Half-eaten pages in your books? Chewed-through boxes in your pantry? These are signs of a silverfish infestation. Here’s how to identify, get rid of, and prevent silverfishinfestations in the home.
What are Silverfish?
The silverfish(Lepisma saccharina) is a slender, silvery insect pest found around the globe.
Siverfish are only considered a nuisance pest when they get into homes. There they are difficult to control but they are not harmful to humans nor spread disease. Instead, silverfish are known for damaging material goods, such as books, wallpaper, photos, clothing, and dry foods in the kitchen pantry.
Silverfish are particularly attracted to under-sink areas in the bathroom or kitchen, where the environment is humid and dark. They may also live in walls, closets, or crawl spaces. They remain hidden during the day, but at night, they emerge to forage for food.
A similar insect pest, the firebrat, looks and behaves much like the silverfish. Both pests can be controlled using the same techniques.
Fun Fact: The latter half of the silverfish’s Latin name, saccharina, refers to the insect’s fondness for eating materials made of polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates), such as cellulose and starch, which are found in paper products, fabrics, and foods.
How to Identify a Silverfish
Silverfish are slender, softbodies, wingless insects with long carrot-shaped bodies approximately ½-inch in length.
They resemble a fish due to their shiny silver, scaly bodies that taper gradually to the rear. Their bodies have no obvious segmentation, and are easily identified by the two slender antennae stemming from their heads and the three tail-like appendages on their back-ends. They are smaller and thinner than cockroaches, and a different color than the similarly-sized earwig.
Silverfish have rather stubby legs, but don’t let that fool you. They are capable of moving very, very quickly, especially when startled. This is when most people see silverfish: when the pests’ late-night feasting is interrupted and they scurry back to the dark corners of your home. Their rapid side-to-side movement resembles a swimming fish, which is said to be the source of their name.
Normally, silverfish live outdoors under rocks, bark, and leaf mold; they’ll also live in the nests of birds and ants.
In the home, silverfish are often found in bathtubs, sinks, or washbasins. Though silverfish usually stick to more humid places, they may also invade the kitchen pantry and target flour, cereals, and other grains.
Practically any material containing carbohydrates or proteins is susceptible to silverfish damage.
Bookbinding glue and wallpaper paste are common targets. Often, silverfish won’t eat all the way through a material, in which case it will look like just a thin layer has been scraped off (see photo, below).
Silverfish also feed on non-synthetic cloths, such as cotton or linen, evidenced by tiny, unconnected holes in the fabric.
Silverfish damage in a book. Photo by Micha L. Rieser/Wikimedia Commons.
Control and Prevention
How to Get Rid of Silverfish
Sticky traps, which consist of a cardboard base and a thin layer of sticky glue, can be effective at controlling small populations. Place traps in areas where silverfish activity is high. The insects will get stuck to the glue as they attempt to move across the trap. We recommend only using sticky traps that contain a pesticide in the glue, as this will prevent a trapped insect from suffering for too long needlessly.
Use dehumidifiers to dry the air in rooms where silverfish are seen, especially in the bathroom. Also ensure that under-sink areas in the kitchen and bathroom, as well as closets and cellars, are well ventilated.
Diatomaceous earth ( DE )—a powder made up of tiny silica particles—can be effective. The particles act as an irritant and dehydrate insect pests as they come in contact with the powder. Spread DE around areas where silverfish have been seen, and around potential pest entry points, like cracks in the wall or furnishings.
Pyrethrin, a natural insecticide, is derived from chrysanthemum flowers and can be used to control silverfish. Its synthetic equivalent, permethrin, is generally more effective, as it does not break down as quickly when exposed to light and moisture. Warning: Both pyrethrin and permethrin are extremely toxic to cats!
There are a number of commercial pesticides that can be used to control silverfish. Always read a product’s label before use to determine that it is safe for your household.
How to Prevent Silverfish
Silverfish enjoy humid places, so making sure that under-sink areas in the kitchen and bathroom are well ventilated can be an effective deterrent. Use a dehumidifier, if necessary.
Sealing gaps and cracks in your walls and floor will cut off entry points for the pests.
