Everything You Need to Know in Order to Get Rid of (and Prevent!) These Creepy-Looking Bugs

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kath Nash)

Bed bugs get all the press these days. Comparatively, silverfish (and their cousin the firebrat) are pretty harmless, but man are they ugly. It doesn’t help that they hang out in cold, dark, damp places like the basement or under the bathroom sink. If you’ve spotted one of these lurking in your house, or have an infestation, we have some tips for first preventing their arrival, then getting rid of them.

Silverfish come in a bunch of varieties, are pretty creepy-looking, and get their name from their silvery or gray color. You might recognize their carrot-shaped bodies and tons of antennae sticking out. They move quickly, and like to come out at night. So basically, everything you really want in a bug.

Do Silverfish Bite, and Are They Harmful?

The good news: They don’t bite or spread disease among humans. They mainly hang around because they like nibbling on starchy stuff like paper, glue, dry goods, and cereal boxes. That, and dead skin cells (shudder). Although they don’t usually do moth-level damage, they have been known to make holes in clothing and other textiles.

Where Do Silverfish Come From?

If there’s moisture and starch, you’ll likely also find a silverfish. These bugs love dark and damp places, like basements. Humid bathrooms are also a large draw, as are kitchens where food is found.

How to Kill Silverfish

If you do find yourself with an unwelcome silverfish bug (or worse, a parade of them in your house) and want to do something about it, here are several natural approaches — no chemicals needed.

  • Sprinkling some food-grade diatomaceous earth around baseboards or other areas where you’ve spotted the silverfish. Put it in all areas where they like to hide, including cracks and small holes. It’s safe for your other pets,
  • Try sticky traps (like these).
  • If you don’t have children or pets, these Silverfish paks (poison) have good reviews from users.
  • Put something starchy (i.e., bread) in a jar wrapped with masking tape. The poor suckers will climb up to get the food, then won’t be able to get out.

Reader comment: “I’m buying caulking supplies and steel wool (for the bigger gaps around under-sink pipes) this weekend. I’ve heard good things about cedar blocks/oil and lavender sachets. I’m going to use an earlier commenter’s suggestion on bay leaves for my kitchen cabinets too.”

Reader comment: They are NOT harmless! They have chewed holes in tons of my and my children’s clothes, in all my linen napkins, and frayed the edges of some of my old books. They like natural fibers.”

How to Get Rid of Silverfish Naturally

If you see one silverfish every once in a while, it’s not a huge deal. It’s when they show up in greater numbers that you can justifiably start getting heebie-jeebies. To discourage them from arriving in droves, take the following preventative measures:

  • Put out some cedar, or spray crevices with cedar oil. Silverfish reportedly don’t like the stuff, and steer clear.
  • Some people report that dried bay leaves are an effective insect repellant. Insects don’t like the smell.
  • Don’t leave piles of newspaper, ephemera or mail lying around. Similarly, get rid of old cardboard boxes in the basement.
  • Store off-season clothing in sealed bins and somewhere dry.
  • Vacuum regularly to pick up food crumbs (and potentially suck up any eggs).
  • Keep dry food in containers with tightly sealed lids.
  • Seal any cracks or crevices with caulk to keep them from entering the home, or laying eggs while they’re in there.

Long-term, you also want to deal with any moisture problems.

  • Use a dehumidifier.
  • Install a better bathroom fan for showers.
  • Clear the perimeter around your home of leaves and other damp debris.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: Silverfish: How To Get Rid of Them & Prevent an Infestation

Do you have silverfish in your house? What have you tried to control and prevent them?