Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.
Booklice Are Tiny and Love Mold and Fungi
Booklice (psocids) are itsy, bitsy little bugs—about 1/16 " long—and they are not actually lice at all. In fact, they are harmless. But they are still bugs, and they must be dealt with accordingly!
If you've got any dried-out or decaying plants, you might find these little critters enjoying a plant buffet, or they may even be lurking around your stored food.
For identification purposes, the head and abdomen of a booklouse appear large, and the midsection is more narrow. Huge, compound eyes protrude from the sides of the head. They also have thread-like antennae that sweep back toward the abdomen. Not all booklice have wings, but some do (usually the booklice that stay outside), and when they do, there are four of them—two smaller front wings and two larger back wings. Most of the ones you will be hunting indoors should be wingless booklice.
If you live in the United States, there is a bit of good news about booklice, in that there are only about a few hundred known species here. The rest of the world has about another 1,000 species. They are tiny, but this article will show you where to look for them and how to eradicate them from your home or business.
Remember this about booklice, if nothing else: They feed only on fungi or mold, so if you find them, it is an indication that you have high humidity that is apparently encouraging mold growth. So, above all, eliminate the moist environmental conditions you may be unknowingly providing for these pests.
Note: If you have only one of these pests (not likely), it's called a booklouse, which we find to be a fitting name.
What Attracts Booklice?
If you have any debris (scattered pieces of waste) around your home, the booklice are lining up to thank you for their new home! You can also look for them under bark or stones and on the bark of trees. The more gregarious species live in silken webs on trunks or branches of trees. Barklice is the common name for the winged forms and the wingless forms are called booklice (potato, po-tah-to). All of them are capable of running fast! And, they love to feed on the starchy materials in the bindings of books, hence the name booklice.
How to Find Booklice
Here's what you'll need:
- Magnifying glass
- Maybe a fan or dehumidifier
Booklice really love paper, so you might find them on bookbindings, photographs, or even your wallpaper. You can look for them to thrive in a dark basement or storeroom if you have one, and if you have a second home that you close up for part of the year, they have probably set up residence there as well. If you live in an older, loosely-constructed home, there are probably a lot more booklice living there than people. You may need to invest in a good magnifying glass to see them, but they are there.
How to Get Rid of Booklice
So, now that you know what they look like and where you might find them, here's a good way to get rid of them (although you will never completely get rid of them all, so just accept that fact).
Read More From Dengarden
- If you find booklice on objects that can be taken outdoors, then do just that, and clean them thoroughly, allowing them to dry in the sun. Because booklice are soft-bodied insects, they dry out quickly in the sun, so the sun will probably kill the ones you miss.
- In places like a storeroom or closed house, open up the windows and let the room dry out. Turn off any humidifiers that might be on, and use a fan or dehumidifier if you have one. Booklice thrive when there's moisture, so get rid of it.
- The most important thing to look for is the breeding area of the booklice, such as upholstered furniture, damp papers or books, and old mattresses, just to name a few. If simple cleaning without the use of chemicals doesn't seem to be getting the job done, you might have to bring out the "big guns," by buying household insecticides containing pyrethrins, rotenone, allethrin, chlorpyrifos, or propoxur labeled for crawling insects or booklice.
- If you find that booklice have contaminated your food, you will first need to kill the critters by sticking the whole contaminated mess in your microwave and nuke them for a few minutes. Then, throw the stuff away. You certainly don't want your family to eat insect-contaminated food.
Be Vigilant and Thorough in Your Search
- You will need a magnifying glass to be able to see them and know where to clean (they are almost microscopic).
- The eggs of booklice are laid singly or in clusters and are sometimes covered with a silken web.
- In bathrooms, be sure to install a vent fan and always use it while taking showers and baths.
- Get a pest management company to check the crawlspace under your home to ensure you have proper ventilation. They also need to see if the crawlspace is dry.
You might also check the roofline of your home for the following three things: Poor attic ventilation, overgrown trees, and eaves full of leaves. If you find any of these conditions around your home, which can cause areas of increased moisture, by all means, take the necessary steps to correct them.
