So, you need to get rid of booklice from your home. Fast.
Are they freaking you out when you find them in your food?
How about your antique books?
Or even worse, behind your wallpaper or in your BED?
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Why you have booklice
- How to identify them
- Ways to get rid of booklice naturally
- How to prevent and repel paper mites
- Controlling and managing booklice on furniture, walls, and beds
- And more
By the end of this guide, you should have a good understanding of these critters and various home remedies to manage them.
And if you have any questions, go ahead and post a comment and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
Sound good? Let’s close the books on booklice!
Last updated: 11/26/22.
What are booklice?
Booklice are small, pale-brown colored lice that are often found eating up old, moldy books.
That’s how they got their name.
Although they’re not considered true lice, they have the appearance, size, and shape of lice. Note that lice can infest your bed, clothing, furniture, and even yourself!
These lice are common in the typical household and aren’t that difficult to control. They rarely cause extensive damage to books unless left alone for extended periods.
They can also show up in food that’s been harboring mold or fungus, furniture, upholstery, carpet, and even your bed.
Although they can be disturbing to see when you flip open your old textbook, they’re harmless towards humans and pets as they’re only interested in fold, algae, mold, lichen, and other detritus found from spores.
- Paper mites
- Book mites
- Book bugs
- Psocid mites
Booklice are about 1/16” in length. They’re extremely small so you’ll need to use something to blow them up.
They can be seen without a microscope, despite their tiny size. They have 6 visible limbs, with a pair of hindlegs that are thicker than their front and middle legs.
Even though they have powerful rear legs, booklice can’t jump or fly. But they can run very quickly.
Each louse ranges in color, but they’re usually gray or brown. They have a translucent, clear tint and are see-through, especially on their legs.
There’s a visible segment for the head, thorax, and large abdomen. There are visible striations that are horizontal along their abdomen and dark spot at the very end.
They also have a pair of long antennas that are barely visible without a microscope. You can use your phone’s zoom function to see them clearly. Or just get a magnifying glass with an infested paper product. Shake them off into a dark background for contrast.
If you have no idea what bugs look like, booklice look like tiny termites or ants. That’s probably the closest common bug that’s similar to their appearance.
Regular lice are very similar and most people can’t tell the difference.
Here’s a booklice video:
Can they fly?
No, booklice can’t fly. They’re a wingless species that resemble regular lice.
However, they can breed exponentially to huge populations which can be very annoying to homeowners.
Booklice life cycle
Booklice have a simple lifecycle.
Female adults can deposit up to 60 eggs during the warmer seasons.
After the eggs are deposited, they hatch as a nymph. They’ll feed on mold just like their adult counterparts and continue to eat. The nymphs complete their journey to adults in just 30 days.
This can be faster or slower depending on temperature, food availability, and the environment. In the colder seasons, growth from nymph to adult can take three times as long (90 days). Booklice growth speed depends on the temperature.
Adults will lay fewer eggs in the winter when temperatures drop.
The eggs are microscopic in size and are laid one at a time.
The female hides them under debris to protect them from predators. The nymphs will hatch and eat the same food as the faults. They undergo simple metamorphosis.
Baby booklice look just like the adults, but aren’t sexually mature and are smaller in size.
They’ll undergo four different nymphal periods to reach adulthood over the course of 30 days.
After they become mature, the males and females mate to complete the booklice life cycle.
Where do booklice come from?
Booklice come from the outdoors initially before they infest homes.
They live under the bark of trees as their natural environment in the wild.
But once they find suitable nesting areas within human structures, they’ll gladly move in because of the bountiful supply of paper goods and a humidity level that keeps them alive.
Since many of us are hoarders and keep old moldy papers, textbooks, cardboard, and other starchy materials lying around, booklice have long been coming into households and feeding off the mold that grows on them.
If your home is damp, wet, or leaky, this provides an environment that lice can thrive in.
You may also see them outdoors around your window sills and potted plants.
What else eats books and paper?
Not sure what’s eating your books? It’s not always booklice.
Cockroaches, silverfish, and even termites all consume starchy, papery materials. If you don’t have visible proof of the signs of a booklice infestation, you shouldn’t assume that you’re dealing with a lice problem.
You’ll need to check for evidence and see what exactly is eating up your books. Roaches and termites both are known to feed on and damage books.
And silverfish will do the same. They can live for a very long time with just a source of starchy materials to break down and consume.
Plus, they like humidity and moisture in the air, just like the booklice. You’ll need to distinguish between the two different types of bugs to know what you’re dealing with.
Booklice vs termites
You can tell the difference quickly between the two species. Booklice can be distinguished from termites based on color, body size, and morphology.
