Friday, November 22, 2013

A Knitter's Guide to Eradicating Carpet Beetles (or, DIE, LITTLE *#@$(*&$, DIE)

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So, I've mentioned a few times that our life has been on a bit of a tailspin for the last few weeks, and now that we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I wanted to do a post about it.

The day of Mackie's diagnosis, Lumberjack found a carpet beetle larvae in our room.  Carpet beetles, for those who are lucky enough to have never heard of the evil little beasts, are a particular bane to museum collections because of the larvae's tendency to ruthlessly devour animal proteins, starch, and pretty much anything else that comes into their paths.  (The beetles don't eat the stuff, but they do move around and lay eggs willy-nilly.)  So when we found out that we had them, my heart sank at the realization that our house is essentially a smorgasbord of vintage clothing, yarn, fabric, and other tasty carpet beetle delights.

At first, we thought it was confined to our bedroom, but as the days progressed, we started finding them in the studio I share with Sparklepants, our 2nd-floor bathroom, kitchen, living room, and stairs.  Every time we found them in a new place, I got progressively more hateful and frustrated.  Much of the first week, I spent 8-12 hours a day on my hands and knees, wearing a dust mask and camping headlamp, picking up dozens of larvae with tweezers and yelling, "I HOPE YOU STARVE, YOU STUPID PIECE OF SHIT."  (It made me feel better.  I swear.  I'm usually the girl who insists on taking spiders outside, but I have zero sympathy for these destructive little assholes.)

Currently, our house has been sprayed and all visible larvae & beetles removed; all of our belongings are bagged, and slowly going through the process of heating in the dryer or freezing, then going directly into plastic bins or bags for storage.  Anything tasty to carpet beetles that has come in or out of our house in the last few weeks has gone through one of the two cycles, as the only thing I hate more than carpet beetles is the thought of knowingly or unknowingly inflicting them on someone else.  The whole thing is overwhelming and gross, and I never, ever, ever want to deal with it again, so my attitude is to nuke it from orbit; it's the only way to be sure.

So, in the hopes that other knitters and textile stashers are spared our fate, here are 12 tips for dealing with a carpet beetle infestation:

1.  First, don't blame yourself.  I initially thought that I brought in the infestation in a bag of vintage Pendleton yardage from a consignment store, but as we started to understand the scope and locations of the infestation, the more we realized that it was from something else entirely.  Carpet beetles are found all over the world.  They usually live outside, but often migrate inside for various reasons.  Chances are, unless you skipped around tossing carpet beetle larvae all over your home, you did nothing to cause this.

2.  Carpet beetles are not a hygiene problem, but they can be combatted by stepping up your cleaning.  By a lot.  They love lint, hair, and small bits of food, so keeping as many areas clean of these things is essential to curbing their food source.  Pull out seldom-moved appliances like the refrigerator, oven, and washer and dryer, (note: if it's safe to do so!) and vacuum and scrub underneath them.  I found almost as many larvae under our oven as we did in the rest of the house.

3.  Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever store anything in corrugated cardboard if at all possible.  Cardboard boxes are like theme parks for carpet beetle larvae.  We found 95% of the larvae along mouldings & baseboards and under appliances.  The other 5% were in cardboard boxes being used as storage.

4.  Do store things in plastic.  I have a bit of a hard time with this, because plastic does off-gas and sometimes causes a smell, but smelly yarn > ruined yarn.  Plastic will defend your items from becoming infested, and contain the infestation if they do find their way in.  All of my yarn and fabric is currently being transitioned over from open-air storage to plastic containers.

5.  If you find larvae or beetles, keep at least a few of them so they can be properly identified.  That way, if your suspected carpet beetles are something else, you can get the proper treatment for them.

6.  If you can afford it, hire a professional.  Really.  They can help you identify your problem, give you tips to keep the beasties under control, and treat your carpets and nooks and crannies with chemicals that kill and/or inhibit growth in all stages of the beetles.  There are non-toxic options available, so don't fret that you're going to have to fill your house with poison to get rid of them.  The exterminator we hired was $250 for treatment with a free follow-up appointment, and to us it was worth it for the peace of mind.  Keep in mind, though, that the exterminator is only doing part of the work: the long-term effectiveness of this process is highly dependent on you.

7.  Did I mention that I was cleaning 8-12 hours a day for a full week?  Yeah.  It bears repeating.  It takes a lot of cleaning to get an infestation under control.  Vacuuming is essential, as is laundry.  I tried as much as possible to touch and inspect every single thing I own, which sounds daunting - and is - but it can be done.

8.  Let go of as many old or unused items as you possibly can, especially if they're infested.  I've thrown away 3+ full garbage bags full of stuff from my studio.  Infested or very old yarn is just not worth saving to me - I have too much other yarn and fabric that I love more, and if I have to sacrifice 3% of my stash to save the other 97%, you bet I'm going to.

9.  Rid your house, roof, or yard of any bird's nests.  Carpet beetles like to hang out in them, then migrate into your house once they've lost their food source.

10.  Carpet beetles hate extremes of heat and cold.  Run all of your washable clothing and textiles through the dryer on medium (or hot) for at least 30 minutes.  And, from what I can tell from researching it: for more delicate items, freeze for a minimum of 3 days at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, let it come to room temperature, and repeat the process again - or dry-clean.  We ended up buying a large freezer, because Sparklepants and I have approximately 16 metric tons of fabric and yarn that needs to be treated, and we don't have the funds to dry-clean all of our stuff.

11.  Be patient.  We've bagged 90% of our belongings, and it's probably going to take 3-6 months before we're able to run all of them through the eradication process.  That's just how it is - it sucks, but I'd rather do it right and never have to do it again.

12.  It's healthy to have and acknowledge feelings of frustration, anger, shame, and/or guilt - I know I struggled a lot with all of these - but keep optimistic.  You can do this, and you will.  It may feel like your life is over, but it's not.  It's frustrating to have every account on the internet be all, "I've had carpet beetles for 10 years and they follow me when I move", and not a single one say, "I had this problem, I dealt with it, and you can too."  I'm here to say that it's possible, because we're doing it.  We haven't seen a single larvae since I found and destroyed their campsite under the oven two weeks ago, and here's hoping that it stays that way.  I'll keep you posted.

In summary: Carpet beetles suck, and dealing with them is a pretty overwhelming amount of work, but I have absolute faith that it's possible to eradicate them - not to mention, completely worth it.

If anyone has any tips, comments, or stories, feel free to mention it in the comments.  Thanks for reading, and for bearing with me for the last few weeks!

2 comments:

MJ said...

You look like you really mean business!

Stephanie Corral said...

Thank you for posting this, great information that has given me hope and insight. My husband and I are new to these things and had no idea we could do something about them.