Another Reason to Hate Dust
Some believe that the dead bodies of booklice in house dust may trigger an asthma attack.
- http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/booklice. Penn State Extension. Retrieved Feb. 16, 2018.
- https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/psocids. University of Minnesota Extention. Retrieved Feb. 16, 2018.
- Green, P.W.C. & Farman, D.I., (2015). Can Paper and Adhesive Alone Sustain Damaging Populations of Booklice? Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies. 13(1), p.Art. 3.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 Mike and Dorothy McKenney
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on April 21, 2020:
I'm going to have to be honest and say that I just don't know for sure but my thinking is that the steam should probably do the trick. It definitely can't hurt to try (except in your pocketbook). Thanks for reading and I wish I could be more helpful. Your comments are appreciated.
Dane on April 20, 2020:
Thank you so much for this article, one of the most helpful out there! I'm trying to eliminate possible places they are living, do you think dry cleaning clothing will kill them and eggs?
Shannon on September 17, 2019:
I found what seems like these insects in my apartment, specifically on my paintings and on the walls. They appear to eating the paint. My apartment has very high humidity but is less then one year old. So I wonder if there is mould. But it is strange to me that they are eating the fresh paint on the painting I’m currently working on.
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on September 10, 2019:
I am so sorry I haven't answered sooner. Throwing your bed away will certainly help but while the room is empty, you will need to do some serious steaming and DON'T OVERLOOK ANYTHING! Steam clean the walls, the floors, the baseboards, the windows, the curtains...everything. Good luck. When/if you get a new mattress in there, you will need to steam clean it on a regular basis as well, as they could still be in there hiding underneath the structure. Steaming will help to keep them out.
Gabrielle on August 28, 2019:
Update: they are also on my windowsill, I hate bugs and haven’t slept in my bedroom in days
Gabrielle on August 20, 2019:
Hi I’m finding these in my bed no where else.. if I throw my bed away will they go away as well ? I’m scared to buy a whole new mattress just so they can go into the new one.
jamie winslow on August 05, 2019:
please help me. I just found these things about 2 weeks ago and I am loosing my mind over it. Did you ever get rid of them?
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on July 31, 2019:
Although I would have to admit that I am not positive about this, but I don't know of any. I will do more research and try to provide a positive answer. I would love to know as well. Thanks for reading the article.
Ron on July 28, 2019:
Are there other animals/insects that eat book lice?
Yoann on June 16, 2019:
A real nightmare those creatures. A year ago we discovered they infested our entire home: furniture, books, shoes...everything. We threw away everything we owned and moved to a different place. Now a few days ago we see them again, crawling on our walls... It's hopeless...
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on June 12, 2019:
That millet was a good meal for them! Those little buggers...
Dawn on June 10, 2019:
I've only seen these on my kitchen counter near the sink and it's mostly at night, but as I was cleaning out my pantry l found a plastic bag of organic millet I bought probably a year ago. Just before tossing it I noticed it looked powdery on the bottom of the bag, so I grabbed my magnifying loop and sure enough the lice were having a party in there! The zip lock was sealed, so I'm wondering if I didn't bring them in on the millet when I purchased it from the bulk bin @ the grocery store? Also, the millet was bone dry.
I buy mostly organic, so it's no surprise that I'm likely trading pesticides for critters.
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on October 01, 2018:
You described it accurately - IT IS A NIGHTMARE! Other than the things I shared in my article, I'm not sure there's anything else that can be done. I hope you eventually get your problem solved. I think one reason they are so prevalent now is that people travel much more than they did in the days of our grandmas. These little buggers are well-known for stashing away in suitcases - landing there from the beds in motels. Thanks for sharing your story with our readers.
