Though they prefer to live outdoors, sometimes pill bugs will creep into our homes and invade our basements and crawl spaces. While they’re generally harmless, they can be unnerving to the unsuspecting homeowner. What’s worse, they can damage young plants outdoors in large numbers.
So, how do you get rid of pill bugs and keep them from returning to your yard? That’s what we’re here to find out.
What Is A Pill Bug?
Pill bugs are not bugs at all and instead land crustaceans.
Also known as the roly poly, the pill bug is not a bug at all and instead a land crustacean. They even breathe using gills, much like water crustaceans.
Scientifically known as Armadillidium vulgare in the order of Isopoda, the pill bug is famous for its armadillo-like ability to roll into a small ball when threatened.
Mostly nocturnal, these crustaceans tend to keep to themselves and hide in mulch or beneath debris, wood piles, stones, porches, and in the soil of gardens.
They are incredible decomposers, feeding primarily on decaying plants and wood, but they will sometimes feed on animal matter if it is present to them.
For the most part, pill bugs are considered nuisance pests as they do not cause any damage to people, pets or structures. However, they can be damaging to gardens in very large numbers.
Other than that, they do not carry diseases and they do not bite, nor do they infiltrate food pantries or cause structural damage.
Common throughout the world, the pill bug is known for its attraction to moisture. In fact, pill bugs cannot hold water in their bodies and therefore must be around it at all times in order to survive. Without water, pill bugs typically dry up and die in as little as two days.
The below video gives us more detail about the interesting yet sometimes problematic pill bug.
Identifying A Pill Bug Problem On Your Property
You will know you have a pill bug problem when you begin to see an abundance of them.
Pill bugs become most problematic if they find their way indoors, where they have been prone to infesting damp basements and crawl spaces. However, due to their small size, pill bugs do not generally climb stairs and are most often found on the ground level of homes.
A pill bug is easy to identify due to its unique body type. These crustaceans are oval in shape (pill-like, if you will) and often gray, brown, dark brown or black. They are no more than 3/4ths of an inch in length and their bodies are covered in a shell with seven plates. Pill bugs also have fourteen legs and two antennae.
For the most part, the pill bug prefers to live outside where moisture and food are abundant. Unless there is a large amount of water inside your home, they will not be able to survive indoors for more than a few days. They also do not breed inside houses, so experiencing a pill bug infestation inside is quite rare.
Instead, pill bugs live outside and are most commonly found in flower beds, buried in mulch, below trash cans, beneath buckets, under flower pots, or even below large garden stones.
In small numbers, pill bugs are harmless and even beneficial. However, if you begin to notice pill bugs collecting inside your home or on your porch, you likely have a large number of pill bugs outside and especially close to your foundation. A large accumulation of pill bugs inside or around your home could also be a sign of water damage or a water leak, which should not be ignored.
What Attracts A Pill Bug?
Pill bugs feed on decaying plant matter like dead leaves. They are also attracted to moist soil and wood debris.
As we mentioned above, the pill bug is primarily attracted to moisture as it cannot hold water and needs it in its immediate surroundings to survive. Along with an abundance of moisture, pill bugs are also attracted to:
- Wood Debris
- Grass Trimmings
- Leaf Litter
- Outdoor Garbage Bins
- Flower Pots
- And Large Garden Stones
While pill bugs can be annoying, the good news is that they are relatively easy to control and simple to get rid of. In fact, most experts agree that natural methods and home remedies work best when it comes to pill bug control, with insecticides and pesticides often being a last resort.
Let’s learn more.
How To Get Rid Of The Pill Bug Using Natural Methods
For the most part, pill bugs are easy to remedy with natural methods and products.
Since pill bugs are harmless and often beneficial, and since they die quickly without a source of moisture, getting rid of them is relatively simple. Most experts agree that forgoing chemical methods like insecticides and pesticides in favor of natural methods is the safest and most effective option, so we’ll start there.
We like natural products and methods for how to get rid of the pill bug because these products are safe for people, pets and the environment. They are usually easy to apply and often highly effective.
