Summertime is a great time, but whether you’re working hard outside or trying to get in some much-needed recreation and relaxation, it rarely fails that you’ll be sweating.
That can make you miserable enough, but why does it always seem like these annoying little bugs land on you when you’re at your sweatiest? And then another, and another? And then -ouch! – did that thing just sting you?!
It sure did, because you’ve just been visited by sweat bees. Sweat bees are tiny, typically communal bees that always show up to pester you when you are, of course, sweaty.
It’s all in the name, and if a colony of them is nearby, it can make your backyard basically unusable for weeks. Talk about annoying!
But you don’t have to put up with them if you know how to get rid of them. To help you give sweat bees the boot I’m bringing you a comprehensive guide for eliminating them directly and making sure they don’t set up shop in the first place. Let’s get going…
Why are They Called Sweat Bees?
Sweat bees aren’t a single species of bee, but rather they are an entire family of different species: Halictidae.
But all sweat bees share some things in common, namely that they are typically very small, ground-dwelling, and, if the name didn’t tip you off, attracted to human perspiration.
Gross, but also alarming. What’s the deal with that?
Well, simply stated, sweat bees eat and gather all the other things that bees do, mainly pollen and nectar, but they also eat your sweat because it contains dissolved and easily digested electrolytes that they use for energy.
Truly, sweat bees really do show up in greater numbers, and the more quickly, the sweatier you are! Yes, they just want to land and get a little lick, but it’s certainly enough to freak people out, and when you swat at them or try to brush them off they will sting you.
Luckily this thing doesn’t hurt very much, usually feeling like a jolt of static electricity, but a swarm of them can give you some welts for sure, and it’s enough to completely ruin whatever activity you’re engaged in outdoors…
Getting Rid of Sweat Bees Starts with Locating the Nest
Obviously, if you have sweat bees nesting near your home you’re going to have to get rid of them unless you want to surrender your property to them for a few weeks when they are most active.
But to get rid of them, you’ve got to hit the nest otherwise they will just come back. To locate the nest, look in dry, sandy, and easily disturbed soils that don’t have much in the way of plant or grass cover.
Much of the time, the entrance to a sweat beehive looks just like a little ant hill. Alternately, see if you can track the tiny, fast-flying bees to a pile of sticks, rocks, or other debris; sometimes they will nest there if there’s no suitable soil on the surface.
Once you’ve got the nest in your sights, you’re ready to take action.
Direct Elimination Methods
The following methods will help you get rid of sweat bees immediately, and under ideal conditions can eliminate the nest entirely and solve your problem.
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Hit Them with Foaming Bee-and-Wasp Killer
There’s no need to innovate if you’ve got a high-quality foaming bee and wasp spray on hand.
Usually formulated using pyrethrin or other, similar paralytic chemicals that are almost instantly lethal to insects, these sprays are your primary weapon and can give you a good one-two punch against the sweat bee menace.
For starters, any bee that comes into contact with the spray will be paralyzed in just a few seconds and then dead shortly thereafter.
But I like these foaming sprays because they also keep bees and other flying, stinging critters from flapping their wings to fly, dropping them harmlessly to the ground.
If you start spraying this foam into the entrance to the nest, the bees won’t be able to get out and after several applications, most of the bees inside will be fatally poisoned as will the bees that are returning home from their foraging.
Note that this stuff is nominally safe for humans, but it still has it many harmful chemicals so resist the urge to spray yourself with it.
Use Insecticide Powder
Something that’s slower-acting but likely to disturb the hive is insecticide powder. These powders can be sprinkled, sprayed, or blown into hard-to-reach places, and they will slowly start to kill the bees that come into contact with them.
This is a great way to slowly reduce the numbers in a colony until it collapses from a lack of workers.
Even better, it is a lot less likely to upset the bees and provoke a defensive response, especially if you apply it at night when they are more likely to be inside.
You have to be patient while you wait for it to work, but applying it routinely ensures that eventually all of the bees will die, especially if the hive is in an easy-to-reach area.
You can get powders like this at a well-stocked hardware store, pest control store, or online. Make sure you read and follow all instructions concerning safety and application to the letter.
Try Bee Repellent
With a little bit of luck, you might not have to kill the sweat bees at all to get rid of them. Commercial bee repellents exist, and there are several DIY options you might try, including several that are likely to be in your home right now…
Commercial repellent is made from synthetic or natural ingredients that are basically intolerable to bees, either agitating them or disrupting the pheromone signals they use for communication. The same goes for the natural, holistic options you can pull out of your pantry.
One good DIY option is cinnamon. Yes, just common cinnamon…
You can sprinkle a generous dusting of cinnamon right around and directly into the entrance to the beehive and there’s a good chance that the bees will start evacuating to move somewhere else, especially if the hive isn’t very big or just getting established.
For any over-the-counter product, follow the instructions on the container.