The strong scents of cinnamon and cloves are said to repel silverfish. Keep small amounts of these spices in areas where you commonly see the pests to help keep them at bay.
Do not leave crumbs or food scraps out in the open, as they can attract silverfish (and other pests!).
Store precious documents and clothing in air-tight, plastic containers to keep silverfish from damaging them.
Do you have any tips for preventing or stopping silverfish infestations? Tell us in the comments below!
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Leave a Comment
Submitted by Penny on January 7, 2020 — 11:50am
I know this sounds crazy, but after reading an article written by a world famous scientific about the predacious habits of earwigs, I’ve stopped killing them. Early one morning, turning on the bathroom light I discovered an earwig chowing down on a silverfish. We’ve had a heavy infestation of huge carpenter ants. We could even hear them chewing on our deck. I managed to capture an earwig and released it at the entrance to the ant’s nest. Into the nest it went and out came a river of ants. We haven’t had an ant problem since. No pesticides required.
Submitted by Harry on July 8, 2019 — 4:00pm
«We recommend only using sticky traps that contain a pesticide in the glue, as this will prevent a trapped insect from suffering for too long needlessly.»
Seriously? Poisons shut down bio functions and cause death. DE looks like shards of glass under a microscope. On insects like fleas, cockroaches, and silverfish, DE works to puncture the body which then dehydrates the insect and the bug dies, eventually. None of this is likely painless for beings that actually feel pain. We only have to worry about being humane to animals that feel pain. Insects do not feel pain. Besides, insects are bugs. Step on them!
Killing silverfish in the home
Submitted by htraskos on July 7, 2019 — 8:42am
There are thick paper wrapped DE (diatomaceous earth) packets that are readily available on Ebay and probably in some hardware stores. They are approx 3×4 inches and you can just place them on bookshelves and in drawers or file cabinets. The silverfish are attracted to the paper and come in contact w/the DE which kills them. Since I have been using them the unnerving numbers of silverfish I’ve had in my home have been reduced to none. I believe Borax is actually DE. You could probably make your own by wrapping DE in wallpaper squares and gluing together. DE packets are effective and so much neater and easier to work with than glue traps. And as our resident retired Pharmacist mentioned, spiders in the home will help keep down bug populations.
Submitted by penny on January 14, 2019 — 8:55pm
I line all my clothes closets, linen cabinets etc. with cedar. works like a charm. works in drawers and boxes out in the garage. I usually put down some paper or tissue if I’m putting clothing on top of the cedar. I have no problem with the little buggers!
Submitted by Jodi Tanner on January 14, 2019 — 11:26am
Does anyone have experience with protecting old books from silverfish? I use bay leaves right now. I am thinking that putting DE or cinnamon around the books could get messy.
Submitted by Don Marks on January 15, 2019 — 4:08pm
Another type of Bay Leaves kills insects and that is laurel leaves. They look like bay and are a type of bay. They contain cyanide so don’t put them where you can smell them or you’ll get a sore throat. I used to collect bugs as a kid and used them in my killing jar.
Submitted by Janice Collins on July 7, 2019 — 1:05pm
You could try using cinnamon sticks. You could place them in a pretty bowl, basket, or tray with your bay leaves and/ or cloves (like a potpourri arrangement). I also wonder if a simmering potpourri pot would work?
Submitted by Don Marks on January 14, 2019 — 9:55am
People have approached me (ex-Pharmacist, retired) about these and I often tell them they’re quite pretty and if they’re somewhere they can do no harm then treat them as a pet! It does beg the question though: why are people so hell bent in getting rid of spiders in the home?
Submitted by Paul Bender on January 28, 2018 — 11:48am
My Grandmother always used Borax powder to get rid of silverfish. A big box is reasonably priced and I suspect that it works the same way as the DE powder does. I have used this up in my attic where I have seen these nasty critters. I poured it on the long beams around the perimeter of the house. I don’t know if I got rid of all of them but I don’t see many anymore in the living area. I also put the borax in the back of my cabinets in the kitchen and along the wall behind my dishwasher and stove. I poured it in a line in front of the dishwasher and used a hairdryer to blow it under to get it to the wall. Worked like a charm.