However, the downside to natural products for pill bug control is that they sometimes need to be applied more often and may be a bit more expensive than traditional insecticides.
Still, you should try and make natural products your first resort when it comes to pill bug control. If you’re not sure where to find the best products, we have you covered with some of our favorites listed below.
Diatomaceous Earth Crawling Insect Dust
Diatomaceous Earth is an all natural dust insecticide made from fossilized algae. It is perfect for getting rid of and controlling a pill bug problem because it works by penetrating the exoskeleton of the pest, which dehydrates it.
This product works on contact and is safe to use inside and outside of your home, and even safe to use directly on garden plants. It will not harm people, pets or the environment, and can help control other pests including bed bugs, roaches, ants, earwigs, and spiders.
When using Diatomaceous Earth outside, keep in mind that it works best when dry and will need to be reapplied if it gets wet or after rainfall.
Sluggo Plus is ideal if you’re passionate about organic gardening. This pest killer is safe for beneficial insects, pets, and other wildlife while being deadly for garden pests like pill bugs, sow bugs, earwigs, cutworms, snails and slugs.
It comes in a pellet form and is simple to use and apply to gardens and landscaping, using natural ingredients like iron phosphate. It is weather and waterproof, but should be reapplied after a particularly heavy rain.
EcoRaider NonToxic Crawling Insect Killer
EcoRaider uses nontoxic and natural ingredients to kill and control a number of crawling pests like ants, earwigs, pill bugs, sowbugs, spiders and more. The product is people and pet friendly and safe to use directly on plants.
It will not harm the environment and is generally safe for beneficial insects like honey bees and butterflies. It comes in three different sizes depending on your needs and provides protection for up to four weeks when applied correctly.
You can use this product for pill bug control both inside and outside of your home. It also will not stain and does not leave behind a harsh, chemical smell.
Dr. Earth Vegetable Garden Insect Killer
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Dr. Earth is another brand we trust for organic gardening because it contains all natural ingredients that are safe to use on all kinds of garden plants including edible ones. It is effective against garden destroying pests like sow bugs, aphids, earwigs, pill bugs, ants, mites, white flies and more.
Best of all, it is people and pet friendly and completely safe for the environment. However, it is more of a spot treatment regime when it comes to pill bug control as it comes in a small sprayer.
Bonide Neem Oil Natural Pesticide
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Neem oil naturally repels pill bugs and other pests, which is why we are big fans of the above Neem Oil spray by Bonide. This spray is all natural and is ideal for organic gardening. It can also kill and repel a number of other pests like mites, aphids, and beetles.
It is safe for people and pets and can be used directly on edible garden plants like vegetables and fruits and even fragile ornamental plants like roses. It can also help protect against the buildup of fungus on plants as well.
Wondercide Outdoor Pest Control Spray
It is best when used along the perimeter of your home to keep pill bugs from getting inside, but can also be sprayed directly on garden plants. It uses essential oils to repel and kill pests on contact including peppermint oil, cedar oil, and rosemary oil. It is safe for people and pets and harmless to the environment.
Boric Acid Powder
Like Diatomaceous Earth, Boric Acid is another dust insecticide that is natural and safe to use in and around homes with people and pets. It is derived from natural elements and can kill and control pests like pill bugs on contact.
The above powder is pure boric acid, and can be used by simply sprinkling it around your yard and garden or wherever you notice pill bug activity. While this product is natural and safe, it can cause mild irritation to the eyes and nose if inhaled, so keep it out of reach of children and use it carefully in areas where pets play.
How To Get Rid Of A Pill Bug Using Insecticides
A very large infestation of pill bugs could be a sign of a more serious problem.
Though it’s true that most pill bug problems can be remedied without the use of chemical treatments like insecticides, there are some cases that are quite severe and need more intensive treatments.
For example, if you have a very large infestation of pill bugs inside your home, (rare, but possible if there is an abundance of moisture from a water leak), or if you continually find dead pill bugs inside your home or near your property, you may have an infestation nearby.
