If you’ve been seeing small black or brown beetles scurrying around your home, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with carpet beetles. While they may not pose a serious health threat, these pests can cause significant damage to your belongings. Here are some tips on how to prevent carpet beetles from taking up residence in your home—and how to deal with them if they’re already present.
DO CARPET BEETLES ACTUALLY EAT CARPET?
The diet of a carpet beetle includes many different items, but they are most commonly associated with eating carpets. The reason for this is that the larvae of carpet beetles feed on the fibers of natural materials like wool, silk, leather, feathers, and fur, which all contain the animal protein keratin.
This is a problem for several popular carpeting options, as wool is an eco-friendly and durable carpeting material, and carpet beetles will happily eat any wool blends. Many other options, such as polyester and acrylic, are synthetic materials that carpet beetles can’t digest—but if they’re coated in enough debris, such as skin oil or food stains, that won’t stop them from chewing holes through your rugs.
Prevention efforts shouldn’t rely solely on choosing a synthetic carpeting material and keeping it clean. Carpet beetles can also infest clothing, food pantries, stuffed animals, and many other areas of the house.
HOW TO IDENTIFY A CARPET BEETLE INFESTATION
Carpet beetles are small, round insects divided into a number of species. The most common type of carpet beetle is, appropriately, the common carpet beetle, which is brown or black in color and has a pattern of white, yellow, or orange spots on its back.
Common species of carpet beetles include:
- Common or variegated carpet beetle: adults appear as small black and white ovals with red, orange, or yellow accents and are roughly 0.25 to 0.38 millimeters in length (slightly shorter than the width of your smallest fingernail). Larvae are reddish-brown and covered in long, dark bristles, and may be up to 5.5 millimeters in length.
- Black carpet beetle: black carpet beetle adults are slightly larger than common carpet beetles at up to 4.5 millimeters long. They’re black or dark brown and have no patterns. Their larvae are long, with a tuft of long golden hairs at one end, and may be anywhere from light brown to black. This species lays the most eggs out of the three.
- Furniture carpet beetle: adults have a similar mottled appearance to the common carpet beetle, but are typically slightly larger and rounder. Their larvae also appear similar to common larvae, but furniture beetle larvae are typically broader at the head and narrower at the tail. However, these beetles lay more eggs than common carpet beetles, the eggs typically hatch faster, and the larvae have a much shorter larval stage, so an infestation may worsen significantly faster.
Carpet beetle damage can sometimes be confused with clothes’ moth damage. If you have holes in your clothes and you’re not sure which pest you have, look for webbing or shed skins. Webbing indicates moths, while shed skins can be identified as carpet beetle larvae.
WHERE DO YOU FIND CARPET BEETLES IN YOUR HOME?
Carpet beetles are attracted to dirt and stains, so they are more likely to infest dirty or heavily used carpets. If you have a carpet beetle infestation, you may notice small holes in your carpets or fabrics. You may also see adult beetles or larvae crawling on the surface of the fabric. It’s the larvae you want to watch out for, as adult carpet beetles only eat pollen.
Keep an eye out for molted larvae skins, as the larvae molt 5 to 20 times before pupating. You’ll most commonly see these molts near food sources, such as dead insects, the edges or undersides of carpets or stored clothing, or places where pet hair tends to collect.
Larvae like to feed in dark, undisturbed places, like closets, the backs of drawers, attics, behind baseboards, or between couch cushions. Adults, on the other hand, are attracted to light. For this reason, you may find adults most easily near windows and doors, and their presence will tell you that there are larvae somewhere in your home. Glue traps can help you identify a potential infestation sooner than eyes alone.
HOW TO KEEP CARPET BEETLES OUT
Prevention is preferable to cure, and the best way to prevent carpet beetle damage is to keep them from entering your home in the first place. However, keeping your home completely sealed against insects smaller than a grain of rice can be a high bar to reach. The next best prevention method is to take away the beetles’ potential food sources.
Dust, sweep, and vacuum your home regularly, as detritus buildup creates an inviting feast. Regular cleaning also helps you spot an infestation early, so you can nip it in the bud.
Wash your clothes and fabrics regularly, including items stored in linen closets or other out-of-the-way places, as larvae are most likely to feed on soiled fabrics. For clothes in long-term storage, consider vacuum-sealed garment bags to keep pests out. Otherwise, mothballs in tightly sealed containers may help repel pests so long as they’re regularly replaced. Be sure to follow the directions for mothballs or flakes, as they can be volatile, and remember that they work most effectively when kept concentrated in a closed space.
Keep food items in tightly sealed containers, especially when they’re in a dark, enclosed space like a pantry or cupboard. As a bonus, this will help keep out other pantry pests like cockroaches.
Be sure to check any secondhand furniture or clothing before bringing it into your home, as these items may be infested. Flowers should also be checked for adult beetles, as they feed on pollen and may be present.
When inspecting fabrics, pay the most attention to seams and folds, as you would with bed bugs, as those tend to be preferred feeding spots.
HOW TO REMOVE CARPET BEETLES
Due to the sheer variety of potential food sources carpet beetle larvae will eat, they can appear anywhere and everywhere in your home, from heat vents to the back of the pantry to under the floorboards. As such, localized treatments aren’t guaranteed to be effective. For specific infested items, however, you can remove the infestation through several methods.
- Heat, such as hot laundering, dry cleaning, steam cleaning, or running fabrics through the clothes dryer, will kill both eggs and larvae. Recommended exposure is above 105 degrees F for several hours.
- Extreme cold (about -20 degrees F) for several hours will also kill eggs and larvae.
- Bagging infested items before disposal can help limit the spread.
- Exposure to hot sunlight will cause larvae to abandon the item.
Many areas that the beetles inhabit will be out of reach of common housekeeping, such as voids in the walls. Between the obscure hiding places and the wide dispersal throughout the home, carpet beetle infestation sometimes calls for drastic measures, up to and including fumigation. For these persistent pests, calling a Tulsa exterminator is your best option for eliminating the entire infestation and making sure it stays gone.