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Outsmarting Silverfish: Natural Traps and Tips to Give them the Slip

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Have you ever spotted a tiny, silvery insect darting across your bathroom floor or dashing behind containers in your pantry? These elusive critters are silverfish. They’re not harmful to people. But if you don’t get rid these household pests quickly, they’ll gnaw on everything from clothes to pasta to paper.

That’s why I’m constantly on guard against them: to protect my home library of over 1,000 books. Okay, and because they creep me out. You, too? Then read on to learn how to get rid of silverfish using natural methods that are safe around people and pets.

Traps to Get Rid of Silverfish Quickly

Silverfish are nocturnal so, like my teenager, you don’t see them much during the day. But you can catch them at night if you leave their favorite foods sitting out. In a trap.

Glass Jar Trap

One thing to know about silverfish: they can’t climb slick surfaces. So a wide-mouthed jar wrapped top to bottom with masking tape makes a great trap—just add bread. They’ll climb the tape to reach the bait, but the jar’s smooth interior keeps them from climbing out.

Wet Newspaper Trap

A popular silverfish trap involves fastening rubber bands around a rolled piece of newspaper then getting it wet. The smell of the wet paper acts like a lure. It’s claimed the wet paper will collect dozens of silverfish in a few days. Then you can just seal it up in a bag and throw it out.

Sticky Traps 

You can purchase sticky silverfish traps, but they’re easy to DIY, too. One method calls for double-sided tape applied to a piece of cardboard. Then you put a bit of bread in the center for bait. The silverfish will head for the bread but get stopped in their tracks by the tape.

Pet-Safe Sticky Trap

Since I have fur babies, I came up with a pet-safe version.

  1. Cut a quarter-sized hole in each end of a shoe box.
  2. Line the bottom with double-sided tape.
  3. Add a small piece of bread in the center to act as bait.
  4. Tape the lid onto the box and set it where you’ve seen silverfish.
  5. Wait 3-5 days, tie the box in a plastic bag and throw it out.

Silverfish Repellents

Ever noticed that most pesticides smell awful? The good news is that natural silverfish repellents don’t. In fact, silverfish find lavender and cedar oil off-putting yet most people enjoy them. Both are pet-safe, too. Here’s how to use them:

  • Use the essential oil as fragrance in homemade cleaning products.
  • Add a few drops to cotton balls and tuck them on your closet shelves or behind books.
  • Stuff a muslin bag or old sock with dried lavender blossoms, cedar shavings, or bay leaves to make a sachet. Hang it in the closet or in clothing drawers.

Bay leaves (and the essential oil, Laurus nobilis) are another option but not around pets.

Pro Tip

Silverfish will happily munch on spare rolls of toilet paper or paper towels. Even though it’s not Instagram-worthy, leave those in individual packaging until ready for use. 

What Kills Silverfish Naturally

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is an effective, non-toxic way to eradicate silverfish, often before you even see them. Made from ground fossilized aquatic organisms, it’s safe for humans and pets, with a food-grade option available. To us, it feels like a fine powder but to insects it’s like walking on glass shards.

To tackle your silverfish problem using DE, sprinkle it in cabinets and behind kitchen and laundry appliances. Use a puffer to get it into tight spaces like behind baseboards and heavy bookshelves. Reapply it once a month.

The powder will shred any insects that crawl through it, stranding them where they are and finishing them off. Boom, silverfish problem solved.

Strategies for Prevention 

  • Use caulk around windows and pipes and gap filler on foundation cracks to keep silverfish out.
  • Clean food preparation surfaces after each meal.
  • Follow a weekly cleaning routine to disrupt their hiding places and deprive them of food sources.
  • Declutter to eliminate their hiding spots and don’t let paper pile up.

Pro Tip

Keep silverfish out of your dry goods by putting cereal, grains, and pasta in air-tight storage containers. This will help protect your home from pantry moths, too.

Population Control

Now, about that baby silverfish you saw scuttling in the bathroom? Dark, damp areas are a favorite hangout for silverfish. They especially like to lay eggs behind bathroom baseboards or in gaps under the cabinets.

Controlling your home’s humidity acts like population control for silverfish. To keep it between the recommended 30-50% indoor humidity level, run your bathroom exhaust fans after bathing and use a dehumidifier in damp basements. Then load up your home’s baseboards and crevices with DE monthly to get rid of your silverfish problem for good.

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5 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.
    Thanks.

    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.

  3. 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.?

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