To reduce and control the pill bug population around your property, it may be necessary to use chemical insecticides. Insecticides will not only help reduce the number of pill bugs causing you issues, but they can also repel other types of pests as well.
However, remember that insecticides often contain harsh chemicals that can be toxic to people, pets and the environment. It’s important to use insecticides responsibly and only as directed.
With that in mind, let’s go over some of the most highly recommended insecticides you can use to get rid of and control a pill bug problem.
Bonide Bug and Slug Killer
While the above insecticide by Bonide is ideal for a pill bug problem and is generally harmless to people and pets, it should be used with caution as it does contain chemical ingredients.
Still, this product is a safer insecticide you can use when trying to control a pill bug infestation, and it also works against snails, slugs, earwigs, sow bugs, crickets, cutworms, and ants.
It is for outdoor use only and covers up to 3,000 square feet and can offer your yard protection for up to four months.
The product is safe to use near edible plants like vegetable gardens and fruit trees, and children and pets can play in the yard after this product is applied. That said, use it only as directed and keep it out of reach of children and pets.
Ortho Home Defense Insect Killer
Ortho is a popular insecticide brand that is often used for pest control and is ideal for you if you’re looking for something to not only control pill bugs but also a number of other pests.
This product is designed for outdoor use and can control a pill bug problem along with ants, spiders, termites, and centipedes. It protects up to 2,000 square feet and can last for three months if applied correctly.
Compare-N-Save Indoor Outdoor Concentrated Pest Control
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Most general insecticides will work when it comes to pill bug control, so last on our list is this concentrated indoor/outdoor insecticide by Compare-N-Save. It contains the active ingredient Bifenthrin, which is a common insecticide chemical used to control and kill spiders, ants, roaches, pill bugs, sowbugs, etc.
This product comes concentrated and will need to be diluted with water, but it works to cover up to 176,000 square feet. It can be used on ornamental plants, lawns, shrubs and trees and includes an insect growth regulator to help stop pests in all stages.
How To Get Rid Of The Pill Bug Using Home Remedies
Steeping tobacco in hot water can create a homemade pill bug repellent.
If you’re looking for a safe, inexpensive and simple way to get rid of or control your pill bug population, you’ll love these do it yourself pest control tricks below.
Many people use essential oils as a natural form of pest control, so it’s no wonder they also work for pill bug removal. Some of the best essential oils you can use to prevent and repel pill bugs include:
- Peppermint Oil
- Eucalyptus Oil
- Citronella Oil
- Tea Tree Oil
- Rosemary Oil
- Neem Oil
- Pennyroyal Oil
- Cinnamon Oil
- And Oregano Oil
To make your own essential oil pill bug repellent spray, combine 10 to 20 drops of the above oil of your choice in two cups of water. Add the mixture to a spray bottle and spray around your yard and garden to repel pill bugs.
Use A Dehumidifier In Your Home
Dehumidifiers can help reduce moisture inside your home. These are especially useful in regions with high humidity, but can also be used in areas of the home to help remedy and dry damage done by water leaks.
While dehumidifiers will not repel pill bugs, they will make your home less hospitable to them and allow you to simply vacuum or sweep the pests up once they have dried out and died due to dehydration.
Tobacco water is an age old trick you can use against a number of pests, including pill bugs. Steep tobacco in hot water for several minutes until the water is the color of strong tea. Then pour the cooled mixture into a spray bottle and spray it on the ground and in the garden where you want to deter pill bugs.
Cayenne Pepper and Dish Detergent Pill Bug Repellent Spray
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp laundry detergent
- 1 quart rubbing alcohol
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 spray bottle
Mix the above ingredients in a gallon of water and then pour what you can into a spray bottle. Spray this concoction anywhere you notice pill bug activity to kill pill bugs on contact and to prevent them from returning.
You may repeat this process as needed, but be careful not to spray this mixture directly on garden plants. The alcohol and laundry detergent could harm ornamental plants and lawns.
