Boxelder Bugs – Identification, Dangers and Control Methods

Boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata) have troubled many homeowners since as early as 1935. Although they are not classified as a serious problem, they are a nuisance and can also let off a rather nasty smell when disturbed. While they share similar defensive strategies with stink bugs and look pretty similar to kissing bugs, they are not the same insects and getting rid of them requires a different approach. If you are having a problem with these pests at the moment (or have in the past), this guide will show you how to kill them and prevent them from becoming a major issue in the future. We will discuss a few easy to follow, DIY methods that you can use immediately as well as a couple of long-term suggestions. Let’s get started!

Boxelder Bugs – Are They Dangerous?

Boxelder bugs are not dangerous and despite a few isolated and unconfirmed reports on the internet, they do not bite humans. It’s very likely that those that have been “bitten” have been dealing with a different pest. However, please be assured that I am not suggesting a “bite test” to decide whether you are dealing with Boxelder bugs 😉 Fortunately, these bugs are fairly easy to find if you know what you are looking for.

For simple identification, keep in mind that an adult box elder bug is usually about half an inch long and while being mostly black, it has dark orange (sometimes red) lines along its thorax and wings. Their young however (usually called Nymphs), are much smaller and are easily visible due to their bright red outer coloring. As these young ones grow older, they develop the darker shades and within a short period, are ready to reproduce if the conditions are right.

Living Conditions, Diet and Life Cycle of Elder Bugs

Ideal Living Conditions: Boxelder bugs love the warmth and thus can often be found sunning themselves on building walls and other places that experience direct sunlight. If it’s cold outside, they are also known to venture indoors to disturb your peace and quiet.

They also congregate in areas that are a rich source of food and since they always need to have a source of food (otherwise they will die), they won’t stay inside for long. Even though they won’t stick around, it’s in your best interest to prevent them coming into your home and I will outline the steps to do this shortly.

Diet: These bugs are fluid feeders (they pierce plants and consume the juice for nutrients). Their favorite source of food is the seed pods that are found on the female boxelder tree. However, they are also often found on maple/ash trees (they eat the seeds) and even though it’s not their personal preference, they sometimes congregate around apple and peach trees. If you have your own fruit trees in your yard, keep an eye out for them as they can sometimes damage their produce.

Something to keep in mind is that these insects often swarm around the neighborhood, looking for food sources such as these. In other words, if you see them hanging around your garden even though you don’t have any of these food sources in your yard, they might have come from another yard in your area.

Life Cycle: Adult Boxelder bugs generally hibernate during winter. They tend to find shelter in tree trunks, in the walls or roofs of structurally damaged homes or even inside of family homes, especially in quiet areas such as the basement or attic. As the warmer months start to arrive, they begin to venture back into the world and start the search for food. After they receive sufficient nourishment, the female Boxelder bugs usually start reproducing after about 20 days and will lay her eggs in a place that has a readily available food source for when they hatch. Since she also wants to protect her young from the elements, these eggs usually land up under the bark of the tree and under leaves.

After a couple of days, the young nymphs will hatch and begin feeding on their surroundings. After only about 5-6 weeks, they will be fully formed elder bugs, ready to repeat the process once the conditions are right. For those that live in the US, the first part of the cycle usually starts in July and will end around September. Learning about this life cycle is important as it helps reinforce how important it is to deal with the infestation as quickly as possible otherwise you might face an even larger problem at a later stage.

Can These Bugs Cause Major Damage?

Picture of a box elder bugWhile they can leave unsightly excrement stains on walls (where they congregate to warm themselves up when the temperature drops), the only real damage they can do is to your fruit trees, if they decide it would be a suitable place to feed. However, remember that although they are known to eat fruit, their preference is towards maple and boxelder trees (the female, since it has the pods) and if there is one of those in your garden that will be their first stop. In saying that, the level of the damage (even to fruit, unless there is a massive number of them) is minimal and for most, they are just an irritation for home owners. As a result, many refer to them as nuisance pests. Based on some feedback from my readers, many have encouraged me to add that since these pests often travel in massive swarms, having a couple hundred sitting on your house wall is a bit gross. Although I haven’t had such a massive infestation before, I can imagine that it could cause damage to your personal pride 😉

How to Get Rid of Box Elder Bugs – 5 Easy Options to Kill Them Fast!