Borax for pest deterrent
Submitted by Shelly on January 14, 2019 — 7:41pm
I too have successfully used borax as a cost effective pest deterrent for silver I should, ants, etc. Works very well. It dehydrated them and you just vacuum it up. If you mix borax in sugar water the ants eat it, take it back to the colony and eliminates them all.
Silverfish In Fabrics
Submitted by JoAnn Brethouwer on January 22, 2019 — 8:58am
I appreciate this comment about using Borax to handle the «Invasion of Silverfish» and other insect pests. Silverfish are in hog heaven on cotton and linen fabrics that have been sprayed with aerosol starch while ironing. They lay their eggs in or on a substances where there is a guaranteed food supply for their young. «Sizing» applied by fabric manufacturers to keep their cotton and linen fabrics crisp and appealing to the consumer, is another substance that silverfish feed on. I, like the majority of Quilters, have an abundance of fabrics in my stash or trove of goods. I also have a cache of hundreds of magazines as well as books, that I’ve purchased used from local charity thrift shops; garage and tag sales; and online. I consider calling fabric, threads and reading materials «used» if they were not purchased from a retail store. There are no assurances that the fabrics have not been in the presence of insects like silverfish, and usually one who is buying preowned fabrics, wouldn’t consider asking about silverfish. Most buyers are concerned with damp, mildew basement or tobacco odors. And if the thought or hint of insects being anywhere near the fabrics, it’s usually cockroaches that come to mind. I do not launder my fabrics before I use them. So, in order to prevent any outbreak of of infestation from eggs layed in the fabric folds, I always place purchased fabrics in a plastic zipper bags used for food storage just as soon as I’m able too. Until then, the purchases remain in my garage until I place them in the bags for my sewing room. It’s not enough to keep fabrics in plastic tote containers, insects are able to wiggle in and out of the tote’s lids. I use small quart sized zip lock bags or sandwich size zip lock bags for fat quarters. The 1 gallon sized zipper bags are adequate for 1-2 yards of folded fabrics. And the 2 gallon sized zipper bags are perfect for larger sized measures of fabric. My fabrics are not used as a display or decor items, so it matters little to me if they’re kept in plastic.
I buy bulk sized quantities of these storage bags. And I reuse them after I’ve emptied the individual ziplock bags, and before I would use a new one. And I don’t worry about moisture build up in the bags because it’s not my intentions to save or collect fabrics. And should I have my own garage sale or tag sale, the fabrics are kept in the bags when I put them out for sale. It’s an assurance that I provide to buyers, that indicate that I don’t have an infestation in my sewing room.
I hope this information is helpful to someone who has more fabrics that they are able to use in the near future.
Pest & sticky glue strips
Submitted by Betty Smith on January 25, 2018 — 11:16pm
Silverfish Information, Prevention, & Control
What Do Silverfish Insects Look Like?
Where Do They Live?
Capable of thriving in most climates, silverfish prefer to dwell in dark, damp areas such as basements, attics, kitchens and bathrooms. They are especially attracted to paper and damp clothing. Commonly found in stored boxes in garages and sheds.
What Do They Eat?
Silverfish are known for their destructive feeding habits, oftentimes ruining papers, clothing and wallpaper. Silverfish feed on carbohydrates, particularly sugars and starches. Cellulose, shampoos, glue in books, linen, silk and dead insects may be food sources. They have been found in unopened food packages.
How to Get Rid of Silverfish?
Homeowners often transport silverfish indoors unknowingly. When brought inside the home, cardboard boxes and plastic containers recently stored in infested areas can allow the pests to spread.
Warm and moist spaces, like basements and crawl spaces, attract silverfish. The pests will enter homes through foundation cracks, torn screens, or gaps around doors. Leaving dirty dishes out in the open will also lure silverfish indoors.
How Serious Are Silverfish Problems?
Silverfish often present a mild risk to people and property. They do not transmit disease, but the pests may trigger allergies in some people.
May Attract Other Pests
Their presence sometimes attracts carpet beetles and causes unease due to their strange appearance.
May Cause Damage to Personal Items
While indoors, silverfish also eat grains and chew large holes into clothing, upholstery, or paper. In large numbers, they can cause a lot of damage. Ruined items often include stored files, books, and vintage clothes.
