How to Get Rid of Hornets Safely

By Amanda Lutz Updated February 5, 2024

Hornets are dangerous and territorial stinging insects that can grow large nests in trees, along the eaves of homes, and in the ground. Your best defenses against hornets are learning what triggers them, safely removing nests, and taking steps to prevent infestations. Read our guide for more information about hornets and their nesting sites. We also cover whether you can remove hornet nests yourself and when to pay for professional removal.

Understanding Hornets

Hornets are social wasps that build large, papery nests from wood pulp. Hornets can construct nests along tree branches, in shrubs, along the underside of your home’s eaves, underground, or in the hollows of floating decks. Homeowners might also find nests around garage doors, in attic rafters, and in ventilation shafts that extend to the outdoors.

Hornets are generally aggressive, especially when they’re guarding their nests and during late summer and fall. Some gardeners cautiously enjoy having a small hornet nest near their gardens because hornets act as natural pest controls.

Most hornets eat tree leaves and sap, but they also hunt honeybees, aphids, and other insects. 

You can usually find hornets in these spots:

People often group hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets together, but they each behave differently and require distinct control and removal strategies. Hornets are larger and less colorful than wasps and yellow jackets and have wider heads and bodies. 

Dangers of Hornets

Hornet stings can sometimes be fatal, depending on the degree of someone’s allergies. Hornets’ large bodies carry more venom than other pests, and you might receive stings from several hornets if you disturb their nests. 

Symptoms of a typical hornet’s sting include swelling, pain, and itching. These usually last a few hours but can last a week or more in more pronounced cases. Severe allergic reactions can lead to nausea, coughing, shock, and anaphylaxis.

Hornets won’t typically attack unless you swat at them or make sudden, threatening movements. If you encounter a nest, calmly walk away without making any sharp movements. Hornets are attracted to light but are also uniquely active at night, so they might still attack if you try to remove a nest after the sun goes down.

Identifying Hornets and Their Nests

You can distinguish hornets from yellow jackets and wasps based on the pests’ varying sizes. Hornets are larger and wider and have teardrop-shaped bodies that aren’t as angular or sharp as the bodies of wasps. 

Hornets also boast unique colors. European hornets have dark brown stripes and large eye patches set against yellowish faces. Bald-faced hornets have a black-and-white pattern on their faces. 

The nests hornets build are usually larger than other insects’ nests, and you might find them beneath leafy branches, shed roofs, or patio decks. Hornets’ nests have a papery texture and can be basketball-sized. The larger the nest, the more hornets you might encounter. 

Ensure you correctly identify hornets before you begin nest-removal procedures, as the methods for getting rid of other types of wasps are different.

DIY Hornet Removal Methods

Find and remove hornets and their nests as soon as you see multiple hornets flying around. Consider do-it-yourself (DIY) removal options if you’re not severely allergic and if you want to remedy infestations quickly. 

Prepare by putting on a hat, a bandana around your neck, protective eyewear, a mask, and thick clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Proceed by following these DIY hornet-removal steps:

1. Apply Hornet Killing Spray

Purchase a specialized hornet pesticide from your local big box store. These sprays can issue a pressurized stream of liquid from up to 20 feet away.

Aim the canister directly at the hornets’ nest, and try to reach the nest’s circular opening. You’re much likelier to neutralize the hornets if you can get the spray inside. Spray the nest at a long, diagonal angle for several seconds in a continuous stream, and never spray from beneath the nest. 

Go back inside after you’ve sprayed the nest to give any surviving hornets time to settle down. You may have to repeat this process several times and spray individual hornets that escape the nest. 

If you don’t see new hornets over the next two or three days, move on to the next step.

2. Destroy the Nest

When you’re certain there’s no more hornet activity, remove and dispose of the nest. Wear protective clothing in case any hornets have survived, and use a long pole to dislodge the nest. 

Don’t climb a ladder to reach the nest. This is extremely dangerous, especially if any hornets are still alive. The force required to remove a nest can shake the ladder. 

The nest may smash open once it hits the ground. Inspect it for lingering hornets, and spray it again as a precaution. Leave the area for a couple of hours, then put the nest into a garbage can.

Follow up your efforts with a hornet-prevention strategy. This may include applying proactive hornet killer pesticides that kill any hornets that land on your home’s eaves or your patio. You can also grow plants that deter wasps and hornets, such as varieties of mint.

Professional Hornet Removal

Hiring a professional extermination costs more than using DIY methods, but it’s safer and more convenient.

To get started, call a trusted pest control company. Describe the insects you’ve seen, or send a picture of the nest. Pest control experts will probably want to remedy the problem quickly to keep you safe and will likely schedule an appointment in the evening.

Professionals will apply aerosolized, liquid, or powdered insecticides around the nest’s entry points. Once the hornets are dead or frozen, the pest control team can seal the nest in a bag to prevent any hornets from escaping. The team will then remove the nest.

Consider requesting professional hornet-prevention methods. Experts usually offer services such as the application of pet-safe and child-safe insecticides or trimming back shrubs and branches that invite hornets into your yard.

Our Recommendation

Hornets are dangerous, especially if you have an active nest on your property. Plan a removal strategy as soon as you spot hornets, and decide whether you want to safely remove the nest with DIY methods or call in the professionals to help. Pest control professionals can remove nests and recommend prevention methods while keeping you safe. 

Keep your landscaping trimmed to prevent future infestations, and clean up any trash or sugar that may attract hornets to your property.

How to Get Rid of Hornets FAQ

How can I permanently get rid of hornets?

You cannot permanently get rid of hornets. You can make your property less appealing to hornets by disposing of fruit and other food sources that may attract them to your property. Professional pest control treatments can also help with prevention methods.

What is the best thing to keep hornets away?

The best things to keep hornets away are proactive pest control treatments. Apply DIY or professional pesticides wherever hornets are likeliest to build a new nest: in shed rafters, under patios, and in crevices around eaves.

What smell do hornets hate?

Hornets hate the smell of peppermint oil. Keep hornets away by putting peppermint oil-soaked cotton balls where you notice hornets, or spray the areas with a spray bottle full of peppermint oil and water. You can also grow mint around your garden as a passive deterrent.

How do you get rid of hornets fast?

Get rid of hornets fast by spraying hornets and their nest entrance with a wasp spray. Stand 20 feet away and spray for several seconds. You may have to repeat this treatment until all the hornets in the nest are dead.

Should I destroy a hornet nest?

You should destroy a hornet nest, but only after applying a hornet pesticide. If you destroy an active hornet nest, the hornets will be aggressive and may attack you in large numbers.