What Are These Tiny Black Bugs in My House?

Here is how to identify and control carpet beetles

carpet beetle

PhotoLibrary / Dr Larry Jernigan / Getty Images

If you find tiny black bugs crawling around your home, don't panic. If you and your pets aren't suffering from bites, the pests probably aren't bed bugs or fleas. If they launch themselves into the air, you might have an infestation of springtails.

Did You Know?

Although carpet beetles have the unusual ability to digest keratin, a type of protein, and might eat wool, silk, or cereals, they don't bite and won't cause structural damage to your home.

Do the mystery bugs crunch when you squash them? While unnecessary bug squashing isn't recommended, that's one way to identify these nuisance pests. If they leave a black or brown smear when you crush them, you likely have carpet beetles.

What Are Carpet Beetles?

Carpet beetles are common in homes though not often in large numbers, so they don't usually attract attention. Carpet beetles feed on carpets and similar products and reproduce slowly.

Carpet beetles have the unusual ability to digest keratin, the structural proteins in animal or human hair, skin, or fur. In your home, they might be eating items made of wool or silk or feeding on cereals stored in your pantry. They tend to wander from their food source, so people usually notice them on walls or floors.

What Do They Look Like?

Carpet beetles measure just 2 to 3 millimeters long—about the size of a pinhead—and vary in color. Some are black, or dark enough to appear black when observed with the human eye. Others might be mottled, with spots of brown and black on a lighter background. Like many other beetles, they are round or oval and convex, like ladybugs. Carpet beetles are covered in tiny hairs, which are difficult to see unless you look at them under magnification. 

Carpet beetle larvae are elongated and appear to be fuzzy or hairy. They leave their molted skins behind, so you might find small piles of fuzzy skins in infested pantries, closets, or drawers.

It's a good idea to identify insect pests correctly before you try to treat or control them. If you aren't sure if the tiny black bugs are carpet beetles, take a specimen to your local cooperative extension office for identification.

How to Get Rid of Them

In large numbers, carpet beetles can do significant damage to sweaters and other clothing and might infest pantry items. Using a bug bomb to rid your home of carpet beetles will be ineffective, but professional extermination is rarely necessary. You just need to thoroughly clean the areas where carpet beetles tend to live.

First, clean your pantry. Check all food storage areas—cabinets and pantries and garage and basement storage areas—for live carpet beetle adults and larvae and for shed skins. If you find signs of the tiny black bugs around your food, discard cereals, grains, flour, and other items from the locations where you see an infestation. Wipe down shelves and cabinets with your regular household cleaner. Don't spray insecticides into your food storage areas; it's unnecessary and will cause more harm than the insects will. When you replace the food items, store them in airtight containers made of plastic or glass.

Next, clean out your closets and dressers. Carpet beetles love wool sweaters and blankets. If you find signs of carpet beetles—adults, larvae, or shed skins—take items that can't be laundered in water to a dry cleaner. Wash anything else as you normally do. Wipe down the insides of drawers and closet shelves with a household cleaner, not a pesticide. Thoroughly vacuum the floor of your closet, using a crevice tool on baseboards and in corners. If you can, store clothing you aren't using in airtight containers.

Finally, thoroughly vacuum upholstered furniture and all carpets. Carpet beetles tend to hide under furniture legs, so move furniture and vacuum thoroughly underneath.