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How to get rid of stink bugs, according to an entomologist

Here's an expert take on how to expel these smelly creatures from your home.

Stink bugs, as the name implies, don't smell pleasant.

But they may be flying under the radar in your home: "Many go unnoticed until they accumulate in large numbers for overwintering such as the brown marmorated stink bug or if the heat of the summer dries down their food such as the red and black bagrada bug," explains Dr. Tracy Ellis, PhD, an entomologist at Farmsense, adding that these species will be seen en masse collecting at either south facing warm walls or in the shade near water.

If you're reading this, you're likely desperate to get rid of 'em. One of Scot Hodges, vice president of professional development and technical services at Arrow Exterminators in Atlanta, preferred ways to get rid of stink bugs is to vacuum them up, as it avoids squishing them and releasing their nasty odor. “To keep them out of your home in the first place, check yourself and your belongings before going indoors, and repair any cracks or crevices in the screens on doors and windows,” he says, further commenting that shutting off exterior lights can also discourage them from congregating near your home. “Finally, turn the power of smell against stinkbugs! Rub strongly scented dryer sheets on exterior screens and diffuse essential oils near entryways to deter them from coming inside,” he adds.

If you find unique pearlescent eggs in a bunch on the underside of garden vegetable leaves, you should remove them from your garden because some stink bugs, such as the green Say’s stink bug, can be a pest of vegetables, cautions Ellis. "Otherwise, keeping your house screened, and door seals tight will go a long way to keeping stink bugs out," she adds. (More on effectively eliminating stink bugs from your home later.)

On the bright side, stink bugs can’t bite. But anyone who has ever stepped on or smushed a stink bug can attest to how horrible the odor really is. So, how do you get rid of stink bugs, and what even are they? 

What are stink bugs? 

First off, why do stink bugs smell so bad? “Stink bugs produce the smelly chemical in a gland on their abdomen, and some species can actually spray the chemical several inches,” Dr. Jim Fredericks, board-certified entomologist and senior vice president of public affairs at the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), tells TODAY. “The smell has often been compared to strong herbs and spices like cilantro and coriander.”

As with other pests, it’s important to remove stink bugs quickly, because once they find a cozy shelter to hibernate for the winter, they emit a pheromone to attract others, explains Hodges. (Another pheromone, the aggregation pheromone, is the one responsible for the odorous, cilantro-like smell released when they are attacked, threatened or squished, Hodges notes.)

Stink bugs are relatively peaceful besides the smell, which is their main defense against predators, says Fredricks. They don’t sting, and their mouths form in a way that doesn’t allow them to bite human skin either. Small victories. 

That said, it's not just their foul smell that stinks. They can be a significant pest for apples, peaches and other crops. They use their drinking straw-like mouthparts to suck the juice from leaves, stems and plant roots — and will attack everything from ornamental plants to weeds (hey, another small win!), per Fredricks.

There are a variety of stink bug species in the United States. However, the brown marmorated stink bug is the most frequent guest in people’s homes. Other stink bugs generally stick to eating plants

What attracts stink bugs?

Like many insects, stink bugs typically show up in the late summer and fall months, searching for a place to stay warm come winter. They are most likely to emerge in the eastern part of the United States but can certainly show up on the West Coast, too. And no matter where you live, they are attracted to light.

How to get rid of stink bugs

Do not — we repeat, do not — try to squish away a stink bug. Instead, try one of these methods to eliminate stink bugs in your home. 

Vacuum them right up

The smell of a stink bug can last for hours, according to Fredricks. Vacuuming provides a quick and easy way to get rid of them without the risk of their immediate stink as a defense mechanism. Just make sure to toss the vacuum and trash bags once you’re done — or your storage area could get very smelly. 

Use soapy water to ward them off

Take 4 cups of hot water and combine it with 3/4 of a cup of dishwashing liquid. Spray the mixture along any cracks or potential entry points for stink bugs. 

Deter them with garlic or mint

Stink bugs are just as particular about odors as humans. They are especially not fans of pantry staples like garlic or mint — something you can use to your advantage. Mix 4 tsp. garlic powder or mint oil with 2 cups water in a spray bottle. Spray the solution on your plants to deter stink bugs from feeding on them. This method won’t exactly get rid of your problem, but it will protect your plants over time. 

Make a physical trap

You can use a water bottle to make a trap for stink bugs. Simply take the bottle, cut off the top and then place it inside the bottle upside down. This technique creates a funnel that will gather any stink bugs that want to hang out on the bottle’s edge.  

How to keep stink bugs away 

So, how do you keep stink bugs from returning once they’re gone? Fredricks recommends sealing any “cracks around windows, doors, siding, utility pipes and other openings.” Typical entry points include door and window frames, electrical outlets, light switches, ceiling fans, skylights and ceiling light fixtures. “Use a good quality silicone or silicone-latex caulk,” he adds. You should also replace any damaged screens and change exterior lights to either less-attractive yellow bulbs or sodium vapor lights.

Fredricks says it’s best to contact a professional in the case of a stink bug infestation. They can determine how severe the invasion is, while identifying and sealing possible access points that you might have missed.