Sam on September 30, 2018:
Ive had problems with these for 5 years ive moved house 4 times and thrown away nearly everything i own then thrown away again and bought new they just syrvive everywhere their disgusting and theres no way to get rid of them. In the first house i discovered them theyd infested my entire kitchen bathroom and shoe storage. Evey house ive been in they are there id love to know a cure i hate hate hate them. They give me relaly bad anxiety as ive thrown away a lot of infested items precious things i cant replace and i cry a lot over what ive lost becaus of these horrible insects. Everything i read says they dont spread disease ect but its not the point nobody wants bugs crawling in their belongings. I go away to hotles ect never see one i check friends houses when im there never see them. I go away to caravans a lot never see them in any of them i never saw them when i was younger and i would have noticed them if they were there i first discovered them at 26 yrs old never before seen them in my life and its aparent their becoming more abundant as a lot of people are complainig of their presance and most older people i speak to have never seen or herd of them its a nightmare
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on February 24, 2018:
I would wash them in the washer in really hot water. I would not think they would survive that at all. If you have a clothes steamer, use that on them before you wash them.
Whitney N. on February 23, 2018:
I have clothing/sleeping bags etc. that were in a box where we found them. We've done pest treatment, dehumidifying etc and now we are only finding dead ones (so far, I've been afraid to dig too much until I knew what to do with the clothes). I just wondered if it was okay to put all that stuff through the washing machine or if that would potentially give some a new moist environment to live in if there are any that are still alive... I'm not trying to have them in our washing machine. We are on the third floor in an apartment, so we can't really sun our stuff out for long.
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on January 30, 2018:
You are very welcome. Good luck to you!
Gato12 on January 30, 2018:
Thanks so much for your article and advice.
After cleaning out the cupboard again today. Washing absolutely everything. Also recleaning my cabinets with any food items not sealed. Tonight I’ve checked and seen three tiny ones!
Tomorrow morning I’m removing all my cookbooks and taking them outside for a few days of sun. Although I haven’t seen any bugs on books.
I don’t have a steamer but sounds like a good idea.
I have a feeling that these bugs are living in this furniture and I may need to just get rid of it.
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on January 29, 2018:
I have to recommend the same thing that I always do because it seems to be the only thing that works to get rid of these little critters. Clean with hot steam and do it often until you have eradicated them. Wiping them away won't work, but steam gets down in crevices where they can hide and kills them dead. If you don't have a good steam machine, borrow one from a friend, or if this appears to be a chronic problem, go ahead and invest in one. Let me know how things go...I realize how frustrating this can be.
Gato12 on January 28, 2018:
I have tiny creamy/white colored bugs in and on a kitchen piece of furniture. They are really tiny.
All foods and packaging has been removed.
It’s where I store cups, saucers, plates and glasses.
I’m fed up as I’ve removed everything and washed everything a few times now. And they come back!
It’s not a damp area. Not near pipes or water supply.
Any open foods have been thrown away. All foodstuffs now are in plastic containers.
Can anyone give me some advice to get rid of them?
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on January 21, 2018:
It appears that people have found them in the most unlikely of places. Steam cleaning would be my only suggestion. Simply washing won't get the job done. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on January 21, 2018:
There are many people who have found book lice in their mattresses, just like bed bugs, so that may very well be the problem you are having. I would steam clean everything.
Dee on January 20, 2018:
I have found the same tiny clear bugs on the mattress cover seams and all over the curtains. I've looked and looked at them under the magnifying glass and they just don't look like a bed beg and none were reddish or brown, they were longer and looked just like your photo once actually jumped as I tried to grab it with a tweezer. I'm just not sure I would find book lice in the mattress cover seams. What do you think?
Dee on January 20, 2018:
Would book lice be in the seams of mattress covers like bed bugs?
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on November 17, 2017:
Luckily, they don't bite humans. Thanks for reading my article!
maison on November 15, 2017:
can these booklice feed off of humans like regular lice?
Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on August 11, 2017:
Sounds like mites. I would bet that you have some mold up under the boards that you can't see. If they are plentiful, I would recommend you get a pest specialist to look at them.
Ger ruane on August 11, 2017:
I have small white insects crawling out of skirting boards I have no dampness what r they any help please
beverly on September 18, 2015:
So pretty much its just cleaning and maintaining the problem. there is no real "cure" to eliminate these critters permanently?