A closeup of scale on a plant stem.

How to Get Rid of Brown Soft Scale On Houseplants

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Brown Scale is a sap-sucking insect that can quickly become a problem on your plants, sucking the life out of them and causing them to wilt and die.

Scale insects are some of the most common pests found on indoor and outdoor plants. These tiny sap-sucking creatures can quickly multiply and cause serious damage to your plants.

There are several ways to get rid of scale on plants, including horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, neem oil, or ladybugs.

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What are brown soft scales?

Brown soft scales (sometimes called “brown scales”) are a type of insect that feeds on plant sap.

They’re often found on houseplants but can also infest outdoor plants. They can be found on both the leaves and plant stems.

What does brown scale look like?

Brown scale on plant stems.

Brown soft scales are small insects with an oval-shaped bodies. They also have a flat body that has a slight dome shape when you view it from the side. Older brown scales can reach a length of about 1/8 inch and are usually darker brown in color.

Younger scales can have a color ranging from yellow-green to yellow-brown before becoming the dark brown of older scales. They can also have a mottled look with some brown spots on them.

How do brown scales damage plants?

Brown scales suck the sap out of the host plant, which can weaken and even kill it. As the plant becomes weaker, it can start dropping leaves and new growth will slow or stop.

The brown soft scales also produce a sticky honeydew, a substance that can attract other insects and cause the growth of sooty mold to grow on the plant.

How does brown scale get on houseplants?

Brown scale can get on indoor plants a few different ways. The most common way it by bringing it in on a new houseplant or one that was put outside during the summer.

They can also get on your plants by using infected potting soil, whether it is reusing old potting soil or new potting soil that was contaminated prior to packaging.

Reusing pots that haven’t been cleaned and sanitized can also spread brown soft scale.

How to get rid of brown scale on indoor plants

There are a few different ways to get rid of brown scales on your houseplants.

Quarantine infested plants

The first step you want to take when dealing with a brown scale infestation is to quarantine the affected plant. This reduces the chance of the infestation spreading to uninfected plants.

Prune infested plants

Once the infected plants are quarantined, prune off the worst parts of the infestation. This will get rid of the largest number of scale insects the quickest.

Make sure to dispose of the pruned parts of the plant in a tightly sealed bag to reduce the chance of spreading it on the way to the garbage can.

Use isopropyl alcohol

You can also use isopropyl alcohol to get rid of brown scales on your plants.

To do this, soak a cotton ball or cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and wipe it over the affected areas.

This will kill the scales on contact, but you’ll need to be careful not to touch more of the plant than necessary.

Use insecticidal soap

Insecticidal soap is another effective way to get rid of brown scales on houseplants.

To use it, follow the directions on the bottle and spray the entire plant. Insecticidal soap works by contact and needs to be applied directly to the brown scale.

You will need multiple applications to get rid of the scale infestation completely.

A note about using soapy water

Many people say you can make your own insecticidal soap by using dish soap mixed with water. While this does work, it also has a bigger risk of damaging your plants than using insecticidal soap that is made for use on plants.

Dish soap is designed to break down grease and because of this can break down the protective waxy coating on leaves. A single use may not damage your plants, but most houseplant pests need more than one application to get rid of them completely. Repeated use is likely to cause some damage to your plants.

Use neem oil

Neem oil is a natural, plant-based oil that’s effective against a wide variety of pests, including brown scale.

To use it, mix according to the package and pour it into a spray bottle. Then spray it on your plant, making sure to get the whole plant. Make sure to get the underside of leaves and all parts of the stems when applying the neem oil to the infested plant.

Repeat every 5 to 7 days for at least 3 applications.

Make sure to mix the neem oil fresh each time as it starts to break down once it is mixed with water.

Horticultural oil sprays

Horticultural oil sprays are also effective against brown scale. These oil-based sprays work by smothering the insects.

To use them, follow the directions on the bottle and spray all of the affected areas.

Make sure to get the underside of the leaves and all parts of the stems.

Repeat as directed on the bottle.

Use beneficial insects

There are a few different types of beneficial insects that will help to control brown scale populations. These natural predators include ladybugs and parasitic wasps.

You can purchase these insects online or at your local garden center.

Release them according to the package instructions and they will help to keep the brown scale population under control.

While these are a good way to control pests on plants, it’s not for everyone. If the thought of having more bugs, even good bugs, in your house creeps you out it may be best to use a different method to control brown scale.

Chemical pesticides

If you’re dealing with a bad infestation, or nothing else is working, you may need to resort to using chemical pesticides.

Chemical control of brown scale can be very effective, but you do need to be careful. Some of these are not good for use around pets or children.

Always follow the directions on the package and use the minimum amount necessary to get rid of the problem.

How to prevent brown scale

The best way to save your plants from brown scale is to prevent an infestation in the first place.

There are two main ways to prevent brown scales from harming your plants.

Inspect and quarantine all new plants

The best prevention method for brown scale is to inspect any new plants before you bring them into your home. If you see any scales on the plant, don’t bring it into your home.

If you have already purchased the plant and can’t, or don’t want to return it, put it in quarantine and treat it. Once it is free from brown scale for a few weeks it can be put with your other plants.

Even if you don’t see any signs of brown scale on a new plant it’s best to quarantine all new plants for a few weeks before putting them with your other plants.

This gives you time to see if there were any bugs in the plant that were just too new to be spotted the day you got the plant.

Systemic insecticides

Another way to prevent brown scale is to use a systemic insecticide. This type of insecticide is absorbed by the plant and then kills any insects that try to feed on the plant.

It’s best to use a systemic insecticide before you have an infestation. This way you can prevent the brown scale from ever getting a foothold in your plants.

There are a few different systemic insecticides on the market. Be sure to read the label and make sure to get one that says it is effective against scale insects.

Make sure to follow the directions for how to apply and how often reapplication is needed.

Brown scale FAQ

Why do I have both brown scale bugs and ants?

The ants are not feeding on the brown scale, they are actually farming them. The ants eat the honeydew that the brown scale produces.

So, if you see both brown scale and ants on your plants it’s best to treat for both pests.

Can I just ignore the brown scale?

No, you should not ignore brown scale. If left untreated they can cause serious damage to your plants. The plant may become stunted, yellow, and have distorted growth. Brown scale can also lead to sooty mold growing on the plant.

What does “soft” brown scale mean?

There are two main types of brown scale, soft and hard. Soft brown scale does not have a hard shell, so they are more vulnerable to insecticides. Hard brown scale does have a hard shell and is more difficult to control.

Can I just pick the brown scale off my plants?

You could try to pick the brown scale off your plants, but it would be very time consuming and you would probably miss some. It’s best to use one of the methods above to get rid of brown scale.

Why isn’t the insecticidal soap killing the brown scales on my plant?

Insecticidal soap only works if it comes into direct contact with the brown scale. If there are areas of the plant that the soap doesn’t reach, the brown scale will not be killed.

You may need to use a different method to get rid of all the brown scales on your plant.


Brown soft scale can be a major nuisance when they are on your houseplants. Thankfully, there are several remedies available to get rid of scale on plants, like spraying the plant with neem oil.

By using one or more of these methods, you can get rid of these pests on your houseplants and get back to enjoying your beautiful plants.

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Pin image for how to get rid of brown scale with brown scales on plant stems.