How to Get Rid of Carpenter Bees

By Andrea Pisani Babich | Advertiser Disclosure

If you have a wooden deck, wood siding on your home, or even a wooden picnic table in your backyard, chances are you’ve encountered a carpenter bee. Though a carpenter bee can be quite loud, it appears more threatening than it actually is. Here’s everything you need to know about carpenter bees, from how to identify them to steps you can take to get rid of them.

What do carpenter bees look like?

Carpenter bees have distinct, shiny black abdomens up to one inch long. Males are distinguished from females by a light spot on the front of their face. Additionally, female carpenter bees will have a visible stinger while male carpenter bees will not.

Carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumblebees, which are predominantly black and yellow with fuzzy hair and large bodies.

Carpenter Bee Carpenter bees have shiny, black abdomens with a slight purple tint

Identifying a carpenter bee infestation

Carpenter bees are most prevalent in the spring and summer. They prefer bare, unpainted, or weathered wood used in window trim, eaves, wooden decks, and outdoor furniture. Once carpenter bees find suitable wood, they will burrow into it to make their nests. They are excellent drillers—their tunnels are between six and 10 inches long while their tunnel networks have been observed to be as long as 10 feet.

Though most infestations will begin in the spring, carpenter bees can wreak havoc on wooden structures in and around your home throughout the year. A female carpenter bee will drill a quarter-sized hole into a wooden structure—like a deck or railing—and create tunnels to form a nest and lay her eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, carpenter bee offspring will return to their nest in the winter to stay warm, expanding the tunnel system as they settle in for the cold season.

This nesting habit creates the potential for severe damage to your wooden structures if left unattended, so it’s imperative that you eradicate the problem as soon as possible. 

Other signs of a carpenter bee infestation include:

  • Sawdust—When carpenter bees drill holes in wood, there will usually be sawdust around the area.
  • Pollen and fecal stains—There will be a yellowish powdery substance near the entrance hole, which is a combination of pollen and bee excrement.
  • Bee sightings—Male carpenter bees tend to be more aggressive with their flying habits than female bees and are more often noticed flying around the hole to the nest.

If you’re unsure of whether you have a carpenter bee problem or a different pest infestation, a trained professional can conduct an inspection, often for free.

Carpenter Bee Female carpenter bees will drill quarter-sized holes into wood

How to get rid of carpenter bees

Once you’ve identified that you have a carpenter bee infestation, try the following methods to get rid of these pests. Note: if you’re near a nest during the larval stage (early summer) or you’re treating a nest site, wear long-sleeved clothing that covers the skin, as well as gloves and a face mask.

  1. Scare bees with noise—Place a loud radio or speaker near carpenter bee nests. They may decide to vacate the nest rather than deal with the noise vibrations.
  2. Repel with citrus oils—Like other insects, carpenter bees do not like citrus scents. Make your own repellent using 5–8 drops of a citrus essential oil and one cup of water or by boiling citrus peels in water. Pour the solution in a spray bottle and spray nests thoroughly. Repeat often until the bees have evacuated their nests.
  3. Apply boric acid—This natural insecticide can be deployed using an insect duster to disperse dust into the tunnel system, killing carpenter bees. As a safety precaution, protect your eyes from boric acid with goggles and keep it away from children and pets.
  4. Use trapsTraps can help reduce carpenter bee populations and prevent them from nesting in your wood. Carpenter bee traps look similar to a birdhouse—they have a hole drilled in the side to mimic a nesting site. Once carpenter bees enter the hole, they become trapped in a chamber and are unable to escape. When the bees are dead, empty the chamber into the trash. You can buy traps at your local hardware store or make your own traps.
  5. Use insecticide—If you elect to use an insecticide, use a face mask to protect against chemical fumes. Insecticides can cause severe lung irritation if inhaled. When using an insecticide, treat the tunnels in early spring before nesting activity occurs or in late fall after the adult bees have emerged from their larval stage and are preparing for winter. It is best to treat the tunnels at night when adult bees have returned to the tunnel. Try insecticides like Cyzmic CS Insecticide or FenvaStar Cap. As a safety precaution, keep insecticide away from children and pets.
  6. Fill holes—Once you’re sure that nesting sites are vacant, fill the remaining holes with caulk or steel wool and paint or varnish the repaired surfaces. You’ll want to plug holes in the fall when carpenter bees begin to settle down for the winter. If you fill holes before fall, young carpenter bees will emerge and continue to burrow and make other holes.
  7. Call in a pro—If you don’t feel comfortable administering these DIY tactics of if they aren’t working, it’s time to call in the pest pros. A professional pest control expert can conduct an inspection, let you know where your home is susceptible to carpenter bees, and help you remedy the problem.

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Carpenter Bee Hole Once a carpenter bee drills a hole through wood, it continues to expand its nest by creating tunnels

How to prevent future carpenter bee infestations

The simplest way of making sure carpenter bees don’t make your home their permanent residence is to prevent them from initially moving in. Check the wood on your property and make sure it’s in good shape—painted, treated, and pressure washed. Continue to maintain your wood each year by regularly painting and staining it before springtime.

How to treat a carpenter bee sting

While carpenter bee stings are rare—only female carpenter bees can sting—a sting from a carpenter bee is typically not dangerous. You may experience some pain, swelling, and redness around the location of the sting and it may get itchy. However, it’s possible to get an allergic reaction from a bee sting.

If you have an allergic reaction to a carpenter bee sting, you could experience the following symptoms:

  • Severe swelling at the sting site
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Difficulty breathing or speaking
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness

If you think you are having an allergic reaction to a bee sting, use a prescribed epinephrine injection device, like an EpiPen, as instructed. If you don’t have one of these devices, visit an urgent care or emergency room as soon as possible or call 911.  

For a bee sting that doesn’t cause an allergic reaction, follow these methods:

  • Apply an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers
  • Rest
  • Elevate the site of the sting, if possible
  • Take antihistamines
  • Apply calamine lotion to relieve any itching sensations

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