How to Kill Book Lice, Home Guides, SF Gate

How to Kill Book Lice

Things You Will Need

Spray or powder pesticide containing pyrethrin or cyfluthrin

Air-tight food containers

Drying areas with a hair dryer where book lice are seen will kill the vast majority of them.


Keep all pesticides away from children, animals and areas where food is stored or prepared.

Book lice are exactly what they sound like—tiny, lice-like insects that live in books and eat the tiny molds that grow on the pages of slightly damp books. They also live in cracks and crevices in kitchens and other damp places. Not only are these tiny pests disgusting, they can destroy your treasured books and they can be transferred to food products, including grains, cereals and pet foods. While book lice do not bite humans, their feces and body parts infect food products. Once they get a foothold in your home, they are hard to keep under control. There are three primary ways to rid your home of these pests: chemical sprays and powders, freezing and microwaving.

Store all cereals and grains in air-tight containers.

Clean all cracks and crevices around sinks and countertops thoroughly with ammonia-based cleaners, and dry all cracks and crevices completely using a portable hair dryer. Reducing the moisture of their hiding places will kill the majority of book lice.

Place books and other small objects in a microwave for 40 seconds (on high). This will kill both adult book lice and their eggs.

Place infested objects in a freezer with the temperature set at 0 degrees F for a full 24 hours. Adults will be killed in three to four hours, but eggs require a full 24 hours to kill.

Dust or spray an insecticide containing pyrethrin or cyfluthrin (check the label) into cracks or crevices or any damp place where the lice live and thrive.

How to Get Rid of Booklice

Booklice aren’t actually lice at all. They are insects belonging to a group known as «psocids,» and they don’t eat paper, either. However, these bugs do feast on the mold found in old books and on the glue used in the bindings. In addition, they feed on any food particles found in your kitchen, and they like moist, humid areas. While booklice are fairly harmless, they can be difficult to get rid of. Use the steps below to get started.

Step 1 – Understanding Booklice

There are around 100 different species of booklice in the United States, and they’re all pretty harmless. Hard to spot, these creatures are just 1/16 inch long and enjoy moist places with bacteria. They’re most often found in food items or particularly moist areas of your home. In addition, booklice do not have wings. After identifying that you have booklice, move on to the next step.

Step 2 – Removing Food

Since booklice love moist, humid conditions, these insects live well in a damp, unventilated food cupboard. Once there, their numbers can increase rapidly as they feed either on the mildew or the food itself. If you discover booklice in a food cupboard, dispose of all the infected food. Do not salvage any questionable items, or they could recolonize quickly. In addition, check on any cans or bottles with labels, as these insects can feed on their glue labels.

Step 3 – Cleaning the Cupboards

Once all the infested food is gone, you need to thoroughly clean your kitchen cupboards. Use a vacuum with a nozzle to get into crevices. Then, wash all cupboard surfaces with warm, soapy water and a clean rag.

Rinse well, and allow to dry thoroughly. Keep the cabinet doors open until dry. Make sure all humidifiers are off or not directed toward the cupboard. If your cupboard doesn’t have any ventilation, you should consider installing an extractor fan.

Step 4 – Using Insecticides

If all else fails, revert to using chemical booklice killers. Read the label to ensure your product is intended for booklice and other crawling bugs, and only use it according to the directions. Keep it away from all children and pets, and only use in well-ventilated areas.

Step 5 – Preventing Future Infestations

While most of these pests live in your kitchen, they can thrive in other spots, too. The only way to permanently eradicate them is to discover their breeding area and keep it continuously clean. This area could be an old upholstered chair, an ancient mattress in a spare bedroom, or an antique book collection. It’s best to get rid of these items if they are of little importance to you, but if you can’t handle parting with them, clean them thoroughly and keep them secluded in your house. With smaller items, you can sometimes kill booklice with home methods, like by putting the item in the freezer for a few days.

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A DIY Guide on How to Get Rid of Booklice and Prevent an Infestation

Also called barklice and paperlice, booklice thrive in papers, books, walls, tree barks, and moist places. They do not harm humans or property. The main issue posed by booklice is the nuisance they cause when they are in large numbers. Here is some information on how to get rid of booklice infestation.

Also called barklice and paperlice, booklice thrive in papers, books, walls, tree barks, and moist places. They do not harm humans or property. The main issue posed by booklice is the nuisance they cause when they are in large numbers. Here is some information on how to get rid of booklice infestation.

