Updated on November 15, 2022
There are a lot of critters that invade our homes, and many are often the targets of mistaken identity. One in particular is a tiny group of beetles that are often mistaken for roaches. These beetles are quite common, yet few people know their true identity beyond the nickname carpet beetle.
These critters are a strange lot, being completely harmless until they aren’t. So let’s take a deep dive into who they are, what they do, and how to deal with them when they become tiny monsters.
Getting to Know Carpet Beetles
Carpet beetles are a common household pest, perhaps almost as common as ants, rice beetles, bed bugs, fleas, palmetto bugs, silverfish, or stinkbugs (to name just a few frequent home invaders). Yet the average person knows less about these pests than any of the others.
It’s time to remedy this.
What are Carpet Beetles, Really?
Most carpet beetles come from two genera: Attagenus (200 species) and Anthrenus. The number of species in the latter genus is unknown, as existing members are often being reclassified as subspecies, new species, or shifted to or from other genera.
New species are discovered occasionally and the genus has been broken into several subgenera. What’s important to know is only 18 Anthrenus species are known to live in the US (which is a lot easier to deal with).
These little insects aren’t actually native to your carpet, however. Instead, they play an important role in the ecosystem, feeding off of pollen and dead insects, aiding in decomposition, and being generally useful little engines (of recycling). But once in the home, they become a threat to fabrics, food, and other goods.
The tiny, caterpillar-like bugs you might find crawling about in your carpet are actually carpet beetle larvae and can be just as varied in appearance as the adults. Here are the most common species to attack US households:
Varied Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus verbasci)
Asian Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus coloratus)
The actual origin of this species is unknown, and its light markings often mean it gets confused with the common carpet beetle. This species feeds primarily on fur and wool-based products. However, they have a special affinity for stuffed animals (no joke).
Furniture Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus flavipes)
These light brown beetles have dark brown and white spots and are more common in humid areas. This is due to the fact that the adults feed on mold. They get their name because the larvae frequently destroy upholstered furniture.
These tiny critters measure only .07 to .14 inches long and have round bodies covered in a rough pattern of brown, yellow, and white scales. Unlike many carpet beetle species, these guys are affected by temperature but not humidity. Their larval stage is sometimes referred to as “woolly bears”.
Black Carpet Beetle (Attagenus unicolor)
This species was likely imported in the early 1800s from Europe. However, one in the New World, they quickly went from minor nuisance to major pests.
They’re highly destructive, targeting products containing keratin, cereals and grains, synthetic carpets, and wool-based products (their personal favorite). Black carpet beetles are dark brown to black, oval, and 1/8 to 3/16 inches long and hate humidity.
Common Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus scrophulariae)
Despite the name, these aren’t as common in the US as other species. They’re black, with orange or reddish scales where the wing shells touch and patches of white, although these markings can rub off over time.
Their larvae attack mainly textiles, although the adults are harmless. They’re a bit more rounded and measure a mere 1/10 to 1/6 inches long.
Of course, there are many others you might encounter, such as fur beetles (Attagenus pellio). However, the five we’ve described tend to be the most common in American homes.
How Do Carpet Beetles Get In Your House?
Carpet beetles have a habit of simply wandering in through an open door or window, although they can get in through holes or cracks as well, most often in the spring.
They’ll often stick around if they find mess or a dusty environment because they see it as a perfect place for their young to feed.
How Do You Find a Carpet Beetle Larvae Nest?
The adult stages of carpet beetles aren’t a direct threat, but when one decides to lay eggs, you’ve got an issue. Once the eggs hatch, it will take the larvae a little while to spread out, so it pays to search for these nests when you suspect the presence of carpet beetles.
These nests tend to be anywhere dark and sheltered, such as in cracks and crevasses, preferably close to a food source.
What Damage Do Carpet Beetles Do?
Carpet beetle larvae are the destructive ones, and they’ll feed off anything they think is waste. This includes animal hair (thankfully not on your pet), plant based fibers and foods (especially cereals, grains, and nuts), and sometimes synthetic fibers.
As a result, they can do extensive damage to textiles, upholstery, and even get into packaged goods. They’re most infamous for munching on carpets and linens or clothes in the closet.
Can Carpet Beetles Bite?
Thankfully, no. Neither the larvae nor adult beetles are known to bite or sting and pose no direct disease risk for you or your pets.
However, their carpet munching can lead to bits of dead insects, dust, and other allergens. This can cause skin irritation or other reactions in sensitive people.
Can Carpet Beetles Live in Your Hair?
Yes, these pests can set up shop in your hair or your pet’s fur if you use essential oils as part of your hair care regimen. They might attempt to eat your hair once they’ve made it to your scalp, but pose no real risk (it might itch a bit, though).
You can easily evict them using a nit comb or kill them off with a hair dryer.
Can Carpet Beetles Crawl in Your Ears?
