How to get rid of gnats

© Ezume Images / Fotolia

© Ezume Images / Fotolia

Even if you have a good strategy and prevention program, you will probably have to deal with a gnat situation sometime whether it is in your home, garage, or place of business. A gnat problem can be a real pain. Here are some of the ways gnats can cost you time, money, and comfort and what to do about it.

Make Sure to Have an Insect Strategy for Outdoor Gatherings

© W.Scott / Fotolia

© W.Scott / Fotolia

Citronella Fuel and Tiki Torches for Large Gatherings

When it comes to large gatherings, it is imperative to have enough torches for the size of party you want. Always make sure torches are well secured. If you have a choice, put them in a well-graveled area, or you can buy bags of sand to surround them with. This can be a fun and exciting decoration that helps your guests be more comfortable and keep the party going longer.

Plan Some Screened off Areas

There are many different screened structures you can purchase to set up for an outdoor event. A lot of people have these; you may be able to borrow some from friends or use a rental place to get larger tents. If your guests are not comfortable, they are not going to want to stay around so having some space that is screened can be a major help in orchestrating a successful event.

Bug Spray

If you want to have a pleasant camping trip, day at the park, or backyard party, then don’t forget to have plenty of bug spray on hand. Itchy kids are never fun, and adults are not going to be happy standing around and fighting off gnats. Choose a sensitive skin formula just to play it safe if you are offering it up to a lot of people.

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats and fruit flies are DIFFERENT

Fungus gnats (Sciaridae spp.) are the most common houseplant pest, and are distinguished from Fruit flies (Drosophila spp.) because of their darker color. While fruit flies hang out primarily near fruit, rotten food and funky fridges, you’ll find fungus gnats in wet plant soil, in sewer areas, and in household drains.

They’re also attracted to CO2 (carbon dioxide) which is why they fly up right in your face.

Fungus gnat adults are about 1/8-inch long, spindly looking flies with long legs and long, thin antennae. They resemble tiny mosquitoes more than they do common flies. These tiny, black insects seem innocuous enough as they hop all over your plants.

But, while the adults rarely cause any problems, the young larvae will feed on the fine root hairs of your plants, causing them to lose vigor and develop yellow leaves. They can also tunnel into the base of cuttings or plant stems, which can be devastating for succulents, leeks, or onion seedlings in particular.

Fungus gnats search out moist soil in which to lay their eggs. The eggs are about 1/100 inch in length and laid in clusters. Larvae are translucent gray to white worms, about 1/4 inch long, with shiny black heads. These insects can infest a crop from wet, algae-covered areas in the garden, from contaminated potting soil or by flying short distances from plant to plant.

The easiest way to prevent fungus gnats is to water your plants properly. Overwatering, which causes your potting mix to remain moist for extended periods of time, attracts fungus gnats which seek out a steady supply of fungi, algae, and decaying plant matter for their larvae to eat.

If you allow the soil to dry out between watering, you can disrupt the availability of food for the fungus gnat, and make your soil less attractive to them.


Darn those tiny lumberjacks!

Not only will controlling your watering help prevent fungus gnats, it will prevent the second most common problem for indoor gardeners: Damping off.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than saying goodnight to a tray full of robust, little seedlings and waking up to find them all knocked down and laying dead on the soil, as if felled by tiny lumberjacks in the night.

This condition is caused by several fungi such as Phtophtora and Pythium. These fungi are often carried by fungus gnats, and live at the soil line, where air meets the moist soil surface.

When your potting soil is kept continuously moist by overwatering, and your seedling roots are weakened by fungus gnat larvae, the damping-off fungi can easily infect your seedlings.

The telltale symptom is a constricted stem, just at or below the soil surface. Once seedlings are infected, they tend to fall over dead, and must be replanted. There is no cure for damping off; it can only be prevented.

Potting mixes containing compost or peat moss seem to be particularly affected by fungus gnats and damping off. If the problem is reoccurring for you, think about switching from a peat-based mix to one that only contains perlite or vermiculite.

Because fungus gnats have a quick life cycle, it is important to reduce their numbers by using methods that control them both as adults and as larvae. Whether you choose physical controls and/or biological controls, there are a variety of affordable, safe choices for ridding your indoor garden of pesky fungus gnats and their plant-killing larvae.