Green Tick For Elder Bugs Removal Steps While there must be hundreds of different treatment methods out there, for those of you that have read this blog for the last year or two will know that The Bug Squad only focuses on things that work while keeping things as affordable and that is exactly what we are going to do now. I urge you to choose the method that you can start to use immediately (I recommend trying the natural methods first) so that you can reaping the rewards for your effects as soon as possible. If you have any questions or are confused about a certain step, drop me a comment and I will always get back to you within about 24 hours!

Option 1: Laundry detergent (or dish soap) that is mixed with warm water, placed in a pressure sprayer (available at most garden stores) and used to physically target any visible bugs that you can find is very effective. Upon contact, this will start to break down their cell membranes and they will eventually die. Not very pretty but then again, neither is coating them with a layer of poison. 😉 The only problem with this method is that it won’t keep them away so you may need to do a couple repeat treatments to get rid of all of them. The recommended ratio for those interested is about a cup of soap per 4 liters of water, you can adjust the measure as per your needs.

Option 2: Diatomaceous earth (which is also great for killing fleas) can be used to combat Boxelder bugs. This powder is safe for humans (and even pets) as long as the food grade variety is purchased. Despite what you may have read online, DE is not really for outdoor use but rather use useful for killing these insects when they come into your home through various entrances (such as your window sill, cracks in the wall or floor, openings in the roof, etc.). As soon as they come into contact with it, they will die a couple of hours later due to hundreds of microscopic cuts. Again, not too great to think about but it gets the job done.

Option 3: Borax can be found in the cleaning aisle in most supermarkets and can be used the same way as the DE above. I prefer to use DE but that is my personal preference (and because it’s readily available in my corner of the world). If you cannot get Diatomaceous Earth in your area, I highly recommend giving borax a try as there are thousands that are using it for a variety of pests and based on my reader feedback, they are getting good results.

Option 4: A plain old vacuum cleaner can be used to get rid of Boxelder bugs inside the house. Yep that’s right! While you can use things like DE and borax if there are lots of them, usually it’s enough to just find the few that made it into your home and suck them up! Of course, your better option would have been to keep them out in the first place but we will discuss how to do that in a couple of moments. This option is usually used together with one of the other ones to make sure that these pests are killed both inside your house and out.

Option 5: Using insecticide for outdoor elderbug swarms is definitely an option. However, as you have just seen, it’s not the only option and while I have nothing against formal pesticides (they are often necessary), I highly recommend that you give a couple of the natural treatment methods a try first as they are affordable and are completely safe. Of course, the decision is yours and to aid those that want to use poisons to kill elder bugs, here are some tips:

Picture of an elder bug on milkweed

  1. Firstly, try and get a product with a low toxicity level to reduce the environmental impact
  2. The best time to use this insecticide is late summer so plan your schedule to maximize results.
  3. Keep the outdoor spray away from your plants and grass. Since pyrethroids based insecticide can potentially damage these fairly badly, it’s in your best interest to make sure none of it lands on your shrubs, flowers, grass, etc.
  4. Keep your pets away from any residual poison as if they consume any, it can be potentially deadly!
  5. Pyrethroid based insecticide sprays are very common for box elder bug control. Keep in mind that there is usually a certain type for outdoor perimeter treatment (usually a liquid spray) and another type for indoor treatment (usually an aerosol based deployment mechanism such as a fogger). Do not use outdoor sprays inside your home as they can be a potential health risk to you and your family. There are other active ingredients such as Deltamethrin, Tralomethrin, etc. that also work but I have found that Permethrin based ones work the best in my experience. If would like help with this, remember you can always contact your local exterminator.

Preventative Measures for Proactive Boxelder Bug Control

It’s always better to proactively prevent a problem then to continuously react to them when it actually happens and when it comes to keeping these pests out your house, this rule also applies. Here are a few easy tips that you can check and use to protect your home from a box elder bug invasion.

  1. Repair any cracks or openings in your walls, roof and other areas of your home.
  2. If you have an elderbox tree, take time each summer to rack up the fallen pods and to bag them so that they do not attract box elder beetles to your yard.
  3. Keep your garden neat and tidy. This includes clearing broken branches, sweeping up leaves, etc. Not only will this reduce the available shelter for elder bugs, it will also prevent other potential pest problems.
  4. If there are spaces that cannot be repaired, consider using a caulking or weather-stripping product to seal these areas. Pay special attention to cable holes (e.g. for antennas, etc.) as these are a common entry point for insects and are often overlooked. Basically any area that has an opening that’s larger then about half an inch may need your attention.

