Carpet Beetles aka "Carpet Bugs" in Homes

-- Small fuzzy larvae that infest stored food and damage fabrics --

Summary: Carpet beetle larvae (Dermestidae, dermestid beetles), infest certain fabrics and stored grains and cereals. Improperly stored dry pet food, for example, is a common source of these beetles as are dried animal skins and some fabrics such as wool and silk.

You'll first notice small black or black and brown mottled beetles that are shaped like tiny lady beetles. Proper storage of dry food items and regular cleaning of susceptible fabrics is usually the best way to get rid of these beetles. Since carpet beetles are very common, most houses have at least a few, don't be overly alarmed if you find some just follow the steps outlined in this article.

common misnomers: carpet bugs, carpet beatles

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Jack DeAngelis, ext. entomologist (ret.) revised: 11/2018

How to identify carpet beetles

There are at least four different dermestid carpet beetles that invade homes. All are less than 1/4" long, some only 1/8", some are a uniformly dark color while others have brown, white or black scales on their back. All have a larval stage that appears "fuzzy" or "hairy".

Adult beetles feed on plant pollen and nectar but the fuzzy, worm-like larvae feed on, wool, fur, hide, animal horn, feathers, hair, silk. Soiled fabrics are much more likely to attract carpet beetle feeding than clean fabrics. In addition to animal-based fibers carpet beetle larvae also infest stored foods such as cereal, grains, nuts, dry pet food and spices.

varied carpet beetle
carpet beetle (magnified; ~ 1/8" long)

carpet beetle larva
carpet beetle larva (magnified; ~ 1/4" long)

The adult beetles are usually found moving slowly on walls or floors. Fuzzy shed skins from larvae are sometimes found in cabinets and draws. Since the beetles are fairly mobile the actual infestation of larvae may be some distance away from where you see beetles.

Carpet beetles are very common and there's no reason to be concerned if you find only a few larvae or adult beetles. Except for the minor damage they do to fabrics and stored food items these beetles are pretty harmless. But if you start finding more than a few use the control methods outlined below to manage them to a level where damage is no longer an issue. These beetles can also be important pests in warehouses.

Questions about carpet beetles are among the most frequent questions I get. The bottom line is that a minor infestation is no reason for concern and certainly no reason to treat with harsh chemicals, just follow the suggestions below.

How to get rid of carpet beetles

Cleaning is the best and safest way to control beetle larvae. Carefully check shelves where dry foods are stored, especially dry pet foods, cereals, grains, and so forth. Also check items made of natural fabrics, such as wool carpets, wall hangings, and stuffed animals. Once you find the main infestation clean or discard anything that is infested.

If you find the fuzzy carpet beetle larvae, or their shed skins, in kitchen cabinets or drawers then the infestation is probably in food storage/pantry. Search stored food containers and clean shelves with a mild household cleaner

Once everything is clean, cracks and crevices inside cabinets and drawers can be treated with a low-toxicity dust insecticide that is approved for this use such as EcoPCO DX, available here (DoMyOwn.com, our affiliate). Since product labels and usage instructions can change, be sure to check the product instructions before use. Also take a look at this article Dust Insecticides for additional information and sources.

Don't use mothballs for fabric infestations

Normal dry cleaning kills all stages of carpet beetles in clothing. For long-term storage clean clothes can be placed in air-tight plastic storage boxes. There's no need to use mothballs in storage containers or closets. In fact, recent studies warn about the health hazards of using mothballs (see Why Mothballs Are Too Dangerous To Use).

Clothes that are worn and regularly cleaned will generally not be damaged by carpet beetles or clothes moths. On the other hand control of a carpet beetle infestation in a closets can be a long-term project so you'll need patience. Carefully inspect and clean areas of suspected infestation, and place clean clothes in storage boxes. Stick with it and you'll eventually eliminate these pesky critters.

Store dry foods in air-tight containers

Dry foods such as cereals, grains and pet food should be stored in air-tight plastic or glass containers. This type of storage container not only protects these items from various insect pests but it also helps to keep them dry and protected from mold.

Keep in mind that even packaged dry foods that you have purchased at the supermarket can be infested with insects. And, a few insects will turn into many if foods are stored for long periods. Therefore unopened packages that will be stored longer than about 2 months should be treated by freezing. Exposure to freezing temperatures in a standard home freezer for a couple of days will kill all stages of pantry pests, including dermestid carpet beetles. A chest freezer works well for larger items like a bag of dog food.

Supplies

Professional-level pest control supplies are generally not available in home and garden stores but can be found at DoMyOwn.com, our affiliate.

DoMyOwn DIY Bed Bug Control Kits

Insect Identification

This DK Smithsonian Handbook is an excellent general guide to insect identification (available through Amazon, our Affiliate):

For additional resources see our Insect Identification article.

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