How to Identify and Get Rid of Whiteflies on Plants

D. Kucharski, K. Kucharska/Shutterstock

Noticing tiny, white, fly-like insects on your plants? You may be dealing with a whitefly infestation. Here are tips on how to identify, control, and get rid of whiteflies!

What Are Whiteflies?

Whiteflies are soft-bodied, winged insects closely related to aphids and mealybugs. Despite their name, whiteflies are not a type of fly, though they do have wings and are capable of flying.

Whiteflies can be as small as 1/12 of an inch, are somewhat triangular in shape, and are often found in clusters on the undersides of leaves. They are active during the day and will scatter when disturbed, so they can be easier to spot than some nocturnal insect pests.

There are hundreds of species of whiteflies, but most affect only a small number of host plants. However, there are a few whitefly species that affect a wider range of plants, which make them the most problematic in horticulture. These whitefly species include the greenhouse whitefly, bandedwinged whitefly, giant whitefly, and silverleaf whitefly, among others. Silverleaf whiteflies, which are slightly smaller and more yellow than other whiteflies, are especially common in the southern United States. 

Where Are Whiteflies Found?

In USDA Zone 7 and colder, whiteflies are not able to survive winter outdoors, so their presence tends to be limited to indoor plants or greenhouse environments. However, if outdoors plants are bought from an infested greenhouse, whiteflies may become a seasonal outdoor garden pest. (Always inspect plants before bringing them home!) 

In warmer regions, whiteflies are capable of overwintering and reproducing outdoors throughout the year, so they can be a problem for both indoor and outdoor plants.

You’ll often start to see whiteflies in mid- to late-summer when it gets warm and humid.

Which Plants Are Susceptible to Whiteflies?

Whiteflies can be found on a wide variety of plants, from ornamental flowers to warm-weather vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and okra. Some species may attack sweet potatoes, plants from the cabbage family, and citrus trees. Indoors, they will feed on most common houseplants, especially those with soft, smooth leaves.


How to Identify Whiteflies

Like aphids, whiteflies use their piercing mouthparts to suck up plant juices and, in turn, produce a sticky substance known as honeydew. Honeydew left on its own can cause fungal diseases such as sooty mold to form on leaves.

With heavy whitefly feeding, plants will quickly become extremely weak and may be unable to carry out photosynthesis. Leaves will wilt, turn pale or yellow, growth will be stunted, and eventually leaves may shrivel and drop off the plant. 

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

Where to Find Whiteflies on Plants

Whiteflies tend to prefer to feed on new growth, so check around any newly unfurled leaves first.

Check the undersides of leaves—especially around the veins—for white insects, even if they aren’t immediately visible, and feel leaf surfaces for sticky 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 often miss whiteflies until it’s too late. Adult females can produce up to 400 eggs, which hatch in about one week to a month after laying. They are usually laid in a circular pattern. Eggs are pale yellow when newly laid and brown when about to hatch.

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

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 or tend to your houseplants, 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 (as with aphids and many other insect pests) with your watering hose or a spray bottle. This will cause them to scatter and will dislodge nymphs and eggs to some extent.
  • Consider spraying your plants’ leaves with an insecticidal soap, following the directions on the packaging. Be sure to spray the undersides of leaves, too. Follow up 2 or 3 times, as necessary. 
    • Tip: Spray plants in the evening when temperatures are cooler, as mid-day heat may cause an adverse reaction in your plant. Plus, spraying in the evening allows you to avoid accidentally spraying any pollinators or beneficial insects.
  • According to the National Gardening Association, the following simple homemade mixture should be helpful to control and deter whiteflies: Use a mix of dish soap and water. A good squirt of soap to a gallon of water should work. As mentioned above, only spray in cooler temperatures; 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 first, as mentioned below.
  • If all else fails and your whitefly population is persistent, you can (carefully) use a handheld vacuum every few days to remove them from your plants. This gets rid of both nymphs and adults. Just be sure NOT to empty your vacuum into a trash can inside your home afterward!

