Prepare yourself: If you’ve been noticing some creepy, silvery bugs crawling around your home lately, you might just have a silverfish infestation.
Silverfish are nothing new—in fact they’re some of the oldest insects around, predating dinosaurs by about 100 million years. This means you wouldn’t be the first person to feel more than a little disturbed at the sight of them sleuthing around your kitchen in the middle of the night (yeah, they’re also nocturnal).
Fortunately, by now we know more than a few things about these ancient creepy-crawlies, including what they’re attracted to—and how to get rid of them. Here’s your debugged guide to getting rid of silverfish.
What are silverfish?
“Silverfish are grayish, wingless insects found all over the United States and many other parts of the world,” says Scot Hodges, vice president of technical services for Arrow Exterminators. “They have elongated, slender bodies that are wider at the head, silvery-gray in color, and covered with tiny scales.”
As you might have guessed, that gray color, combined with the fishlike appearance of its movements, is how the silverfish gets its name. Gross, right?
What attracts silverfish?
“They’re attracted to high humidity, so they like dark spaces like attics, crawl spaces, and humid bathrooms,” says Mike Rottler, owner of Rottler Pest & Lawn Solutions.
And let’s not forget about the food source. This bug eats just about anything.
“Since the diet of silverfish consists of cellulose, sugars, starches, and carbohydrates—books, wallpaper, grains, fabric, you name it—any home with excess humidity, can become attractive to silverfish,” explains Kristiana Kripena, content marketing director for InsectCop.net.
Where do silverfish come from?
The problem is, these creepy-crawlies are fairly well-traveled. They’ll settle in cardboard boxes and move with you from house to house. Or sometimes they might just come in through the cracks in your basement foundation, find some old magazines to munch on, and stay until evicted.
“Silverfish, like bedbugs, are usually hitchhikers, meaning you probably brought them into your home accidentally,” Rottler says.
“[Their] being nocturnal, it’s usually hard for homeowners to know if they have an infestation immediately,” he adds. “While seeing one silverfish isn’t necessarily a direct sign of an infestation, it’s good cause to conduct an inspection, either by yourself or with a professional.”
Since silverfish can live up to six years—and survive for a year without food (eek!)—having a few of them around can quickly spin into a full-on invasion.
Can silverfish cause damage to your home?
Even if they creep you out, there’s a silver (sorry, we had to) lining: Silverfish are not nearly as destructive as other pests.
“Although silverfish are unsightly insects, they don’t actually spread any diseases or bite humans or pets,” says Kripena. “In fact, they’re incapable of it since their jaws aren’t strong enough to bite anything other than paper, some dry foods, and similar substances.”
That means they can’t eat away at the foundation of your home. But you shouldn’t let silverfish get the run of your place either.
“If you don’t deal with your silverfish infestation, you risk ruining things like books, important documents, photo albums, and other paper materials,” Kripena explains. “Since silverfish also will gladly feed on things like grains and other dry foods, you also risk having to throw out all your dry food supplies because they’ve been contaminated.”
How do you get rid of silverfish?
Getting rid of silverfish starts by making your home less hospitable for them. For starters, try to keep clutter, humidity, and food sources at bay. Vacuum up food crumbs regularly, and make sure dry food (yes even the dog kibble) is stored in sealed containers.
If you have a collection of old papers rotting away in your humid basement, that would also be a good place to start your cleanup. Make sure rooms are ventilated frequently, and fix any leaks in the foundation or insulating pipes of your home.
If you’ve started in on this list, and are still finding silverfish on your nightly trips to the bathroom, consider buying a pest-control kit or hiring professionals to speed up the extermination process.
Don’t want to shell out the cash? You can even build your own silverfish trap, Kripena says, using a glass jar and homemade bait.
Most of all, be patient. Silverfish can be hard to get rid of, and it will take some time.
“Stay consistent in your treatments, no matter which route you choose,” Rottler says. “Very rarely will one treatment kill an entire infestation. However, if you’re consistent, keep your home clean, and address the issues that made your home so attractive in the first place, you can get rid of silverfish.”