Monday, June 27, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of a Carpet Beetle Infestation

Wherein you go through everything you own, hold it close to your heart and ask yourself: "Does this item spark larvae?"


Sorry for the snark, I realize I should not mock a book that I have not actually read, but apparently I'm a bit tired.

So the carpet beetle battle continues. Suffice it to say, the infestation is pretty wide spread. I've found nests of larvae in pretty much every room, closet, cupboard etc. Well, that's not entirely true, and I haven't completed my scouring of the house, but let's just say that this is not a small problem.

At this point, I think most people would probably call an exterminator, but I'm not willing to go there yet, so instead I'm trying to deal with the problem in a more organic fashion.

Basically this means that I've been cleaning like a woman possessed.


I'm emptying every closet, drawer & cupboard - there are still a few to go - cleaning all of the contents, getting rid of whatever I can, and storing the rest an a way that will hopefully prevent the beetles from getting to the stuff, and make the next cleaning round (there will be many before this little adventure is over) much simpler.

Along the way I have gotten rid of a phenomenal amount of stuff. Seriously, I think the tally so far is 2 over stuffed chairs, one surplus (and ancient) bed, two area rugs, one kitty tree, one kitty house, about 12 garbage bags full of clothes, linens, pillows and the like, 3-4 boxes of random "stuff" and dozens and dozens of cardboard boxes that I was saving "just in case." OY!

While I was able to clean and donate some of the above, some of it just had to be trashed. I just can't give someone a piece of furniture or a rug that's infested with larvae - that would just give them the same problem I've got. Thankfully this is large item pickup week, so I only had to haul it all as far as the alley.

Don't worry - they still have 2 other much more loved kitty trees, and I'm replacing Smoky's "lookout" with an easy to clean, non-infestable shelf.
And while I have not yet resorted to chemical warfare, I have had to make a few compromises. Since carpet beetles eat wool, silk, feathers (like down), and any other animal products (presumably that means leather) I needed to find an air-tight way of storing those items. And, since the larvae will nest in any sort of fabric, and/or any place they can find collected dust, I really needed to find a way to store things that would keep the dust, cat hair and beetles out. And, that meant plastic. I'm not really wild about the idea, but honestly, at this point it seems like the lesser of many evils.

I'm using a combination of Ziploc bags, vacuum seal space bags, and air-tight (meaning it has a gasket) plastic storage bins for pretty much everything that isn't really easy to wipe clean or doesn't get regular daily use. So here's a glimpse inside my closets & drawers.

Bedroom Closet (including winter bedding)

Sock Drawer

Bathroom and Hall Closets

Holy Moly! Seriously, part of me looks at those pictures and thinks: "Eee Gads! This is the kind of stuff that OCD crazy people do." But after I found myself washing the same theoretically "clean" stuff for a second and third time to ensure it wasn't getting re-infested... well, air tight storage started to make sense.

Anyhow, when one is storing things in air tight containers, it's apparently important to use some sort of desiccant to deal with any lingering moisture. Fortunately, the Googelators were able to help me with that one - apparently silicon gel kitty litter makes a great desiccant!



So for smaller Ziploc bags I've made desiccant packs by filling coffee filters with the stuff - you can see them in the sock drawer photo, and for the larger bins and space bags I put about a cup of it inside a nylon and tied the end off. I guess time will tell how well it works!

I also determined that moth balls were just too dangerous to use inside my house - plus they aren't effective in places like closets that aren't air-tight. So for things that are hard to clean other ways, I've set up some air-tight bins out in the garage where I'm moth-balling things like my sheepskin snow boots. In theory it takes a few weeks to kill any larvae or eggs, and then they can return to non-mothballed air-tight storage inside.



But, while I'm definitely feeling exhausted from so much purging and cleaning, I'm also still feeling inspired by the idea that I can use this as an opportunity to make my home more functional and comfortable. And, as fate would have it, the universe has provided me with some much-needed inspiration on that front.

In one of my runs to donate a bunch of stuff to an organization that helps the homeless, I happened to find myself in the neighborhood in which I grew up. Turns out the house I grew up in is for sale! So I popped online to see if I could find any pictures of what the inside looks like now. I'm not sure you'll be able to appreciate the full impact of the improvements from these photos - but since I've just finished packing away all the old albums in plastic bins, well, we'll have to make do with a few shots that I already had scanned.