Is The Pill Bug Dangerous To People And Pets?
Pill bugs do not bite or sting and do not carry any diseases.
Though these pests are not dangerous to people and pets, their presence in large quantities could be a sign of something serious going on inside or outside of your home like a large water leak.
If you come across a large population of pill bugs in your home or along your property, it’s time to do some serious investigating to ensure you repair any damaged pipes, gutters, or leaks. If you have done a thorough investigation and still can’t seem to pinpoint why you have such a large pill bug problem on your property, it may be a good idea to contact a professional.
Most professional pest control experts charge between $100 and $500 for pest control inside and outside of your home. Along with getting rid of your pill bug problem, professionals should also be able to help you identify the source of the issue and point you in the right direction as far as pill bug control and prevention.
Of course, we also have some tips on how to prevent a future pill bug problem inside and outside of your home.
How To Prevent Future A Pill Bug Problem
Using hay in place of mulch is one way to reduce pill bugs and many other pests.
Pill bug prevention and control is often easier than trying to get rid of a pill bug problem, especially once it gets out of hand. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways you can prevent pill bugs from becoming a major problem on your property below.
Use Hay Instead Of Mulch
Hay doesn’t collect moisture in the same way that mulch does. Many people opt to use hay in their landscaping to help reduce a number of pests like pill bugs, ants, earwigs, termites, and more.
If You Do Use Mulch, Keep It No More Than 2 Inches Deep
Mulch is popular, attractive and inexpensive, so if you prefer to use it in your landscaping try and make sure it is no deeper than two inches. This will reduce moisture buildup and thus reduce the chances of having a large infestation of pill bugs.
Keep Vegetation, Soil, and Mulch at Least 3 Feet From Home’s Siding
To avoid a pill bug (or several) from getting into your home, we suggest keeping vegetation, mulch and soil at least three feet from the siding of your home. In fact, consider this area around the perimeter of your house a “dry zone” and keep it as dry as possible and free of debris, moisture and plant matter.
Keep Flower Pots Elevated On Tables, Shelves Or Racks
Clean Gutters Often and Ensure They Drain Away From Your Home’s Foundation
Clean gutters to remove buildup of decaying plant matter like leaf litter and moisture. Also try and ensure that gutters are pointing away from your home and therefore draining away from your home’s siding.
Ensure Vents Leading To Lower Levels Like Basements And Crawl Spaces Are Clear Of Debris For Good Ventilation
Unblocking your ground-floor vents can help ensure that any moisture buildup in crawl spaces and basements are reduced. While this may not stop a pill bug from getting inside your home, it can ensure they don’t survive for long once they do.
Remove Leaf Litter And Debris From Your Yard
Pill bugs dine on decaying plant matter like leaf litter and dead grass. You can help keep them at bay by removing these natural food sources as often as possible. We also suggest you remove any dead or dying plants or flowers from your garden and trim trees with dead or dying leaves.
Do Not Overwater Your Yard and Remove Sources of Excess Moisture
Since the pill bug is such a glutton for water, one of the easiest ways to prevent them or control them is to keep water sources at bay. Keep excess water to a minimum and refrain from overwatering your yard or garden. And, of course, repair any water leaks or water damage inside or around your home.
Keep Up With Routine Home Maintenance
Last, it’s always a good idea to keep up on routine home maintenance. Ensure cracks and crevices are caulked and sealed and fix any torn or ill-fitting screens. Repair gaps in doorways and other entry points, and keep doors and windows closed during dawn and dusk.
This will help not only reduce your chances of encountering a pill bug inside your home, but also a number of other pests.
So, what do you think about the pill bug? Would you keep this interesting crustacean around in your yard or garden? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.
Jack founded our blog after two decades of working in the pest control industry. His vast experience dealing with a wide array of pests allows him to diagnose issues quickly and get to the heart of pest problems quickly and effectively. He has serviced more than 2,000 homes over his career and there is hardly any pest situation that he has not seen before.