How to Identify and Get Rid of Whiteflies


Whiteflies and their small, oval nymphs reside on the undersides of leaves and cause the leaves to become sticky with honeydew.

The Ohio State University

Here are tips on how to identify, control, and get rid of whiteflies.

What are Whiteflies?

What are those little white flying bugs on your plants?

Whiteflies, also known as aleyrodidae, are soft-bodied, winged insects closely related to aphids and mealybugs. They can be found in most any region, but they are so tiny that they are usually camouflaged.

They can be as small as 1/12 of an inch, somewhat triangular in shape, and are often found in clusters on the undersides of leaves. They are active during the daytime, so they are easier to spot than some other nocturnal pests. Whiteflies are capable of overwintering and reproducing throughout the year in warmer climates.

One common species of whitefly is the silverleaf whitefly, which is slightly smaller and more yellow than other whiteflies. Silverleaf whiteflies are especially common in southeastern states. All species of whiteflies affect a wide variety of plants.

You’ll often see whiteflies in mid- to late-summer when it gets warm; they are also a common pest in greenhouses.

Whiteflies tend to suck on ornamentals and warm-weather vegetable plants, including tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and okra. They also like sweet potatoes and plants from the cabbage family.


How to Identify Whiteflies on Plants

Whiteflies suck plant juices and, in turn, produce a sticky substance known as honeydew. Honeydew left on its own can cause fungal diseases to form on leaves.

Due to whitefly feeding, plants will quickly become extremely weak and may be unable to carry out photosynthesis. Leaves will wilt, turn pale or yellow, and growth will be stunted. 

Honeydew is a sign that the whiteflies have been feeding for several days. You might also see ants, which are attracted to the honeydew. 

Check undersides of leaves around the veins for white insects, even if they aren’t visible, and feel leaf surfaces for honeydew. If the whiteflies are feeding, they’ll suddenly all fly off the leaves in a swarm, so it’s very obvious.

You may also find eggs laid on the undersides of leaves. This is the beginning of a new generation! When the eggs hatch, the larvae will look like teeny white ovals without legs; they don’t move but they immediately start sucking the plant juice. This is why gardeners miss the whiteflies until it’s too late. Adult females can produce up to 400 eggs, which can hatch in between one week and a month. They are usually laid in a circular pattern. Eggs are pale yellow when newly laid and brown when about to hatch.

Photo Credit: University of Florida. Whiteflies congregate on the undersides of leaves and lay their tiny white eggs in this secure spot.

Control and Prevention

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies

To control whiteflies, there are various solutions and traps that you can use. The biggest tip is: start early!  In the mornings and evenings, as you wander the garden, check the back of the leaves for eggs or notice when little bugs “fly away” as you approach your plants.

  • Always start with blasting whiteflies (and aphids and many insects) with your watering hose. This will cause them to scatter. Then, spray your leaves with insecticidal soap. Coat them; be sure to spray the undersides of leaves.Only spray plants when temperatures are cooler—such as late in the day, as heat may cause an adverse reaction in your plant. Follow up 2 or 3 times. 
  • According to the National Gardening Association, this homemade mixture should be helpful to control and deter whiteflies: Use a mixture of dishwashing liquid, such as Palmolive with lemon, and water. A good squirt of soap to a gallon of water should work. As mentioned above, only spray in cooler temperatures; early in the morning or late in the day is best. The NGA mixture is a pretty benign combination, and whiteflies are nearly impossible to get rid of, so it’s best to try more preventative tactics, as mentioned below.
  • If all else fails and your whitefly population is persistent, you can use a handheld vacuum every few days to remove them from your plants. This gets rid of both nymphs and larvae.

