Ever settled down with a good book in your favorite armchair only to feel something wriggle under you? It’s quite an unnerving situation. You may even be reclining on your deep-seat sofa and notice something crawling across the armrest: insect pests.
Upholstery pests are a problem that should be dealt with quickly. But how do you get rid of insect pests in your upholstered furniture?
Luckily, I’ve found the best methods to do just that, and you can start right now!
Why Insect Pests Invade Your Soft Furnishings
Insects are opportunistic creatures, and they love to nest. Your furniture provides the ultimate place for them to breed, set up colonies, and plan how they will take over the world (or so it seems).
Soft furnishings are ideal for insects to hide in.
Upholstery fabric provides protection, and if the insect is small enough, it can crawl right through the fibers of the fabric, making its own little world. Upholstery fabric can protect pests from your attempts to vacuum them, spray them, and otherwise disinfect them. And the longer you leave the pests, the bigger the problem will get.
Pests such as bed bugs, carpet bugs, beetles, fleas, and mites pose a serious risk to your and your family’s health. These insects spread disease and damage your upholstery and padding, as well as the frames of your furniture. If they hop out in public while you have your book club over, it’s quite an embarrassment.
These pests may hitch a ride in from outside with your pets, on your clothes, and even among your groceries. If you have purchased a second-hand furniture item, it may be loaded with pests already.
4 Steps of How to Get Rid of Upholstery Pests
When insect pests and other bugs have burrowed into your furniture and your life, it may seem like some gasoline and matches are the only solution. Don’t despair; it is possible to save your furniture and upholstery.
Step One: Identify the Pest
The first thing to do is identify the particular bug that’s made your armchair its home. Sometimes there may be more than one type of pest as these insect pests are often symbiotic by nature. Knowing what you are dealing with will guide your path to pest-free living.
Some of the common pests are:
- Bed Bugs
These small oval bugs are reddish-brown in color and about the size of an apple seed (five millimeters or 3/16 of an inch) when fully grown. The eggs are really small—barely bigger than a pinhead, and you may rather see them as a grainy residue on the upholstery.
Bed bugs create a musty smell wherever they live, so that musty smell to your upholstery may result from bed bugs. These industrious insects feed mostly at night, but you can find them during the daytime when they scurry in the seams of upholstery and crevices in chairs and sofas.
Your home’s cleanliness is not an indication of your bed bug problem. These insects hitch a ride into your home from outside. Worse, you can’t even starve them out, as they can survive up to a year without feeding!
- Varied Carpet Beetles
The varied carpet beetle is an elongated, brown beetle with two antennae, and it lives in carpets, on woolen upholstery, and in wood or horn items. These beetles drill into the woodwork, compromising your wood-framed furniture.
Certain glues used in furniture construction may attract these insects. If the wood used for your furniture construction is not fully kiln-dried, there may be eggs in the wood that will later hatch when your furniture is made. However, these beetles can also stroll in from outside your home.
No pet owner needs an introduction to these nasty bugs. Fleas are a real worry, and they are particularly resistant to any attempts to eradicate them. Flea bites can spread disease. The flea eggs can lie dormant for years before the vibrations of approaching animals or people wake them, and they hatch.
Treating the flea infestation will require dedicated handling as the cycle between fleas and eggs needs to be disrupted so the fleas will die out. Treatment of the pets in your home is also essential for successfully removing all fleas on your furniture.
- Dust Mites
Dust mites are usually found in beds, where they feast on dander produced by humans and pets during sleep, but these insects can also be found in upholstery. Often, dust mites are too small to see with the naked eye, and it will require a tape test to confirm these pests.
Place clear plastic sellotape over the upholstery of your home; then remove the tape and take it to an entomologist to test for dust mites under a magnifier or microscope. The presence of dust mites can lead to allergies, eczema, and other skin or respiratory conditions.
Step Two: Treatment Preparation
Once you know what you are dealing with, you can start the treatment of the upholstered furniture items. Follow this approach to prepare the area where you will work, as you don’t want the insect pests to “abandon ship” and scurry into the rest of your home:
- Place the affected furniture in a cleared space, such as your garage floor or driveway.