Living Room Then...

Living Room Now.
Kitchen Then...

Kitchen Now.
It's rather incredible actually. I think they must have taken things down to the studs and done a complete remodel. Actually, they've knocked out a few walls (it didn't used to be an open-concept design) and made other significant changes - like... my childhood bedroom is completely gone! It got sacrificed to make way for the "master suite!"

Master Bedroom (formerly my mother's bedroom and half bath)
Master Bath (formerly part of my bedroom)

Walk-in Closet (formerly the other half of my bedroom!)
 Seriously, just about the only thing I still recognize are the furnace vents!

Note the furnace vent - they've painted them white but they're still there!
Anyhow, I don't plan to go knocking out any walls or adding granite counter tops to my current abode, but something about seeing those photos of the cluttered, grimy, never tidy home that I grew up in transformed into a gorgeous living space... well, it does give me inspiration to keep going in this little beetle battle of mine.

So there you have it... I fear the kitties are sensing the turmoil and disruption as they've been sleeping in all kinds of new and interesting places, and have just generally been acting a bit out of sorts. I think this photo of Smoky sorta sums up how I'm feeling at the moment.

I just wanna hide until it's over!

But we're a loooong way from done, so in the meantime, I'm just gonna keep thinking of those beautiful photos of the home I grew up in, and keep reminding myself that this is an opportunity. Sigh.


35 comments :

  1. You're definitely making lemonade out of lemons. And you are inspiring others to do a little cleaning and purging without having the problems that you are.

    Keep up the good work. It all looks great. (Just curious. What's the life cycle of a carpet beetle? How often can you expect a new hatch?)

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    1. Lemonade, lemonade, lemonade... that's my mantra!

      Anyhow, life cycle of a carpet beetle. I'm not exactly sure how long the beetles themselves live. But what I do know is that the larvae "pupate" into beetles during the spring and summer. At that point the beetles head for the light where they mate with other beetles. (This is why you often find the beetles themselves near windows.) After mating, the females lay their eggs in a dark place near a "food source." In the wild, this would mean in a bird's nest, or an animal's den - someplace near fur or feathers. The eggs hatch in about 30 days. Then (and this is the kicker) the larvae can live for up to 3 years (!!!) before pupating and starting the cycle over again.

      That's part of the reason I've got things stored in plastic - It's most likely gonna take a few years to get this dealt with. Sigh.

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  2. Wow, you're on a roll Cat! Those photos of your former home are stunning too, I love the wood floors!

    What are you planning to do instead of carpet? I'm currently researching bamboo flooring for my future home, and it seems so sustainable!

    I'm only slightly jealous of your purging efforts right now!

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    1. Well, there are oak floors under my hideous avocado green shag carpeting, so my basic plan is to refinish them. The house was remodeled at one point though, and a wall was removed, and there isn't any flooring under the area where the wall was. So hopefully I can get a few unfinished pieces to stick in the gap and then when I have the whole thing refinished it will all match. Still not sure if I'm gonna try to tackle this job myself or hire someone - we'll see how bad the floors look once I get the carpet up!

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    2. I've been seeing things lately that have made me decide that when I'm in this position, I'm going to consider not making things match. Figuring out a way to fill in the empty/missing/broken parts with something else beautiful. Some patterned wood (or even stone) planks or tiles or something might look interesting and cool.

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    3. Now that's an idea I hadn't considered. I was just visiting with a friend who's been a professional contractor for 45 years and his suggestion was to steal some boards from the back of a closet to fill in the gap, and they use the closest match I can find in the closet where it won't show.

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    4. Oh, good idea!

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  3. I was expecting you to say that you were going to buy your childhood home. :)

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    1. Ha! Well, considering the many mixed feelings I have about my childhood, I think that would be what we call "really bad joo joo." Of course, it could go the other way too... sort of a redemptive re-claiming sort of a thing. It's a moot point though. That house was on the market for less than a day before it went under contract for $425K!!! The housing market here is just insane!