How to Prevent Whiteflies

  • Keeping natural predators around will prevent whiteflies from ever exploding in population. Ladybugs, spiders, lacewing larvae, and dragonflies are a few of many beneficial insects that can control a whitefly population. Hummingbirds are another natural predator. Try creating a habitat that will attract dragonflies and damselflies (which also helpfully eat mosquitoes) or beautiful hummingbirds.
  • When it comes to whiteflies, avoid chemical insecticides; they’re usually resistant and all you end up doing is killing the beneficial insects—their natural predators—and the insects which pollinate the garden for a better harvest!
  • Mulch early in the season with aluminum reflective mulch, especially when it comes to tomatoes and peppers. The reflective mulch makes it challenging for whiteflies to find their host plants. 
  • Set out yellow index cards coated with petroleum jelly to monitor whiteflies, especially when it comes to tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, or cabbage crops. A half-and-half mixture of petroleum jelly and dishwashing detergent, spread over small boards painted bright yellow, is sticky enough to catch little whiteflies, too. To whiteflies, the color yellow looks like a mass of new foliage. The bugs are attracted to the cards, get stuck in the jelly, and die.

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

White bugs on the back of every leaf on my huge Confederate rose

Which method is best for


The white flies are going to town on my new hollyhock plants. This is the first year from seed so they are a huge green plant right now, hope next year for flowers. Does anyone know , can the flies get on humans? After i spray my garden i feel itchy just from seeing them!

costs of getting rid of white flies

My gardner has charged me 60.00 to treat for two treatments for white flies. Does this sound reasonable?

In the winter I get white

In the winter I get white flies on my indoor basil and rosemary. This year I'm seeing the worst infestation I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with on my squashes (zucchini, pumpkin and acorn squash) outside. With my houseplants I found that spraying my plants with a laundry detergent and water mixture regularly was helpful, but I'm completely overwhelmed by the thought of trying to save my giant squash plants with my tiny spray bottle of soapy water.

Whitefly/aphid infestation

My crepe myrtles are attacked every yr by whitefly. This is the worst year yet. I’ve used the natural soap, olive oil, water solution; now I’m trying the neem oil solution. The flies are not bothering any other plants or veggies. I am losing this battle in addition to my 3 crepe myrtles.

Add Geraniums to the affected Plants List

I had a beautiful geranium that I sadly had to destroy due to the white flies. I see it's not on the plant list Please add it.

Plants covered in white flies

Hi, we just bought a house and have just realized that the large hibiscus plant, lemon tree, and camellia plants are covered in white flies and have white leaves that look like paint was splattered on them and even have what looks like spider webs around the base. Is there hope to get rid of these or do these plants need to be ripped out before they infect the rest of the garden? Thank you!

White flies

My Hybiscus is loaded wth white flies. H e l p ! I can’t throw it out, it reminds me of my trip to Hawaii.

White fly

I have had the same problem.I bought the sticky yellow cards from my hardware store, they have caught 100's of them. I am finding that by hitting the plants gently each morning they fly off, and go to the yellow cards, but this is going to be ongoing for awhile, so I intend to use the soapy spray as well. I wish you luck.

White flies

I have these pests on my house plants. Do they ever infest pets or humans?

Whiteflies on Pets and People

The Editors's picture

No, they are only harmful to plants. For pets and humans, they’re just an annoyance!

Whiteflies in soil

I bought a Christmas cactus a month ago and it was doing great, and I only noticed now that the soil appears to be infested with whiteflies. They don’t seem to be on the foliage, only the soil. Every treatment I’ve seen is for getting rid of them on the leaves—how do I get rid of them in the soil??

white flies vs fungus gnats

White flies are actually a bright white in color and are not in the dirt. Fungus gnats are what you are dealing with. They have a 6 day life cycle and eggs are in the dirt. They are hard to get rid of. Overwatering is the main culprit. Keep soil drier. Christmas Cactus' like it better that way, anyway. The yellow sticky cards that you can buy work really well for indoor infestations. If all else fails, I had to take a plant out of the dirt, rinse it's roots and put it in new dirt once. The old dirt should be pitched or you can bake it in your oven to kill any eggs, etc.

