Although pill bugs (Armadillium spp.) and sow bugs (Porcellio spp.) are innocuous, you may not want bugs crawling around inside your home. If you do encounter either or both in your house, though, there are several ways to get rid of them and keep them from coming back.
Video of the Day
About Your Uninvited Guests
Pill bugs are harmless creatures that get their name from their pill-like shape and size. They also have other nicknames, such as potato bugs and roly-poly bugs (named after their unique habit of rolling up into a ball when scared or disturbed). Sow bugs are similar to pill bugs (they both have gray, segmented bodies), except sow bugs have two tail-like appendages at the rear and pill bugs do not. Additionally, sow bugs do not roll up into a ball when frightened.
Contrary to their name, pill bugs and sow bugs are not insects at all; rather, they are crustaceans. Unlike other crustaceans, such as lobsters, crabs, and shrimp, however, pill and sow bugs are earthbound.
Minimize the Outdoor Population
To prevent pill bugs and sow bugs from coming inside your home, it's important to control the population outside in your yard. Make your yard less hospitable by removing sources of food and shelter, such as rocks, piles of wet leaves, grass clippings, dead plants, extra mulch, piles of firewood, and ripe fruits and vegetables that have fallen to the ground.
Reduce excess moisture in your yard by not overwatering your plants. Check your downspouts, another potential water source for pill bugs and sow bugs, to ensure they drain away from the foundation and are not dumping additional water so close to your home.
Orkin suggests clearing mulch and leaves from a 15- to 30-centimeter area around the foundation of your home to discourage nesting. If shrubs or tree limbs create moist, shady conditions near the foundation, prune them back to increase air circulation.
Eliminate Inside Sources of Moisture
Pill bugs and sow bugs thrive in dark, moist locations, so your basement, crawl space, and the ground level of your home are where you're most likely to see them. These critters can be an indicator of excessive humidity or even leaking pipes, so if you start to spot a lot of them around, inspect your home for any sources of moisture.
To help eliminate moisture in damper areas of the house, such as the basement, look into waterproofing options or use a dehumidifier to remove excess humidity from the air. Of course, the source of moisture may be a hidden leak in the wall or a slow-dripping faucet — in which case you should either determine how to fix the leak yourself or call a plumber to investigate the issue. Once you eliminate all sources of moisture, pill bugs and sow bugs will not be able to survive in your home.
Check for Cracks
If you have a large population of pill bugs and sow bugs outdoors, they may wander inside, especially after a heavy rain, and because they're so small, they can squeeze through tiny openings in your home's exterior.
Look for foundation cracks and check the area around your windows and doors for gaps that could be allowing pill bugs and sow bugs to get inside. To keep them from crawling in, install or replace weatherstripping and door sweeps as needed and fill in cracks and holes with caulk to form a seal.
Inspect Potted Plants
If you have any indoor potted plants that spent the summer outside in your garden, you may find that pill bugs and sow bugs have taken shelter there. Check under the pot, in the soil, and between the pot and drip tray. These areas provide moisture and a cool, dark spot for these creatures to thrive. Pill bugs and sow bugs like to stay near soil and may even burrow in it. If you see any of the bugs, relocate them outside, empty the drip tray, and clean up any excess water around the plant.
If the soil in your outdoor container plants is overwatered or stays wet for too long, pill bugs and sow bugs may move in. Keeping your potted garden plants on stands, watering them only when necessary, and using high-quality, fast-draining potting soil all help prevent pill bugs and sow bugs from hitching a ride.
Try a Bug Catcher
You can use a bug catcher as a humane way to capture pill bugs and sow bugs and release them outside without harming or killing them. Open the plastic door and scoop them up. Close the door and then open it again once you're outside and ready to release them. You can also remove them by hand and relocate them outside.
As an alternative, you can use an insect vacuum. Traditional vacuums kill small animals like pill bugs and sow bugs, but insect vacuums whisk them up without harming them because the suction is less forceful. Aim the suction end of the vacuum at the critters and turn it on to draw them in. Once you are outside, detach the tube or follow the manufacturer's instructions to release them.
Use a Pesticide
If you have a large infestation, you may need to use a nontoxic pesticide, such as food grade diatomaceous earth, which is safe for humans and pets as long as it's not inhaled. It is also safe for plants, but it will kill pill bugs and sow bugs around your foundation and in your garden and potted plant soil. Diatomaceous earth is a high-silica white powder created from the sediment of fossilized algae harvested from bodies of water. When pill bugs and sow bugs walk through diatomaceous earth, they become dehydrated and die.
When using diatomaceous earth, read and follow the manufacturer's application directions carefully in addition to wearing a mask to prevent inhalation and goggles to protect your eyes. Store the product in a secure place that children and pets can't access. If your pill bug problem persists, an exterminator can help.
- Bob Vila: How To: Get Rid of Pill Bugs
- Entomology at the University of Kentucky: Sowbugs and Pillbugs
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: Pillbugs
- Chicago Tribune: The Best Bug Vacuum
- PestWorld.org: Pillbugs (Rollie Pollies)
- Orkin: Pillbug Facts & Information
- Gardening Mentor: How To Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In Potted Plants (12 Organic Ways)
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: The Harmless Houseplant Hitchhikers
- Gardening Mentor: How To Use Diatomaceous Earth In Potted Plants
- WebMD: Diatomaceous Earth - Uses, Side Effects, and More
- Orkin: Sowbug Facts & Information
- NC State Extension: Pillbugs and Sowbugs