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  4. If there are things you don't want to mothball and can't wash, you can seal them in a plastic bag, freeze them for a week, take them out for a week to let any eggs hatch, and freeze again to kill any adults.

    The transformation of the house is amazing! I'm feeling the need to decluttering and clean up a but at the moment, I must get inspired and actually do it!

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    1. That's a great suggestion. I may try that with some random stuff that I'm not quite sure about mothballing. I'll have to clear some room in the freezer though - I'm sure there's some garbage in there too that I've been too timid to toss before now!

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    2. Ahh, the carpet beetle purging can even reach your freezer ;)

      We occasionally got carpet beetles when I worked in a stately home (for the National Trust, which is a charity that looks after various historic places...in case you thought that I was some sort of Downton Abbey throwback ;) )
      Anyway, we couldn't use pesticides, so the options were freeze things and vacuum them! Lots of vacuuming...

      They can chew through thin plastic bags, I've found, so make sure your plastic is sturdy!

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    3. Eee Gads! I hadn't heard that they could chew through plastic bags! Let's hope mine don't get that aggressive.

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  5. WOW...you are amazing. I would be doing some serious whining. The amount of work involved just seems daunting. I have never had any type of insect infestation and it looks beyond miserable. I agree with your cat...hide until it's over. Still you sound very upbeat and positive.

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    1. Well, I am trying to stay positive because this is gonna be a long term project, but I do have to say that I am pretty darned tired at the moment. And it's pretty discouraging to have done so much and STILL be finding a handful of beetles around my windows each morning when I get up.

      CatMan is helping me though, by being the best cheerleader ever. At first I'd get upset, grossed out, and feel defeated every time I found a new nest of larvae, but he pointed out that I was just looking at it all wrong. Each nest I uncover, is one less nest out there creating more beetles! So now, every time we talk, the first thing he asks is how many nests I've uncovered, then he cheers if I've found any!

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  6. Yup, you're right, I would have called an exterminator. You get bonus points for continuing your carpet beetle fight.

    That's quite some update to your childhood home!

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    1. I think perhaps I am just stubborn. We'll see how long I can hold out!

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  7. I could not stop laughing at the first line of your post. I hope you do eliminate all the little critters.

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    1. Glad I could provide you with a chuckle! :-)

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  8. I second the freezing technique. I haven't used it myself but on my knitting forum they talk about it often as a solution to infested yarn or when bringing in yarn from a thrift store.
    Good luck in your beetle hunting

    Marieann
    Marieann

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  9. Biggest laugh of 2016 with that book spoof. Friggin hilarious.

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    1. If that's your best laugh of the year, you are not having enough fun!!! Glad you enjoyed my warped sense of humor though. :-)

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  10. Ugh, what an ordeal! Your first post on the subject had me wondering if we have a carpet beetle issue. My poor violin bow looks a lot like yours. Assumed it was just normal wear and disintegration after years of not playing, but I'm not so sure . . . .

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    1. Well, I hope you don't, because I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. In the top picture - the book cover spoof, I pasted an image that has both a larvae and a "casting" - which is like the shell that remains after it turns into a beetle. I found a few castings in my case, so you might want to give it a careful inspection.

      For my violin (which I hardly ever play anymore) I finally just got a fiberglass bow. They're hard to find these days, and people were aghast that I would want to buy something which is considered a musical travesty these days, but I finally found a used one. Maybe some day I'll go back to horse hair, but it's not in the foreseeable future!

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    2. Afraid I have seen a few suspicious casings, but maybe not to an infestation level? Given the fact that we have hardwood floors and zero carpet, it would be rather ironic, but I'm sure they can live in many places. I will check more closely in the case.

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    3. Be afraid... be very afraid! :-) No seriously, my advice is to not just ignore the signs like I did. Dealing with this problem would have been sooooo much easier if I'd put all the pieces together and tackled it years ago.

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  11. I definitely feel for you dealing with your carpet beetles infestation. I once had fleas from a dog that got out of hand while I tried every known natural treatment before finally giving up and using stuff from the vet on the dog that killed the fleas and eggs where the dog would lay but it sounds like fleas are easier to get rid of than your beetles.

