Do Silverfish Eat Clothes? Uncovering the Truth

Silverfish are small, wingless insects known for their fish-like appearance and nocturnal habits. While these pests can be a nuisance in your home, one pressing concern is whether they eat clothing or not.

Although silverfish seem to prefer materials that are high in carbohydrates and protein, like glue in book bindings or behind wallpaper, they are also known to feed on various types of fabrics. For example, they may damage silk, cotton, linen, and even some synthetic materials source.

Knowing these common targets can help you take appropriate measures to protect your clothing and belongings. Be vigilant about dampness in clothing storage areas and keep an eye out for the telltale signs of silverfish infestations.

Silverfish and Clothes

Which Fabrics are Targeted

Silverfish are known to feed on a variety of materials, particularly those of plant origin that are high in carbohydrates and protein. Among fabrics, they commonly target:

  • Cotton: A natural fabric made from cotton plant fibers.
  • Silk: A protein fiber, created by silkworms that feed on mulberry leaves.
  • Linen: A textile made from the fibers of the flax plant.

These fabrics provide the nutrients silverfish require and can lead to damage when infested.

Signs of Silverfish Damage

It is essential to detect the presence of silverfish in your home early to prevent damage to your clothes and other belongings. Some key signs of silverfish damage include:

  • Yellow stains: Silverfish can leave behind yellowish stains due to their excrement on the infested textile.
  • Holes in fabric: Silverfish may create small, irregular holes in the fabric as they consume the material.

Example:
If you notice small holes and yellow stains on your cotton shirts, this might be a sign of silverfish infestation.

Comparison Table: Fabrics Targeted by Silverfish

Fabric Material Targeted by Silverfish
Cotton Plant fibers Yes
Silk Protein fiber Yes
Linen Flax plant Yes
Synthetic Petrochemical No

To protect your clothes from silverfish damage, store them in a dry, well-ventilated area, and use airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags when storing valuable or rarely used garments. Moreover, maintain a clean and decluttered living environment, focusing on reducing moisture and humidity levels throughout your home.

Preventing Silverfish Infestations

Keep Your Home Clean

  • Regular housekeeping helps reduce potential food sources for silverfish.
  • Vacuum carpets and dust shelves frequently, especially in dark or damp areas.

For example, make sure to clean out closets and basements where silverfish might find food like paper or fabric.

Control Moisture and Humidity

  • Use a dehumidifier in damp areas like basements and attics.
  • Install vents or fans to improve airflow and reduce humidity.
  • Fix any leaks or cracks promptly to prevent excess moisture.

A comparison of ideal humidity levels for a comfortable home versus a silverfish-friendly environment:

Comfortable Home Silverfish-Friendly
30-50% Humidity Over 70% Humidity

Proper Storage

  • Store clothes, fabrics, and paper materials in sealed plastic containers.
  • Keep closets, storage areas, and pantries clean and organized.
  • Regularly inspect stored items for signs of silverfish infestations.

Pros and cons of using plastic storage containers:

Pros Cons
Protects from moisture Can be expensive
Keeps pests out May not be eco-friendly
Easy to organize May take up more space

Identifying Silverfish

Physical Appearance

Silverfish are small insects with a distinctive appearance. Their body is covered in tiny, glistening scales, giving them a silver or pearl-gray color1. A few key features include:

  • Wingless
  • Typically 0.85 cm (0.33 in) in length1
  • Two long antennae
  • Flat, tapered body at both ends2
  • Overlapping scales
  • Three long, thin, tail-like appendages at the end of the abdomen2

Behavior

These insects are primarily nocturnal, which means they are active during the night and tend to hide when lights are turned on3. They are mostly found at floor level and on shelving, seeking moist and dark areas as their preferred habitat3. A couple of noteworthy behaviors include:

  • Preference for carbohydrates and protein4
  • Feeding on glue, wallpaper paste, book bindings, and paper4
  • May damage silk and some synthetic fabrics5

In summary, identifying silverfish can be done through their unique physical features and nocturnal behavior. Knowing this can help in preventing any possible damage they may cause to clothing and other household materials.

Silverfish Diet and Food Sources

Household Items

Silverfish primarily feed on items high in carbohydrates and protein in our homes. Common examples include:

These insects can cause damage to various household items as they consume these materials.

Natural Sources

In nature, silverfish consume cellulose, which is a carbohydrate found in plant materials. They prefer materials of plant origin that are rich in carbohydrates and protein. Some examples of their natural food sources include:

  • Plant-based materials: cellulose from wood, leaves, and bark.
  • Organic debris: decomposing plant matter and fungi.

While silverfish primarily feed on carbohydrates and protein, they can also eat other insects when necessary, making them somewhat opportunistic feeders.

