How to Prevent Silverfish: What Works and What Doesn’t

If you're looking for answers on how to prevent silverfish, you're definitely headed in the right direction. There’s an age old saying: “Why spend all your time trying to solve a problem that you could like, just avoid having in the first place? Know what I mean?” Its age is ten minutes old, because I just came up with it – but I think the principle is still relevant in our modern times.

Why spend all of your energy fighting against a silverfish infestation if you could just avoid the slippery little pests ever gaining a foothold in your home in the first place? That’s right – there’s no good answer. You shouldn’t waste that time, which is why I’m going to take you through some of the most effective methods of preventing and repelling silverfish!

Here's how to keep silverfish away, step-by-step...

Keep it clean

Let’s start with the basic and the most common sense tactic: get rid of popular silverfish haunts by cleaning your house up! Silverfish and all manner of other leggy critters love nothing more than a cluttered, dirty and unkempt home to bed down in.

The more filth, the more pests you’re likely to invite in, especially if you’re prone to letting dirty plates and papers stack up – I’m looking at you students. Get rid of any unnecessary clutter and you’ll dramatically cut down on your chances of harboring any unwanted beasties, plus it’s nice to actually see your floor.

Additionally, try not to let things stagnate or get too dusty or to go too long without a thorough vacuum session. Keep your living space fresh and vibrant by storing things appropriately and getting right in behind your furniture when you do get round to cleaning up. There’s no point doing half a job.

Vacuum regularly

While you’re at it, take your vacuum cleaner for a walk around the home. Never underestimate the importance and effectiveness of a good, regular, vacuum for keeping unwanted pests out of the house.

For silverfish specifically, you want to be targeting hard to reach places where either food crumbs can accumulate (under the fridge, behind the oven, in cracks around the kitchen) or in small gaps and crevices where silverfish love to lay their eggs and eke out their existence.

Not only will all of this help to eradicate food sources that might attract them into your home in the first place, but if you already have some hitherto undiscovered silverfish hiding away in your house (or their eggs), you’ll hopefully suck them out and put an end to the epidemic before it begins.

Seal entry points

Why stop with the vacuum? You’ve painstakingly targeted all those small gaps and crevices in your home and cleaned them right out, so go one step further and ensure that they never fall victim to silverfish again: seal them up.

This doesn’t have to be an involved or complicated practice, some simple waterproof caulking or sealant will do the job. Target spaces in bathrooms, your kitchen, the basement and attic and any other cold, dark, tight squeezes that you locate.

You also want to take care to make sure none of your plumbing or pipework is exposed to the outside or leaking moisture too. Areas like this are basically silverfish passport control.

Seal up food sources

The next stage, whilst you’re in a mood for sealing things up, is to make sure any non-preventable foodstuffs are sealed up good and proper. This is, generally speaking, fairly easy for the more traditional foods (flour, cereal, oats, sugary stuff, carbohydrate and starch rich ingredients) that attract silverfish. Your first step is to simply store these foods in airtight containers.

Where things get a little trickier is with their tendency to chow down on adhesives, paper, cardboard, books, photographs, fine clothing and even – in extreme cases – leather. You’re in luck, though. Because silverfish are fairly shy and reserved creatures; they hate fuss and noise. This means they’re more likely to burrow into stuff that’s been left in storage or neglected for a long period of time.

If you want to keep them out of your old college materials or your home library, simply air the stuff out and make sure it’s not being left to moulder on its own. Additionally, take advantage of silverfish glue traps and lay these around your books - like a moat - and other areas that silverfish are drawn to. 

Another good idea is to sprinkle silverfish poison bait around places they'll be tempted toward - attics and basements come to mind. Lastly, traditional repellents such as mothballs will work wonders on keeping silverfish out of your old clothing wardrobe (but more on that later).

Dehumidify to get rid of moisture

A key component of the ideal silverfish environment is a constant atmosphere of humidity and moisture, they absolutely thrive in these conditions (which is why they enjoy attic spaces in warmer climates, but tend to migrate to different areas of the home when the winter months come in).

Simply investing in a dehumidifier or turning the temperature down in some areas of the home can work wonders for casting out silverfish. It’s not a guaranteed tactic, and works best in conjunction with some of the other methods listed, but it goes a long way in creating a much less welcoming environment.

As a bonus: the colder and less hospitable the conditions are, the less likely silverfish eggs are to hatch or mature into the full adult stage of their lifecycle. Plus, getting rid of unwanted moisture around the home can only be a good thing from a structural standpoint, unless you’re some kind of swamp creature…I wonder if Shrek had a silverfish problem.

Keep an eye on your wallpaper

For the housebound, staring at the walls with nothing to do can be a special kind of hell; but if you want to keep on top of pests and particularly silverfish, it’s worth paying attention to the condition of your wallpaper.

The delicious (apparently) mix of adhesive and papery goodness makes wallpaper a highly sought after silverfish snack and this usually shows up in the form of damaged wallpaper, with holes or yellow staining. If you’re noticing a lot of this; then you want to either repair/redo your wallpaper or simply remove it all together and put an end to the snacking once and for all.

Let the light in

A very, very simple yet effective home-measure is to simply let lots of light into rooms and spaces which are predominantly dark and dingy – especially basements and bathrooms. Silverfish detest the light, which is why they squeeze their nocturnal bodies into the tightest little gaps imaginable.

