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Fungus Gnats: Where Do These Little Flying Bugs Come From?

I have more than eight years of hands-on experience in the horticultural maintenance industry and like to share many tricks of the trade.

What are those little flying black insects?

What are those little flying black insects?

What Are These Tiny and Annoying Black Flies?

Fungus gnats are tiny flying insects often mistaken for fruit flies. A fungus gnat is much smaller than a fruit fly and has a tiny black body (while fruit flies are commonly tan and have very visible bodies). Gnats are also attracted to decaying organic material, whereas fruit flies only feed on produce.

Laying Eggs

These bugs lay eggs in soil where conditions are moist and there is decaying matter to feed upon. The eggs of the gnats hatch in the soil, and the larva live and feed on fungal material found there. They can eat away at the roots of your plants and cause them to yellow or die. When the larva grows into an adult, it flies out in search of new locations to procreate and feed.

Why Do They Fly Into My Nose?

Most people notice that they have fungus gnats in their home because these tiny bugs will often try to fly into a person's nose, mouth, or eyes, as they are attracted to moisture. This trait causes them to be commonly reported as "those little, annoying, flying bugs." They can be especially irritating to someone who sits at a desk near the origination of the infestation.

Where Do Gnats Come From and What Are They Attracted To?

  • Moisture: They love to live and breed in the moist soil of overwatered houseplants, in containers or pot liners, or around areas with standing water, such as sinks, open bottles of beverages, etc. Tap on the pots of any houseplants in the area where they seem to swarm. If there are gnats, they will begin to fly up out of the plant.
  • Decaying organic matter: Fungus gnats feed on moist, decaying, organic material, such as dead leaves, leaf husks, fungus, or any other organic debris on top of the soil's surface or down inside the pots and liners. They are also attracted to soil that contains organic material, like wood chips, peat moss, or compost, which is also why you may find them in compost bins or trash cans with decaying material.
  • Light source: They typically swarm around windows, lamps, and other light fixtures.
  • Carbon dioxide: Like most flies, fungus gnats love CO2, which is why they like to hover around your mouth and nose.

What's the Difference Between a Fungus Gnat and a Fruit Fly?

Fungus GnatFruit Fly

smaller than a fruit fly


tiny black body

brown or tan body

attracted to moisture and decaying organic material

attracted to fruits and vegetables

feeds on moist, decaying organic material found in houseplants' soil

feeds mainly on produce

To prevent fungus gnat infestations, let your plant's soil dry out, and don't let dead leaves accumulate in the pot.

To prevent fungus gnat infestations, let your plant's soil dry out, and don't let dead leaves accumulate in the pot.

How to Get Rid of Fungus Gnats

Use the following methods to catch and kill fungus gnats that are present in your home. Use a combination of methods and do it repeatedly for at least 4 weeks.

Dry Out the Soil

For an over-watered plant, you must begin drying out the soil. Overwatered plants get root rot, and rotten roots are a perfect food source for fungus gnats. As a side note, overwatering will eventually kill most houseplants, so please don't do it.

Remove Dead Leaves

If there are dead leaves or any other kind of debris in the soil or inside the liners or containers, it must be removed. Dead, decaying material is a food source for gnats.

Massacre With Steel Wool

This method works like a charm. Place a thin layer of steel wool on top of the soil of your potted plants. Any larvae trying to fly out will literally get shred to pieces, and adults flying in to lay their eggs will also die. Leave the wool in for at least 4 weeks to ensure that all generations of larvae are exterminated as they try to fly out. It's a simple yet magical technique.

Remove the Top Layer of Soil

Once you believe all the larvae are dead, remove the top part of the soil. This is to ensure that any eggs remaining will be removed. Replace this top half with sand. Sand drains well and dries quickly.

Drown Them in Vinegar or Beer

Place jars filled halfway with apple cider vinegar or beer near the source of origin. Screw on the lids and poke holes in them large enough for the gnats to enter. If you don't want to ruin your lids, you can cover with plastic wrap and poke holes in it. The gnats will enter to drink the vinegar or beer and drown. Do this repeatedly until you see fewer and fewer gnats in the jars.

Use Potato Slices to Control Larvae

Cut slices of potato up and place them on the surface of your potting soil. Fungus gnat larvae will swarm onto these tater slices after about four hours, and you can then dispose of them. Do this repeatedly until all the larvae are gone.

Kill Larvae With 3% Hydrogen Peroxide

Allow your soil to dry before watering your plant with a mixture of 1 part hydrogen peroxide and 3 parts water. You must dilute the hydrogen peroxide and only use the 3% hydrogen peroxide you find at the drugstore and nothing higher.

