What Are These Tiny Black Bugs in My House?

How to Identify and Control Carpet Beetles

carpet beetle
Getty Images/PhotoLibrary/Dr Larry Jernigan

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 are probably not bed bugs or fleas. If the critters in question launch themselves in the air, you might have an infestation of springtails. If your pests don't seem to bite or jump, read on.

Did You Know?

Although carpet beetles have the unusual ability to digest keratin, and may eat wool or silk, or even cereals, you'll be glad to hear they don't bite, and they won't cause structural damage to your home.

Did the mystery bugs crunch when you squashed them? While unnecessary bug squashing is never recommended, that's one way to identify these nuisance pests. You may notice they leave a black or brown smear when you crush them, too. If this sounds like your tiny black bugs, you've most likely got carpet beetles.

Ugh! What Are Carpet Beetles?

Carpet beetles are actually very common in homes, though not often seen in large numbers so they don't usually attract attention. As you probably guessed, carpet beetles feed on carpets (and other similar products). These beetles reproduce quite 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 even feeding on cereals stored in your pantry. They tend to wander from their food source, though, so people usually notice them on walls or floors.

What Do Carpet Beetles Look Like?

In general, carpet beetles measure a mere 2-3 millimeters long – that's about the size of a pinhead. They vary in color. Some are indeed, black, or dark enough in color to appear black when observed with the human eye. Others may be mottled, with spots of brown and black on a lighter background. Like many beetles, they are round or oval in shape, and convex in shape (like a ladybug). Carpet beetles are covered in tiny hairs, but this will be 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 may find small piles of fuzzy skins in infested pantries, closets, or drawers.

It's always a good idea to have an insect pest identified correctly before you try to treat or control them. If you aren't sure if your tiny black bugs are carpet beetles, take a specimen to your for identification.

How to Get Rid of Carpet Beetles

In large numbers, carpet beetles can do significant damage to sweaters and other clothing, or may infest pantry items. Don't use a bug bomb to rid your home of carpet beetles, as it will be ineffective. Professional extermination is rarely necessary for carpet beetles. You just need to do some thorough housecleaning in the areas where carpet beetles tend to live.

Clean your pantry. Check all of your food storage areas – cabinets, pantries, and extra storage areas in garages or basements – for live carpet beetle adults and larvae, and for shed skins. If you find any signs of the tiny black bugs around your food, discard the cereals, grains, flour, and other items from the locations where you see signs of infestation. Wipe down shelves and cabinets with your regular household cleaner. Please don't spray insecticides in your food storage areas! It's unnecessary and will cause you more harm than it will the insects. When you replace these food items, store them properly in airtight containers made of plastic or glass.

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

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