Booklice have a white to gray coloration and are soft.
Termites are darker and have hard bodies. Booklice are a lot smaller than termites (about 30% of their size).
Even though the two species look the same, they’re not related at all. Booklice are also not related to lice found on the head or body.
You can also tell the difference because termites have a translucent see-through pigment where termites are nearly solid in coloration.
Why do I have booklice?
You have booklice in your house because they entered your home and found a suitable location to nest.
They can be eating anything that allows mold to propagate.
High humidity areas or damp rooms are perfect for harboring mold spores. Mold just happens to grow well on paper-based materials. And this attracts booklice. It’s a chain reaction.
Stop the mold and you’ll stop the booklice.
What are booklice attracted to?
- Booklice prefer two things:
- Environments with high humidity
- Surfaces with mold and fungus (paper products)
If your home provides both of these, then it’s a suitable environment for them to thrive. They’re not picky lice.
Plus, the majority of homes in the US provide perfect environments for lice to breed, eat, and establish a place to stay.
Bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and garages are all common rooms in the typical American household.
And we do have a habit of hoarding newspapers, magazines, and plenty of old books that we never threw out. This just adds fuel to the fire and provides booklice a place to live.
When you combine paper and high humidity, this leads to mold growth. And since booklice love plenty of molds, they’ll be happy to infest your home.
Where do booklice live?
Booklice are found all over the United States and are a very common household pest. They can infest homes, apartments, condos, and more.
Within the household, they’re found in areas that are damp and humid with a plentiful food source. You’ll often find them hiding in areas like basements, closets, attics, garages, kitchen pantries, bathroom drawers, and other storage areas.
Booklice can eat mold off books, papers, magazines, newspapers, clothing, bedsheets, towels, curtains, carpet, various surfaces, wallpaper, glue, starch, and even food products.
What do booklice feed on?
They mainly consume paper-based materials because the paper produces microscopic food for them to eat.
Mold and fungus will easily grow on paper products, especially in humid and moist environments. Booklice may also eat starch, which is found in pastes like glue, book spines, shelf liners, drawers, and wallpaper.
Mold is their main source of food, but they’re often confused with eating actual books or paper. In reality, it’s just that the mold grows on the paper and they’re consuming the mold spores rather than the actual pages of the book.
Are booklice nocturnal?
Booklice aren’t necessarily nocturnal species, but they do prefer darker environments.
This is why you see them in storage areas that are moldy and humid.
However, they’ve been spotted even out in the open where the light shines. You’ll just commonly encounter them in darker areas of the home like the basement or attic.
Can you see booklice?
Yes, booklice are visible to the human eye.
You don’t need a microscope to see them. They’re about 1-2mm in length and you’ll be able to see the abdomen and legs quite easily against a bright background.
When you lift up that wallpaper or unpack that dry food and see it swarming with tiny critters that look just like tiny ants, they’re probably booklice.
Do Psocids jump?
No, booklice can’t jump despite the large rear legs they have. They’re not capable of leaping, jumping, or flying any distance.
Are booklice bad?
Of course, they are.
Although they don’t harm humans, there’s no reason to ignore them and do nothing to get rid of them. They’ll eat up your books, leave frass all over your clothes, breed on your sofa, and live in your bed.
Booklice can build up to high populations over time if the conditions are right. Once you notice that you have them in your home, start eradicating them ASAP.
Will booklice go away?
No, they won’t go away on their own unless the food source runs out or they’re disturbed.
You shouldn’t ignore them because they’ll continue to propagate until they cause major damage to your books or home.
Besides, if you have booklice, you probably have a mold problem on your property. And this is something you’ll want to take care of as soon as possible.
What do booklice do?
Booklice eat mold. In a nutshell, that’s what they do and all they do.
Once they find a source of mold or fungus to consume, they’ll continue to establish a nest nearby and feed on the mold.
With plenty of humidity, the mold continues to grow and the lice continue to eat.
Over time, this leads to huge populations of lice and will accelerate the damage to your books exponentially.
And no one wants to go to bed just knowing that it’s infested with booklice.
Do booklice bite humans?
Booklice are harmless to humans. They don’t bite or sting and are not interested in human skin.
These pests feed on mold as their primary source of energy, so they’ll shy away from humans.
However, if you find them eating your food, it’s likely because there are mold or fungi particles already in it.
You should dispose of the contaminated food and do a thorough cleaning of the area where you found it. They can also damage paper, books, and cardboard through extensive feeding on the material.
Psocid mites are harmless to humans, but not so much to your stored goods. They’re not considered a parasite for pets and people.