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Control Larvae With Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth

DE is natural and non-toxic, but it contains microscopic shards of silica that can rip larvae apart as they crawl through it. Mix some into the top layer soil (this is where gnats lay their eggs). If your repotting or planting something new, mix DE into the potting soil for prevention.

Purchase Products Containing BTI

These products, such as BTI Mosquito Bits, contain the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis, which kills the larvae of many insects, including fungus gnats. Mix into your soil and larvae will be wiped out instantly.

Catch Flying Gnats With Yellow Sticky Traps

Like flypaper, these yellow sticky tabs catch gnats so you can discard of them. Just place the stick traps horizontally on top of the plant soil, and they will catch the adults that fly up out of the pot. Discard the sticky trap once it is covered in gnat carcasses, and continue using new traps until you see fewer gnats.

Discard or Repot the Plant

Organic material inside the soil is the most difficult issue to correct. The easiest solution is to discard the plant. If you are fairly handy, you may try repotting the plant in proper indoor potting soil. But for this to be successful, most of the old soil must be shaken away from the plant's root system.

Get a New Liner

If a liner with built-up residue and fungus is discovered, wash it thoroughly or get a new one.

How to Prevent a Fungus Gnat Infestation

  • Don't Overwater Your Plants: Give plants the proper amount of water and allow them to dry out between waterings.
  • Keep Your Plants Clean: Remove dead leaves, stems, debris, etc.
  • Use Sand: Fill the top of your pot with 1/2 inch of sand. Water drains quickly in sand, keeping the top layer dry, and thus preventing gnats from laying their eggs.
  • Use Indoor Potting Soil: Always use indoor potting soil for indoor plants. Do not add compost or wood chips to the soil.
  • Don't Use Compost, Peat Moss, or Mulch: These materials retain moisture and contain decaying material that fungus gnats are attracted to. Don't using potting mixes containing these materials and replace the potting soil with indoor soil if necessary.
  • Consider Using Perlite or Vermiculite: Both of these materials improve aeration while retaining moisture. Like diatomaceous earth, they are sharp, so they present an unwelcoming environment to fungus gnats. Ask your local nursery which material you should use for your plants as perlite dries out too quickly for water-loving plants and vermiculite holds too much water for plants that need well-drained soil.
  • Check Plants For Infestation Before Buying: Avoid purchasing any plants that have evidence of fungus gnats.

Goodbye, Gnats

Following these simple tips and keeping your plants properly watered will work wonders for keeping your home or workspace free of obnoxious little fungus gnats. There is no need to throw away all your houseplants! All you need is a little know-how.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: I see these gnats everywhere. I have a lot of houseplants. They’re on my clothes itching me, and they bite. We’re getting mosquito type bites, and they bite hard. What if they are not Fungus Gnats?

Answer: The description of the bugs in your home sound like they could likely be something other than Fungus Gnats. It would be best to contact pest control to identify & exterminate whatever pest it is that you have especially if they are biting.

Question: Do fungus Gnats bite? I'm not sure if that's what we have but it sounds like it. They're terribly annoying and they leave bites that look like mosquito bites.

Answer: Fungus Gnats do not bite.

Question: How can I keep gnats from coming into my home? I have no indoor plants, but gnats are in my home. I have a large mango tree at the back that constantly sheds leaves. Also, my neighbors have tons of outdoor plants.

Answer: Fungus gnats will only reside where there is a food source, so there is either something inside of your home or in close enough proximity to it that makes it attractive for them to stick around. My expertise lies in the presence of gnats that reside in houseplants themselves, however, the attraction to moist, decaying, organic material would be the key whether they are associated with the houseplants or something else.

Question: What do I do if there are fungus gnats in my car?

Answer: There is likely something stagnant and moist in your car. Find the source of it then get rid of it.

Question: Do fungus gnats also like things like cat litter? I have noticed tiny flying insects, and they are getting worse. I've noticed them around the cat litter waste as well as around fruit.

Answer: Moist, decaying organic material is the draw for fungus gnats. It is entirely possible that cat litter waste would fall into that category.

Question: I just moved into an apartment, and it had a lot of the tiny black fly-looking bugs everywhere. I don't have plants or leave fruit out. How do I get rid of them?

Answer: The first step to getting rid of fungus gnats is to identify what they are living and feeding on. Look for moist organic material. If no plants are present, they could be coming from other places: drains, a crawl space, under the sink or fridge, etc. Once the source has been identified steps should be taken to remove the food and incubation source.

Question: Are these bugs also attracted to light? I thought we had fleas. Keep finding little black bugs appearing to hop however they also fly, we don't have any bites, and they are mostly near my house plants, and also I am finding them in the bathtub and bathroom sink. I want them gone.