How to Prevent Whiteflies

  • Your first line of defense should be inspecting all plants for pests before you bring them home, as well as keeping any new additions away from the rest of your plants for a period of time. This will allow you to identify and curtail any pest or disease issues that appear.
  • Keeping natural predators around will prevent whiteflies from ever exploding in population. For this reason, avoid using insecticides. Ladybugs, spiders, green 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 that pollinate the garden for a better harvest!
  • Mulch early in the season with aluminum reflective mulch, especially around tomatoes and peppers. The reflective mulch makes it challenging for whiteflies to find their preferred 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 dish soap, 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

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Help! 2014 It's the end of

Help! 2014 It's the end of June. I have severe white flies everywhere this year swarms even. Why? I usually have them a bit in the spring. I can get them under control with insecticidal soap. This year, no way. What else can I do? Is there a beneficial nematode I should use?

Whiteflies, apparently, are

The Editors's picture

Whiteflies, apparently, are active year round (depending on the climate) and there are hundreds of types—and types for specific plants—but, thankfully, only a few that bother our plants. But, of course, when those few types multiply, look out!
Nematodes are not the solution (as far as we know). There are some natural enemies, but—it seems from our research—that these are effective against specific strains of whiteflies. For example, see here: http://biocontrol.ucr.edu/bemi... It relates to greenhouse whiteflies/plants, but you get the idea. To that point, however, it's possible that your whiteflies can in with/on your plants.
As noted above, ladybugs and spiders might help to control the population. Other than that, we recommend insecticidal soap or try the Epsom salt solution below from Tom. See other comments below for other ideas.

I wonder if the alcohol

I wonder if the alcohol treatment will kill the tomato horn Worms and im also wondering if the mulch will help stop the moths from laying larvae in the ground under My tomato plants..the other morning I went out to my garden and saw a moth Under my tomato plant, I killed it!!! today the tops of 3 of my tomato plants Are wilted over Some leaves are still green and curled over in the conners, the brown leaves are curled over I uncurled them and found little tiny caterpillars..Now i have a lot of work ahead of me picking at my 10 plants. I cant even believe im having this problem again this year after moving my garden to a different area in my yard..This is my 1st year dealing with white bugs and i have a feeling its wont be my last..

Re: Shelly L. (I wonder if

Re: Shelly L. (I wonder if alcohol)
I heard that if you take coffee grounds (Starbucks used to give it out freely) and put it around your tomatoe plants, mixing some into the soil, it would stop the tomatoe worm larvae from forming. Something about too much acid. Yeah! ~ Darcy

Sorry to tell you but the

Sorry to tell you but the white flies are back and everywhere, they've already started on my lilies, my blueberry plants, my house plants I took outside to get some Sun, my rose bush, and all the trees around my yard. i sprayed them last year with pure rubbing alchol 99 percent and 75 percent they died instantly. Those little bastards jump off the plant once they feel the spray, i watch where they jump and i squish them on the ground with my hand..i use gloves and when i dont i wash my hands when im done squishing the tiny white jumpers. The tomatoe worms i had the same problem as you did. I move my little garden away from the area where my old one was,. I planted 5 cherry tomatoes and 5 big boys, from the start of spring I had tomato worms, I gave up this year. I'm not planting anything, farmers market here I come. My son told me to try epson salt he said spray the leaves and the stems see what happens with the white flies they might not like the taste and move out..

I hope adding the alcohol to

I hope adding the alcohol to the mix helps I have a battle from last year continued thru the winter on my bonsai fikus tree, that was infected by a petunia in a hanging basket, thanks for the info, love it!

Re: chrysblue I also practice

Re: chrysblue
I also practice bonsai. Recently moved to another county and 2 months in I have a big whitefly and fungus gnat problem with many of them.
Last night I put a bucket of ladybugs out in amongst all my bonsai. But I am scared for them and want to spray with pesticide tonight,mwhich would kill the beneficial ladybugs I just introduced. Any advice?

Every time I have had

Every time I have had petunia's I have a problem with those white flies, this time they have attacked my bonsai ficus tree , not sure how to spell it but, I treated with just soapy water and they disappeared but came back 3 times now almost killing the tree, then it gets recovered and wham , they are back so I hope this time with the alcohol added it will work better, and I have lost one dill plant so far .