FAQ Icon I have had a number of people asking whether they should get rid of their box elder trees from their garden to keep these pests away. While this may solve the problem, the benefit of having the tree there usually outweighs the need to do so. This leaves you with a personal decision about what you want to do. I recommend trying the methods in this article to keep them under control and if you absolutely are failing to do so and have been for some time, removing the tree is definitely an option.

A Few Interesting Facts to Share With Your Friends

  1. Boxelder bugs leave a nasty stain on carpets when squashed so keep that in mind before you step on one!
  2. Adult Boxelder bugs can fly over a mile to find suitable feeding and nesting areas!
  3. Elder bugs can also release a nasty smell to ward off predators, much like a stink bug!
  4. Spiders typically avoid these pests due to their natural defense mechanisms!

In conclusion, Boxelder bugs are not to be feared. At worst, they are just a nuisance and degrade the appearance of your home due to them gathering in large numbers to warm themselves up. Remember, despite what you may have read or heard, they do not bite and hopefully after reading this article, you have a good idea about how to get rid of them. If you have any questions or would like to share your experience, please leave a comment below and don’t forget to share your support for The Bug Squad by sharing this guide with your friends. 🙂


  1. Avatar Jason says:

    Natasha, I have read thru all of this blog and have determined that we need a pro. We live in Portland Oregon and we have a problem. who can you recommend in Portland/beaverton Oregon?

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Jason, I have dropped you an email. Thanks!

  2. Avatar Kathryn Hill says:

    I have lived in a condo unit in Western New York for 22 years and just a few weeks ago I began to notice a terrible smell inside. Then I saw a total of 4 bugs in 2 days-they are box elder bugs. Haven’t seen any inside now for about a week. The management will have to find openings in the outside of the building and plug them up. They are obviously inside my walls and behind the baseboards. BUT, one by one all my rooms, closets and cupboards and coats have a terrible smell. I have bags of volcanic rock and DampRid activated charcoal that I have distributed throughout my place. There has been some improvement in some areas, but my belongings, clothes, furniture, etc. still stink and I don’t know what else to do inside.
    If the bugs are hiding and hibernating, why do they still send out that stench? I can’t find anything helpful on other web sites and will welcome any other suggestions you may have. Thanks.

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Kathryn! Honestly, I don’t think this has much to do with these bugs, I think there is something else happening here. After washing them and putting them back into your cupboard (presuming that they are bone dry), do they still smell? Maybe there is some moisture somewhere? Just some ideas, let me know.

    • Avatar Robin B says:

      You’re not crazy, Kathryn. I already knew that box elder bugs were under the siding–that didn’t bother me, so I let them be. Right after the first of the year, I noticed a bad smell in my entry room in the southwest corner of my house. Originally, I was afraid it had something to do with snow melting on the roof causing hidden moisture, but it only smelled during the day, then I noticed that it only smelled on sunny days. Now that I know BE bugs can make my house stink, I will be eliminating them. My house is only a year old and is ICF (insulated concrete forms–fairly air-tight) with vinyl siding, so I hope the garden spray method works.

      • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

        Hi Robin, thanks for sending Kathryn a comment, she should receive a notification 🙂

  3. Avatar James Jones says:

    Thanks for the info. My wife decoded that she needed wood chips from a tree trimmer for her flower beds and now we have been over taken with boxelders on the outside of the house.. I have been spraying them with poison and soap in my hose end sprayer. I still have the chips mounded in the yard would covering them help with this until I’m able to spread it?

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi James, yep that should definitely help. Sorry this response is a bit late, hope you came right!

  4. Avatar Corinna W says:

    Thanks Natasha!
    This is the first article I’ve read that didn’t promote the use of toxic chemicals or to call an exterminator (more toxic chemicals) I hope more people get your article before those others. Do you think Simple Green will work?

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Corinna! Thanks for your kind words! I must be honest and say that I do sometimes recommend an exterminator, but I am a firm believer in natural, DIY methods when at all possible. I havn’t tried that product before but please let me know, if it works well, I will let people know 🙂

  5. Avatar carmen L Bessette says:

    i have lots of box elder bugs in the house, can’t keep them out, vacuum several times during the day. How do you use the borax inside? i have a dog , so it can’t be anything harmful. I had blown insulation put in my house and they seemed to get worse after that.

