How to Get Rid of Yellow Jackets

yellow jacket sitting on a flower

Yellow jackets are tiny insects that might not seem like a threat at first, but they can be a menace if they show up in your lawn, garden, or (heaven forbid) your house. If they do, you need to know how to get rid of yellow jackets ASAP.

Getting rid of yellow jackets without being stung mercilessly isn’t an easy task. Read on for some helpful tips on how to get yellow jackets away from your home safely.

About Yellow Jackets

Photo Credit: Sue Thompson / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Yellow jackets, also known by their scientific name Vespula vulgaris, are a species of wasp endemic to North America. The name is a collective term for many different species of social wasps and hornets found throughout the globe. They’re known for their yellow and black coloration, the paper-like nests they build, and the aggressiveness with which they will defend said nests.

Unlike other stinging insects such as honeybees, yellow jacket stingers are not barbed, meaning that they can and will sting you multiple times. Yellow jackets will swarm and pursue you if they feel their nest is in danger, which is terrifying to even think about. Even if you are doing nothing to them and are nowhere near their nest, sometimes they will sting for no reason whatsoever.

However, the true danger of yellow jackets and other wasps has almost nothing to do with them. For those who are allergic to their venom, even one sting will induce an allergic reaction and send the victim into anaphylactic shock, taking them from an unsettling nuisance to a deadly menace.

How to Get Rid of Yellow Jackets

Photo Credit: Otto Phokus / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

There are a few different ways to get rid of yellow jackets. No matter the method you use, it should be done at night, as these insects are less active and the entire nest will be present in one spot. They also won’t be able to see as well, reducing the odds of you being stung. Wear protective clothing with long sleeves, eye protection, and a mask to protect your face.

Many yellow jacket nests are underground, meaning that they may not be obvious at first and you might have to go looking for them. Take great caution when searching for a nest, as the slightest provocation may cause the bugs to swarm. Once you’ve found it, you can use some of the helpful tips below to eliminate its inhabitants.

One thing that you should never do when trying to rid yourself of a yellow jacket nest is pour gasoline or any harmful liquid chemical into the nest. They will soak into the ground, killing plants and possibly harming local wildlife.


A few different pesticides and insecticides are effective against yellow jackets. You can buy any number of sprays or dusts from most commercial stores. In the case of an aerial nest, a spray is better, while dusts will be more effective against underground nests.

Best Pesticides for Yellow Jackets:

  • Pyrethroid-based sprays. Use an aerosol spray that has a jet nozzle and can spray from far away. Spray the nest opening and coat the exterior. Leave for at least 24 hours and spray every three days until the nest is dead.
  • Carbaryl-based dusts. Apply the dust around all entrances to the nest and pour some directly inside. Leave for 24 hours and repeat every three days until there is no more activity. Cover the entrances with soil mixed with the dust to keep any survivors from rebuilding.

DIY Traps

If you don’t want to go near the yellow jackets (and who could blame you?), then you can use DIY pest control traps to get rid of them without engaging them. These can be bought commercially or you can make your own at home. Meat is a good bait for yellow jacket traps, as is sugar water. Meat is more effective in the spring and summer, while you’ll see more results with sugar in the fall and winter.

If you want to make a meat trap, don’t just leave out a cut of beef covered in poison. What you want to do is skewer some meat such as ham or turkey on a stick and place it on a bowl filled with water, then cover the water with vegetable oil. The yellow jackets will eat the meat, go to drink, and be unable to escape and drown. Make sure the water is not touching the meat.

You can also use the same method on a larger scale for more severe infestations. Take a five-gallon drum and fill it with water mixed with soap. Cover one side of a wooden board with a meat paste such as cat food and place it, meat side down, on the bucket. The same principle applies. The water should be about one inch below the board.

If you want to use a sugar trap, cut a small rectangle out of the top of a two-liter soda bottle. One inch by two inches is recommended. Fill it with a mixture of one cup of water, one cup of sugar or a sugary drink such as apple juice, half a cup of vinegar, and a drop of soap. You can also add small pieces of meat to make it extra attractive. Finally, close the cap, set it out, and let it work.

Diatomaceous Earth

There are also methods of yellow jacket control that don’t involve synthetic chemicals. One of these is diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is a fine white powder made from the fossilized remains of a plankton called diatoms. When insects, including yellow jackets, come into contact with it, it will pierce their exoskeletons and dry out their insides, killing them.

