Mealybugs on Orchids: 7 Remedies to Eliminate Them For Good

What’s the white stuff on my orchid leaves? Mealybugs look like white fuzz, elaborate cotton candy, or the result of a drunk spider trying to make its web.

Mealybugs are white insects 1/16 to 1/10 of an inch big (0.2 cm) that chew away at orchid tenders, concentrating on younger growths: any new roots, leaves, sheaths, and new buds. The younger the sprout on your orchid, the more hydrated the cells are, rich with minerals and nutrients. This is extremely attractive to mealybugs, and other insects and pests as well.

mealy orchid
Image Credit: “Mealybugs on a flower stem, Yogyakarta, 2014-10-31”
by Crisco 1492 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0Opens in a new tab. 6

Even though there are several different sub-species of mealybugs, they all infest orchids and chew on household plants.

So, there’s no need to identify which mealybug is on your orchid, because our goal is to kill them all.

What is the kind of mealybug that attacks orchids? A mealybug is an orchid hazard. There’s no other way to put it.  Its body is actually pink, not white. The impression that it’s white is because it’s coated in white, fuzz-like cotton all over its body. Wherever it goes, it leaves a sappy wax, which attracts ants.

The male mealybug will have wings and be a bit bigger. The purpose of the male is only for reproduction. For this reason, their lives are shorter than the females. I heard once that males don’t have mouths, since they have no use for them, but I find this hard to believe.

Females, on the other hand, are the ones that will destroy your orchid. They look like smaller, albino versions of a roly-poly with fuzz and two long antennas. Each female can lay over 600 eggs. (Actually, they aren’t eggs. A female births live young and doesn’t lay eggs.)

This is why a mealybug infestation is so hard to treat. If not observed and treated, within a week the orchid could be covered in mealy bugs.

mealy bug and aphids
“Aphids and mealybug destroyers” by Plant pests and diseases is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

Once an orchid is infested, even in the tinniest bit, it needs to be removed from the orchid collection as soon as possible.

Mealybugs transfer form one plant to another, not because they fly (the females don’t) but because the young mealybugs are windborne.

Since having a fan and circulating air is so important to orchid growth, mealybugs become a major problem—rapidly. Mealybugs also wander. The leave the orchid pot and crawl all over the shelves, humidity trays, and onto other orchids. They aren’t happy just eating at one place for the rest of their lives. (I can relate.) They add other orchids to their menu, too. Mealybugs also walk, crawl, run, scatter…or whatever they do… really fast.

Phalaenopsis are one of the orchids mealybugs prefer the most. Even though other orchids will also be infected, since their appetites are very vast, the Phals will be more infested then your other orchids.

You can find mealybugs in the crevices of the pedicles and peduncles. (Check out orchid anatomy in this article.) They love to be hidden and in hard to get locations for their own protection.

If the small crevices were the only problem, that could be easily fixed. Think a bit about your potting medium. Roots are just as tasty as new leaves, and being protected with bark, having water supply, and plenty of oxygen, the potting medium is the perfect place for mealybugs to live and reproduce.

Mealybugs also thrive on nitrogen, which is present in all fertilizers. Once the mealy bug digs in the potting medium, it’s best to throw away the entire potting medium and repot immediately. Don’t try to salvage it.

mealy bugs
“Mealybug” by incidencematrix is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When you’re orchid shopping and see one or two mealybugs, my suggestion is not to buy it. It isn’t a life-threatening problem for the orchid, but it’s just a lot of work. There’s always the risk of contaminating your other orchids too—too high of a risk in my opinion.

If you’re an experienced orchid grower or have had mealy bugs in the past with other household plants, you might give it a shot.

I understand—a good orchid is hard to pass by.

If the plant is covered in mealybugs, then kindly place the pot back down and alert the greenhouse. Sometimes with so many plants, they don’t have the time to look at one single plant carefully, and don’t realize there’s a problem.
In no circumstances, take that orchid home.

