper – Add 1 teaspoon of garlic and/or ground red pepper.
Powdery Mildew: Vinegar – 1 Teaspoon of cider vinegar
Make Spray Stick Longer: Cooking Oil – Add two tablespoons of light vegetable oil – corn, olive, grapeseed, canola, or safflower.
More On How To Kill Aphids with Soapy Water
Learn and Observe
A Word Of Caution for garden pest control: Learn, Observe and Always Test!
Some spays can do some serious damage to sensitive plant foliage. Always do a test spray in a small area on plants.
If the spray is too strong – dilute.
Try reducing the mix rate to a 1% solution if the spray concentrate is too harsh.
If you read the label, most commercial insecticidal soap sprays come in a 1% solution.
However, remember a diluted solution may be easier on the plants but less effective.
While outdoors, look for plants not bothered by insects… even nearby weeds.
You never know… blending some up to make some type of spray could be the new ingredient you’ve been looking for.
How To Tips On Applying Insecticide Soap
- Before spraying make sure to test the soap solution rate – see above
- Check the weather… Don’t spray on rainy days.
- For best results apply spray early in the day before 9:00 am or late in the afternoon after 5:00 pm, this allows the spray material to be more effective by staying wet longer on the plant.
- Shake well to keep the spray solution mixed and agitated well just before applying. Keep shaking as needed. If the solution sits, agitate before spraying.
- When applying a pesticide spray, remember the spray is not residual. The soap spray must cover and wet the pest, not just put a spray drop on the foliage.
- Take the time to completely cover the tops, underside of the leaf and stems with the spray mixture.
- Give aphids, mealybugs, or mites a good complete coating, making sure they are all wet! The spray is useless once dry.
- Apply to healthy and well-watered plants. Do not spray on stressed or wilted plants.
- Avoid spraying tender growth, blooming plants, and plants known to be sensitive to soap sprays – ferns, waxy leaf plants, some palms, azaleas, ivy, some vegetables like tomatoes to avoid problems.
- Repeat treatment of spray application in a week or so. Many pest problems require follow-up applications depending on the severity of the infestation.