Excellent advice

Excellent advice

I am attempting something of

I am attempting something of a different approach. Incense. I have been trying to smoke em out. the garden beans seem to love it. more leaves forming now, as before the plants seemed to be stunted. not sure if the plants are reacting to the weather or the incense? the temp highs have been nearly unchanged. overnight lows petty much unchanged. anyway the flies are still present, but I have only burned the incense twice. keeping them up wind and safe of course from fire danger. I only do this while i'm tending the garden. it takes me about 1/2 hour to water all my garden. I now use 8 gallons a day. was 6 but the plants I started with were doing so well that I planted 8 more types (cabbage,cauliflower,parsley,onion,pea,spinach,squash,a yellow garden bean)and a neighbor informed me or the marigolds so they are throughout my garden now,well they just broke ground 3 days ago. I sure hope I don't lose the garden due to heat. the 8 gallons is split 3 times a day. sunrise then between 11:30am-1:30pm depending on soil moisture then before sunset. I keep the two 1 gallon milk containers and two 1 gallon water containers outside during the day to water with ambient temp H2o and inside at night for high 60deg H2o.

I am not able to log in says

I am not able to log in says my name not a user yet heres my post

Whiteflies can be determined

The Editors's picture

Whiteflies can be determined with strong-smelling plants—and that may be how/why the strong aroma of incense is working. The marigolds should help, and nasturiums, too.
Another idea for deterining whiteflies is reflective mulch. Speaking of mulch,make sure that your plants have some. It can be store-boughht bag stuff or even newspaper. It will help the soil retain moisture, which your plants will want more and more of as the season progresses. Good luck, Martin!

Previously we have lived in

Previously we have lived in Phx 17 years and in CA 23 yrs and here in San Diego area 13 yrs. only 4 yrs ago have I encountered whitefly. At what point do we cut down the plant? My mature hibiscus was afflicted twice and now they have moved on to mature Flax plants. I fear they will just keep moving on and never be controlled

See the recommendations for

The Editors's picture

See the recommendations for sprays, traps and predetors on this page. Be diligent. If you are using sprays or just a water spray, spray daily in the evening and/or early morning. And make sure to spray the underside of the leaves.

White flies have infested my

White flies have infested my tea leaves, can I wash them with insecticide soap? Also, would I be able to boil them to make tea?
Thank you.

Hi Oscar, Only use healthy

The Editors's picture

Hi Oscar,
Only use healthy leaves to make tea and destroy infected leaves. See tips on how to get rid of whiteflies on this page. Insecticidal soap is one of the recommendations.

The focus above is on killing

The focus above is on killing the white flies after they are on your fruit or flowers.

It should be on what can I do to my soil to keep the flies away.

Exactly! The only way I have

The only way I have found to rid my peas and tomatoes of whiteflies is
by placing worm castings around the base of the plants and watering it in.
Something in the castings makes the plants taste bad for the bugs! That's the explanation I was given.

Whitefly predators include

The Editors's picture

Whitefly predators include lacewings and lady beetles. There are also a number of naturally occurring parasites that can be very important in controlling them.

Info from another

Info from another website

Whiteflies cam be an indicator of phosphorous and magnesium deficiencies. You can correct magnesium deficiencies by mixing 4 ounces of Epsom salts with 1 gallon of water. Use as a soil soak for infested plants. We won't say that this is a cure all but it can certainly benefit your plant especially tomatoes and peppers.

what can i do to my soil to

what can i do to my soil to keep the white flies away.

Aluminum mulch or reflective

The Editors's picture

Aluminum mulch or reflective mulch on the soil surface will discourage whiteflies and get plants off to a healthy start.

