How to Get Rid of Carpet Beetles, for Good.

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I’ve been noticing this micro tiny bug that is gray with black spots, it looks identical to a ladybug, but it is not the Asian beetle. It does have wings, I know that. They’re also very tiny, sometimes you really have to strain your eye to see them. Then sometimes you can actually see one at a bigger size but never anywhere near the size of a normal ladybug.

They’re hanging out on my nightstand and also in my oversized Sherpa blanket on my bed. First, I had thought my husband was bringing them home somehow because he works in the woods all day. But, they keep multiplying. Please help! 

Signed,
Bugged in Buffalo

It sounds like you are dealing with carpet beetles. While the adult carpet beetle is mostly harmless and doesn’t do much except create more of the actual problem, The adults are capable of biting. However, it is the carpet beetle larvae that are a giant, damage-causing pain in the butt. These tiny little creatures eat pretty much anything and are masters at hide-and-seek, making them difficult to evict.

What do carpet beetles look like?

An adult varied carpet beetle covered in pollen on a daisy

An adult carpet beetle is typically 1/8 to 1/6 of an inch long; that’s 3 – 4 millimeters—official classification? Tiny. They are very small, winged insects and can range from grey with black spots, black with grey spots, to a mottled tan in color. Their coloring depends on the exact species of carpet beetle, we don’t like to paint with broad strokes around here, but carpet beetles are generally bad news, regardless of their species. The adults can fly and like to hang out near windows and lights. Also, all the adult carpet beetles do is wander around and create more carpet beetles. This sounds a lot like one of my relatives.

An adult female carpet beetle can lay between 20 and 100 eggs at a time and can do this up to three times in her life cycle, depending on the species. You likely will never see a carpet beetle egg, but if you are curious, they range from a 1/4 mm to 1/2 mm in size, white or cream in color, oval and spiky on one end.

When carpet beetle eggs hatch, you get larvae. The larvae are hungry little guys and will eat almost anything that isn’t synthetic. We’re talking dust, lint, hair, fur, wool, pet food, crumbs, paper, dead bugs, and pretty much anything that can sift down through your carpet; they will find it delicious. Carpet beetle larvae will even eat the felt pads on a piano if you are unlucky enough to have a bad infestation.

These guys will eat you out of house and home.

Larvae of the varied carpet beetle on the left next to the adult varied carpet beetle.

Once the larvae are done eating and molting (they shed several times over a few weeks), they go dormant in pupae, sort of like a caterpillar, for a few weeks and emerge as an adult to continue this lovely circle of life. Someone cue Elton John. He’s up.

Where are carpet beetles found?

North America, Central America, Europe, North Africa, and Northern Asia. While doing the research for today, I learned that the varied carpet beetle (that’s one of the species) came to the US sometime in the 1850s.

So that’s fun.

These invasive pests can live indoors and out; they often hitch rides on plants and animals through open doors, windows, or holes in screens. So, you can do your best, but they may find their way in despite every precaution. (Don’t tell him, but it is entirely possible that they did, indeed, hitch a ride home on our friend’s husband. However, we are NOT going to point fingers here, they could have just as easily, come in the front door on their own.)

Are carpet beetles dangerous to humans?

People can be allergic to carpet beetles. So, much like cockroaches can contribute to asthma in people, carpet beetles can create allergic reactions and make some people absolutely miserable. Not only can their bites make an allergic person quite itchy, but the sharp hairs on their abdomens can also cause allergic issues.

In and of themselves, the adults are not typically harmful, but the allergic consequences can be.

Are carpet beetles harmful?

The larvae can cause hundreds to thousands of dollars of damage to property in unchecked infestations.

If a carpet beetle infestation is caught early, the damage done by the larvae may be confined to a limited range. As the insects prefer to mature in undisturbed locations, this isn’t always the case.

How do I know I have carpet beetles?

Like our friend who submitted the question, you may see adult carpet beetles bumbling around on blankets or carpeting. Adult carpet beetles may also congregate near windows or lights. They are small, so they can easily go unnoticed, at first, until there is an issue.

The larvae shed their skin several times as they grow. When cleaning, you may find those castings, most likely these castings will be wherever lint or hair tends to accumulate. The castings will be a light tan, very delicate, and up to a half-inch in length. Yes, the larvae are longer than the more compact, winged adults. It is unusual to find the reclusive larvae themselves, as much like human teenagers. They prefer to hide in the dark corners, snacking.

You may also find the damage caused by larvae. The damage will look similar to that caused by clothing moths, but unlike moth holes, which are scattered, carpet beetle larvae tend to do more concentrated damage.

Additionally, when you find castings, there won’t be any webbing nearby. Moth larvae, both the pantry and clothing variety, create webbing.

What can you do to get rid of carpet beetles?

Unfortunately, there is a lot of concentrated cleaning in your future. It is absolutely necessary to remove all food sources and vacuum thoroughly, all of the larvae’s potential hiding places. This means you will need to conduct a top-to-bottom, room-by-room, vacuum-driven eviction.

I’m very sorry. It is going to take some serious work.

The good news is that you can supplement your vacuuming with flea treatments that also treat for fabric pests (check the label).

As carpet beetles can create a lot of damage and can be very difficult to remove. Use the chemicals this time, or you may be fighting an uphill battle for a very long time.

Do not use chemicals on your bedding or clothing.

Carefully inspect and clean blankets and coats that have been stored. Run everything you can through a hot wash and dry cycle, dry clean what you can, and place items that can’t tolerate heat into the freezer (in a plastic bag) for seven days, if your freezer is at 0ºF or 72 hours if your freezer is at -20ºF.

Unlike ridding your home of fleas, bedbugs, and lice, you can’t just pack items into storage bags, seal them up, and call it a day. When you do this, you’re just sending the carpet beetles on sabbatical. Remember that carpet beetles eat just about everything organic, and a lot of our synthetic stuff has collected enough dust and lint to sustain the larvae for quite some time.

When you are doing your thorough house cleaning, you must also go into your attic and into your basement, if your home has either. Check for small animal nests and get rid of those, too. Any hair, stored food, or fecal matter left in those nests can serve as a food source for your insect roommates.

Do not donate clothing or blankets that have been untreated as a means to get them out of your home. This can create a massive problem for the recipient if the items are held at any time in a receiving area.

Can professionals assist with ridding my home of carpet beetles?

Yes, pest control companies can assist with ridding your home of carpet beetles. To set expectations, for their efforts to be effective, you will still need to thoroughly clean your home. You can call, consult and create a plan of action.

How to keep carpet beetles out of my home?

  1. Keep grains and pet food in tightly sealed containers.
  2. Dust, sweep, and vacuum regularly. (Use the printable chore schedule to stay on a routine. If it has been a while, I highly suggest joining The Deep Clean Challenge)
  3. Launder or dry clean stored blankets and clothing occasionally.
  4. Shake out any plants or flowers brought in from outside.
  5. Repair screens regularly.
  6. Shake laundry that has been hanging to dry before folding and bringing it in.
  7. Don’t panic at the sight of one adult carpet beetle as the occasional hitchhiker will make it inside despite all precautions. Do pay attention and step up 1 – 6 if you see more.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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