White fly infestation of daphne bush

We had a huge daphne bush by our front porch (New England) that has had problems, so we were considering removing it. This year, however, it leafed out splendidly and we were considering a reprieve when I discovered it absolutely covered by whiteflies. My husband is in the process of digging it out and burning it. The trunk is massive. I know whiteflies don’t overwinter here, but how do they come back and what should I do to prevent future infestations? It was right under a hummingbird feeder and we live on a pond with lots of dragonflies, but they obviously didn’t do their job. Can I treat the soil? I have climbing hydrangeas nearby and plan to replace the daphne with a slow-growing binomial cypress.


The Editors's picture

The whiteflies likely rode in on another plant, perhaps an annual or other new addition to the garden this summer. As you noted, they can’t overwinter in the northern US, so they shouldn’t be back unless they’re reintroduced. The best preventative technique is to thoroughly inspect any new plants that you have added or will add to the garden. If you find that only a few leaves are infested, remove those leaves. Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils (neem oil, for example) can help to reduce populations, but they will require multiple treatments and alone won’t be strong enough to completely get rid of an infestation. There are also systemic insecticides, but these are not recommended because they will also kill pollinators and beneficial insects (like ladybugs, which actually prey upon whiteflies).

white fly attack on peper plant etc.

I found the following receipe home made organic is effective .
25 gms of each.
hot green chilles
and white garlic
mix along with 3 drops of
dish wash detergent.
mix the above an grind well in small omestic
mixer grinder with 50 ml of good water.
collect the paste in a good bowl.
mix with 200 ml of water strain& get clear liquid
dilute to 500 ml with water. use it for spraying to the affected plant.
very effective if sprayed in the evenings 2 successive evenings
then once in every week. good. Wear goggles while spraying the liquid.


We use a sugar/water mixture to spray the underside of the leaves. It must be done every couple of days to work. They get stuck on the sticky mixture.

White flies

White flies have taken over my deck and back yard. I have a large area of Passion flowers and 2 crepe myrtles. In the late afternoon they begin to come out from under my deck (approx 1200 sq ft area) it appears and off the crepe myrtles. I can’t barely grill they’re so bad, thousands it seems. Have a big party coming up in 2 weeks! What can I do?

Whitefly remedy (finally)

I have a tall, potted ficus tree that has been infested with whitefly for, at least 3 years. I tried the oil/dishsoap/water (palmolive or dawn or murphys) concoction which did very little. I also tried worm castings, which were useless. Did not want to use neem because of the mess, cost and marginal success. I had decided to throw out the tree, but in a last minute ditch effort (in a fit of aggravation), I grabbed my 16 oz spray bottle, added a little water, then poured in a huge amount (did not measure) of Seventh Generation lavender flower and mint scent dish soap, then filled up the rest with water (no oil). After shaking the mixture, I tipped the pot over so the tree was lying flat on the terrace, then spayed all over taking care not to get it in the soil. I rolled the pot over to spray on all sides thoroughly. After using up most of the soapy mixture, I let it sit for a while. I then put an attachment on my garden hose and power sprayed the soap off. I left a little of the soap residue on the leaves from the puddle of suds. To be safe, I repeated this once more a week or two later and, now, surprisingly (!), new leaves are popping out everywhere and no whitefly. If your plant is in the ground, I would suggest purchasing some cheap box store plastic painter cloths and cover the ground around the tree/schrubs and scrunch up newspaper around the base/trunk since there will be a lot of suds (newspaper can also sop up the suds puddle). As a bonus, it also got rid of the mealy and sooty mildew. I have no idea what role the dish soap scent played. So far so good.

White flys

Help I'm infested and my hibiscus is really showing signs badly and they've moved to my tomatoes. Has anyone tried DE food grade?

I tried DE on my hibiscus

I tried DE on my hibiscus that is infested with whitefly but it didn't work. Have now tried the petroleum ointment and dish detergent on yellow cards, so hope that works!


Thank you, I'm having a heck of a time. Neem oil isn't working and I used peroxide 50/50 last night with no success.


