5 Bugs that Eat Books And Paper

Have you ever wondered why there are holes in your books and why the pages are dusty and yellowish?

That’s because bugs that eat books and paper are feasting on your books. 

These book bugs can be anywhere, from your home to libraries.

And they damage not just books but also a variety of paper products and cardboard.

In this guide, you’ll find what these book and paper-damaging bugs are, where do they come from, and how you can save your books from these bugs.

You’ll also get an honest insight on which bugs you can get rid of on your own and which bugs need a pest controller’s expertise, and why.

Keep reading.

Why Books Attract Bugs?

The five reasons that books attract bugs are –

  1. The paper contains cellulose and starch, which is food for these bugs
  2. Some bugs eat the molds that develop in old books
  3. There’s excessive moisture in your home and in the place where you keep books
  4. The cardboard boxes and piles of papers are hiding places for these bugs
  5. And most importantly, these bugs were there in your home before they infested your books

But how will you know that there are bugs in your books? Let’s look at the signs of book and paper-eat bugs in books.

7 Signs That Show Bugs Are In Your Books

Apart from physical sightings of bugs in books and bookshelves in home and library, seven signs show that bugs have infested your books –

  1. Chew marks on book covers and book bindings.
  2. Dusty pages
  3. Holes in books
  4. A slight Stench coming off the books
  5. The edges of paper get serrated
  6. The pages turn slightly yellowish
  7. Dead insects and skin casings of bugs

Now that you know the signs of bugs in books and why books attract bugs, let’s find out the bugs that eat books.

5 Tiny Bugs That Eat Books, Paper, And Cardboard Boxes

The most common book bugs are –

  1. Booklice
  2. Bookworms
  3. Termites
  4. Silverfish and Firebrats
  5. Cockroaches

Old books kept in bookshelves for days and high moisture content in your home lead to the development of molds on the books’ inner seams, bindings, and on the hardcover.

These book bugs feed on the those molds.

But it’s different for termites. Termites are reliant on starch present in paper and cardboard boxes.

So, if there are termite infestation in your home, or termites in the walls of your home, termites will spillover to your bookshelves and books.

Read on if you want specific information on each of these bugs that infests books and how to get rid of them.

Booklice – Tiny Bugs In Books

Booklice - Bugs That Eat Books And Paper

Booklice, also known as paper mites, are psocids. These are tiny white bugs that grow only up to 0.02 inches or 0.5 mm in size.

Booklice don’t eat the book’s pages. They eat the molds and fungi that develop on the pages, book bindings, and book covers of old books.

Booklice can be hard to spot with the naked eye. If you observe booklice under a microscope or a magnifying glass, they resemble termites.

Most booklice are wingless insects, but the species that enter homes have tiny wings.

But booklice can’t fly. However, they can hop from one place to another like fleas.

Booklice don’t cause any massive damage to your books like the other bugs on the list do. 

However, if there are too many of them in the books, then your books’ pages will turn a bit fuzzy. Your books can also emit a bit of stench. 

Booklice (booklouse in singular form) are not typically book bugs. They’re, in fact, pantry pests.

Booklice can infest rice and stored foods like grains, cereals, flour, and in some cases, vegetables too.

High dampness in homes draws booklice inside homes and kitchen. These bugs are pretty common in homes with high humidity, water leakages, and bad drainage. 

Leaky pipes and clogged drains cause dampness in the home’s floors and walls. And the dampness in the walls attracts many tiny bugs.

If you don’t fix them, then the dampness will spread to furniture and to your bookshelf too.

The result? 

Molds develop on your books. And these molds on the books attract booklice.

Booklice multiply fast. The time to form an adult booklouse from the egg is only ten days.

Not taking early action will cause the booklice population to skyrocket inside your home.

And when their numbers increase, you’ll notice booklice on objects like wallpapers, wooden photo frames, and on your furniture too. 

So, how to stop that from happening? Let’s find it out.

How To Get Rid Of Booklice Bugs In Books?

There are three steps to get rid of booklice bugs in books –

  1. Freezing the books to kill the booklice bugs in books
  2. Vacuum clean the bookshelves and your home to eliminate booklice bugs
  3. Reducing dampness in your home to make your home less attractive to booklice bugs

Let’s get into how to execute each of these steps.

Freezing The Books To Kill The Booklice Bugs

It may sound bizarre. But this method works without damaging your books.