It could be anything as simple as drawing back the curtains in an unused room, to installing some new lighting – just as long as you’re getting rid of any substantial shadows and silverfish dungeons.

Once you’ve established this rigorous regime of cleaning and airing everything out on a regular basis, you can start to use some silverfish repellents to truly make sure that no courageous stragglers are going to inhabit your space...

Diatomaceous earth

diatomaceous earth scorpions
diatomaceous earth scorpions

Get a 10lb bag for $22

One of the most popular repellents for creepy crawlies and silverfish is diatomaceous earth, which you’ve probably heard of already if you’re reading up about pest repellents. This simple, non-toxic, powder attaches itself to the creature and slowly dehydrates it until it dies.

It takes awhile to eliminate silverfish since they first have to make contact with it, but it does work. After all, if somebody laid out a slow-acting, dehydrating killing powder in my neighborhood I’d be looking at red-eye flights out of the country. Wouldn't you?

Boric acid

The other side of the powdered repellent coin: boric acid. It’s worth noting that boric acid is harmful and poisonous – although the potency is very, very low and isn’t harmful to humans, but may pose a minor threat to some household pets.

This powder takes a much more direct route when dealing with the silverfish and kills them off much quicker than DE. Again, the repellent aspect is obvious: would you like to live in an environment carpeted in the bodies of your friends?

Cedar oils and scents

Killer powders notwithstanding, some homeowners are much more comfortable with opting for naturally occurring repellents. One of the most popular for silverfish is cedar wood – or rather the scent that’s given off by the wood.

For some reason an assortment of household pests just despise the smell that comes from the wood, which is why cedar oil, cedar shavings, essences and other scent-based repellents are marketed heavily as ideal tools in the war against bugs.

Cedar oil itself is sometimes used as an effective insecticide (non-harmful to mammals), but is generally very patchy in terms of effectiveness.

Simply spread the cedar shavings or essences in areas that are most likely to harbor silverfish or present a welcome location (bathrooms, kitchen, basement – anywhere dark and with regular moisture).

Cloves

silverfish repellent
silverfish repellent

There’s no mistaking the smell of cloves or clove oil, but now you have another reason to stock up on them, aside from cooking or trying to soothe sore teeth (seriously, next time you have tooth ache, slap some numbing clove oil on the offending gnasher – you’ll thank me).

Silverfish seem to actively hate the smell and essence of cloves, always circumventing where possible, which makes it a perfect, cheap and safe repellent to leave lying around the home. Whole cloves can be used, but it’s usually much easier to try essences, scents and oils as they give you more flexibility when it comes to administering them.

Moth balls

As mentioned above, silverfish have been known to resort to finer/lighter clothing when the hunger takes them and there’s nothing else around; surprisingly, however, moth balls and the chemicals within them are just as useful against silverfish as they are other pests and clothing-nibblers.

Obviously, the best place for mothball repellent is in your older clothing and wardrobes, but there’s really no reason that you can’t use them elsewhere in the home if it’s convenient for you.

Cinnamon and lavender

The pungent smells of lavender and cinnamon are well known for their repellent powers when it comes to silverfish – the pattern basically seems to be any smells that we find pleasant and nice are like a gas leak for silverfish.

Whole sticks of cinnamon will work just as much as the oil and ground powder. The same goes for lavender: whole plants can be just as useful as leaves, tinctures and oils; but again, for convenience and flexibility, powdered and ground up compounds in sachets is probably the easiest route to go down.

Orange Guard

scorpion repellent

Orange Guard is a very popular pest repellent product that bridges the gap between chemical insecticides/repellents and naturally occurring ingredients. Orange Guard is a water-based non-toxic spray, which can be used around humans, pets and food without any worry and acts as both an insecticide and a repellent – the double whammy.

The product is, as you might’ve guessed, based off of the scent of oranges and the natural repelling properties therein (which, of course, can be its own standalone repellent, too).

Silverfish repellents that DON'T work

You may notice a few regular names not appearing in the above list, and that’s because they’re actually not useful in repelling silverfish and find themselves mixed up with other pest repellents by accident. Here are silverfish repellents that just don't work...

Cucumber

For example, cucumber is often slated as being a fantastic natural repellent for silverfish but in actuality it doesn’t really do anything at all. In fact, cucumber is a fantastic source of moisture for insects and bugs.

Salt

Salt, too, is often mentioned in conjunction with repelling silverfish, but again this is not true. In actual fact, the opposite is true: the salt attracts silverfish and provides a tempting source of food for them.
The bonus is that, obviously, the salt dehydrates them and can often lead to death, which can make it handy bait for traps and the like, but not a good repellent.

Parsley

Bizarrely, parsley is also commonly mistaken as a repellent recommended for silverfish. There’s very little evidence or argument to back this up; it’s much more likely that folk are mixing up parsley’s effectiveness in repelling red ants with its complete impotency surrounding silverfish.
Makes a decent garnish, though.

That’s your lot: the ins and outs of repelling silverfish and keeping them away from your home. All of the measures listed above can be as involved or as casual as you like, depending on your environment and susceptibility – but remember the simplest and most important piece of pest control advice… Keep your home clean!

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