Some people have reported booklice skin irritation, and this may be true for sensitive individuals.
How to get rid of booklice naturally
Here are some DIY home remedies to control, repel, and kill booklice on your property.
There’s no single technique that always work. You’ll want to use a few of them (at the same time) and see what works best for you. Go ahead and start. Use the easiest methods first (cleaning) then move up if the booklice are still present.
Vacuum them up
You can vacuum booklice to quickly remove them from your books, paper, cardboard, and more without smashing them.
This prevents them from staining your books (especially if they’re antiques) with their bug guts. This is one of the easiest ways to get rid of psocid mites.
A handheld shop vac can make quick work of any booklice you come across.
Remove all the books from the shelves before you begin and place them outside. You’ll also want to remove decorations such as bookends and other objects in close quarters with the infested books.
Vacuum up every single book and flip through the pages to loosen up any booklice hiding in there. Check the covers, book spine, and pages.
Also vacuum up any dead booklice you see, the bookshelves where the books are, and around the room where you suspected the pests to be present.
They like to wedge themselves into small cracks, so you can shove the vacuum nozzle in there to suck up any booklice hiding there.
Then vacuum up any decorations you had in the same area.
And finally, check for cracks and hiding places on your bookshelf or book storage area. They can hide in the smallest of gaps, so you’ll want to run your nozzle right into the crevices.
Vacuum the floors and other surfaces of the infested room last for a final cleanup.
Remove plants near windows
Potted plants commonly harbor booklice because of constant watering and a plentiful supply of food.
They like to live right under the opt where the humidity is high. If you have plants for planters on your window sills, remove them or relocate them.
They’re likely coming into your house from the window, especially if you have damaged weatherstripping or other gaps for entry points.
Seal up your home
You can prevent booklice entry by making sure the most areas where they infest your property are sealed.
- Replace damaged windscreens, seal up cracks in your foundation, patch up broken walls, and fix damaged weatherstripping.
- Evaluate your property and make any repairs you can do on your own.
- Check for common entry area damage like windows and doors.
- Hire a professional for the more difficult things that you’re unsure about.
Apply talcum powder
Talcum powder can help keep booklice away as a natural repellent.
You can sprinkle it around your window sills, under your potted plants, around your old books and paper documents, around your bed frame, and even under your furniture. The powder is a natural substance that will repel booklice as they despise the powder.
Avoid letting pets and other people come into contact with talcum. Use as directed by the product packaging.
Psocid mites can be controlled using pure talcum powder or through another medium.
Use diatomaceous earth, borax, or baby powder
All of these products can help keep booklice away naturally.
Sprinkle them around the rooms with booklice activity, such as:
- The perimeter of the room
- Within the book pages
- Cardboard boxes
- Around sources of water
- Throughout rooms with elevated humidity percentages
- Around common entry points to your home (doors, windows, patios, decks, etc.)
Even though the majority of these products are natural and safe for humans, you should still keep people and pets away from them.
Some people can be sensitive to talcum or pets (and people) may consume the powder. If you get diatomaceous earth, make sure it’s food-grade, pure DE.
As for baby powder and borax, you can look for natural and pure varieties. Don’t get any with additives or residues.
Clean with soapy water
You can make a quick book lice killer by mixing a few drops of dish detergent and a cup of water.
You can then get a sponge and use it to wipe down your bookshelves. For booklice in the pantry or kitchen, remove all food and store it securely. Then wipe down your cupboards, drawers, pantry, etc. twice. This is one of the easiest ways to kill paper mites and get rid of them quickly.
After it dries, wipe them again with warm water until you remove all traces of soap. You can also use a sprayer to apply the solution if it’s easier.
Remove paper products
Anything paper-based attracts booklice, especially paper that’s in high humidity environments.
If you have anything made out of paper stored in a room with even moderate moisture content in the air, they can mold. And this will be a feast for booklice.
You should throw out any paper products you don’t need, such as:
- Printer paper
- Notebook paper
- Product packages
- Shelving liners
- Pantry liners
Throw out everything you don’t need as it poses a risk for mold and attracting these pests.
Be sure to also check areas like your basement, attic, bathroom, kitchen, closets, and garage. There may also be paper products in storage containers (or even worse, boxes themselves!).
You can also use a dehumidifier for rooms where the humidity is high but you can’t remove the paper-based materials. Open the windows, doors, and use a box fan to circulate the air to lower humidity.
Keep your home clean
This one’s an obvious but overlooked method to get rid of booklice. If your home is clean and you provide no surfaces for mold to grow, then there’s nothing that booklice can eat.
