Does Soapy Water Kill Caterpillars?

An Extensive Guide to Natural Caterpillar Repellants

A love of gardening means that you spend hours working on your little makeshift farm – putting in all the labor required to either grow some beautiful flowers or healthy vegetation. However, gardening is never as peaceful as they make it seem in movies.

In most cases, homeowners struggle to get harmful pests off of their garden – especially caterpillars.

Can you kill caterpillar with soapy water?
Can you kill caterpillar with Soapy water?

Whether you know it already or not, caterpillars are insects that are extremely fond of eating the plants in your backyard. Their appetite usually consists of all the different kinds of leaves that they can find, but sometimes also larvae and eggs of other garden insects.

While having caterpillars in your garden may be beneficial for the ecosystem, it may not make you happy after all. Having too many caterpillars means that your plants can be destroyed completely – putting all of your countless hours of labor to absolute waste. This is why gardeners are extremely paranoid about the pests around their plants and are always on the search for ways to get rid of such caterpillars.

Soapy Water for Caterpillars

To get rid of the harmful pests in your garden, a popular method that most gardeners opt for is an insecticide soap. In other words, this is simply some soapy water that is sprayed directly onto the insects.

Soapy water can be easily made at home using ingredients that are already available to you. You only need to be careful about the ratio, which should always be 2 parts soap to 1-part water. After creating this mixture, you can add it to any empty and clean spray bottle and use it to steer clear of any caterpillars that may be eating the leaves of your plants.

Does Soapy Water Kill Caterpillars? While many people believe that simply spraying soapy water on the plants is enough to get rid of pests, it is merely a myth. In fact, soapy water cannot kill caterpillars. If anything, it only makes the surface of the leaves too slippery for them to feed on – thus protecting your plants from their tiny little bites.

Another common mistake made by gardeners is by forgetting to dilute the mixture enough. Soap always needs moisture to activate its properties, and that is why you need to use liquid soap for your insecticide spray. The problem with using dry soap is that it is highly saturated, making its harmless compounds more prominent. While dry soap may be effective for getting rid of caterpillars, you may just end up damaging your own plants in the process.

Will Soapy Water Damage My Plants?

Before you begin spraying your soapy water onto all of your plants, remember to try it out on a small sample first. This will help you understand its usefulness, and also test whether it is safe for your plants. After spraying a minimal amount on a specific spot in your garden, wait up to 24 hours to notice any changes in your garden.

If you notice any changes in your leaves such as sudden browning or spotting – the soapy water is not suitable for your plants. If there are no significant changes in your plants, you can continue using the soapy water to deter any caterpillars that may be eating your leaves.

How Long Until I See Results?

Well, I will not lie to you. The truth is that using soapy water to get rid of caterpillars on your plants is a regular process. As you keep spraying and keep your leaves soapy, no caterpillars will be found near them. As soon as you stop spraying consistently, the caterpillars are likely to be back.

The main reason behind this is that the soapy water does not actually kill the caterpillars – it just disperses them to somewhere else. However, this varies with the type of caterpillars you have in your garden and their resistance towards the soapy water solution.

Types of Caterpillars

Following are some of most common ones you can find in your garden.

Monarch Caterpillars

While these monarch caterpillars may not appear harmful to you, they will definitely be munching on your milkweed and leaves. They also enjoy other caterpillars for lunch – and even monarch eggs for dinner. For most gardeners, it instantly becomes a priority to remove these from the garden. That is because they not only harm your plants directly, but also indirectly by damaging the entire ecosystem.

Monarch caterpillars, or ‘aphids’, can be eliminated from your garden by using the same soapy water solution as regular caterpillars. According to many gardeners, it is a considerably effective yet safe solution since it does not kill the monarch caterpillars but steers them away from your little garden.

Tent Caterpillars

While these tent caterpillars are beneficial for your entire garden’s little ecosystem, the problem is that they will not stop eating your plants any time soon. Apart from simple leaves, tent caterpillars also enjoy feasting on bitterbrush, fruit trees, or even any ornaments that may be hanging on your door.

The best way to control tent caterpillars in your garden is becoming vigilant long before you begin seeing the caterpillars themselves. The trick is to locate masses of eggs and eliminate them before they get the chance to hatch and feast on your plants.

Other ways to get rid of tent caterpillars is by spraying boiling water on them directly – but let us warn you, this will kill them instantly. You can also spray a sugar water solution onto the caterpillars and transform them into a meal for the ants. If you want to use soapy water for tent caterpillars, just make sure that the water is hot.

Gypsy Moth Caterpillars

This last type of caterpillar originates all the way from France and eats a wide range of tree plants including maple, oak, apple, birch, and even pine. However, it is considerably easy to kill these gypsy moth caterpillars by simply spraying young caterpillars with soapy water.

It is also recommended to use Bacillus Thuringiensis (or Bt.) in your soapy water solution to ensure that all of the gypsy moth caterpillars are killed effectively. This insecticide does not kill the caterpillars instantaneously, but slowly kills them within a week after it is consumed.

Home Remedies for Caterpillar Removal

Before resorting to harmful techniques such as pest control to remove caterpillars, you need to consider that the insecticides will also be damaging your plants. Instead, an eco-friendlier solution is to opt for home remedies that act as natural repellents for caterpillars – thus removing them from your precious little garden automatically.

Caterpillars hate strong smells. The best way to ensure that no caterpillar comes near your plants is by growing a strong-smelling plant alongside all of your other ones. Popular options include Sage, Lavender, and Peppermint. The best part about these plants is that they can be grown both indoors and outdoors – making it easier for you to remove caterpillars from any of your home plants.

If planting these herbs is not a possibility for you, you can opt for other homemade solutions.

Garlic Water Solution

A popular choice amongst gardeners is a garlic water solution that consists of two cups water and two tablespoons of fine garlic powder. Since garlic is acidic and has a strong smell, it naturally gets rid of caterpillars as they will run far away from the area that this solution is sprayed on.

While not exactly homemade, using Bacillus Thuringiensis is an organic and safe method of removing caterpillars from your garden. Since it can kill even the smallest of caterpillars that have just stepped out of their eggs, it is a considerably effective option to consider. This bacterial insecticide is readily available under multiple brand names, and the usage is particularly simple too. It is the gardener’s choice to either pour it directly onto the leaves, or to mix it with water and spray it across the entire garden.

By opting for home remedies to either remove or kill caterpillars, you will not be harming any other organism in the ecosystem such as small animals, plants, or even other insects.

In Conclusion
Before you begin your caterpillar eliminating mission, it is important to know all about the various removal methods. By understanding which type of caterpillars are most dominant in your garden, you can devise a removal method that is especially effective for targeting the specific specie. This makes it easier for you to avoid harming other beneficial pests in your garden and even your own plants.

Deterring caterpillars with a soapy water solution is becoming the preferred method of removal – simply because it takes the pests away from your plants without actually killing them. In this way, you can even opt to transport certain caterpillars to other habitats where they can easily transform into either moths or butterflies.

While you may think that caterpillars are only damaging your entire garden and your beautiful plants – the truth is far from it. For caterpillars to transform into butterflies, they need to feed on plants. Once they become butterflies, they are responsible for pollinating the same kinds of plants that they had fed on. By choosing not to kill the caterpillars in your garden, you are not only protecting the ecosystem but are also benefiting the future of your own plants.