I been having whiteflies all

I been having whiteflies all over inside my house for a long times , l used all king stufs and l cant finished them , right know is crazzy they going under my blanke went l'm sleeping. , is that soup solution work inside the house to

Insecticidal soap is only

The Editors's picture

Insecticidal soap is only meant to be used on plants. We'd not recommend using it for general house pest control. We are puzzled why whiteflies would be in areas far from plants (such as blankets), as their food is plant juices rather than fabric, etc. There are other insects that look similar to whiteflies, such as various gnats (fruit flies, fungus gnats, etc.) and tiny moths, such as clothes moths. If you are not sure what insects you have, we'd suggest that you contact a pest control expert, who could identify the pest and make recommendations as to how to control them. For example, the webbing clothes moth (not the case-making variety) can be controlled by placing pheromone traps made specifically for that species in appropriate areas.
For identification of some common household pests, you might check out:
If you are sure these are whiteflies, check where they are coming from, such as if you have any plants, or food, that might be luring them. Toss out any infested food; use recommended controls on the plants. Because the flies are appearing in other areas of the house, you might try placing yellow sticky traps in various locations (out of the way of children or pets) to try to catch the adult whiteflies.
Keep up with the vacuuming and laundering, to catch any eggs or nymphs/larvae that might be hidden on surfaces (such as carpets)--although for whiteflies, they would usually be right on the plant itself.
Hope this helps!

I am having the same problem

I am having the same problem with these white flies many sleep less nights, I also have had a peat control Co. come out, and they don't know how they are getting in so fast, I'm spending countless amount of money trying to get them under control! They are in my hair and grawl fly up my pant legs and I don't know what to do, they are white fly! At first I thought the dogs were bringing them in and I'm sure some are but not this many! could they becoming from my vents? or drains? and if so why and how do I get rid of them? I'm going crazy in SC!!

Hi Debra I live in South

Hi Debra
I live in South Jersey & have been researching for weeks now to try & identify what exactly is biting me occasionally & flying into me constantly! When I read ur comment about ur hair & flying up ur pant leg, I wanted to cry having finally heard that someone else is experiencing what I am. Terminex is due to come out to my home tomorrow for the .3rd time! They lost the samples I gave them. I'm STILL TRYING TO IDENTIFY them, but think this may be what they are. It's Nov & I've been dealing w/this for 2 months now. I truly cannot take much more. My husband doesn't believe me. Almost 0 comm about this now & at this point I don't think the Terminix people do either. I cannot do this anymore. All I do is Vaccuum, clean & try & find a solution to this issue. I'm starting to loose it & not feeling believed is unbearable. I'm a 45 yr old college graduate with a "normal" life. I'm reaching a point however of wishing this were just in my head so I could be diagnosed & move forward. Were u able to rid ur home of these pests? If so, Please let me know how. Best of luck to you!

if they are creepy crawlies

if they are creepy crawlies on you, use diatomaceous earch powder around the peripheries of your room, house, exterior windows (especially for those small enough to gt through the screen). Use home or garden grade, not pool grade. you can buy at lowes or many places.

I have been having the same

I have been having the same problem since May 2012 as you Freddy. I have seen the mature ones fly out of my car, I have knocked them out of my shoes, I have seen them fly out of my clothing, all on rare occasions. The immature ones bite and seen to move very, very, very fast. You may have to actually get rid of all of the belongings you cannot wash. Wash and use a hot dryer for whatever else you can. This was basically what I had to do and it only helped a bit. Are you the only one being affected? They may be attracted to something on our skin.... I really don't know all I know is they are a pain and I lose sleep sometimes because of them. I was thinking of maybe using a bedbug/ dust mite type cover on my mattress to see if it helps.
If you find another way to get rid of them by all means share the secret.

Stacy, do you notice them

Stacy, do you notice them more at certain times? These things start bothering me around 2PM until 5AM, that means I cannot relax or go to sleep until after 5! I am constantly sweeping and spraying from the time I wake up! I have to take a hot blow drier to get them out of my hair, and you are right the immature ones bite! there very tiny, I am disabled and fighting these things is very difficult to kill they just keep coming! If you have any helpful advise I would be so grateful! these things make me feel so dirty and I'm not! HELP WHAT IS THE ANSWER??

white flies

I know this sounds crazy, but for awhile I was staying in a public housing situation and it was infested with the bed bugs, What I finally ended up doing was putting 'foot-powder'[the kind at the 99cent stores, that has" Salicylic Acid "included in it. The bugs get this on their little feet, and it literally implodes them upon them trying to eat off the powder......it works. I put it around doorways ,on the mattress, all along the wall, and you can see the bugs are dead after ingesting it.........



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