How to Get Rid of Silverfish


How can you get rid of silverfish in your home, those pests feasting on your books, magazines, old newspapers, cereals, flour, dry pet food, and fabrics? Try a mix of sticky traps, dusts, sprays, and repellents.

To prevent silverfish from entering your home in the first place, dehumidify living spaces, seal up holes, and store foods in kitchen cabinets using airtight containers.

What are Silverfish?

These wingless, scaly, silver-colored bristletails love moisture and high humidity. Also known by their scientific name Lepisma saccharina, they’ll cuddle up to leaf and wood piles, mulch, clogged gutters, and other damp places. The closer these silverfish havens are to your home, the more likely they’ll find a point of entry.

The look-alike firebrats (Thermobia domestica) prefer warm, dry places, such as underneath ovens, fireplaces, or hot water pipes.

Besides papers and books, both of these household pests also feast on dead insects, dust, and fungi. And since most homes contain their favorite food sources, once inside, they won’t be looking to leave.

A plus? Their weak jaws prevent them from biting anything (they scrape surfaces to eat), so they can’t spread diseases to humans. Still, they can wreck property by “chewing” and defecating on your belongings.

Predating dinosaurs, these insects have existed for more than 400 million years and live in North America, Europe, China, Japan, and Hawaii. This, combined with their nocturnal nature and swift moves, make them difficult to detect and hard to remove from your home.

Compared to other insects, they have long lives, sticking around for two to eight years.

How to Get Rid of Silverfish

Don’t expect silverfish to go gently into that good night. They are super comfortable hiding in damp, cool basements, attics, garages, crawl spaces, laundry rooms, and bathrooms — and they reproduce rapidly.

To get rid of these (relatively harmless) pests, try a range of strategies including exclusion, habitat modification, trapping, repellents, and insecticides. Keep in mind that these methods will work only on individual silverfish. For a major infestation, you often will need professional pest control help.

How to get rid of silverfish naturally

You already know maintaining a clean home and caulking any cracks and crevices are the first steps to averting an infestation of any kind. Beyond that, other natural methods of silverfish control include:

1. Silverfish traps

Pulling double duty as a detection device and a pitfall trap, a glass jar lure can supply evidence of an infestation and catch the culprits for later destruction.

How to do this: Bait a Mason jar with a piece of bread or another starchy food, and cover the outside of the jar with masking tape to help silverfish climb the glass. Once they fall into the jar, they won’t be able to crawl up the slippery glass. Empty the jar the next day and repeat the process.

Alternatively, you can purchase insect sticky traps at your local store.

2. Essential oils

The University of Florida‘s department of entomology and nematology suggests using essential oils to get rid of silverfish.

Acting as a repellent, Japanese cedar oil at 0.01 mg proved successful in deterring 80 percent of silverfish, one study found. When used at a higher volume (0.16 mg), the cedar oil killed exposed silverfish within 10 hours.

Fill a spray bottle with a blend of the oil and water, or diffuse the oil into the air. You also can soak sachets in the oil and place along baseboards and in corners throughout the house.

In addition to helping get rid of silverfish, using essential oils and dehumidifying living spaces also will help prevent silverfish (and firebrats) from entering in the first place.

3. Make their food and water scarce

When food and water supplies dwindle, silverfish can’t survive. Store dry foods in airtight containers, vacuum food crumbs, get rid of excess cardboard boxes and papers, remove standing water, and use a dehumidifier in rooms that need it.

And while you won’t want (or need) to toss out your collection of books, shift your books around every now and then. Do the same for magazines and newspapers you have on display. The movement will deter silverfish from returning to those piles of paper. Recycle periodicals and papers you no longer need.

Getting rid of silverfish with chemicals

Unless you’re inundated with a major infestation (hundreds of silverfish), chemical methods are unnecessary. If you’ve determined you have too many silverfish to get rid of naturally, pesticide dusts, sprays and baits can help solve your problem:

1. Dusts

Food-grade diatomaceous earth — the compound made from fossils of aquatic organisms — is nontoxic to humans but lethal to insects.

You can also use silica gel (you know, those little packets that come with new purchases of shoes and other things). Silica gel not only helps keep areas dry, but it also will kill a silverfish by dehydrating its exoskeleton.

Boric acid also can help stop silverfish in their tracks.

2. Sprays

Insecticides with pyrethrins will kill on contact and may have a residual effect, as well. Spray into nooks and crannies, along baseboards, on bookshelves, and in other places silverfish like to hide.

Take care not to apply insecticides near electricity and gas, as they can be flammable. Also, since insecticides are poisonous to people if ingested, do not use near drains, sinks, food, and water.

3. Baits

Despite what you may have heard, baits, including those made for roaches and ants, will not work on silverfish. Why? These insects simply will not feed on what’s inside, as the baits do not contain the starchy feast silverfish crave.

Does Salt Kill Silverfish?

Short answer, no.

Other internet-based “solutions” to silverfish problems include bay leaves, vinegar, and cinnamon. While there is no proof that any of these methods work, cinnamon may help repel adult silverfish. None of these home remedies will kill silverfish nor their eggs.

When to Call a Pest Control Professional

The DIY methods discussed above can help repel or kill individual silverfish. Insecticides can wipe out small infestations. But, if you’re having no luck getting rid of your silverfish, enlist the help of professionals.

Pest control experts are trained in handling silverfish infestations. They’ll confirm silverfish are the problem, assess your home, and come up with an ongoing, integrated pest management solution to rid your space of these nuisances.

Main Image Credit: AJC from UK / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Andréa Butler

Andréa Butler has a passion for writing and editing — but a phobia of bees and wasps. Living near the woods, she's dealt with her fair share of mice, skinks, and other outside critters that sometimes find their way inside. Besides learning new ways to keep homes pest-free, she also enjoys singing, reading, and binge-watching just about every show that ever existed.