Use Vinegar to Kill Sweat Bees
Vinegar is a completely safe and low-impact bee killer, believe it or not. That’s because the strongly acidic nature of the stuff damages the exoskeleton of bees and will eventually kill them.
You can make your own vinegar-based bee killer by mixing it in a one-to-one ratio with water and then it’s soaking the entrance to the nest with it. You can also directly spray any sweat bees you see with the stuff, and chances are good they will die in a little while.
You can apply it with a spray bottle or a garden sprayer at your leisure, just take care because spraying the entrance to the nest with liquid is likely to provoke a defensive response and it won’t immediately stop or drop the bees!
Dish Soap and Water Could Work
Another super-simple bee-killing recipe, and one that I guarantee you can make right this second in your own kitchen, is nothing more than dish soap and water.
It sounds strange, because what could be more harmless than dish soap: dish soap is even safe for baby ducks! But it still kills bees nonetheless because it exploits a quirk of their physiology.
The exoskeleton of a bee, and all insects, is coated with a waxy covering called the cuticle. This cuticle helps protect the actual material of the exoskeleton but more importantly, it helps trap moisture inside the body of the insect, including our sweat bees here.
When they get dish soap on them, it clings to and slowly dissolves the cuticle, meaning that they will eventually dry out and die because they can’t hold in vital moisture.
It’s a bad death, but good for us because it’s totally safe for people and for pets. All you need to do is make up a super sudsy batch of dish soap and water, load it into a sprayer, and soak the hive entrance as described with the vinegar solution above.
Lure Them Out with Traps
If direct action isn’t your thing, you can resort to traps and let them do the killing for you.
Sweat bees don’t just subsist on sweat: they gather pollen, nectar, and other sweet liquids just like other bees and so most typical bee traps work well on them.
Bee traps typically contain highly attractive liquid or solid bait on the inside that can only be accessed via a one-way entrance into the chamber.
The bottom line is that bees fly in but they can’t get back out, then fall into the liquid and drown, or they eventually die from exposure inside.
You can purchase these traps and set up multiples around the hive and around your property to lure in the sweat bees. Once the hive loses enough workers, it will collapse and cease to exist.
You can also make your own sweat bee trap using a 2-liter bottle that is cut in half, modified, and filled with some sort of sweet liquid.
Dry Ice Can Suffocate Ground Nests
One of the most interesting methods for eliminating an entire nest of sweat bees in one go, and I’m certain the one that my high school science teacher would have been the most proud of, is using dry ice to smother them.
Dry ice is nothing more than a solidified block of carbon dioxide, achieved through the use of extremely low temperatures. As the dry ice “melts” it instantly turns back into a gas, a gas which then sinks because it is heavier than air.
Sweat bees, it turns out, breathe oxygen just like we do, and will be poisoned and suffocate quickly if they are exposed to intense concentrations of carbon dioxide.
You can see where this is going: Assuming you’re dealing with an in-ground nest that you have easy access to, you can seal the entrance around the hole using plastic wrap or a folded-up towel before setting a block of dry ice directly on top of it so the bees can’t get out.
As the carbon dioxide turns back into a gas it will sink into and perfuse the air in the hive, suffocating all of the bees including the young.
Once the dry ice block has evaporated away, you should notice no more activity coming out of the hive entrance!
Reduction and Prevention Methods
As with everything else in life, the best way to get rid of sweat bees is to not have to deal with them in the first place. You can do this by taking proper preventative measures…
Keep Your Lawn in Good Shape
Remember when I said up above about sweat bees greatly preferring completely dry, loose, and sandy soils?
If your lawn is in bad shape with tons of bald spots and bare patches, sweat bees will readily move in and build quickly. On the other hand, if your lawn is well-established, plush, and healthy they are much less likely to build.
Eliminate Debris Piles
Sweat bees, generally, prefer to build directly in soil but if that isn’t an option, they will sometimes set up in piles of debris like sticks, gravel, rocks, and more.
Eliminating these tall, dense piles of substrate will further deny sweat bees nesting opportunities and make it a lot less likely for them to be on your property.
Water Your Lawn Often
Sweat bees have to have dry soils to live in, and they absolutely detest water and will abandon nests that get completely soaked.
If your lawn isn’t in tip-top shape, and even if it is, make it a point to water it heavily and often. Sweat bees won’t even try to build in wet dirt as a rule of thumb.
Use Mulch to Make Soil Less Accessible
If you don’t have grass in some spots or if you just need temporary protective measures, you can layer mulch deeply on the ground to keep the sweat bees from getting to it. You can use any sort of mulch you like as long as it is a layer that is at least 3 inches thick.
Wait Them Out
At the end of the day, sweat bees aren’t active for long, even during peak season, compared to other bees. Most of the time they’ll be gone by the end of August and it is very rare to see them at all after that.
If you aren’t being plagued by the bees or if they’re generally leaving you alone consider leaving them alone to do their job of pollinating.
In many ways, they’re even more important and more efficient at pollinating than honey bees are, and the bees need all the help they can get these days!
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.