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How to Get Rid of Silverfish

Silverfish on book
eleonimages / Shutterstock

There are many types of pests that have alien-like appearances. But if there was a contest that ranked pests based on how odd they look, the silverfish would definitely be near the top of the list. The unusual way this pest looks — plus how quickly it can move — makes it unnerving to find running across your bathroom or kitchen floor. Fortunately, there are options for eliminating silverfish from your home and preventing them from returning.

What do silverfish look like? 

Silverfish are small, segmented pests with bodies that appear flat and adult silverfish can grow to a length of ¼ of an inch. This pest is covered in scales that give it a silver metallic appearance. On the head, silverfish have long antennae and, protruding from the last abdominal segment, silverfish have three tail-like appendages. These pests can move fast and are good at hiding in cracks and crevices inside your house.

Silverfish close up

HHelene / Shutterstock

How do you get silverfish?

Silverfish come into your home in search of food and water. These tiny pests do best in humid environments and can often be found in bathrooms, basements, and under sinks. The temperature-controlled environment of most homes provides conditions that are suitable for a silverfish infestation.

Silverfish often enter homes in search of food, but it may not be the food that you expect. These pests thrive on starchy substances like uncooked pasta and cereal, as well as items like paper, books, and wallpaper. Silverfish can come into your house from the outside or hitchhike in via cardboard boxes or plastic containers that have already been infested.

A silverfish infestation does not cause any type of harm to humans. However, these pests do have the ability to damage property. Silverfish can create holes in books, paper, and any other starchy material that they can find to snack on.

How long can silverfish infestations last? 

Silverfish can live for a long time. According to experts at Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, silverfish can live for more than three years and produce 50-plus offspring in that time. The conditions in which these pests live can significantly impact the length of their life as well as the time it takes them to reach maturity and begin reproducing. If silverfish are in a moisture-rich environment with starchy food nearby, they can continue to infest your home for years.

How to get rid of silverfish, step by step

Once you understand what causes silverfish, you can start taking steps to get rid of them. If you find silverfish in your house, follow the step-by-step guide below on how to kill silverfish.

Step 1: Prevent moisture issues in your home.

Silverfish thrive in humid environments. Silverfish are commonly found in the bathroom because of the high level of moisture. If you have issues with moisture in other areas of your home, you may encounter silverfish throughout. Get leaks fixed and bring in a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture in the air.

Step 2: Properly store starchy foods.

Silverfish prefer to feed on starchy substances which include dry pasta and cereal. In order to prevent silverfish from getting into your food supply, be sure and store starchy foods properly in thick plastic or metal containers.

Step 3: Seal up breaches that may allow silverfish to hide.

Silverfish have small, flat bodies that allow them to squeeze into narrow cracks and crevices. Sealing up cracks and crevices around your home using caulk can help prevent silverfish from getting in.

Products you can use to treat a silverfish infestation

  • Granular bait: Silverfish bait uses boric acid to kill silverfish. Boric acid can kill silverfish when ingested but it also has the ability to dry the pests out which is fatal.
  • Liquid insecticide: Liquid insecticide can be sprayed around the inside and outside perimeter of your home to kill a long list of common pests, including silverfish.
  • Pest-killing dust: Powdered insecticide that contains diatomaceous earth is an option. Silicon dioxide is the  active ingredient that is lethal to silverfish in many pest-killing dust products.
  • Pest fogger:

Don’t want to use chemical cleaners? Here’s how to get rid of silverfish naturally

If you have pets or children in your home then you may be hesitant to use chemical cleaners or treatment options for silverfish. Fortunately, there are other options. You can make changes to your environment, use home remedies, or try a number of non-chemical products to help you get rid of silverfish naturally.

Making changes to the environment of your home is a natural way to get rid of silverfish and prevent them from returning. Silverfish need a moisture-rich environment and access to starchy food in order to survive. You can decrease the humidity in your home by dealing with any water problems and investing in a dehumidifier. In addition, you can reduce the food options that silverfish have available in your home by storing cereal, uncooked pasta, and other dried foods properly. Silverfish also feed on paper, books, and other items containing cellulose so be sure to remove any old newspapers, cardboard boxes, or books that may be providing a convenient meal.

You can make your own sticky traps or purchase pre-made traps. Silverfish move quickly, but they are small, which means sticky traps can stop them in their tracks. To make a sticky trap yourself, apply petroleum jelly to a piece of cardstock paper or thin cardboard. When the silverfish run across the trap they will get hung up in the petroleum jelly. You can also purchase pre-made sticky traps and place them throughout your home wherever you have noticed silverfish.

When to call a professional exterminator to treat silverfish

Silverfish are not a threat to the health of humans but they do have the potential to infest your food supply and cause damage to your possessions. If you have a serious silverfish infestation you may notice holes in paper and books around your house. In serious infestations, silverfish can be a threat to paper-based keepsakes in your home such as love letters, cards, and drawings from childhood. If you have attempted to eradicate silverfish from your home without success then it is time to call a professional exterminator.

How to keep silverfish out of your home

Keeping silverfish out of your home starts by adjusting the environment to make it less inviting for the pest. Seal up any obvious breaches around your home that could let silverfish in using caulk and weather stripping. Address moisture problems in your home that are creating a humid environment by fixing leaks and bringing in a dehumidifier. Properly store food items that attract silverfish and trash any unnecessary paper-based items. Making these changes to your environment and applying chemical or natural treatment methods when needed will help keep silverfish out of your home.

The bottom line on silverfish 

The bottom line on silverfish is that they are not dangerous to humans but they are a threat to your dry food supply and paper items throughout your house. Their worm-like bodies and noticeable silver coloring make it easy to identify silverfish in your house. These pests need a humid environment to survive which is why you will often find silverfish in your bathroom, basement, or under cabinets. Adjusting the environment of your home is the most important step you can take to prevent a silverfish infestation. There are both chemical and natural options for eliminating silverfish or, if you develop a silverfish infestation that does not respond to DIY treatment, you can seek the help of a pest control professional.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What are silverfish a sign of?
Silverfish are a sign of excess moisture in your home.

Can silverfish spread diseases to humans?
Silverfish are not known to spread diseases to humans.

When are silverfish most active?
Silverfish are most active at night and stay out of view if possible.

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