Silverfish undergo love dances prior to mating. Males lay spermatophores, which are taken into the ovipositor of female specimens. Females’ egg numbers and habits vary, depending on species. One species lays a few eggs a day where as another species lays clusters of 2 to 20 eggs. Read more about the life cycle of a silverfish.
Signs of a Silverfish Infestation
Most often, homeowners detect silverfish when they find one on the floor or in a sink or bathtub. Their feeding damage also can indicate their presence, along with their tiny pepperlike feces.
Silverfish Prevention & Control in the Home
Silverfish are nocturnal and move very quickly. They are secretive, and the severity of an infestation may go unnoticed for long periods of time, allowing for exponential growth. Silverfish reproduce quickly.
Silverfish can survive in almost any environment, but they prefer areas with high humidity. Nymphs develop faster in areas that are humid. Therefore, one of the best ways to prevent an infestation is to control humidity.
Open vents in crawl spaces
In basements, use baseboards with caulking
Silverfish consume a variety of foods, and stringent housekeeping practices may help prevent an infestation by limiting potential feeding sites
However, if your home already hosts a silverfish population, hiring a professional who can create a customized approach is recommended. Traps and insecticides sold in stores will only kill individual insects and cannot address an entire infestation. Some people try to use cinnamon to repel silverfish from certain areas, but it does not kill the insects or their eggs.
Addressing a silverfish infestation requires treatment of both adult silverfish and their harborage. Most do-it-yourself remedies prove ineffective over time, with brief periods of relief followed by another infestation. There are a variety of silverfish traps on the market. However, these traps target individual insects and cannot prevent entire silverfish populations.
What Can Orkin Do?
Silverfish infestations require professional treatment. Your local pest control expert will be able to assess the situation within your home and determine the most effective methods of extermination for your specific problem. At the first sign of a silverfish infestation, contact your local pest control professional. Scheduling a home inspection may help you get rid of silverfish.
The Orkin Man™ is trained to help manage silverfish. Since every home is different, the Orkin technician will design a unique program for your situation.
Keeping silverfish out of your home is an ongoing process, not a one-time treatment. Orkin’s exclusive A.I.M. solution is a continuing cycle of three critical steps—Assess, Implement and Monitor.
The Orkin Man™ can provide the right solution to keep silverfish in their place. out of your home.
Do Silverfish Bite People?
Although silverfish have a creepy appearance and are occasionally mistaken for venomous centipedes, silverfish are not known to bite humans and do not carry diseases. In most cases, a silverfish will instantly flee to safety when it is disturbed. Also, there is a greater chance of your hurting yourself attempting to chase one down than of the silverfish hurting you if you catch it. This insect is quite fast over short distances and is capable of hiding in cracks and crevices that humans cannot access. They hide during the day and forage at night. When they find a food supply, they try to make their nest as close to it as possible. While silverfish are harmless to the human body, they do cause damage to clothing, books, papers, food in pantries and wallpaper. Silverfish leave small holes in materials they bite and may also cause yellow staining. Look for their presence in dark and damp locations such as bathrooms, under sinks and in garages. They tend to dwell in clothing and linen piles or plumbing.
Should you locate an infestation, contact a pest control professional. Silverfish populations grow swiftly and can be difficult to control. Pest control experts can develop a strategy to combat the silverfish.
Which is the oldest pest known to Earth? Most people will say “the cockroach”. After all, it was here in the time of the dinosaurs. But there’s a household pest we are used to that is much older than roaches. It is also one of the first animals to colonise land and evolution has changed little from the Devonic period.
It’s the silverfish.
They do not carry any known disease from pre-historic times. Yet they have acquired a fine taste for old books, leather clothing, quality wallpapers and other everyday objects we don’t want to see consumed by an out-of-control insect population. We discuss the silverfish, its appearance, habits, diet and its classification as a vermin.
Although sometimes mistaken for dangerous centipedes, Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina) are actually insects. They have small, tear-shaped, wingless bodies that reach up to 30mm in length. Their name derives from their scaled skin of the body and silver-blue colour.
