This blog answers the question of whether silverfish really eat your clothes, as well as how to get rid of silverfish should you be so unlucky as to have them in your home or wardrobe.
Now that spring has finally arrived, I’ve started thinking about packing away my winter jerseys and coats. This winter I splurged and purchased a ridiculously expensive cashmere jersey that the salesperson at Trenery promised me was an “investment piece” – but now I’m paranoid that if I pack it away, the silverfish might get it!
What might make me worry about something so seemingly unlikely, you may ask? Well, there’s precedence, you see… When I unearthed my favourite summer t-shirt recently for the first really warm day we’ve had so far, I found it riddled with tiny holes. NOT good.
After I’d held a small memorial service for my t-shirt, I decided to do a proper, Rentokil-style inspection of my cupboards, and what I found wasn’t encouraging. Silverfish – or fish moths as they are also called – must have been feasting on my clothes for months. (It seems like they have expensive taste, or they’re just very spiteful because they really seemed to enjoy my most expensive clothes.)
Fortunately, working for a pest control company comes with some perks – one of these being on-demand access to the accumulated expertise that resides in our pest control technicians, Quality Assurance managers and Technical managers.
A quick call and I was armed with some advice on how to get rid of silverfish and protect my Trenery investment cashmere from future snack attacks.
What are silverfish?
Silverfish are tiny wingless insects. They are silver-blue in colour and have scales (similar to fish scales) giving them the name silverfish. (They are also sometimes called carpet sharks!) They have two or three bristles at the end of their abdomens, and they can be found in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms – in fact anywhere that’s moist, humid or damp.
Silverfish hide their eggs in cracks, making them extremely hard to identify and find. They can lay anything between 4 to 20 eggs per day. That means in a week you can easily have approximately 140 new eggs ready to hatch. That’s a lot of holes in t-shirts and cashmere.
Do silverfish eat clothes?
Silverfish aren’t harmful to humans, but they can be extremely destructive to clothes, books, photographs, paintings, plaster, and other household items containing starch or cellulose. As generalist feeders, they are attracted to a wide range of food sources but show a particular fondness for items containing high levels of starch, protein, or sugar.
Silverfish eat everything from cereal and flour to the glue or paste affixed to the undersides of book bindings and wallpaper. They don’t actually eat clothes for the material, but for the nourishing substances often found in or on the fabric.
They feed on starched clothing to extract the starchy carbohydrates, and to meet their need for sugars, they also eat clothes that are stained with spills of sugary foods or beverages. Clothing stored in cupboards or storage areas with moderately warm temperatures and high humidity levels is most susceptible to silverfish damage.
When silverfish eat clothes, they demonstrate a preference for garments made of cotton, linen, silk, leather and rayon. (You see? They DO have expensive taste!) Because their mouths are only capable of taking small bites and scraping edible material from various surfaces, they create holes in clothes and yellowish stains that typically make up the majority of the damage left behind.
5 tips to prevent silverfish from eating your clothing whilst in storage:
Our team suggested a few tips for preventing a silverfish infestation.
1. Clean clothes before storing
Always wash your clothing before storing it away for long periods of time, especially if you are a messy eater and prone to spills. Packing away clothing that has not been properly cleaned could result in an infestation because of the allure of sugary or starchy spills.
2. Wrap clothing in nylon netting before storing
Nylon doesn’t contain any cellulose or sugar, so they won’t bother with it.
3. Cedar and lavender:
The essential oils in cedar and lavender are great natural deterrents for silverfish. Cut up old stockings and fill them with a combination of the two and hang them in your wardrobe. This should deter silverfish. Dried lemon peels, mint and rosemary are quite effective as well.
A very unorthodox method of getting rid of silverfish is to freeze your clothing. Silverfish and their eggs are not able to withstand the cold temperature so they eventually die.
5. Prevent damp and clean regularly
Lastly, like most pests, silverfish are attracted to dark, moist places, so regularly air your wardrobe and check for any leaks that may be adding to moisture. Clean and vacuum cupboards regularly.
How to get rid of silverfish
While prevention is always better than cure, you may find yourself – like me – with an existing problem.
1. Homemade traps
f D-I-Y is your preference (D-I-WHY? in my opinion) you can try creating a homemade silverfish trap using masking tape, bread and a glass jar. Wrap the outside of the glass jar with masking tape and put a small piece of bread inside the jar. The masking tape will create enough traction so that the silverfish can climb in – but once it’s inside, it won’t be able to climb back out because the glass is too smooth.
2. DIY insecticides
DIY sprays can help control silverfish populations but large or repeated infestations will require professional treatment.
3. Professional treatment for silverfish
A silverfish infestation requires treatment of both adult silverfish and their nesting places. Our SAPCA-certified technicians will be able to assess the extent of the problem and advise on the most effective treatments to manage the problem before your favourite clothes are riddled with holes.
So now that I have all this information, I’d better put it to good use. Or maybe I should just call in a favour at work and ask the experts to sort it out for me. Yip, that’s what I’m going to do…
If you suspect you have silverfish eating your winter woollens, contact our team and they’ll give you a quote over the phone.