Words of Advice

Using insecticides is a great way to get rid of booklice. But avoid spraying them near uncovered food. And keep such chemical products away from the reach of children and animals.

Booklice are insects that belong to the Phylum Arthropoda, Order Psocoptera and Class Insecta. The name Psocoptera originates from the Greek words psokos, which means gnawed or rubbed and ptera, which means wings. Booklice have a prominent head with thread-like antennae. The head is connected to the thorax by the neck. The abdomen is broad while the thorax is narrow. They vary in size from about 1 to 6 millimeters in length. They are colorless, gray, or cream in color. Booklice that stay indoors are wingless or sometimes have wings, while the outdoor booklice, usually called barklice, have wings and they live under the barks of trees.

Booklice grow fast in damp and humid conditions. They feed on algae, fungi, lichen, stored flours, oats and cereals, mold, pollen, dead insects, and other animals. Outdoor booklice usually live on bird and mammal nests, foliage, under leaf litter, and on barks and crevices of trees. Indoor booklice live in dark, warm, and damp rooms, duct work, storerooms, libraries or other favorable habitats that provide them with food and shelter. They do not live on or bite other animals like true lice. They do not spread diseases or destroy clothes or furniture. They are harmless when in small numbers, but cause nuisance when in large numbers, as they tend to damage books and wallpapers by eating the mold on the glue of book bindings, coated papers or cardboard and wallpaper. They also contaminate food by feeding on stored or damp grains or cereals, making them unfit for consumption. Hence, their very presence can cause distress. Here are some ways to get rid of booklice.

Ways to Eliminate Booklice

Know the Extent of Infestation

Look for the places of booklice infestation. Look for books, photographs, a dark basement or storeroom, household stuff, food stored in pantries or cupboards, damp corners or crevices, moist areas created by leaking pipes, roof leaks or air conditioning systems.

Remove Infested Foodstuffs

◆ Discard likely sources of infested food. Empty the cupboard or pantry and inspect every item. Also, check for the labels and look in areas around the lids of jars and tins as booklice may thrive there.

◆ Next, wipe the food spills. Thoroughly clean the contaminated food area with an antibacterial cleaner. If you choose to wash down the place, then make sure it is thoroughly dried.

◆ Now apply an insecticide and spray the infested place. Any cracks and corners should not be left out. Let the spray dry completely and do not place any food in it for a few days.

Increasing the Temperature of the Room

The infested room or place can be heated to a higher temperature. This will kill the booklice, as they cannot survive high heat.

Good Ventilation

Ensure that the room is well-ventilated so that moisture is pulled out of the room. A dehumidifier can be used for lowering the humidity levels below 50% so as to hinder the growth of booklice. The windows and doors should be left open as long as possible. Periodic airing and drying of things will prevent mold development on which these insects feed.

Treating Molds

Clean or treat mold, and dry the area thoroughly where booklice are found.

Using a Microwave

Place infested books and other small items in a microwave for 40 seconds (high heat setting) to kill booklice and their eggs.

Placing Items in the Freezer

Place infested items in the freezer and allow them to remain there for a few days. This will kill the booklice and their eggs. The lice will die but the eggs may thrive.

Spraying an Insecticide

Spray an insecticide which contains pyrethrin or cyfluthrin, into cracks or crevices, or any moist area where booklice may be found.

Vacuuming of Infested Places

Vacuuming infested areas is also an effective way. A vacuum cleaner having proper attachments and a narrow vacuum tip can remove the bugs from their dwellings.

Exposing to Light

Try to leave as much open space as possible and allow more light to enter the infested areas. This will suppress the booklice activity.

Inform a Pest Control Company

In case of severe infestation, it is recommended to call a professional pest control company as they will have the technical knowledge and access to commercial products and equipment that are unavailable to the public.


◆ Practice proper hygiene like daily dusting and vacuuming to remove debris from cracks and corners of storage areas.

◆ Try to keep the house well-ventilated and dry. Always keep your dry foodstuffs such as cereals in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place. Cleaning out your cupboards regularly, ensuring that they are completely dry before putting your food back will help.

◆ The hiding areas like cracks in the foundation walls or areas around windows or cabinets should be sealed with a waterproof filler and sealants. Prior to this, make sure that you treat fungi or mold, if any. Mend and seal leaking pipework, rain gutters, roof vents, and air conditioning units.


◆ Remove leaf litter, vines, and other debris from the house or the surrounding buildings, to reduce the chances of an outside attack by booklice.