This makes it unfavorable to them and they have no reason to infiltrate your property.
You should never leave clutter lying around your household:
- Dispose of old starch or paper-based products.
- Sell old books or keep them in airtight containers.
- Remove and recycle cardboard and switch to plastic containers.
- Keep the rooms of your home below 50% humidity.
- And always toss out old food that’s molding, as this will be an attractant for booklice.
Leaks in your drains, sinks, and pipes throughout your home will contribute to humidity buildup.
This is critical for areas with poor airflow like the basement and attic. Pipes that constantly drip allow mold and fungus to grow on the wood.
Pair this with booklice entering your home through the cracks and you have a very serious infestation. Just like subterranean termites, the lice will wean their way to the source of the water.
Except they’ll eat the spores that are growing on the infrastructure of your home. If you ignore this, it could lead to serious mold growth and will require a professional to remove it.
This is why you need to identify the source of the leak and stop it quickly. You can hire an inspector to detect leaks.
They often also have mold removal or can recommend a specialist. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you need to consult with a contractor. Mold in the home is no joke.
Other than attracting booklice, mold will also attract termites.
Store food safely
Even when you come across booklice hiding in your kitchen drawers, cupboards, and pantry, they don’t consume the dry goods you store there.
These pests don’t eat your food and only eat paper fabrics.
However, they DO eat any mold, mildew, and fungus that grows on spoiled or expired food.
So it’s very easy to get confused and mistakenly assume that booklice eat human food when they don’t. I mean, if you pop open that pack of cereal that’s been sitting in your cupboard for months and see if covered in booklice, they’re eating the mold growing on the cereal- not the food itself.
This is why it’s critical to store all dry foods in airtight containers.
Plastic ones with locking lids may work, but remember that booklice are tiny and will squeeze through the smallest of gaps to find food. So go for airtight food storage when possible.
All dry goods should be stored properly to prevent mold and fungi from growing on them and harboring an environment for booklice.
Be especially cautious of foods like bread, grains, beans, flours, sugars, baking goods, cookies, cereals, crackers, pasta, and powders.
Use airtight storage
You can prevent booklice from finding a source of food simply by storing your books, magazines, newspapers, and other paper materials in airtight containers.
This locks out humidity and bugs from eating your books. Never place the storage containers on the ground, unless you’re sure they’re airtight.
You’d be surprised at how small of a gap booklice need to start a colony. You can also line the containers with a strip of packing tape where the crease is to be extra careful.
Use neem oil
Neem oil can be an effective way to control and manage booklice naturally. The oil comes from the neem plant and is used for a variety of purposes. DIY pest control is just one of them.
You can buy neem oil online or at local specialty stores. Get one that’s 100% pure and organic. Mix a few drops in a liter of water. Then pour it into a spray bottle.
You can spray the oil directly onto any booklice you come across to kill them instantly. It also can be sprayed on wallpaper and wiped off with a clean microfiber cloth.
Neem oil WILL damage some paints and finishes, so you should always test it in a small area first.
Pets and people sensitive to neem oil should stay clear and be notified before using. Always use as directed by the product label.
Reduce moisture content
Any moisture present means that mold can grow.
And mold grows easily on paper and cardboard. Never allow rooms to collect moisture especially where any paper is present. Keep your windows open to allow airflow outside of your home.
This will reduce humidity levels significantly. If the affected room (bathroom or kitchen) doesn’t have windows, you can use a box fan or air calculator to move the moisture out of the room.
Set it up and point the fan towards the outside. This will blow the excess moisture in the air out of the room and keep the humidity levels down.
Always clean wet spills right away
Wet spills are ruthless and will harbor booklice faster than you can say “darn it!”
Any type of moisture spill will contribute to higher humidity levels throughout your home.
This means ANY spill: beer, wine, water, sink spills, water spills after your shower or washing hands, etc.
You need to clean up all these droplets or puddles of water ASAP. Do NOT let them just sit there and evaporate. When it does, guess where all that water goes? Into the air. And raises the humidity.
This is critical to prevent and repel booklice. If you want to get rid of them, you need to clean up all traces of water- to the last DROP.
Especially in rooms that have books or other paper goods.
If you don’t, the moisture will lead to mold growth, which will bring all sorts of bugs to your home.
Fix all plumbing problems
Leaky pipes or faucets are just a paradise for mold.
The constant dripping action of the water slowly leads to mold buildup over time if the room is poorly ventilated. You should stop all leaky sinks by replacing or repairing them.
And you should do a thorough inspection of your entire property to make sure there are no leaky plumbing problems.