Silverfish have long curved antennae and three distinct bristles on their rear. They move in a jingling motion resembling that of a fish. Their appearance doesn’t change much with time. The only difference is their colour—Silverfish nymphs are usually creamy white in colour.
Silverfish are among the oldest species of animals on Planet Earth. They, alongside with bristlebacks and firebrats, make up the Apterygota subclass. Silverfish are closely related to the Rhyniognatha, the world’s oldest known insect.
It has been suspected silverfish are among the first insects to conquer the land. The earliest fossil records of silverfish come from Tertiary and Cretaceous ambers—more than 140 million years old.
Feeding Habits & Behaviour
Silverish feed on polysaccharides. Books, leather, coffee, carpet, sugar, paper, photos, cosmetics and starches are all included in their diet. They are attracted by damp areas and clothing. Silverfish thrive in kitchens, garages, attics, basements and inside box containers.
They are nocturnal animals and rarely wander during the daytime. They also move in a rapid, quick manner, making them hard for home-owners to spot. Silverfish reproduction is slow—the female can lay no more than 60 eggs at once, and on average lays 100 eggs per lifetime.
What they lack in reproductive efficiency, they make up in longevity. Silverfish live up to 5 years and can survive for several weeks without water, and for a whole year without food. They also cannibalise fallen or injured insects.
They look creepy, don’t they? Worry not! Silverfish do not spread any known diseases and are not venomous to humans. They are not known to bite humans and there is no proof they can—their mandibles can hardly penetrate anything thicker than a paper page.
Unfortunately, a silverfish infestation can have an indirect effect on your health. They are prey to various dangerous pests such as centipedes, spiders and cockroaches which can harm humans or spread diseases.
Households all over the UK have reported damage caused by silverfish to various household objects—leather furniture, books, important documents and family memorabilia. They also feed on wallpapers and wallpaper glue and a serious infestation can easily strip your walls off its coverings.
They feed on plants and sugary foods. They have developed a keen love for cereal and have been found inside sealed packages.
Causes of infestation
Silverfish do not require specific conditions to infest your property. Although they prefer damp environments, they can still live in dry, well-lit areas, especially if there is an abundance of food. They are a cosmopolitan species—they live on all continents except Antarctica and have even spread to Pacific islands.
High humidity is usually a contributing factor to infestation. Silverfish thrive in areas with 84% air humidity and 30ºC. Another contributing factor is the abundant food sources. Those include but are not limited to cereals, sugary foods, old books, wallpapers, glue, and leather clothing. They also feed on various plants and on rotting leaves.
The only way to be sure there is an infestation is to observe a specimen of those insects. However, they are nocturnal animals and run for cover at the first sign of danger. There is still hope, though—bathtubs and ceramic sinks often trap them as they go inside for water and can’t crawl back to freedom.
Another possible sign of silverfish infestation is damage on clothes, wallpapers and books. Unlike bookworms, silverfish do not burrow inside the pages. Instead, they eat them layer by layer, which makes them look as if peeled with sandpaper.
Theoretically it is possible to spot their small faeces but it takes a professional to distinguish between their droppings and common house dust.
Spices – bay leaves, whole cloves and sage have a scent which the silverfish hates. Put the spices around your home, where you have seen the insects. Sachets, under furniture, under appliances.
Diatomaceous earth – it is generally used in polishing products or in toothpaste, in cat litter, it’s a thermal insulator and many more. But in this case, it can dehydrate the silverfish. Just dust over hiding places.
Cucumbers – easy and effective way. These pests don’t like the scent, so if you place the cucumber slices in hiding places, you will get rid of them.
Citrus essential oils – they need to be 100% pure. Mix it with some water, put the mixture in a spray bottle. Use it.
What to do in case of a silverfish infestation
A popular Do-It-Yourself method of silverfish control involves the use of cinnamon. It is a natural repellent to those creatures and they will avoid its odour at all cost. While this method is ineffective at eradicating them, some cinnamon inside your cupboards may save your spices and sweets from destruction. However this will not guarantee a silverfish-free property as cinnamon cannot kill them.
For severe infestations you should rely on the services of an expert who can spray the hiding places of the silverfish and ensure their elimination.