◆ Throw corrugated cardboard boxes and items away, or store them in dry places or in the sun.

◆ Things should be kept away from the walls and ceiling and neatly placed above the floor level by using pallets. Spaces should be provided as much as possible between stacks for proper ventilation.

◆ Check and clean all stored items regularly and clean the place of storage.

◆ Store foodstuffs, especially grain and cereal products in air-tight containers.

◆ A drainage tile system can be installed to prevent rainwater from entering the problem areas.

◆ Avoid storing foods for more than five months.

◆ Use the older items first, as booklice tend to grow as the items age.

◆ Before disposal, place the infested products inside plastic bags to minimize the spread of booklice.

Old House Smell: What Is It, and How Do You Get Rid of It?

Old house smell: Those three dreaded words evoke something rather frightening and repellent to most homeowners. You know what we’re talking about, right? It’s that musty odor that creeps up and greets you the instant you set foot inside an older home. What is this mysterious stench, anyway? And most importantly: Is there a way to get rid of it?

To find out, we turned to science.

What causes that old house smell

“Three things that musty old houses have in common: little ventilation, high humidity, and darkness,” says Bill Carroll Jr., an adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University. That makes these places the perfect petri dish for mold to flourish, which happens to be the main purveyor of that «old house smell.»

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That said, that musty smell isn’t mold per se.

«What you’re smelling are called MVOCs: mold volatile organic compounds,» explains Carroll. «These are chemicals associated with a certain stage in the mold life cycle that are volatile enough to evaporate, but also have a strong enough inherent odor to be detected.”

The good news is that this funky smell isn’t a health issue, says Carroll. It’s just annoying—and probably more than a little embarrassing—particularly if you’re trying to sell your house to people who wrinkle their nose as soon as they enter your home. Luckily, though, there are ways to get rid of the odor.

How to remove old house smell: Dry the place out

“Opening up the windows and airing the place out—like your mother did when spring came—can help,” says Carroll.

If your house tends to be humid and you’re sure you don’t have any leaks, «Keep your air conditioner or a dehumidifier running,» suggests Carroll.

Oh, and if you do have a leak of some kind—even if it’s just a leaky faucet?

“That needs to be fixed before any progress can be made,” notes Carroll. (Progress meaning “fresh-smelling house.”)

Let the sunshine in

“Light, especially sunlight, with its ultraviolet component, is a good disinfectant,” Carroll notes. After all, UV is used to disinfect water in some pool systems.

Letting a little more light into an old house can do wonders for the musty odor and can help protect against mildew and mold.

Clean your couch

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if that old house smell is coming from your couch, it may be more of an «old couch smell» instead. In fact, all upholstered furniture and your carpets could be culprits.

“Soft stuff absorbs ambient moisture,” says Carroll, which can lead to mold growth.

If you work hard to reduce the humidity in your house, over time, the soft stuff may relinquish some of its ambient moisture as well, dry out, and start resisting mold growth.

“But that takes time, because it takes a while for the moisture deep inside the furniture to migrate out,” Carroll says. And that may not be good enough.

“Worst case, all the soft stuff has to go or be professionally deep-cleaned,» says Carroll. «And a good cleaning of the hard surfaces with a disinfectant doesn’t hurt either.»

If the smell is, in fact, coming from your furniture or carpet, cleaning and reupholstering is an option. But, sometimes it might be easiest to simply get rid of those musty items.

If the carpet is starting to smell, or that old couch is emitting an odor, it can be easiest to just remove the item and get rid of an odor quickly. This is especially important if you have buyers planning to look at the house soon, if you’ve got an open house scheduled, you don’t want the smell to linger.

Deep-clean the guts of your house

“Furnaces and air ducts can have a tremendous amount of mold that can grow in them when they’re not being used,” says Leslie Reichert, cleaning expert and author of “The Joy of Green Cleaning.” Not to mention that air conditioners can also trap mold and mildew in their filtering systems.

If you think these little tunnels are the source of the odor in your home, hire an HVAC professional, who can actually use a tiny camera to make sure all the gunk is located—and removed.

Declutter under every sink

“Nope,” you may be thinking. “I don’t have any leaks.” But if you’ve got a gazillion cleaning supplies and sponges under your kitchen sink and two gazillion beauty products, would you really know? So clean it out.

Leaks under a sink can definitely cause an unpleasant smell, and if you haven’t inspected the area in a while, the musty smell may have gotten worse and worse until the whole house has an odor.