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Carmen! Borax / food grade DE (both are effective) are safe. However, I recommend investing in some mesh netting until you get them under control. You could seal up the windows and at least get some peace. Then perhaps consider getting the outside treated (if there is an area they are congregating in). Hope that helps!

  6. Avatar Luke says:

    We have a terrible box elder bug issue at my own house. I’ve never heard of using the laundry detergent before! I will make sure to give it a try today.

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Luke! Awesome stuff, good luck!

  7. Avatar Scott says:

    All of one side of the house is covered with these things. Would like to try using the dish washing soap method but since we have vinyl siding not sure what this would do to it. Any thoughts?

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Scott! Try using DE and flea traps, both topics have articles on this blog, check it out.

  8. Avatar Sonya says:

    These bugs are awful. I noticed your article says they are simply a nuisance, but they DO kill plants. We had one if the trees they love in our yard, so we got rid of it. Shortly after, they started eating away my gorgeous lilies and killed them. Then they killed four of my beautiful house plants. Yes, they dont bite humans, but they sure kill plants. Also, they lay little brown/red eggs all along the window blinds, so I always make sure I spray those with dish detergent too.

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Sonya! That is true, I flipping hate them as well! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  9. Avatar Crystal Strietzel says:

    Hi. My name is crystal. I am pretty sure this is the bug we are dealing with. I live in Oregon and all of a sudden this summer they have taken over our yard. They haven’t and aren’t coming into our home but they are all over outside! They are driving me nuts! I’ve never had an issue with them before until this year. I cannot lay in my back yard and soak up sun without several constantly landing on me. They don’t bite but its obnoxious. Besides an outdoor bug control what else can I use outside??? I’ve tried repellent around where they dwell but it doesn’t seem to work. Help!!!

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Crystal! They must be congregating somewhere, perhaps in a nearby tree or something like that. Ideally, you need to find out where that is and have that area treated otherwise they won’t stop coming. Not the easiest of tasks but hope that helps you. Alternatively, an exterminator could sort it out quickly for you.

  10. Avatar Karen says:

    I first saw these pests a few years ago, read about how the weren’t terrible to have around so let them live! Big mistake!!!Now the ground moves with a layer of boxelder beetles. I have been out with soapy water and a sprayer for hour everyday for the last 3 weeks. I have made a dent in the infestation but am overwhelmed with the sheer number of them. I am ready for something with a residual effect to help me out. My advice….kill them when they first show up! These supposedly harmless bugs have ruined my flower garden and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight!

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Karen! Yeah they can multiply quickly hey! Sorry you have to deal with it, best of luck! If you need a quote for an exterminator to help you, let me know!

  11. Avatar Ashley says:

    Hi! I’m having a big problem with the boxelder bugs coming into my bedroom window. I can’t find any cracks or crevices, and they are usually coming out towards the top. Do you have any recommendations for sprays to use to prevent them from coming in?

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hey Ash! Your best bet is to calk up their entrances but since you cannot seem to find it, you could also use a pyrethroid based insecticide spray, specifically for indoor use. Hope that helps!

  12. Avatar tammy says:

    Last year they where all over my trailer instead of dealing with them this year if I use Borax will that solve the problem??

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Tammy, borax can help, else get a pro to come and help you, you can get free quotes from my blog 🙂

  13. Avatar Tony says:

    Hi Natasha,
    I stumbled upon your blog while researching similar characteristics between box elder bugs and stink bugs. In your article you say that the box elder doesn’t bite humans. While I agree with you that they don’t bite, I can speak from first hand experience that they can pack a wallop with their proboscis. Several falls ago I was wearing shorts on a warm fall day in Northern Illinois. I had a box elder land on my leg and immediately and unprovoked drive their proboscis into my leg. The pain was similar to a hornet sting and the mark lasted around two weeks. I have 100% confidence about the insect that caused it. I thought I would share this with you. Thanks, Tony C

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Tony, that is a good point, I will add it to the article, thank you 🙂

  14. Avatar Karen says:

    We live in Salt Lake City, Utah, and get swarms of Box Elder bugs that warm themselves on our white garage and porch. We also have flower beds with wood chip mulch, and a lot of English Ivy- all places they like to nest.
    If you can see places that the bugs have been nesting (lots of nymphs present) just place some bunched up burlap, and lightly mist it with water for a few days- the bugs will be attracted to it. THEN spray the bugs with dish detergent solution or bug killer. The bugs tend to get stuck in the burlap as they crawl around for shelter and moisture!
    It works wonders for garden areas (strawberries especially) where we mulch and the bugs like to shelter and nest.