Consider hiring a licensed professional to inspect your home for leaks. If you constantly have bugs like termites, there may be a leak somewhere in your basement, attic, or wall voids.
You’ll never fully eradicate the pests without fixing the base of the problem. Booklice could be a sign of a leak somewhere in your home.
Hire a professional pest exterminator
If you’re feeling lost or don’t know what to do, hire a licensed professional to take care of the booklice.
Find one that has glowing reviews, give them a call, and have them do an evaluation of your property. Most will give you a free quote and you can compare different pest control companies.
Try to find one that has a pest guarantee and uses organic or natural control methods. Avoid dangerous pesticides because they’re not necessary for most booklice infestations on properties.
Getting rid of booklice without throwing out materials
You can eliminate booklice and keep your books by using a cold or hot treatment.
Simply grab the books and put them into a trash bag.
Then take the bag and put it outdoors on a hot and sunny day. The lice trapped within the books will suffocate from the heat. Just trap them and seal the bag tightly.
If you don’t live somewhere that gets hot, use your freezer (or the outdoors if it’s below freezing). Booklice will die when frozen.
After you kill the lice, blow out the pages with a hairdryer to purge them from dead bugs. This will also help stop other bugs from coming to your books that are attracted to dead booklice.
You can repeat the process with pretty much anything that’s infested- documents, papers, magazines, etc.
Do booklice live in beds?
Booklice can establish a full habitat quickly in your bedsheets because it provides a prime area for mold and mildew to grow.
Many Americans don’t wash their sheets regularly, and this allows all sorts of mold spores collected on the body to transfer to the linens.
Over time, fungi, mildew, and all sorts of other compounds will grow.
Taking a shower, washing your hands, or doing anything to contribute water to your sheets will only expedite the food source.
Once booklice find a suitable area to invest such as your bed frame or box spring, that’s all they need.
Thankfully, you can get rid of booklice living in your bed by tossing all your sheets into the washer and doing a thorough cleaning of your bed frame. Clean the box spring, mattress, frame, and posts.
Be sure to check any gaps or crevices where they can be hiding.
Dispose of any old books, magazines, or newspapers under the bed. And don’t store cardboard boxes under or around your bed either. These are just asking for booklice.
How to get rid of booklice in the wall
Booklice can infest your walls because they eat the starches of wallpaper.
Peeling paper provides an entry point for booklice to get behind the sheet.
This is all they need to get started. They’ll eat, mate, deposit eggs, and repeat their lifecycle behind the wallpaper.
Since there’s virtually an unlimited amount of food to consume, this can lead to pretty large booklice populations.
You may have to tear down the wallpaper sheet to completely kill them all. This could require the work of a professional contractor.
Booklice in food
Booklice can be found in dry food products that have become moldy.
Your kitchen pantry and storage area for grains, rice, cereal, powder, flour, baking goods, and other dry goods are a common target for booklice. If you notice this, dispose of all infested foods and do a thorough cleaning.
Shelf liners should be removed and replaced. All other food needs to be transferred to airtight storage containers to prevent booklice from eating them.
It’s not uncommon to find booklice in food, but this is usually the result of neglect or shoddy food storage containers.
Can you get booklice in your clothes?
Yes, booklice can easily climb into your clothing, which can be a paradise to them from mold and mildew spores.
Poorly laundered or dirty clothes are magnets for foreign particles and will harbor them. Booklice can then detect the presence of these spores and will seek out your clothing.
You should do a thorough cleaning of any clothes or fabrics that have come into contact with them to remove all traces of booklice eggs and mildew.
Booklice and furniture
Furniture and upholstery are prone to booklice because of the fabric material that allows mold spores to collect and grow.
Wherever there’s mold, there’s a possibility of booklice. When you get an infestation on your furniture, you’ll want to start by removing the mold ASAP.
Use a soapy water mixture and start washing down your furniture. If it’s made from sensitive materials, you’ll want to find an alternative (like a commercial furniture cleaner).
If the mold seeps into the couch, cushions, sofa, or carpet, you’ll have to find another way to clean it.
Sometimes, you can’t clean the inside of your couch without tearing a hole in it. This is time to decide if you want to throw it out or professionally clean it. You must remove the mold if you want to rid the lice.
Here are some references you can check out that you may find helpful:
Did you get rid of the booklice?
By now, you should have a solid foundation to control, manage, and eliminate booklice from your home.
They’re not too difficult to get rid of but will require some patience depending on the severity of the infestation.
Be persistent and you should be able to eradicate them naturally without the use of pesticides.
If you have any questions, drop me a comment below. Or if you found this guide to be somewhat helpful, please leave some feedback to let me know.
Thanks for reading.
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.