It is a worth reading article. Thanks a lot and congrats.

Got chickens?

With a small flock of 30 hatch-lings around 4 weeks old, the coop and run is right next to the garden. All the plants that tend to attract these white flies are on the other side of the garden mesh fencing. The plants thrive with the chicken poo and the bugs are eaten when they fly around in the coop area. Sure this works out in the country, but what about the city folks? Instead of chickens, look for those bug zappers like the tennis rackets that run on 3VDC. Place next to the plants. Behind it, put up a bright yellow painted board. Unplug just before it rains.

Small flies

I have small flies with a golden green back. These are not white flies.
I have tried spraying with the water soaked combination and also added some peppermint essential oil’s but they are still on my vegetables. I am afraid they will lay Lorber oh my vegetables any ideas on how I can get rid of them

small flies

The Editors's picture

Unfortunately, we’re not able to give you the best controls without knowing the exact pest. Some flies are just nuisance flies that don’t harm the plants (some might feed on decaying plant matter, such as in soil or mulch); others, such as the metallic green/gold long-legged fly, are beneficials that hover around plants because they are seeking other insects as prey (for the long-legged fly, that includes aphids, gnats, mites, etc.). Still others are actual pests of the plant. Although yellow sticky traps are more for monitoring pest populations, if you have a small crop, you might try hanging a few around your plants to see if they trap these pests (if they are attracted to yellow). This may also, however, trap beneficials. To deter flies in general, it may help to clear out any decaying plant debris, old mulch, and weeds around your plants. Hope this helps!

White fly control

This article states that you should "Mulch early in the season with aluminum reflective mulch".

Aluminum should never come in contact with our food, or the soil that it grows in. Repeat after me - Alzheimers.


The Editors's picture

The environmental concern, when it comes to aluminum, is in the process of making aluminum products. That is harmful to the environment. However, aluminum reflective mulch is not shown to be harmful when used in vegetable gardens. The aluminum would have to be buried in the soil and left for years before a noticeable amount would appear. However, if you are concerned, reflective mulches do not contain aluminum, so we could suggest that as an alternative.

My Permanent Whitefly Solution (Try at your own risk)

Here in South Florida we have a big problem with these whiteflies. I really enjoy growing exotic peppers in my back yard. After trying about everything out there and failing miserably several times, a friend of mine that also grows peppers introduced me to a product made by Ortho called "Rose & Flower" Insect & Disease Control Concentrate, which I bought at Home Depot. Active ingredients are Acetamiprid...0.26% and Triticonazole...0.78%. For many years I have gone for the "Organic" approach but always lost the battle to the whiteflies so I almost have given up on growing peppers. Because of my job, and having to work long hours, I really don't have the time to care for and treat my plants on a daily basis, just barely on the weekends. I understand this product is not labeled for fruits and vegetables and that I (or you) should not be using it on peppers, but I will tell you this folks, this product literally brought all my pepper plants back from the dead and I have not seen the whiteflies in over 3 months after the first treatment. All my plants are looking healthier every day and they are now bearing fruit like crazy. For me, this has been a God send. In the past I did use several pyrethrum based products but noticed that chemical taste in the peppers so I stopped using them. With this product I have not noticed any chemical taste. I believe there has to be some systemic absorption here in order for the product to be effective for so long. I am by far no expert in this matter, so I wanted to ask the advice of any knowledgeable person in this forum regarding this product. I've downloaded the MSDS sheets from their website but can't say I saw anything of extreme concern....but once again I could be wrong, so I humbly ask from anyone to please enlighten me on this matter. Thanks.

exotic pepper disease control

The Editors's picture

Wow— Well, you already know more about it than we do. We researched several “.edu” web sites and can find nothing re safety or the like. Perhaps someone reading can shed light on the matter … ? Sorry, Max—



BONUS: You’ll also receive our Almanac Companion newsletter!

The Almanac Webcam

Chosen for You from The Old Farmer's Store