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“Getting things out from under the sink lets you see if anything is dripping or molding,” says Reichert. “Also, you can check for dampness or leaking in the piping.”

Wash your walls

If you’ve tried everything and still haven’t found the source of the odor in your old house, the musty smell may very well be coming from the walls.

Reichert advises dissolving a half-cup of borax in a bucket of hot water (32 ounces), then adding 2 cups distilled white vinegar and 16 ounces of hydrogen peroxide. Right away, wipe down your walls and let them air-dry.

“This will remove grease, dust, and mildew, and also remove smells that have embedded into wall surfaces or wallpaper,” Reichert says. Repeat whenever you catch a whiff of a stale smell.

Neutralize the air

An open container of baking soda or white vinegar, kept in an unobtrusive place (for example, on top of your kitchen cupboards), can help absorb musty smells and clear the air.

Experts also recommend FreshWave or DampRid, two all-natural substances that absorb smells and trap excess moisture in the air. These can help you get the musty smells out of your house — and get your place ready for company!


Facts, Identification & Control

Latin Name


There are more than 200 species of psocids (often pronounced «so-sheed») in the United States. Most psocids are tiny insects.

  • Size: Depending on the species, the size ranges from 1 to 6 mm.
  • Color: The color of psocids varies according to the species.
  • Wings: Psocids that live outdoors often have wings. Psocids that invade homes usually have very small wings or no wings at all.

Psocids have chewing mouthparts, but they do not bite people or pets. When they invade kitchens, they can contaminate open packages of food.

How Did I Get Psocids?

Psocids, also called book lice although they are not truly lice, live in warm, moist places. They feed on mold or fungi and if found in decaying organic material, as well as grains, insects, and starches like book binding glue it is the result of psocids eating the mold and/or fungi growing on these items. Psocids are common in humid climates and poorly ventilated areas in homes. Damp cardboard boxes, books, papers, molded wood and leaking sinks often attract the pests.

How Serious Are Psocids?

The presence of psocids is merely a nuisance because the pests do not harm humans or pets and do not bite. Large populations usually indicate an underlying mold or moisture problem. When homeowners spot them near stored food in pantries, the pests are an indicator of food spoilage. If items are infested by psocids, throw the items away and take steps to reduce the humidity and moisture in and around other, non-infested foods.

How Do I Get Rid of Them?

Make a careful inspection to find the moisture sources. If psocids are active in the kitchen, start the inspection under the sink. Empty the cabinet if necessary. Inspect every area that has plumbing. In the bathroom, there should be a trap door near the head of the bathtub for access to the pipes. Inspect tile walls carefully. If grout is missing, mildew can grow behind the tiles.

There can be other moisture sources besides the plumbing. Look at the gutters and downspouts. Make sure they are not blocked. Downspouts should drain away from the foundation.

Check the crawlspace vents. They should be open in warm weather. If there is moisture on basement walls, specialists at the home store can recommend ways to waterproof them. A dehumidifier can also help reduce moisture in a basement.

The Orkin Man™ is trained to help manage psocids and similar pests. Since every building or home is different, your Orkin technician will design a unique program for your situation.

Signs of a Psocid Infestation

The main sign of psocids is the sighting of the psocids themselves on surfaces or in products. Psocids often seem to appear suddenly. This may be because they are so small that people do not notice them when there are only a few around. Some people think psocids look like tiny termites.

Behavior, Diet & Habits

Some people call them barklice or booklice. The name barklice probably comes from the fact that outdoors they gather under the bark of trees. The name booklice comes from the fact that they gather on moldy books in damp homes. Experts think that the sizing and starch in the bindings of books supports mold growth in humid environments.

What do they eat?

Psocids are tiny insects that live in damp environments. They eat mold and mildew.

Where do they live?

Psocids invade areas where there is dampness and mold, like basements and crawlspaces. They also infest areas where a plumbing leak causes mildew or mold to grow. Psocids have infested bath traps with leaking or sweating pipes. They have also infested air conditioning drain lines.


Psocids cannot retain water in their bodies, so they are sensitive to changes in humidity. A key step in controlling psocids is reducing the humidity in their environment. When the humidity is low, the psocids will die. If the humidity stays low, they will not reinfest.

Reproduction & Life Cycle

The females lay eggs in the spring and summer. The immature insects are called nymphs. They look like the adults but have no wings.

More Information

Although people call them booklice, psocids are not really lice and do not feed on blood. They are insects in the order Psocoptera.

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