To use diatomaceous earth against yellow jackets, locate any entrances to the nest and pour it in. Surround the hole with more and wait. When they leave, the powder will get on them and eventually kill them. Take note that this will only work on ground nests.

Cover the Nest 

You can also try covering the nest if it’s a ground nest. Place plastic buckets or bins over all entrances to the nest and let them starve. Yellow jackets can chew through wood and weaker substances such as cardboard, but cannot eat their way through plastic. Ensure the coverings are transparent so that you can see if they’re working. This can be used in conjunction with other methods.

Signs of Yellow Jackets

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Aside from seeing the yellow jackets flying about firsthand, there are a few signs that you may have these vicious summertime pests or one of their nests in your vicinity. You may hear a nest before you see it. It will have a humming sound, and if it’s in your walls or attic, you may hear the sound of crinkling paper.

Check typical yellow jacket nesting sites. Yellow jackets may nest in abandoned animal burrows, stumps, or other enclosed areas such as recycling bins. Open-air nests are gray and made of a papery substance, and may have yellow jackets going in and out.

Where Do Yellow Jackets Come From?

There are a few things that can attract yellow jackets to your area. Sugar is a big attractor for them, so if you have a lot of soda cans or juice bottles in your outside garbage, especially if it’s left uncovered, it may be drawing them in. An abundance of sweet-smelling flowers in your garden may have the same result.

Yellow jackets also eat copious amounts of small insects, so if you have an infestation of another flying or crawling pest in your yard, this could be another draw for them. If you do see a yellow jacket around your house or yard, they aren’t necessarily nesting there. These bugs will travel over 1,000 feet from their nest in search of food.

If you have a deck, shed, wooden steps, or any other outdoor structure, yellow jackets may be attracted to it as a nesting spot. Take steps to ensure that they don’t take up residence in any of your outdoor spaces.

How to Prevent Yellow Jackets

If you want to keep yellow jackets from invading in the first place, there are a few ways to keep them away. 

  • Deprive them of food sources by keeping any outdoor trash cans covered and not leaving out any food. 
  • Get rid of standing water, such as puddles, to deprive them of hydration. 
  • If you see lone yellow jackets, do not kill them. They release a pheromone that will attract more when crushed.
  • Buy a fake nest and hang it around your property. Yellow jackets are territorial and will not nest close to another nest. This will not be 100% effective, however, so continue to practice other methods of repelling wasp and yellow jacket nests.
  • Peppermint oil is a natural wasp repellent. You can roll or dab it on yourself to keep them away from you or spray it on places where yellow jackets may hang aerial nests, such as eaves and awnings, to prevent them from using these locations.
  • To prevent underground nests, locate any unoccupied or abandoned burrows left by small animals on your property, as these are the most common places these nests are established. Seal them with soil to prevent the yellow jackets from taking up residence there, but only after ensuring they’re not in use by another animal.

FAQ About Yellow Jackets

How many stings from a yellow jacket is dangerous?

For a person who’s not allergic to yellow jacket stings, it varies from individual to individual. The general rule is that a person can safely tolerate 10 stings per one pound of body weight. On average, it takes 1,500 stings to kill an adult man.

However, venom is not the only danger that yellow jackets present. Since they scavenge in filthy areas like landfills, they may carry harmful germs and bacteria that can be injected into you during a sting. Thoroughly disinfect any stings and watch closely for any adverse reactions.

What should I do if I see yellow jackets starting to swarm?

If you believe yellow jackets are starting to swarm, do not panic. Running or any other sudden movements will provoke them and attract them to you. Move away from them calmly and get inside your house, car, or any other safe space as soon as possible.

If they are actively swarming, the same principles apply. Cover your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands. Move calmly and don’t try to swat at them, as frantic movements and retaliation will attract more. Don’t try to jump in the water. They will wait for you, and you cannot hold your breath long enough to escape them. Get inside ASAP.

When is yellow jacket season?

Yellow jackets are more prolific in the late summer and early fall. This is when their nests are at their largest.

When to Call a Pest Control Professional

If you’ve got a serious yellow jacket problem, have a nest in your home, or are allergic and can’t remove them yourself safely, it’s time to bring in the pros. Call your local pest extermination experts to get help removing these vicious insects.

Main Image Credit: Audrey / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Austin Geiger

Austin Geiger is a writer who's passionate about home care. He enjoys writing about home maintenance practices, as well as projects to turn an outdoor space into a backyard paradise.