    I can only imagine how hard it was for you to throw so much out and at the same time purchase so many plastic bags to protect your belongings. I do hope you get rid of these beetles soon, if not for your sanity then for Smoky and your other kitties.

    What is it about the homes of our childhood? First I love what has been done to your childhood home but I was recently looking at pictures from my childhood home and the first thing that stuck me was how unpretentious it was. Friends and family were frequent guests and yet there was never the angst of our furnishings not being up to par. I think we've lost sight of home as a comfortable space and now want show pieces to wow guests. But hey, if your childhood home's renovation helps you get through the task at hand then keep them close.

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    1. Actually, I'm sort of on a roll with the purging of stuff, and I've reached the point where it's feeling liberating rather than oppressive. Dealing with all of the fabric was HUGE! Hopefully I've learned my lesson about those aspirational craft projects! But the truth is that I HATE sitting at a sewing machine, so I'm just not gonna make all the things I know I "could" make if I really wanted to. Feels sooooo good to let go of that. I'm really looking forward to setting up a bike maintenance area in the basement instead of it just being full of stuff that makes me feel inadequate.

      I totally agree that homes should be comfortable as opposed to "for show." I think more than anything, my reaction to those pictures was just seeing it all looking soooo clean! As is probably obvious by now, clutter is something I struggle with, but I'm a total neat freak compared to how my mother was. So as a kid I sorta had a complex about it - I felt like my family home had a cloud of clutter surrounding it, like Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoons - like we were genetically incapable of neatness or something like that. So I think the inspiration is less about the fanciness of the remodel and more about the emptiness of the space! :-)

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  12. Wow - your childhood home looks amazing in those photos! Though I have to say, I looked at the old laminex table you kids were playing on and the old upright stove in the background etc. and it instantly took me back to homely, more simple, less flashy times.

    What a nightmare to deal with the beetles and what an epic amount of work and decluttering. I mean - awesome - but epic! We've just replaced our carpet and I'm nearly losing the plot now with all the upheaval and moving stuff around. Catman sounds very encouraging. I hope it's soon CatLady 1, Beetles 0!

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    1. Ha! I think "epic" is an apt description. But I've sort of reached a point where letting go of things is getting easier and easier.

      Years ago a friend at work got a rambunctious puppy, and someone gifted her with a cartoon that read something like this. "Letting Go of Your Attachment to Material Things. Option 1: Take up meditation and slowly, over a period of years, you'll gradually work toward enlightenment and your attachment to material things will decrease. Option 2: Get a Puppy!" I've gotta admit, I've been thinking of that a LOT lately - just substitute carpet beetles for the puppy!

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  13. Oh good golly! I can't believe you are doing this all alone - I'm seriously impressed! Best of luck and I agree with the freezer suggestions. That will definitely take care of them.

    I love the old photos you shared! (And that remodel - gorgeous!)

    And unrelated, do you still like your dishwasher? Ours is on its way out and Bosch is our top contender.

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    1. It has definitely been a LOT of work, but I really am loving the "fresh start" aspect of it. I'm sorta afraid to put this in writing, but I didn't find a single beetle today! I'm under no illusions that I've got it licked, but I definitely think I'm making progress!

      And in terms of the dishwasher - yes, I still love it. There are a few quirks with it though. First, you have to either use the dishwasher tabs that have the rinse stuff built in, or you have to use the rinse liquid - at least I do - YMMV. If I just use regular powder I get all sorts of stuff deposited back on the dishes. I think it's because it uses so little water.

      The other somewhat annoying thing is that the spin arm that cleans the top tray always has water left in it after the cycle ends - even if you leave it for hours it won't evaporate. So I've had to make a habit of pulling out the top try first and jiggling the arm to drain the excess water so it doesn't dribble all over the dry dishes on the bottom rack. Still, it's the best dishwasher I've ever owned and I'd buy another Bosch in a heartbeat!

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    2. Thank you! I'll have to experiment with the dishwasher tabs then.

      And I hope no beetles today means this is the beginning of the end!

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    3. I've had great success with Finish Powerball Tabs, but I haven't tried any others.

      And I hope this does mean I'm turning the corner on the beetle battle - but since they pupate in the spring, it could just mean the season is ending...

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