Here’s how to do it.

Put the books infested by booklice in an airtight plastic bag. Ensure that you’ve sealed the bag.

Then put the bag inside the freezer for 1-3 days. 

The cold temperature in the freezer will kill the booklice. Booklice die at freezing temperatures. 

Ensure that you seal the plastic bags properly before putting them into the freezer to prevent any damage to your books in the freezer.

Vacuum Clean Your Bookshelves To Remove Booklice Bugs 

When it comes to getting rid of tiny bugs, there’s no better way than vacuum cleaning. 

Vacuum cleaning your bookshelves will remove any hidden booklice. But it shouldn’t stop there.

If there are booklice in your books and bookshelves, there are booklice in places like your kitchen and bathroom.

You’ll notice these tiny bugs in shower grout of your bathroom floor and on the floors and countertops of kitchen too.

Clean your kitchen pantry. Check if there is damaged dry food. If there’s any, you don’t need to discard those foods.

Exposing the dry foods and grains under direct sunlight for 3-5 hours will kill the booklice in them.

If you see molds on the grains and a bit of stink coming out of the stored food, the food is damaged. In that case, you can discard the food.

Store your grains and dry foods in thick airtight sealed jars to prevent any infestation by potential pantry pests.

Control Or Reduce Moisture In Your Home

As you know by now, high dampness plays a significant role in attracting booklice indoors

And your home turns damp because of leaky pipes, roof leaks, and plumbing issues. So, fix these leakages. 

Fixing water leakages will reduce the dampness in walls and floors. It’ll make your home more resistant to damp bugs like booklice.

Also, install a dehumidifier in your home. It is vital if you live in a place that has hot and humid weather.

A dehumidifier reduces the moisture content of the air in your home. That works well to keep many bugs like roaches and termites away that moisture attracts.

Bookworms – Tiny Worms That Eat Books

Bookworm in books

Like bed worms, there are no bugs known as bookworms. Bookworm is a generic name given to bugs’ larvae that bore and eat books, papers, and cardboard boxes.

These larvae are of beetles like carpet beetles, common furniture beetles, and cigarette beetles.

Larvae of some moths like the rice moths and cloth moths also damage books.

The larvae of these insects look like worms, hence the name bookworms. They’re white or whitish-yellow and tiny yet visible to the naked eye.

So, how do bookworms damage books? Let’s take the example of the woodboring common furniture beetle to understand it better.

The adult common furniture beetle will lay eggs in the cracks, crevices, and holes of wooden furniture like bookshelves. The larvae from these eggs eat the wood from inside.

And when these larvae reach the books, they won’t stop. 


Because paper is the byproduct of wood, and like wood, the paper also contains cellulose and starch that the larvae of woodboring insects eat.

So, once the larvae reach the books, they continue their feeding. 

The larvae bore through the books and ate the hardcover and paper. The damages are visible in the form of holes and tunnels in books.

Another typical bookworm is the carpet beetles’ larvae. 

Carpet Beetle In Bed
Carpet Beetle Larvae

Adult carpet beetles will lay eggs on products made of animal matter because that’s what the larvae of these beetles eat.

So, books and diaries with genuine leather covers are the perfect places for adult carpet beetles to lay eggs.

The carpet beetle larvae will feed on the leather covers and book bindings when the eggs hatch. 

You’ll notice the damage in the form of clusters of chew marks on the leather book cover.

Cloth moths also lay eggs on bookshelves because the larvae of these moths feed on paper. 

Clothes moths larvae are destructive. The adult cloth moths go-to place to lay eggs are your wardrobe and closet. The larvae of these moths can damage expensive wool, silk, feathers, fur, cotton, linen, and even synthetic fabrics.

Any larvae that can damage wood or feed on the cellulose or starch can damage books too. 

How To Get Rid Of Bookworms?

There are three steps to eliminate bookworms from the bookshelf and books –

  1. Cleaning
  2. Spraying essential oil sprays
  3. Keeping mothballs

Cleaning The Bookshelf To Get Rid Of Bookworms

Remove all the books from the bookshelf and vacuum clean the shelf. While cleaning, you’ll notice dust on the shelf.

Those dust are the feces and chewed papers of the bookworms. 

Check the books for any physical presence of the bookworms. If there’s any, use pincers to pick them up and remove them. Bookworms don’t bite, so you don’t need to be afraid of them while doing it.

