How To Get Rid Of Silverfish Naturally

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A silverfish crawling on the pages of an old book

Getting rid of a silverfish infestation naturally takes time and effort, unlike pesticides which work quickly but might be harmful to your health. Cleaning helps reduce their numbers, but you need to combine it with preventative steps to keep more silverfish from entering your home.

What are Silverfish?

Silverfish, or “fish moths,” are small insects that are about 1/2 inch long and have a scaly appearance. When young, they are pale and they turn to dark silver-blue as they age. Their bodies are shiny and wriggle like fish, but they have an exoskeleton, two antennae on their heads, and three prongs on their tails. They’re often found in the damp areas of homes.

Things to Know About Silverfish

  • Silverfish are rapid breeders. Females can lay between 2 and 20 eggs daily, and reach the breeding stage in a month. One male and one female silverfish can turn into thousands in a season.
  • They are nuisance pests, but not dangerous. Silverfish are chewing insects that cause damage to papers, contaminate food, and stain clothing or other fabrics with their feces. They are not otherwise harmful to humans or pets.
  • They’re a sign of moisture issues. Silverfish nest in dark, damp areas beneath sinks, in shower stalls, and in basements or musty closets.
  • They’re attracted by paper and wood. Silverfish love the taste of paper and wet wood. Starchy foods are another favorite, including the glue in book bindings and wallpaper adhesive. 

Steps to Get Rid of Silverfish

Step 1: Clear out hiding spots and food sources.

The less clutter you have, the fewer places for silverfish to hide. Toss old newspapers and magazines, transfer dry foods like cereal and flour from cardboard boxes to canisters, and get rid of paper bags or empty boxes you’ve let pile up.

Step 2: Vacuum hiding spots.

Vacuuming gets rid of food crumbs and other things that attract silverfish. It will also remove their eggs, which can be difficult to see. Use your crevice attachment around baseboards, then vacuum soft furnishings, and clean the rest of the floor. Thoroughly clean your vacuum afterward to eliminate any insect eggs you’ve picked up.

Step 3: Make silverfish traps.

Wrap a tall glass jar with masking tape to give the bugs traction to climb, then add a piece of bread to the glass. The silverfish will climb in to eat the starchy bread, but the jar’s slick interior will keep them from crawling out. Replace the bread every 3-4 days for two weeks. You can also purchase sticky traps to capture them. Place the traps in areas silverfish hide, such as behind appliances or in closets.

Step 4: Apply diatomaceous earth (DE).

Diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic powder made from the fossilized remains of organisms called diatoms. As a natural pest control, it is effective because the powder’s sharp edges scratch the exoskeletons of insects, which cause them to dehydrate and die. The powder is not sharp enough to harm humans or pets, however, which makes it suitable for the home and garden.

To use diatomaceous earth for natural household pest control, sprinkle it lightly around your baseboards, behind appliances, and beneath sinks. Use a puffer to get it into any cracks you find, too. Replace it after vacuuming or if it becomes wet. In less accessible areas, top it off every few weeks so it remains effective.

Ways to Keep Silverfish Out of Your Home

Here are additional home remedies to get rid of silverfish and keep them out of your home.

Spray with smells silverfish don’t like. Silverfish do not enjoy the scent of oranges or other citrus, cinnamon, or lavender. Add drops of these essential oils to cotton balls and tuck them in beneath bathroom sinks, behind books on your shelves, or in closets. If you have pets, place the cotton out of their reach.

Make homemade pest control sachets. Stuff cedar shavings, cloves, and bay leaves into sachet bags and hang them in closets. Replace the contents monthly, or when the smell fades.

Caulk and seal cracks. Silverfish and other pests enter your home through gaps around windows, where pipes and utilities enter, and through cracks in the foundation. Inspect your home and seal these spots. 

Control the humidity. Silverfish require humidity between 75-90% to survive. Maintaining proper home humidity levels of 30% to 50% is a simple but effective way to keep them out of your home. Use a dehumidifier in damp areas like basements, treat musty closets, and ventilate your storage areas to discourage infestations. 

Control the moisture. Silverfish prefer damp areas, so finding an infestation is a sign to investigate further. Seeing them in areas like laundry rooms and bathrooms signals a need for improved ventilation, possibly through opening windows or running fans more often. Finding silverfish in basements or garages may show a need for waterproofing.

Getting Rid of Silverfish in Apartments or Condos

When one resident in an apartment building or multi-family structure does pest control, the problems often shift next door. If that neighbor deals with the pests, they’ll come back. So, if you live in an apartment, condo, or townhome, your best approach is to contact your landlord to schedule treatment in all units simultaneously. If that’s not possible, try to work with your neighbors.

The good news is that most of these steps to get rid of silverfish and keep them out of your home will also eliminate and protect you from other household pests. It takes effort, but it’s worth it.

See my favorite products for natural pest control.

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  1. Thank you so much for posting this advice. Not only is it really detailed and helpful, but it made me laugh too! (I watched that episode on Star Trek too!)
    Good luck!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      That episode still makes me shudder. LOL

  2. Hello.
    Thank you for this!
    I currently work in a bookstore and I stumbled on one of these two days ago.
    Didn’t know they eat paper.
    Now I’m panicking.?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Bookstores usually have excellent humidity and temperature control systems, so chances are you don’t need to worry about silverfish multiplying too much. They may have come in on a shipping carton.

  3. I just found silver fish in a locked metal box where I keep important papers. Would it help to put in a couple of those little packets you get in pill bottles to help absorb moisture? This is in my closet and I already have something in there that absorbs moisture into a plastic container.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Sue,
      Using a silica gel packet like you described can certainly help reduce moisture. I’d also recommend tucking the documents into resealable plastic bags.

  4. Sooo..i had some boxes and bags of clothes in my truck overnight and the next morning I was going through all the clothes and saw some silverfish (before I knew what they were). I shook each piece of clothing and then washed the clothes in warm water and dried them with it on high heat. Will that rid of them if there were still some in any of the clothes? Also, should I be worried about my washer and dryer? And what should i do about the inside of my truck? I’m really worried I just caused an infestation in my truck and home ?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Kathryn,
      I wouldn’t worry about your washer and dryer — any silverfish that made it into your appliances will have died during the laundry process. You can wipe out both appliances if you’re concerned. A quick vacuum of your truck should take care of any stragglers remaining in it.

  5. Katie Berry says:

    Hi Jona,
    Don’t panic. Although silverfish are unsightly, they aren’t dangerous. It sounds like you’re doing everything right and being diligent about dealing with them. You’re seeing more of them is probably because they’re scurrying out of hiding places, even in daylight, while you’re getting things done.

    Just keep doing what you’ve been doing, and inspect stuff as you pack. Once you move, take things out of boxes and packages as quickly as possible, then get those out of your home.

    And enjoy your new place!

  6. Cathy Fullerton says:

    I have lots of notebooks that I write notes in. I hate to throw them away. Would putting the notebooks in the freezer kill silverfish and their eggs? Thank you.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It should, yes. I’d put them into resealable bags, press out all the air and seal them tight, then freeze them for at least 3 days.