If you can see the mealybugs on the leaves, then count on having three times that many inside the roots. You certainly aren’t going to unpot the orchid before you buy it.
Walk away without regrets.

If you’re absolutely in love with the orchid, ask the greenhouse to reserve it for you. Pick it up at a later date when the mealybugs have been treated. This probably would be the best option, but still risky. You don’t know what the roots look like.

If mealybugs appear once your orchid is home, there are six home remedies that you can use to eliminate them. We will start with the easiest method, and work up from there. No matter what method you choose, repeat the process within a week, and again the week after that. Spores and “eggs” can be extremely hard to eliminate.

Whatever you do, act quickly.

Mealybugs reproduce faster than rabbits. In one week, you can go from what once was a healthy plant to a now death-stricken plant. Mealy bugs cause extreme leaf and flower deformity. Leaves wilt, never to return to their original state.

How To Rid Your Orchid of Mealy Bugs

The first few solutions are non-toxic and are safe for your orchid, children, and household pets. After these, toward the end of the list, I’ve included solutions that are quite toxic. Make sure you use precaution when working with them.

1. Isopropyl Alcohol 70%

The first method is very simple: get a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab. With the tip of the swab, remove all the mealy bugs manually. Don’t just remove them and throw them in the trash, because the spores are still airborne.

You have to kill them.

This method will not hurt the orchid.

Whatever you do, DON’T take a cotton ball, soak it in alcohol and swipe the leaves up and down, especially on the bottom-side. This is a spot-touch method. You still want you orchid to be able to breathe. Manually removing the mealybug manually is a bit time consuming, but necessary.

This method will work if your orchid has few visible mealybugs. Even if your orchid is infested with mealybugs, you still need to get the maximum number of adults off your plants. So, Isopropyl Alcohol 70% is your starting place. If you don’t have a bottle at home, click here to check the price at Amazon (Affiliate Link).Opens in a new tab.

2. Soap and Water

The second method you’ll want to choose is to make a diluted soapy solution and wash your plant. Mix three cups of liquid soap with one cup of water. You can use baby shampoo, which works very well. What you don’t want is harsh dish detergent that is made to remove grease and heavy, concentrated grease from cooking pans.

Mealybugs will come off when applied a strong jet of water directed at them, but that can be a bit cruel. A more sensitive solution is to take the orchid to the sink or bathtub and mist it down with this soapy solution.

Don’t wash it like you would a oily pan, but mist it with the soapy solution, concentrating where the mealybugs are. Rinse it off thoroughly after 20 minutes of soaking in soapy suds. You need to do this very often, almost every two to three days until all the mealybugs are gone.

Soap actually kills the mealybugs, but to make this work better, add a drop of rubbing alcohol to the solution. To your four-cup solution (three soap and one water) add half a cup of rubbing alcohol. Alcohol breaks down the waxy barrier that keeps the mealybug safe. Once the barrier is broken, the soap acts more efficiently.

Once you have taken the orchid out of its pot, rinse the roots well. Try to eliminate an of the sphagnum moss or broken-down bark parts. Rinse the roots longer than you would normally would.

3. Neem Oil

The third solution will require extra products, but this one is under US$ 10.00 and very easy to find. Neem oil is a mist that you spray on the entire orchid.

It doesn’t kill the orchid or the mealybugs. What?? Yes, that’s right.

It doesn’t kill the mealy bugs, but it interacts with their hormones, preventing larva and pupa to grow. It also interrupts reproduction. Once the neem oil kills off the parent generation, your problem is solved.

You need to reapply it after seven days to inhibit the growth any of the eggs that were missed during the first misting.Neem oil is not toxic for animal or plants, but the smell is not the best. It comes from the seeds of the neem tree, popular in India.

It has been used in traditional medicine and ever since 1960 has been introduced into modern botany.