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Karen! Thanks for the lovely suggestion, I really appreciate it 🙂

  15. Avatar Valery says:

    I have a invasion of these things in my strawberry patch and I do the “back to Eden” type of garden so I have inches of wood chips in my garden do you think the DE would take care of them without hurting the strawberries? We have always had issues with these bugs but this year they all seen to be in my strawberries and I’m not kidding I have a ton of them! And did I mention how much I despise box elder bugs! or do you have any other ideas for me? I just transplanted this whole patch because I got a weed in the old one I couldn’t get rid of so I have a lot of time and back breaking into it and I won’t stand by and watch box elders feast on it! Thanks

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hi Val! To be honest, I would recommend that you rather protect the strawberries from these bugs by using netting, etc. as DE could dry the fruit out, not something that you want. Make a simple netted area with some poles and that will keep them out (and other nasty airborne insects). Good luck!

  16. Avatar kathryn says:

    I have these bugs on the sunny outside corner of my house, and also, in the siding of the carport. The house has cedar vertical siding, so perfect for them to get in and out of! I have been spraying the odd ones with dish detergent and water, and I also have doused them with food grade diatomaceous earth ( Last Crawl is the brand I used) they started to crawl out and up the wall, they were covered with DE dust, but the by the time they were at the top, they were pretty much dead.I spent 2 days spraying them and dusting them with the D.E. powder, whenever any crawled out of the cracks in the siding, i was ruthless! I am pretty sure I have taken care o f the majority of these icky bugs….. for now. I coated the bottom of the gap between the siding on the carport and the structure, where they were probably hibernating. I am not sure if I got their eggs with the DE or not… but both methods are safe for all animals and plants, and were very cheap to use! For the inside of the house I sprinkled the DE powder in the window tracks where I frequently see them, and also under the baseboards in the room where the problem exists outside of, doused the gap with the DE so if they crawl out of the gap the DE will kill them eventually as they have to crawl through it to get in the room. I will keep you posted on how well I did in reducing the population!

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hey Kath! Thanks for the fantastic info you have shared, your experiences with those natural solutions will definitely be beneficial for my readers 🙂 I would appreciate the updates, thanks again!

      • Avatar Kathryn says:

        Just to update you on my Boxelder problem. I wrote before that I had used Diatomaceous earth in the main nesting area outside and I have dusted the baseboards in the problem rooms. I also put DE in the window tracks. it has almost been 2 weeks, and I have less than a dozen live bugs around that I can see. There has been a couple get in the house, but they die soon after as they have had contact with DE. I killed a healthy looking one the other day in the dining room, so will have another go with the DE this weekend. See if they have relocated. The DE managed to kill most of the bugs in the nest, and the great thing about it is that it keeps working, so if they crawl through the DE they too will die. I was impatient for an immediate kill, but the DE took care of them over a couple of hours. I am very happy with this solution, mainly because it is nontoxic, and safe for my pets.
        Any bug with an exoskeleton will have the same results. I highly recommend it!!!

        • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

          Hey Kathryn! Thanks for the feedback, glad it worked 🙂

  17. Avatar Will says:

    Thanks for the helpful info Natasha, you da Woman! One question, I know spiders don’t like them, but do boxelder bugs have any natural enemies that feed on them (bugs, birds, snakes…etc)?

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hey Will! Praying mantis and spiders are natural predators for this pest. Birds tend to stay away from them so unless you introduce those insects into your yard (definitely not recommended), rather just use the removal steps in this article 😉

  18. Avatar Garey Clark says:

    Nice Job Natasha ! We occasionally get calls about them in the fall.

    • Natasha Anderson Natasha Anderson says:

      Hey Garey! Thanks for your kind words and I am glad you found this guide useful! Its nice to see experts from the pest control industry participating with the community, hope to see you back soon! I have left your company website link for others to follow in-case they are local and need some assistance with elder bugs 🙂

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