Silverfish Diet Comparison Table

Food Source Carbohydrates Protein Examples
Household Items High High Glue, fabrics, cereals
Natural Sources High Moderate Plant materials, fungi

Damage Caused by Silverfish

Clothing and Textiles

Silverfish can damage various types of fabrics, especially those high in protein and carbohydrates. They are known to feed on silk, cotton, and synthetic fibers. In this process, they leave holes or feeding marks on the fabric. For example:

  • Holes in cotton shirts
  • Irregular marks on silk garments

Comparison Table

Silk Cotton Synthetic
More damage Lesser damage Moderate damage

Books, Paper, and Documents

Silverfish have a penchant for devouring paper-based materials like books, which they primarily consume for the glue in the bindings. This can lead to significant deterioration of old books and important documents. Examples of the types of damage they can cause include:

  • Damaged book covers
  • Missing pages, especially in old books

Other Common Targets

In addition to clothing and paper items, silverfish are attracted to various household items, such as wallpaper, cereal grain products, and dried meat. They can be deterred by using natural repellents, like:

  • Cinnamon
  • Lavender
  • Cedarwood

Overall, while silverfish might not eat clothes as their primary food source, they do cause damage to a variety of materials, including textiles, books, and paper-based items. It’s essential to monitor and control their presence to prevent significant destruction to valuable belongings.

Silverfish Control Methods

Natural Approaches

  • Diatomaceous earth: A natural powder that can be sprinkled around infested areas or where silverfish have been spotted, causing them to dehydrate and die1.
  • Traps: Placing sticky traps or homemade traps, such as a container with a moist piece of bread and a slippery, steep-sided lining for silverfish; unable to escape, they may eventually die2.

Pros of natural approaches:

  • Non-toxic
  • Generally safer for humans and pets
  • Environmentally friendly

Cons of natural approaches:

  • May take longer to see results compared to chemical treatments
  • Might require more effort or frequent applications

Chemical Treatments

  • Boric acid: A chemical compound that can be applied to areas where silverfish are usually present; it works by damaging their exoskeletons and causing dehydration3.
  • Insecticides: Some dust formulations specifically targeting silverfish can be used in cracks, crevices, and other hiding places4.

Pros of chemical treatments:

  • Faster results than natural approaches
  • Longer lasting effects in some cases

Cons of chemical treatments:

  • May be harmful to humans and pets if not handled properly
  • Potential environmental impact due to the chemicals used

Professional Pest Control

  • Exterminator: Hiring a professional exterminator who specializes in silverfish control can be a more thorough and effective solution, especially for severe infestations5.

Pros of professional pest control:

  • Expertise in handling and applying treatments
  • More effective and long-lasting solutions
  • Guarantees and follow-up services available

Cons of professional pest control:

  • Can be more expensive than DIY methods
  • May involve stronger chemicals or disruption to living spaces

Footnotes

  1. https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/URBAN/silverfish.HTM 2 3

  2. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/silverfish-and-firebrats 2 3

  3. https://www.canr.msu.edu/resources/silverfish-and-firebrat 2 3

  4. https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/ENT-64 2 3

  5. https://extension.okstate.edu/programs/digital-diagnostics/insects-and-arthropods/silverfish-lepisma-saccharina/ 2

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Silverfish

 

Subject: Vancouver Suburb Apartment Bug
Location: Vancouver, BC
August 15, 2014 12:19 am
Hi there,
I’m wondering if you can help me identify this bug? I started noticing them about a year ago, approx once every few weeks, mainly in the bathroom in the middle of the night or early morning. They scurry away when the lights go on. The one in the picture attached is approx the length of a penny, but I’ve started to notice babies!!!! Noooooo! We live approx 30 mins east of Vancouver, BC in a ground floor apartment building. The building itself is approx 20 years old, made with concrete and wood (so I wondered if it is a wood-dwelling bug). They tend to scurry under the baseboards. I’ve seen a few in the kitchen now and I need to stop this scourge! Thanks in advance!
Signature: Shannon

Silverfish
Silverfish

Dear Shannon,
The Silverfish is a common household pest that can be extremely difficult to eradicate.  Silverfish will feed on a wide variety of organic substances in the home, including some unconventional items like the glue binding of books and wallpaper.  Your observations that they are found in the bathroom and at night are very accurate.  They prefer damp surroundings, especially near sinks.

Letter 2 – Silverfish

 

Silverfish
Silverfish

Subject: Identification
Location: East elmhurst, NY
October 18, 2014 2:03 am
Found this in my house a week ago.
What is the name of this bug?
Signature: initials

Dear initials,
This is a Silverfish, and it is a common household pest that is often found in damp, dark locations.

Letter 3 – Silverfish

 

Subject: Nasty, fast bug
Location: Sudbury ontario canada
January 5, 2015 3:23 pm
I’ve been finding these bugs in my bathroom and anywhere that moisture is. Like the kitchen sink or in drying dishes. They are very quick bugs and move so fast!
Do you know what they are?
Signature: Melinda

Silverfish
Silverfish

Dear Melinda,
This is a Silverfish, a common household pest that prefers damp, dark places.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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