Neem oil is great to have around, not only for mealybugs, but it also interrupts the life cycles of other orchid-destroying insects: aphids, mites and many others. You can check the price here (Affiliate Link).Opens in a new tab.

Neem Oil For Orchids

Neem Oil by SaferOpens in a new tab. 
(Affiliate Link)

4. Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth is a fine grade “fossil dust.” This solution is completely safe for animals, since the sharp edges are microscopic. Powder this dust on the top on the potting mix and leave it there. This is also a good preventive measure, to keep mealybugs away before they decide to crawl up your orchid.

The grounded rocks, shells, and other minerals form a fine, white powder: an attractive meal to mealybugs. Once ingested, Diatomaceous Earth shreds the insides of the insects. It also perforates the exoskeleton, making the mealybugs dehydrate.

Diatomaceous Earth  (Affiliate Link)

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth will kill anything that eats it, since it’s a powdery glass.

Honey bees, butterflies, and all the good insects that happen to be near and taste a bit of the powder will also die.

Keep that in mind when powdering. You don’t want to kill off good insects.

Yet, it is safe for larger animals and some brands even sell it as an additional cat food.
And you also don’t want razor sharp micro-knives inside your lungs. For this reason, you need to wear a mask when spraying/powdering your orchid. If possible, go outside to spray this powder on your orchid, and do so in a contained area or box. You can check the price on Amazon here (Affiliate Link).Opens in a new tab.

5. Lady Bugs

If you don’t want to use pesticides and other toxins to rid your mealybug problem, you can order ladybugs online. There is another beetle that is more mealybug appropriate, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, but I’m not a fan of insects… If I have to “buy a bug to kill a bug,” then at least let’s get a cute one. And we all agree that ladybugs are charming.

Release 2 to 8 ladybugs on each orchid that is infested. Since this method will take a few days, this shouldn’t be your primary method of eliminating mealybugs. It is better applied outside, where the ladybugs can keep all your other plants safe, too.

I personally haven’t used this method and, frankly, I doubt that I will. Since I keep my orchids inside in my home office, this is the least practical method in my opinion. You can check the price of Lady Bugs on this Amazon page (Affiliate Link).Opens in a new tab.

Don’t Stop Learning!

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Orchid Fertilization

Also, if you are looking for an orchid journal to keep your notes specifically about orchid care, check out my 2 solutions for that on this page. If note-keeping isn’t your thing, then there is a free excel spreadsheet that you can download. Click here for more information on how to do that.

If you subscribe to my newsletter, I will send you a 14-page guide on the main tips of orchid fertilizer. It is downloadable and you can print it out on your computer. I designed the guide to double up as a coloring book, just to make it fun.

6. Commercially Sold Insecticides

This might be your only resort if the infestation has grown too much. Insecticides need to be applied with extreme care and caution. When you go to your local nursery or greenhouse, ask if the insecticide is appropriate for orchids.

Mealybugs also love citrus fruit trees, and many insecticides made for killing mealy bugs work great on those sturdier plants. Orchids are a bit more sensitive, so keep that in mind when purchasing insecticides. This page about killing little orchid critters is a good start to understanding pesticides and insecticides.

 Thank you for reading this article, and I hope you find a quick, definite solution to get rid of your mealybugs.

If this article was any help, please comment below. Tell me your solutions to treating mealybugs and what has and hasn’t worked for you. I’m especially interested in knowing if anyone actually bought ladybugs and how that went. In any case, drop me a “hello” in the comments below just so I know you dropped by.

Happy Cultivating!

Signature Amanda Matthews

Amanda Matthews

Amanda Matthews is a theological professor, author, pastor, and a motivational speaker. She's passionate about spreading hope and teaching. Her hobbies include biking, cultivating orchids, and exploring nature trails. She now lives in Kansas, while raising her two children. To read more, go to

13 thoughts on “Mealybugs on Orchids: 7 Remedies to Eliminate Them For Good

    1. Hi Ted,

      As for Pahpiopedilums, there is a huge argument about whether Neem Oil works or just sinks up the place. I’ve seen both sides of the argument, people who swear it does wonders and others who say it does absolutely nothing. I guess it depends on the concentration of the emulsion and how new the product is. A short answer would be yes, you can use Neem Oil but you have to keep reapplying it until the infestation is over. This might take a while.