Physical Controls

Sand – Controls larvae Adults lay their eggs in the top 1/4 inch of moist soil. If you dress the top of your soil with a 1/4–1/2 inch of sand, it will drain quickly and often confuse the adults into thinking the soil is dry. You can use colorful decorator sand and have fun with this!

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Vinegar – Control adults A good trap for both fungus gnats, and especially fruit flies, is to put out baby food jars filled halfway with apple cider vinegar or cheap beer with a couple drops of dish soap added to break the surface tension. Once you’ve filled the jars, screw on the lids, and poke several holes into them large enough for fungus gnats to enter.

Place these jars in areas where you are having problems with either fungus gnats or fruit flies, and they will dive into the vinegar and drown. Strain and reuse the vinegar until you have gained control of them.

Potato slices – Controls larvae Slice raw potatoes into 1-inch by 1-inch by 1/4-inch pieces. Place the slices next to each other on the surface of your potting media to attract fungus gnat larvae. Leave the potato slices in place for at least 4 hours before looking under them. (Be prepared to be grossed out a bit.)

Once you have seen just how bad the problem is, replace the potato slices every day or two to catch and dispose of as many larvae as you can, and consider adding additional control measures.

Note the HORIZONTAL orientation of the trap

Sticky Traps – Controls adults very effectively Make your own sticky trap by smearing Vaseline or Tanglefoot on a 4″x6″ piece of bright yellow cardstock, and place the card horizontally just above the surface of your potting media, where it will catch the adults as they leap from the soil. Set another trap vertically to catch incoming gnats, whiteflies, thrips, and more.

I often lay these traps on the edges of pots, or make little holders out of old, bent forks to hold them horizontally or vertically, as needed. Where to find pre-made yellow sticky traps and holders online.

Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth – Controls larvae Food grade diatomaceous earth is another effective treatment for fungus gnats. Diatomaceous earth (DE) is mineralized fossil dust that is both natural and non-toxic to the environment. Make sure you get food grade diatomaceous earth—not pool grade, which is not pure enough for use around food gardens and pets.

Always wear a simple dust mask when working with DE: Inhaling any kind of dust is never a good idea.

DE contains microscopic shards of silica that physically shred any insect that walks through them, therefore it will not work in hydroponic gardens. But if you mix some into the top layer of infested soil—or better yet, into your potting mix before planting—it will kill any gnat larvae (and adults) that come in contact with it, as if they were crawling through crushed glass.

DE works the same way to kill fleas, bedbugs, slugs and other insects too, so don’t use DE to control fungus gnats in your worm bins. (Poor worms!) Some people eat DE therapeutically to kill intestinal parasites. Where to find food grade diatomaceous earth online.

What Causes Gnats?

Why do you have a gnat infestation in the first place? And why do they seem to be attracted to your face? Yes, gnats love to fly in your face.

Scent has a lot to do with it. Perfume, body lotion and even the laundry detergent you use to wash your clothes can attract gnats. These tiny bugs are attracted to sweet and/or floral scents, depending on the type of gnat.

Dark-winged fungus gnat on flower bud on purple background.Fungus gnats are in your home because of, well, fungus. More often than not, the problem is a house plant (or two) with overly-moist soil.

Other species of gnats bugs are attracted to body heat, and some are attracted to moisture – which can include the mucous around your eyes and nose (gross).

If you have fruit or vegetables lying around uncovered in your home, you may be attracting gnats this way. Houseplants and fresh flowers are other attractants. These flies are also attracted to rotting garbage.

Read more about Gnats

What About the Gnats Outside My Home?

If you have gnats hanging around outside your home, there is something in your yard that’s attracting them. This may be a fruit tree or your vegetable garden. Flowers may also attract them.

If you’re over-watering your flowers or lawn, fungus and mold (as well as the moisture) may be attracting them.

Some gnats are also attracted to light, so your outdoor lights may be luring them in.

What Causes Fruit Flies?Single fruit fly on the white.

What attracts fruit flies? You guessed it – fruit. Have you ever taken home a ripe cantaloupe or bunch of bananas and found a horde of flying bugs in your home days later? Those are probably fruit flies.

And while it may seem like these guys just appeared overnight out of thin air, they didn’t. Remember, fruit flies are exceptionally small, and their sense of smell is impeccable. They can smell the fruit on your counter from a good distance away, and once they catch onto the scent, they’ll do all that they can to get in your home. The task shouldn’t be too difficult if you have an open window or step outside for a moment.

