Firebrats (Thermobia domestica), a.k.a. bristletails, are one of the world’s most primitive insects. So primitive in fact that they are completely wingless. These little cuties are generally between 3/8 and ½ inch long and come in varying shades of mottled gray with darker bands of scales running across their strangely undulating bodies. They belong to the order Thysanura and the family Lepismatidae and are very closely related to silverfish. So closely related that the two insects are commonly mistaken for each other. Due to physiological similarities, the means of controlling firebrat infestations are almost identical to those of controlling silverfish infestations. Damn, that was technical…but it needed to be done.
Many people find these pests absolutely repulsive and go into stomping fits of rage at the first site of them. Personally, I have recently come to find them fascinating. The way these guys move is very reminiscent of watching a fish swim. They’re darn fast, too, which is actually one of the reasons why people don’t like them. I guess unpredictable jerky movements are not a quality that most people find endearing in insects. Even ones like firebrats that don’t even bite. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hatin’ on people who want to get rid of firebrats. Believe me. I understand. Everyone (myself very much included) has at least a couple little phobias. Things that excite the gag reflex or send little shivers up and down the spine. Because of this, even though I’m severely in the minority here, I’ve decided to don my white knight costume and come to the rescue of those of you who want your firebrats slain.
Firebrats are very commonly mistaken for their very close cousins, silverfish. If you’re able to spend half a second looking at them, the difference is pretty clear. Silverfish are silver. They remind me of mercury. Firebrats are a darker mottled orangish gray with bands of dark scales. It’s important to know which one you have before you start treating your home for them. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently improve conditions for one or the other.
Best Ways to Prevent and Control Firebrats
Keep them outside where they belong. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. Invest in some foam spray or indoor/outdoor caulk, do your best to find any entry points from the outdoors, and fill ’em up. Walk around your house and look for any cracks in the foundation and fill them. Also look for any tiny little holes around cables, wires, outlets, faucets, vents, windows, or anything else that might grant them entry. Once you’ve done what you can outside, go into the basement and look again. You might be able to see entry points down there that were not visible to you from outside.
Do everything you can to starve them. This requires some dedication on your part. Firebrats eat almost anything and can go for months without eating at all. They love paper, book binding, cardboard, glue, grains, meats, dead insects, natural cloth fibers . . . ah, hell, just assume they’ll eat everything. If it’s on the floor, pick it up. Don’t leave mail or magazines around. Put all of your food (flour, noodles, cereal, etc.) in tight containers. Don’t keep boxes around for storage. Think Rubbermaid containers. Clean the closets, behind the fridge, and under the stove. If you spill something, wet or dry, clean it up immediately. Do all the sweeping and vacuuming you can stand.
Dry out your house as much as possible. Firebrats love moisture and high humidity, so start with putting up some fans and a dehumidifier or two or three. Concentrate on warmer areas like furnace rooms, attics, and bathrooms. Make sure to ventilate any closed rooms. Next, make sure to fix or seal any drippy faucets or leaking pipes. Reducing humidity will also help you reduce mold and other fungi, which are yet more food sources for firebrats. Since bristletails are nocturnal, you may even wish to go so far as to pick up your pet’s food and water dishes at night. Just remember to put them back out in the morning.
Try your best not to provide shelter for them.As stated before, pick up any stacks of magazines, books, or mail you have lying around. If there’s a pile of clothing on the floor, pick it up, fold it, and put it away. Any bit of clutter you see sitting around on the floor is a firebrat hotel. I know you’re pretty fond of your bathroom rug, too, but seriously, they love hanging out under there. Bathmats, too. I also advise strongly against keeping piles of wood in your house. Not only do these offer great shelter for firebrats, they also supply the little critters with food. Since firebrats are nocturnal, increasing light helps, too. If there’s no clutter for them to hide under, it’s harder to escape the light, and they’re more likely to be unhappy in your home.
Trade the Sahara for the Arctic. Firebrats, unlike silverfish, love the heat and prefer it to be at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Who can blame them? They are commonly found around ovens, under refrigerators, and around dishwashers. They also like to hang out in furnace rooms, bake houses, and attics. Hot water pipes and central heating pipes are other favorites. With all that being said, do whatever you can to cool the place down. The colder the better. If you have central air, crank it. Otherwise, install as many air conditioners as you can. It won’t kill you to wear a sweatshirt. Scatter fans around, too, and aim them into those rooms without air conditioning. Cooler temps slow growth, inhibit reproductive activity, and increase the amount of time it takes for eggs to hatch.
Commercial Firebrat Control
Luckily for you, or unluckily depending on how you look at it, firebrats are a very common problem and have been for a long time. This means that there’s a butt load of different pesticides that not only get the job done but are also quite easy to come by. So as not to overwhelm anyone, I have chosen just a few of the best and most trusted brands to showcase in this section. With any pesticide, make sure you read the directions and precautions before application.
- Demon WP comes in powder form and is mixed with water for spraying. It is a good product to spray in cracks and crevices for residual firebrat control. It is also good for contact control. The active ingredient is cypermethrin.
- Cynoff WP is almost identical to Demon WP (above). It is a powder that you mix with water. It is great for residual control and kills on contact, and its active ingredient is cypermethrin. If you cannot find one, find the other.
- Suspend SC is a concentrated liquid insecticide. It is for use both indoors and out. Suspend SC leaves a clear residual on surfaces and works for up to 3 months (depending on rain). Its active ingredient is deltamethrin.
- Drione Dust is, well, a dust. It is applied indoors in cracks, crevices, and other problem spots. It’s good for use in cupboard that do not contain food (under the sink). Once applied, it is effective for up to six months as long as it’s left undisturbed. Pyrethrins are the active ingredient with piperonyl butoxide mixed in to help increase potency.
- Niban FG is a granular insecticide that is nearly odorless. It is for use indoors and out. This stuff also has a couple different insect attractants and, like most of these products, can be used not just for killing firbrats but also for broad spectrum pest control. The active ingredient is orthoboric acid. Amazon has niban in a 4lb shaker if you go this route.
- Dekko Silverfish Packs are handy little things, and they are great. They are basically just a pouch filled with insect poison. Since firebrats eat everything, they will eat through the pouch and ingest the poison. Put these in infested areas like cupboards (non-food containing), closets, basements, bookcases, attics, and anywhere else firebrats hide. The active ingredients are boric acid and love.
Best Natural Firebrat Control Methods
Diatomaceous earth. This is one of the safest and most natural insecticides available. Diatomaceous earth is derived from fossilized diatoms. When insects walk through it, the diatoms scratch through their exoskeletons and cause the insect to become dehydrated and die. A gruesome death, though deserved.
Boric acid. Another very effective natural insecticide is boric acid. It is a weak acid in powder form used for dusting cracks and crevices. When firebrats walk through the boric acid, it sticks to them, enters their system, dehydrates them, and kills them. It is produced from the reaction between borate and sulfuric acid and is found naturally in nearly all fruits.
Silverfish Trap. These traps work great for firebrats and silverfish alike. There are no poisons or pesticides, and the traps are recyclable. Because there are no chemicals, you can place these anywhere, and they will last up to three months. You can order these traps from Amazon.