  1. Hi,

    Can mealy bugs live on old Spanish moss or green moss? I had mealy bugs on a lot of orchids I repotted. We finally threw them away, but we saved all the mosses and it just hit me could the mealy bugs be living on the moss. Thanks so much

    1. Hi Susan,

      To be honest, I really don’t know. My guess is that they could survive for a short time until they come into contact with live moss or live plant tissue. Since Spanish moss is pretty much dehydrated and dead, it wouldn’t provide the best conditions to grow in. If the Spanish moss has been in a closed bag for some time, then no. Again, this is my guess since I really haven’t tested that or seen it personally. Just to be safe, I’d remove all the Spanish moss and buy a new bag.

  2. Hi Amanda,
    How do I know if the mealybugs are in the roots and I need to repot? I caught 1-2 mealybugs on the leaves or stems of three of my orchids. I used the rubbing alcohol but I want to be sure I get anything I can’t see. Can the neem oil get into the potting media and destroy larvae?

    1. Hi Courtney,

      You can use a soak for 20 minutes and that should solve the problem if they are in the roots. Dilute it in water first. Mealybugs are a huge pain… I wish you the best.


  3. Hi Amanda! Thanks so much for this very helpful, well written article! I love orchids but I have the worst luck with them. My current orchid is beautiful and lasted longer than any that I’ve had before but I noticed a mealy bug today and upon further inspection, I think she also has spider mites so I’m going to try some of the remedies you suggested. I actually have some Diatomaceous Earth but didn’t ever think to use it on orchids so thank you for that tip! Not going to order lady bugs just yet but that’s very interesting and I’ll definitely let you know if I go that route in the future. Thanks again! Fingers crossed……..I’m off to save an orchid!

    — Alison

  4. I have been battling mealybugs on my lime tree and think I am winning. I didn’t know that they also like Orchids! Thank you for the great article…

  5. This is a great, succinct article. We moved to a new home with a collection of phalaenopsis orchids that I have had for years and never had a problem with mealy bugs but then introduced a new one that was clearly infected — I unfortunately didn’t notice at the nursery. After I noticed the mealy bugs, and did some Google research, I have been using q-tips doused with Isopropyl Alcohol 70% to remove the offenders from the new plant. Then the critters spread to the rest of my collection and I similarly remove them from each plant and what look like their spores or “eggs”. I now have isolated each plant. If they subsist, I will start spritzing, as well as soaking or possibly replacing the medium. I hate giving up any of my plants — and letting the critters win! — but some plants are quite old so it may just be time. Question — is there anything I can do in the event the spores or eggs have spread in the area (floors, stands, etc.) where I have them located? Thanks!

  6. I have had this problem with my Orchid but I didn’t have a clue what it was, I’m not very good at keeping houseplants of any description, well unless it’s an evergreen I seem to be ok with those but not anything that is supposed to flower, I lost my last Orchid but found a beautiful one so just had to have it, it has been stunning until I noticed this white ‘fluffy’ stuff on it, my friend has a mass of Orchids and does really well with hers but even she didn’t know what it was as has never seen it on any of hers, lucky lady, but after doing a visual search I found this site, brilliant information and I do have some Isopropyl I just need to find it but will hunt it out tomorrow.

    Many Thanks

  7. Have you tried sterilizing ochid compost bark by putting it with water in a plastic bag and microwaving?

  8. I used green lacewing eggs from Arbico organics for a thrip infestation. I highly recommend them. I only saw two lacewings and had mistakenly ordered 5x more than I needed. I think the extras escaped after consuming the thrips.

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