Fruit flies can get in through the screens on your windows and crevices in your home. And the moment you open your front door, you’re inviting them right inside.

A horde of fruit flies can also hitch a ride home with you, hiding out on your vegetables and fruits. How? These flies actually lay eggs on the skin of fruit that is very ripe or already fermenting.

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Long story short: fruit flies are in your home – or outside your home for that matter – because you have overripe or fermenting produce somewhere.

How to Get Rid of Indoor Gnats

You now know the difference between gnats and fruit flies. You even know what attracts them. So how do you get rid of them?

If you want to learn how to get rid of gnats in the house (in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the living room – wherever), read on. We’re going to share our tried-and-true method for getting rid of these flying bugs: a homemade trap.

Homemade Gnat Trap Killer

The best gnat trap is simple, cheap and easy to make yourself. And it will get rid of the gnats in your home in a snap.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A mason jar with a lid
  • Vinegar (gnats love apple cider vinegar)
  • Nail or screw

These are all things you probably have laying around your home. If you don’t have a mason jar, any old jar will work just fine as long as it has a lid.

  1. Fill the jar about half-way with apple cider vinegar. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, you can use regular white vinegar. Just add a few drops of soap to make the trap more enticing.
  2. Seal the lid on the jar.
  3. Poke tiny holes in the lid with a nail or screw.

The gnats will be able to get into the jar, but they won’t be able to get out. Gnats are extremely attracted to vinegar. They love honey, too, so feel free to add a drop or two of honey if you want an even more effective trap.

If you’re wondering how to get rid of house flies, this trick won’t work. People often confuse house flies for gnats, but these are two different things. You’ll need a hanging sticky trap (also known as flypaper) to get rid of flies in your home.

How to Get Rid of Gnats in Plants

If you have a horde of fungus gnats in your home, you’ll want to focus on treating your plants.

First and foremost, you have to stop watering your plants. Overwatering is likely what’s causing these pesky bugs to show up in the first place. Overly wet soil is a breeding ground for fungus and mold, which is what attracts these fliers. Water holding and soil with peat moss are also attractants of fungus gnats.

Homemade Trap

You can use the homemade trap recipe above to kill the gnats in your plants. But instead of placing a lid on the jar, leave it open, and place the jar (or bowl) near your houseplants. The gnats will be attracted to the vinegar, and die in the jar or bowl.

Insecticidal Soap

Another great way to get rid of these pests is to use an insecticidal soap spray, and spray the soil daily or every other day.

You can purchase commercial-grade versions of these soaps in most garden or home improvement stores. But you can also make your own homemade version. While this version does not contain any of the insecticides you’re used to, it will kill the gnats in your plants.

Mix together:

Dish soap will not have the same effect as castile soap, so do make sure that you use castile soap. The fatty acids in this soap dissolve bugs, which is why it’s so effective. Dr. Bronner’s is a great brand of castile soap. It’s gentle and natural.

This mixture is more than just a gnat spray. You can use it to kill other pests as well – indoors and outdoors – including aphids, spider mites, mealybugs and more.

How to Get Rid of Drain Gnats

If you have the unfortunate displeasure of dealing with drain gnats, there’s a simple and easy way to get rid of these pests:

  • AmmoniaA bottle of ammonia with white-yellow tag on white background.

Pouring a small amount of ammonia down the drain will kill any gnats that are living in there.

Note: If you use ammonia in your drains, allow it to dilute for several hours before using the sink again.

Not too keen on the idea of pouring ammonia down the drain? Here’s an alternative:

First, pour the baking soda into the drain. Next, pour a cup of white vinegar down the drain. The baking soda and vinegar will cause a reaction – you should hear a lot of fizzing and you should see bubbles. Allow this mixture to sit for a few hours, and then pour a pot of boiling water down the drain.

Both ammonia and the baking soda mixture will clean out your pipes. So, you’ll kill gnats and have squeaky clean drains.

Read more about Get Rid of Drain Gnats

How to Get Rid of Gnats Outside

What if the problem isn’t inside your home, but outside? It’s hard to enjoy time out in the yard if you’re swarmed with gnats the moment you walk outside.

We’ll show you how to catch gnats, and what to do to repel them.

Keep Your Yard Clean and Tidy

One of the best ways to keep gnats out of your outdoor space is to keep it clean and tidy. Ensuring that your garden is free of fungus and mold is the first step.

