Mold Mites

-- Sometimes called grain mites aka "tiny white bugs!"--

Summary: Mold mites (Tyrophagus sp.) are tiny white, creme, or tan-colored mites that feed on mold. Since any damp surface can support mold growth these mites can become quite abundant. They are common pests in food warehouses and food processing plants where they develop on sacks of grains in storage hence the other common name "grain mites". The mites also can occur in homes where a moisture problem or water leak causes mold growth. They can be a early indication of a moisture problem that needs to be fixed. Mold mites do not bite or cause any real damage whatsoever. They can however be a source of respiratory allergen and skin lesions that can be mistaken for bug bites.

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

Mold mites feed on mold (duh!)

Mold mites are tiny white or tan colored mites that are sometimes found in homes. They are usually associated with excess moisture that promotes mold growth and often occur in kitchens and bathrooms. The mites feed on mold and populations can grow rapidly.

While mold mites are completely harmless, they don't bite or cause structural damage, they do have long "hairs", called setae, which when broken off can become airborne and cause a type of allergic reaction in some people. This allergic reaction (allergy) can result in an itchy rash or lesions that may appear to be "bug bites". In fact, skin lesions resulting from a variety of allergic reactions can be mistaken for bug bites. Finding mold mites may also indicate excess moisture or high humidity which itself can be unhealthy and should be fixed as soon as possible.

mold mite
mold mite (drawing); note long hairs

Mold mite control in homes with heat or freezing

In terms of control the most important thing is to locate and eliminate the sources of moisture that are promoting mold growth. This can be as simple as fixing a leaky pipe to something as complicated as sealing a damaged foundation. Often the appearance of mites is seasonal being highest when outside conditions are wet. Mites also sometimes can alert you to a leaky pipe or leaky door seal on a dishwasher. Just remember - when these mites are found think "where is the moisture coming from?"!

Insecticides are generally not needed nor are they very effective. Once the source of moisture/mold is eliminated the mites will go away on their own.

In situations where a relatively small amount of material is moldy and shows signs of mold mite activity that best treatment may be heat or cold treatments. For example a bag of grain or dry pet food could be either heated or frozen and this would eliminate the mites. Heating might also dry out the material and thus completely eliminate the problem. If freezing treatment is used it must be long enough to freeze to the center of the bag. Same caution with heating (130-150 deg. F), long enough to heat the center of the bag. Both procedures assume that heat or cold won't damage the product. Seeds for example could be damaged by either heat or freezing.


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