Alternatively, you can also freeze the books in sealed plastic bags.

Spray Essential Oil Sprays

Essential oil sprays like peppermint sprays are reliable bug repellants. Spraying it will repel the bugs from laying eggs in the books. 

We do not recommend spraying insecticide sprays on the bookshelves with books. It’s because the insecticide can damage the books.

Keep Mothballs In The Bookshelf

Mothballs are effective in keeping books and cloth damaging bugs away. Many people use them in their closets and wardrobe to keep cloth moths and carpet beetles from laying eggs.

You can keep them on the bookshelf too.

As an alternative, you can keep cedar balls. They smell nicer than mothballs and do the job as good as the mothballs do.

Getting rid of bookworms cannot guarantee that your books, furniture, and other stuff made of animal products are safe. 

The adult beetles and moths will continue laying eggs. That will cause these damaging larvae unless you get rid of these adult insects or prevent them from entering your home.

In libraries, it’s a bigger problem because the adult bugs that produce these larvae can be in large numbers.

So, on noticing the bookworms, it’s always wise to hire a pest controller and ask them to do a pest inspection. Chances are, there are many of them inside your home’s furniture.

Termites In Books

How To Get Rid Of Termites In Books

If there’s any bug that causes the maximum damage to your books, it’s the termites.

Termites will eat through the books. In some cases, they’ll completely devour the books. 

Termites eat paper because, like wood, the paper contains cellulose, an essential part of termites’ nutrition. 

The presence of termites in books is a telltale sign that termites infested your wooden bookshelf. 

And if the bookshelf is close to the wall, the chances are that termites are in the walls too.

So, if there are termites in your books, then it certainly means that the termite infestation has spread deep into your home.

Do not get into DIY methods to eliminate termites because most DIY plans fail to get rid of them. However, you can take measures to get rid of termites in books.

Pests like termites and bed bugs are hard to get rid of. Their treatment needs a professional exterminator who can eliminate termites from their source.

For the time being, discard books that termites have destroyed. And spray a termite pesticide spray on your bookshelf. 

Clean your bookshelf of the chewed paper and termite dust. If you observe any holes on the bookshelf, seal it with a silicone-based sealant that termites can’t chew through.

Silverfish Bugs In Books

Are silverfish bad for your home

Silverfish are tiny shrimp-like scaly bugs with two appendages at their ends and a pair of antennae.

In search of dampness and moisture, silverfish enter homes mainly during the spring and summer months.

These bugs are nocturnal, and they hide in dark places of your home during the day. During the night, they get out to eat.

Starches and fibers form the critical portions of their diet. And that’s what draws them to books. 

Books and other paper products like newspaper piles, photo albums, wallpaper, and notebooks contain high starch levels, making them sources of nutrition for silverfish.

These bugs can also feed on fabrics and, hence, invade storages like closets and wardrobes.

Bookbindings and the glue on them are also food for silverfish. 

Silverfish are harmless bugs. They don’t bite humans neither do they cause any massive damage to your home.

Damage by silverfish on books are tiny holes, serrated edges, and yellow stains on the books’ papers.

The firebrat is another bug that looks like silverfish and can damage books and paper. 

Both silverfish and firebrats belong to the Lepismatildae family. However, the differences lie in how they look and where you’ll find them.

Silverfish have a metallic silver sheen on their back. In contrast, firebrats are dark gray or brown, with their scales on the back being more prominent. 

Silverfish confine themselves to humid areas of your home like the bathroom, kitchen, basement, laundry room. 

But firebrats can survive both in dry and wet areas of your home.

How To Get Rid Of Silverfish In Books?

Getting rid of silverfish in books isn’t a challenging task, and you can do it on your own.

Take a duster and wipe off the silverfish from the books. Also, clean your bookshelf to ensure no silverfish on the shelf.

To prevent further silverfish infestation in books, spray peppermint oil on the bookshelf. 

The smell of the peppermint oil will keep the silverfish away from your books and bookshelf. 

However, like the other bugs on the list, silverfish in books means silverfish are there in your home.

Silverfish are moisture-seeking bugs. 

If you’ve found them in your bookshelf, then these bugs are hiding in places like your bathroom and kitchen.

Silverfish also hide in dark and cluttered places of your home like the attic, storage room, and basement. 

So, cleaning all these places and taking steps to get rid of silverfish in your home is a long-term solution to prevent silverfish damage in books. 