  • Check areas that are shady and have poor circulation first. Look for rotting plant debris, and remove it immediately. Flying gnats are attracted to rotting organic matter.
  • Make sure your compost pile is far from your home if you have one.
  • Trash cans should be covered at all times, and make sure that you clean up any plant debris you find.
  • Improve soil drainage to keep your plants from holding water.
  • Avoid overwatering your plants.
  • Check for standing water in drainage areas and gutters.
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If you have an infestation of gnats, the above steps will help keep the population under control. But you can also take steps to get rid of these insects in the meantime.

Outdoor Gnat Traps

The indoor trap we made with vinegar can also work outdoors. Just make sure that you place the jar where the gnats are spending most of their time. You may need to make several traps to catch them all.

You may also try sticky traps. Gnats are attracted to the color yellow, and you can find yellow sticky traps in home improvement stores or online.

There are also electronic devices that are used to repel gnats. While these aren’t technically traps, they will send these bugs running for the hills, which is just as good (and possibly more humane).

How to Make Gnats Repellent

When it comes to repelling gnats, all the usual suspects will work perfectly, and that includes:

  • DEET
  • Citronella
  • Pine oil
  • Vanilla

You make an effective homemade bug spray with citronella and cedarwood essential oils, vanilla extract, and water.

How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

You’ve figured out that you have fruit flies – not gnats. How do you get rid of them? Many of the same home remedies for gnats will also work for fruit flies.

But first, let’s talk about one very important thing:

  • You need to remove any fruit or vegetables sitting on your counters.

The reason you have fruit flies in the first place is because you have overripe fruit or vegetables out in the open, uncovered.

The simple act of removing any produce you have out in the open will help lower the fruit fly population immensely. Just to be clear – when we say remove, we don’t necessarily mean to throw out the food. If the food is still good, try putting it in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it.

Homemade Fruit Fly Trap

One of the most effective traps for fruit flies just happens to be the vinegar trap we talked about earlier.

But we’re going to also share a few other effective traps that you can use if you don’t have any vinegar in your home.

Rotting Fruit Traps

I know – I just told you to get rid of any fruits or vegetables sitting on your counter. But if you notice that any of that produce is starting to rot, you can use it to trap these pesky fruit gnats.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Jar
  • Rotting fruit or vegetable pieces

Place the rotting produce inside of the jar. Cover the jar with plastic wrap. Use a toothpick to poke tiny holes in the plastic wrap.

Like with the mason jar trap, fruit flies will be able to enter the jar to get to the fruit, but won’t be able to get out.

Red Wine

Fruit flies love red wine (who doesn’t?). You can use this to your advantage by trapping them in jar filled with wine.

They’ll either drown in the wine (not a bad way to go), or if you add soap, you’ll give them a quick death.

This trap is easy to make. Just leave a little red wine in the bottom of the bottle, and the flies will naturally be attracted to it. They’ll dive in for a drink, and die shortly after.

Sweet Milk and Pepper TrapYellow sticky fly paper with lots of flies trapped on it hanging on a cherry tree.

One of the oldest recipes comes from the Farmer’s Almanac in 1850, and it also happens to be one of the most effective.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • ¼ pound of sugar
  • 1 pint of milk
  • 2 ounces of black ground pepper

This trap is incredibly easy to make. Just combine all of the ingredients together in a saucepan and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Pour the mixture into dishes, and place them around the house. Fruit flies will be attracted to the mixture, and they’ll drown almost immediately after landing.

Fruit Fly Spray

Want to get rid of fruit flies, but don’t want to set out traps? If you’re having company over, you probably don’t want to leave around bowls of milk or vinegar.

This spray will repel fruit flies, so you can enjoy a bug-free kitchen.

To make this spray, combine:

  • 2 ounces of warm water
  • 10 drops of lemongrass oil
  • A spray bottle

Fruit flies don’t like the smell of lemongrass oil, so the spray will send them running the other way. If you don’t have lemongrass oil, you can substitute citronella.

If you do make this spray, do be mindful of where you spray it. Pets and children are often sensitive to essential oils, so try not to spray too much around them.

Fruit flies and gnats are common pests in the home, especially in the summer. Try as you might to avoid them, you’ll probably deal with these flying bugs at least a few times per year. The traps and repellent above will help you tackle the problem without having to call an expensive exterminator.

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