This scenario has often been used to scare people, although it’s not uncommon for bugs (including carpet beetles) to invade the ear canal. The good news is that, unlike Yeerks or Ceti eels (sci-fi fans will get it), carpet beetles won’t control you – although it can still damage your eardrum if forced too deep.
If you suspect a carpet beetle got into your ear canal, use an ear syringe to inject (from the side, not directly into the canal) some warm water, baby oil, or hydrogen peroxide. This will kill the beetle.
You can then tilt your head over a bowl and gently flush the corpse out. Be sure to verify the corpse, and if you can’t get rid of the beetle, a trip to triage at the local ER may be necessary.
Read Also: Most Common Bug and Insect Phobias
Carpet Beetles vs Bed Bugs
A lot of pests resemble bed bugs, including carpet beetles. However, there are a few key differences. For example, bed bugs feed off of blood to reproduce. Carpet beetles won’t bite or sting, although sometimes the larvae cause an allergic reaction.
The other big difference is that bed bugs won’t chew holes in your carpets or clothing but do leave little black dots on your sheets that expand into tiny bloodstains if dampened.
Getting Rid of Carpet beetles
Carpet beetles aren’t especially difficult to eliminate, but their fuzzy larvae can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. The two most common places they’ll infest are your home and car.
Here’s how to remove them from both, as well as how to keep them from coming back.
From Your Home
There are a few different tactics you can use to quickly eliminate carpet beetles and their larvae in the house. Here are some of the most effective (and cheap) ones.
Borax and DE
We talk a lot here about borax and food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE for short) because both are extremely effective and can be safe around people and pets if used responsibly. DE is generally non-toxic unless you try snorting the stuff, and while borax is toxic, it’s also a common household chemical that won’t leave behind a residue.
For dealing with the carpet munchers, you’ll want to get the kids and pets out of the room. Simply sprinkle your chosen killer on the carpet or any upholstery and spread it evenly with a broom or similar tool. Allow it to sit for two to four hours, then come back in and vacuum thoroughly.
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While more of a last resort (or a product of laziness), foggers can make short work of carpet beetles and many other household pests. Before purchasing, be sure the fogger will work against carpet beetles and is a non-residue formula.
The latter is important because it’s annoying to scrub an entire room down and everything in it before people can enter.
Follow the instructions carefully when using one of these products. You should also purchase a fogger from a different brand at the same time. As the fogger won’t destroy the eggs, you’ll need to bomb a second time after a week or so, and using a different brand minimizes the risk of creating superbugs.
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In the kitchen and for non-upholstered furniture, you can use rubbing alcohol or a bleach solution of one part bleach to three parts water. Be sure the surface won’t be damaged by your weapon of choice before using.
By wiping the surfaces down with either of these, you’ll destroy any eggs and carpet beetles will avoid the area.
Vacuuming and Steam Cleaning
Dealing with these little pests sucks, so give them back a little of that feeling. Go over all of your carpets, upholstery, and anywhere you’ve seen them with a decent vacuum cleaner. This will get rid of most of them efficiently as long as you dispose of the bag or canister contents safely.
Once you’ve sucked up the critters, it’s time to make a second pass with a steam cleaner. These wonders not only get dirt the vacuum misses, the combination of heat and humidity will destroy the eggs and kill any carpet beetles that escaped the initial attack.
One of best investments you can make for your home is the Bissell Big Green carpet cleaner (or the smaller Little Green carpet cleaner). Not only will the heat kill carpet beetles or their larvae, you’ll remove anything that carpet beetles are attracted to and prevent another infestation.
What (Usually) Doesn’t Work
It should be noted that some remedies out there do more harm than good, so a little caution is necessary. Here are three to avoid.
We love essential oils, and normally they’re a great natural method for repelling pests. However, they can sometimes have the opposite effect on carpet beetles.
Depending on the oil you use and the species of carpet beetle, you can actually attract them, as we described regarding hair care products. Thus, it’s generally best to just avoid using essential oils around this particular type of pest.
The two exceptions seem to be peppermint oil and clove oil. These two are not only great repellents against many types of critter, they also have the ability to kill carpet beetle larvae on contact.
To use, add a few drops of one or both of these oils to a spray bottle. Make sure any surfaces you spray won’t be stained or damaged by the oils, then spray to kill on contact.
Mothballs are an old remedy that’s gone through some changes over the years. The simple fact of the matter is that they remain highly toxic (albeit less so than the old recipe) and aren’t nearly as effective as they claim to be.
It’s best to avoid this remedy altogether, as there are far better and safer options available for pretty much every pest.
Rubbing Alcohol on Textiles
There’s an old secret among pet groomers for getting blood out of carpets: witch hazel. Using rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol on a carpet or other textiles can cause discoloration.
Witch hazel, however, is usually dye-safe (although you’ll still want to test it to be sure) and almost as effective.
From Your Car
Outside of the home, the most common place to find carpet beetles is in your car. This tends to happen when they fly in through the window or an open door and discover you haven’t been cleaning.