Cockroaches In Books And Cardboard Boxes

Though books and papers are not a typical food source of cockroaches, they can eat them too.

Cockroaches are scavengers. They primarily feed on decaying organic matter, human food, and sugary stuff. 

But starch is also what roaches feed on, and the paper contains starch in bulk. 

When there’s a lack of food, cockroaches will feed on books’ papers. The cockroach’s saliva converts the paper’s starch into glucose before ingesting it.

On the other hand, cockroaches hide in piles of paper and cardboard boxes. They also nest in these places. Baby roaches can feed on these paper piles and cardboard boxes.

Cardboard boxes in dingy, dark, and cluttered places like your attic and basement can be hiding places for many bugs like roaches, crickets, silverfish, and spiders. 

Even rats and mice can hide in cardboard boxes in these places. You can detect their presence by their smear marks and gnaw marks on the boxes.

But thankfully, because of lack of clutter and waste, roaches are unlikely to live in the books of your bookshelf. 

Most of the time, the German roaches damage the books. German cockroaches hide in drier places. They can even hide in electrical kitchen appliances. 

On the other hand, the American roaches, which are also a widespread roach species in homes, hide in wet places like near the plumbing areas of your kitchen, basement, and bathroom.

Cockroach damage in books is in small holes and rough edges on the paper. You’ll also notice cockroach droppings or feces and egg casings on the books and bookshelves.

Cockroaches eat the book bindings causing the pages to fall off the books. 

How To Keep Roaches Away From Your Books?

Again, roaches in books and bookshelf are a sign of cockroaches in your home. You’d need an elaborate plan or a pest controller’s expertise to get rid of them.

However, there are specific steps that you can take right now to keep the cockroaches away from your books.

Keep Catnip Plant On Or Near The Bookshelf

Roaches hate the smell of catnip plants. Research has shown that placing catnip plants in your home can keep the German roaches away.

So, keep a catnip plant near your bookshelf. The chemical in the catnip plant, nepetalactone, repels roaches.

There’s also catnip powder available that you can sprinkle around your bookshelf and on your books to keep the roaches away.

Boric Acid Kills Roaches

It’s proven that boric acid is a slow killer of bugs like roaches and termites

To prepare a boric acid killer recipe, put a cup of flour, a tablespoon of sugar, and half a cup of boric acid in a bowl.

Add some water and make a dough out of it. Make small balls out of the dough and keep the balls on the bookshelf. 

(You can also keep the mixture in powder form in a bowl near the bookshelf.)

The cellulose in the sugar, which roaches eat, will attract the cockroaches. The cockroaches will eat the dough balls, and boric acid present in the balls will slowly kill the roaches.

Roaches will take some portion of the dough balls back to their colonies, and the other roaches in the colonies will also eat it.

That can kill the entire roaches in the colony.

You can also use this boric acid roach-killing recipe in places like your kitchen and bathroom where roaches hide.

But keep this recipe out of reach of children and pets. 

Cinnamon Sticks On The Bookshelf

Cinnamon repels many bugs, including roaches. And the scent of cinnamon is pleasing too. You can keep a couple of cinnamon sticks in the bookshelf, especially between each book. 

However, remember that cinnamon sticks or powder won’t kill roaches. They’re bug repellants, not killers.

Should You Use Insecticide Sprays To Kill Roaches In Books And Cardboard Boxes?

You can, but the insecticide in the sprays like raid can damage your books. So, it’s best to spray them near the books and on the roaches rather than on the books. 

But you can spray raid on cardboard boxes with paper piles or books and magazines stored in dark places like attics and storage rooms in your home.

That’ll surely help keep away and eliminate roaches and many other bugs living in cardboard boxes.


The most common five types of bugs that damage books, eat paper, and can infest cardboard boxes are –

  1. Booklice
  2. Bookworms
  3. Termites
  4. Silverfish and Firebrats
  5. Cockroaches

In this guide, you’ve also found out the five reasons that make these bugs infest books and the steps to get rid of these paper-damaging bugs.

The point to note here is that books and paper are not the primary food source of these bugs. However, your books attract these bugs because of the cellulose and starch in the paper.

Also, your books and other paper products are not the first things these bugs eat. 

The presence of these bugs in your books is a clear indication that these bugs were already present in your home before they reached your books.

In cases of bookworms, termites, and cockroaches, you might need the help of a pest management company to get rid of them.

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