Who is doing what to your clothes and your house?

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At less than three centimetres in length, the silverfish is a tiny menace. They love eating fibres like cotton, silk and linen.
At less than three centimetres in length, the silverfish is a tiny menace. They love eating fibres like cotton, silk and linen.

Cleanipedia analysed the data of more than 430 000 pest observations from biodiversity database iNaturalist, to find out the most commonly reported insects across South Africa that are known to cause damage to clothes, fabric and surfaces, and the structures of homes.

According to the research, unpacked at www.cleanipedia.com/za/insect-invaders.html, they found KwaZulu-Natal is one of the provinces in South Africa with the highest number of unique home-invading insects, with 80 different species being reported.

• 185 different species of insects were identified in South Africa that are known for invading the home and causing damage to clothes, fabrics or certain surfaces and structures of the home.

• Clothes moths, carpet beetles, cockroaches, silverfish, firebrats and house crickets are the most destructive types of home-invading insects.

The Western Cape is the province that has the most unique species of home-invading insects identified, with 124 different types being reported in the 10-year period.

At less than three centimetres in length, the silverfish is a tiny menace. They love eating fibres like cotton, silk and linen.
Firebrats are part of the same family as the silverfish but prefer a hotter environment. They eat natural fibres.
The tiny house cricket has an appetite for natural and synthetic fabrics, a disaster to clothes, carpets and upholstery.
Cockroaches love to eat clothes stained with human sweat, food stains and laundry starch.
Moths lay their eggs on natural fabrics like wool and fur, and the larvae eat away at the material.
Adult carpet beetles aren’t known for eating textiles, however, the larvae they hatch on clothes feed on natural fabric.

THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE SPECIES OF HOME-INVADING INSECTS

• Clothes moths

Clothes moths lay their eggs on natural fabrics like wool and fur, and the larvae eat away at the material they’ve spun their webbing across, leaving holes and weak fibres in their wake.

The common clothes moth can be found worldwide, and is most commonly reported in South Africa in October, September and April.

• Carpet beetles

Adult carpet beetles aren’t known for eating textiles, however the larvae they hatch on your clothes will feed on natural fabric like fur, mohair, wool and even leather. They’re also drawn to synthetic clothing stained by food. September is the month that most occurrences are reported in South Africa.

• Cockroaches

Cockroaches love to eat clothes stained with human sweat, food stains and laundry starch. Cockroach waste can also leave unsightly dark brown stains on fabric that can only be removed with bleach.

In South Africa, April is the month that sees the most cockroach sightings being reported.

• Silverfish

At less than three centimetres in length, the silverfish is a tiny menace to your ward­robe. They love eating protein-packed fibres like cotton, silk, and linen, and are attracted to clothes with food and bodily fluid stains. Sightings of these critters have most commonly been reported in South Africa in April.

• Firebrats

Firebrats are part of the same insect family as the silverfish but prefer a hotter environment. Like their silverfish cousins, firebrats enjoy nibbling on natural fibres rich in carbohydrates, proteins and sugar.

• House crickets

The tiny house cricket has an appetite for natural and synthetic fabrics, posing a disaster to not only clothes (preferably sweat-stained) but carpet and upholstery too. They tend to roughen fabric as they feed and pull fibres loose. October is the month that has seen the most reports of these insects in South Africa.

A person kills a cockroach
A person kills a cockroach

WHY IT A PROBLEM WHEN CERTAIN INSECTS INVADE YOUR HOME?

• They can damage your clothes.

“Some insects get their nutrients from sugar and protein-rich natural fibres like cotton and linen, and animal-based ones such as leather, wool, and fur,” said Alice Shaw-Beckett, Cleanipedia’s head of content.

“Others are more attracted to the food stains and bodily fluids (like human sweat) they come across on clothing. Sometimes it’s not an adult insect that’s munching on your jersey but their larvae, hatched from hundreds of eggs. When insects eat their way through or lay eggs on your clothes, they cause damage by leaving holes, weakened fabric, and leave waste products like urine, faeces and empty larva casings.”

• They can damage your house.

“Clothes-loving insects don’t just stop there, they’ll happily eat their way through all sorts of fabric in the home, including carpets, curtains and furniture. Creepy crawlies with a taste for starch (like silverfish and firebrats) will chomp away at wallpaper glue and plaster, as well as the paper in books, photographs and newspapers.

“Animal-based products aren’t safe either, with glues (like those used for bookbinding), carpet underlay and feather cushions providing a tasty meal for the likes of carpet beetles.

“Wooden structures in the home are at risk from termite and carpenter ant invasion, costing homeowners hundreds or thousands of rands to remove colonies and fix structural damage caused by hollowed-out beams and weakened frames,” said Shaw-Beckett.

Midsection Of Worker Spraying Insecticide On Windo
Midsection Of Worker Spraying Insecticide On Windowsill With Sprayer In Kitchen

HOW TO PREVENT INSECTS FROM INVADING YOUR HOME

Shaw-Beckett said that insects often get into your home through gaps in the walls and entry points like windows, vents and pipes.

“Inspect your home for cracks and crevices and make sure to seal them to prevent more bugs from coming in.

“You can either seal the door by installing a nylon sturdy steel or use a door sweep. When it comes to windows, make sure that you always use screens to prevent insects from invading your home. Cleaning your home (especially the kitchen) regularly minimises the risk of hungry insects looking for your leftover food. Make sure to mop up any spills and wipe down surfaces to prevent an insect invasion, and keep your bins sealed until you can empty them. Don’t let them overflow!

“Keep your opened food in sealed containers or put them in the fridge to ward off bugs like ants and beetles.

“You can never go wrong with a cleaning routine: make sure to vacuum your carpets and rugs and disinfect surfaces regularly. Dampness and wet areas in the house can attract insects like cockroaches, so watch out for leaking pipes.”

Cockroach in the bathroom on the sink. The problem
Cockroach in the bathroom on the sink. The problem with insects

“When it comes to any form of insect infestation, you will want to get rid of them as soon as possible. Insects can get into your home through numerous entry points, so blocking their entrances is the best place to start.

Food is usually the main reason insects invade our homes, so storing food securely can solve the problem.

Maintaining a clean kitchen will also get rid of insects; you can do this by simply using dishwashing liquid and warm water on surfaces, as well as adding the mixture to a spray bottle to target areas where insects are getting in.”

• How to clean surfaces and areas of the home that have been invaded by bugs.

“After a bug infestation, you’ll be inclined to make sure any surfaces and areas they’ve touched are thoroughly cleaned,” said Shaw-Beckett.

“Create a mixture of ½ cup of vinegar, ½ cup of water, one teaspoon lemon juice and five to seven drops of essential oil in a spray bottle.

“This will create a natural all-purpose cleaner and the vinegar is known to kill dangerous mould that may have been disturbed by any termites eating wood. Spray all surfaces to eliminate any bacteria from the bugs and wipe with a microfibre cloth.

“Be sure to steam clean any carpets, floors and upholstery, as well as wash your bedding as these textiles may be home to some bed bugs and you’ll want to get rid of them properly.” — Supplied.

ProvinceNumber of species identified
Western Cape124
KwaZulu-Natal80
Limpopo74
Gauteng65
Mpumalanga65
Eastern Cape 55
Northern Cape 50
Free State 29
North West20
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