It’s sometimes a bit more difficult to get them out of the car cabin than it is a room or house, but it can still be done. Try the following methods in order, as sometimes you can eliminate the problem without needing to advance to more drastic steps.
Step 1: Cleaning
Frequent cleaning can really help reduce he risk of an infestation, and this should be your first step. Remove all garbage from the cabin, as well as the floor mats. Wash the latter, then vacuum the carpet and upholstery thoroughly.
You may also wish to follow this up with a steam cleaning via a Little Green carpet cleaner or similar. In some cases, this is all you need, but if not, continue on.
Step 2: Solar Power
Try parking your car in a particularly sunny spot if its a warm day out. This will, of course, turn the cabin into an oven and can often fry adults, larvae, and eggs alike when the cabin gets hot enough and remains so for a few hours.
Just be warned, the cabin temperature must reach 120 degrees or hotter for a couple hours before this trick can do its job. Easy for those in Arizona; not-so-easy in northern states the majority of the year.
Step 3: Use Pesticides
The next line of attack is to use a pesticide. As usual, make sure it’s able to kill carpet beetles and follow all instructions carefully. You have a few options for this step.
Bug bombs are usually the final solution outside of calling in an exterminator, but they’re not as effective in cars. This is due to how vehicles aren’t built for insulation and can have a lot of little cracks and openings leading into the cabin.
Unfortunately, bug bombs need an enclosed space to really do their job, so while you’ll certainly kill a lot of carpet beetles using a bomb, you likely won’t get all of them.
Insecticidal powders can be sprinkled over all the upholstery and carpets where it will kill the critters on contact.
Commercial products such as Talstar or Suspend SC work best or you can go with the borax or DE method described above. You should leave these products sit for a minimum of a couple hours (or as described on the packaging), then give the entire cabin another vacuuming session.
Insecticidal sprays are a mixed bag even on the best of days. You can get residual sprays, but these are toxic, and you probably don’t want to be breathing in air containing the vapors. Non-residual sprays are safer to use, but they only kill on contact, meaning they’re largely ineffective when used in a cramped space such as a car’s cabin.
Ortho Home Defense Max is one of the few products that does a fairly good job on carpet beetles.
Step 4: Professional Intervention
Your car has a lot of little hiding spaces that can make it difficult for even the best effort to completely eliminate carpet beetles. If you’ve tried both of the above steps and still have a problem, it’s time to call in the pros.
Fumigating a car is a lot less expensive than a room or house, although it’s hardly free either.
A Note on Carpet Beetles and Gardens
Some species of carpet beetle are beneficial, but others may wreak havoc in the garden. In the process of feeding off of insect remains and flower pollen, a select few species have been blamed for chewing up light colored flowers or attacking grain and cereal plants or cotton crops. They’re also known to breed in the nests of sparrows and other birds.
Dealing with them in the garden can be annoying, but in most cases, the damage being done is actually at the maw of a different pest entirely. Be sure they’re the cause of any issues (hint: they almost never are), then use a neem soil soak or other natural solutions to deal with them if need be.
Carpet Beetle Prevention
Finally, let’s look at ways to keep carpet beetles from invading in the first place.
Seal Entry Points
As always, identifying and sealing entry points should be your first priority. Not only does this keep unwanted pests out of your home (garage, shed, etc.), it can also reduce your HVAC bills significantly.
Make sure all window and door frames are properly caulked. Patch up any cracks or holes in masonry, woodwork, or siding. Screen in vents and make sure any window or door screens are free of tears. Finally, make sure you never leave a door or window open unless it has a screen installed.
Encourage Garden Pals
While they’re not a threat to the garden, you can keep the carpet beetle population down through companion planting. Alliums and marigolds are particularly useful, as they repel a lot of common plant pests, look good, and attract pollinators.
More importantly, they can encourage natural predators such as ladybugs and parasitoid wasps which will prey upon carpet beetles and their larvae. The less you have in the yard or garden, the less likely one will get into your home.
Clean, Clean, Clean!
This cannot be stressed enough when it comes to pest control, but the best thing you can do is to keep things clean. Regular vacuuming (and occasional steam carpet cleaning) will ensure there are no tasty morsels and could potentially nab invaders before they have the chance to reproduce.
Keep perishables in airtight containers and clean up any spills promptly. Regularly sanitize counters with Chlorox wipes or similar disinfecting products to ensure there’s no trace of sugars or proteins (and it will get rid of some common contaminants to boot!), which might attract pests.
You’ll also want to regularly wash clothes, linens, and other textiles. Dry cleaning is always a great option, as is ironing. Add some cedar blocks to your closet when putting linens away to repel a wide range of critters.
Always keep dirty clothes in a sealable hamper and be sure to fold and store clothes as soon as you wash them.
Consider Using Synthetics
While not guaranteed to work, most carpet beetle species are far less likely to munch on synthetic fibers than natural fibers. Thus, by using synthetics, you can reduce the risk of attracting these tiny terrors (and will suffer less damage if they do show up).
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