Is White Lint on a Houseplant a Sign of Mealybugs?

Updated on June 19, 2018
thoughthole profile image

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


Does Your Houseplant Have Mealybugs?

If you look closely at your houseplant and notice little white tufts of something that looks like heavy cotton lint, it's probably mealybugs. Mealybugs give the appearance of lint due to a waxy outer residue that they secrete for camouflage and protection. Underneath that coat, the mealybug looks a lot like an ancient trilobite, only much smaller.

Mealybugs usually originate in the foliage crowns of infected plants or at leaf stem joints. Most commonly, you'll find the white residue in these areas first, but if your problem has advanced, these pests will spread out to more joints, foliage crowns, or further out along the foliage and down stems. Mealybugs will also produce a sticky substance called honeydew that will coagulate on the leaves, giving the appearance that something has been splashed or spilled on the plant.

If you have positively identified mealybugs on your plant, do not worry; it is not a death sentence for your plant. However, it will need to be treated and quarantined.

Example of mealybug on foliage.
Example of mealybug on foliage. | Source

How to Treat a Houseplant Infested With Mealybugs

Step #1: Isolate the Infested Plant

Mealybugs have a piercing mouthpart on the underside of their bodies that they use to bite into houseplant foliage. They lay eggs along the foliage that they inhabit and easily contaminate anything that touches them. Due to the ease of contamination, mealybugs are also easily spread to other plants that may be touched after the infested plant has been touched. Because of this, one of the first steps in taking care of an infestation is to make sure the plant is quarantined as best as possible. If you come into contact with the infested plant, it's important to wash your hands before touching any of your other houseplants.

Step #2: Remove the Mealybugs

As part of the removal process, mealybugs must be wiped away completely. They are best cleaned off with baby wipes or a wet paper towel. A sponge also works well but should not be reused on any other plant after being used on the infested plant. After the mealybugs have been wiped away, spray the infected area down with a light solution of water and insecticidal soap, dish soap, or a very effective and natural soap called Dr. Bronner's. Not much soap is needed in this solution; a mere teaspoon in 20oz of water is plenty. Spray this solution on the plant leaves and wipe them clean again; this will serve to further clean off more eggs that may have been left behind. The soap will also coat the leaves (if any mealybugs ingest the soap, it will kill them). This cleaning process will need to be repeated regularly.

Step #3: Cut off Any of the Infected Parts

If an area of a particular plant has a spot that appears to be the epicenter of the infestation—dracenas (sometimes called corn plants) will commonly get mealybugs that are nestled down in the new growth crowns—cut off any of the infested crowns. Don't worry, the plant will easily regenerate and the foliage was damaged anyway due to the pests.

What If You Still Have Mealybugs?

If you have followed and repeated the steps above and the Mealy problem is still persistent, there are insecticides (referred to as systemic insecticides) that can be used to treat the problem. Since these insecticides can be hazardous to the plant itself along with other living creatures if used excessively or improperly, only use them as a last resort and follow the instructions carefully. Systemic insecticides are absorbed into a plant's entire system through the roots. They come in liquid, granulated, and powder forms and are added to the soil. As the insecticide is absorbed by the plant's system, the plant itself becomes toxic to the mealybugs, killing them off by essentially poisoning their food supply.

How Can You Prevent Mealybugs?

Since mealybugs seem to come with the infested plant (unless the infestation is accidentally transferred from one plant to another), it's a little difficult to prevent them entirely. However, the following measures can be taken to help ensure that a problem doesn't worsen.

  • Keep your plant clean by wiping the leaves down with baby wipes on a regular basis; remove any debris and/or potential pests that you notice.
  • Keep your houseplant in stable condition by watering it properly and keeping it in proper environmental conditions. A plant that is struggling in any way is more prone to be attacked by pests of many kinds including mealybugs.

If you know what kind of plant you're dealing with and maintain it with care, mealybugs should be of little to no worry.

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

  • I have a natal mahogany tree that is healthy but is attracting ants which are leaving a sticky mess on the leaves, aside from pruning, what treatments can I use?

    It is likely that the ants are actually there because they are feeding on the sticky substance on the leaves, they are not usually the cause of the stickiness. The culprit of the sticky substance on the leaves, called "honeydew", is most likely mealybug, scale, or aphids. The honeydew is excrement from these common pests, and ants love to feed on it. Identifying the pest responsible for the honeydew, and neutralizing it will resolve the problem.

Questions and Comments Welcome!

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)