They’re slippery, nocturnal, and can jump as high as two feet. Silverfish are creepy-crawly insects that fit into the tiniest corners and crevices, only to slither around when you least expect it. While they are neither poisonous nor pathogenic, they are a source of allergies for many, because throughout their lifetime, they shed their scales and generate dust. But their icky nature is enough reason to want to get rid of them.
You need to get rid of silverfish, Lepisma saccharina, because of the damage they can do to your home and possessions. They love starches and sugars, which are in almost everything. They will eat through books to get to the glue in the bindings. They also enjoy insulation, clothing, and any kind of paper. The female lays fewer than 100 eggs in her lifetime, but within weeks, the nymphs emerge. They become mature adults in three to four months, only to repeat the cycle, leading to multiple generations in just a year.
As prevention is the best way to rid yourself of these pests, it’s a good idea to periodically clean and declutter. The best places for these insects to hide are the parts of the home that most people ignore or just dump items without thinking about it, including basements, attics, and garages, but they also like closets and laundry rooms.
Outdoor debris and plants may be the highway from which silverfish enter your house. Not only are leaf piles great sources of shelter and food, trees and hedges that are too close to weep holes are easy pathways. Remember, silverfish can jump, so you're better off trimming vegetation back a few feet, where possible, and getting rid of leaf litter.
Bathrooms and kitchens are great areas for silverfish to hang out, because they love moistness. Ironically, the pests can help by signaling water leaks. While bathrooms and kitchens are often unavoidably humid, when there’s a leak, mold forms, and silverfish love this fungus. When cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, pay particular attention to under the sinks and around the bathing area. Also check the basement water heater.
Every house has its cracks and crevices, and that’s usually how insects get in. If you’re able to trace your silverfish population to a specific opening, seal it immediately. As an additional measure, you can hinder their return by adding some cinnamon, cloves, or bay leaves to the spot, either on their own or combined in water as a spray. Silverfish are deterred by these scents.
While it may seem obvious, this is one of the steps that many take for granted. If you have seen silverfish crawling around your kitchen cabinets, for example, know that those cardboard boxes with the cereal are just as likely to be their food source as the cereal itself. Switch out the paper and cardboard containers for airtight glass canisters.
If prevention isn’t working, the next step is getting rid of the silverfish. Diatomaceous earth (DE) is composed of the carcasses of water creatures called diatoms. After sprinkling DE in corners where silverfish seem to congregate, the outer carapace of passing insects will be pierced by the powder, which causes the bugs to dehydrate and die. While food-grade DE is safe, inhaling the microscopic particles is less so, so it's best to wear a mask when spreading it.
Another organic solution is boric acid, a refined derivative of the element boron. It is toxic to insects like ants and silverfish. Just like DE, it dehydrates them. There are plenty of baits on the market with this active ingredient, but you can also make your own by combining boric acid with sugar and some water to make a paste. Because it is dangerous when ingested by children and pets, put this bait in a container out of reach.
Pyrethrin is an organic insecticide made from chrysanthemums. It can kill all sorts of insects, including silverfish, ticks, and fleas, which is why it’s a common ingredient in flea collars and shampoos. It attacks the bug's nervous system, and because it degrades rapidly, it is considered environmentally safe. Nonetheless, when using natural pyrethrin, keep it away from children, pets, and areas where food is prepared or served.
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If all of your efforts to get rid of the bugs aren't working, and you’re seeing damage to your clothing, books, or other belongings, chances are you have a full-blown infestation that requires professional help. Once they have multiplied to a certain point, there are no DIY methods for eliminating silverfish. The exterminator will have to apply more concentrated doses of insecticide all around your home and follow-up with another treatment to ensure that the adults and their eggs are gone.
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