- Spread plastic sheeting around to protect the concrete or paving and to minimize the pests’ ability to scurry away.
- Wear appropriate safety clothes, including heavy-duty gloves, an N95 face mask to prevent inhalation of chemicals, and safety glasses to keep particles out of your eyes.
- Ensure you have all the materials and chemicals ready for the pest you treat, as you don’t want to stop halfway through the process to go shopping.
- Plastic bags, a scoop, and small dust broom, and a heavy-duty vacuum cleaner with carpet and upholstery brush attachments to clean up the area once you’ve treated the pests.
Step Three: Treatment Per Pest
For each pest, you may use a slightly similar process but with some variation to help rid yourself effectively of all infestations.
Remove all the parts of the furniture by placing the loose seat cushions and any scattered pillows next to the chair frame. Start by vacuuming the furniture and upholstery thoroughly, using a crevice tool to really get into the folds of the furniture.
Use a steam cleaner to steam all the areas of upholstery that are accessible. Set the heat setting to high, taking care to protect exposed wood sections of the furniture.
If a steam cleaner isn’t available, settle for placing the furniture in direct sunlight for several hours. Turn it frequently, so you get even heating. You can also use a steam iron and a small section of cotton fabric to steam the upholstery manually.
Once the furniture is thoroughly warmed through, you can take the next step—Diatomaceous Earth (DE) or Fuller’s Earth.
This is a natural compound that’s mined in marine quarries and is made from single-celled organisms in coral reefs. It resembles glass under a microscope, and when used as an insect repellent and insect killer, it shreds the insect shells and dries out their bodies, desiccating the insect pests.
To use DE, simply take a generous amount of the powdery substance and brush it into the furniture, scrubbing it into the seams and crevices. Allow the DE to work overnight, and vacuum thoroughly the next morning. You may need to further brush the seams and crevices to remove the last DE and any insect that remains on that surface.
Varied Carpet Beetles
If your pest has been identified as varied carpet beetles (or any other beetle species), you may need to turn to poisons to kill off the population. Luckily, the poison of choice (cypermethrin or permethrin) is not easily absorbed on contact, so if you air out the furniture well after using the poison, you can quite safely use your furniture again.
Remove the cushions, then vacuum thoroughly. Spray the furniture with an insecticide spray that contains cypermethrin or permethrin (which is the active ingredient in most household aerosol insect poisons).
Concentrate the spray on the crevices and seams where beetles can hide. Don’t forget to treat the bottom of the furniture where necessary—you may have to remove the base cover of the chairs and sofas to access the inside of the furniture.
If poison isn’t your preference, you can use DE or sprinkle the boric acid powder over the upholstery, brushing it into the upholstery, leaving it overnight, and then vacuuming the next day.
Alternatively, mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray it all over the furniture.
Fleas require a slightly more wide-ranging approach.
Be sure to treat your pets to ensure they don’t simply bring more fleas into the house. Once the pets are treated, you can use a commercial spray to treat your furniture, though the active ingredient needs to be permethrin, which kills off fleas while not being harmful to humans, though keep your pets clear for a day or so.
Spray an appropriate insecticide on the furniture, double-treating all seams and crevices to ensure the fleas don’t disappear. Allow to dry, then scrub DE into the seams and crevices, leaving overnight before vacuuming.
Regular vacuuming may be sufficient to remove dust mites, but if you are dealing with a severe infestation, it may be time for more serious action. The sun will be your best friend, as dust mites don’t like light or heat. Steam upholstery or place in the sun.
Spray with an appropriate insecticide or mix eucalyptus and tea tree oil in a spray bottle with warm water or vinegar and spray on the upholstery. Once the furniture is dry, scrub DE into the crevices and seams, leave overnight, and vacuum thoroughly the next morning.
Step Four: Prevention Is Better Than a Cure
By far, the best step you can take to get rid of insect pests in your upholstery is to never let them settle there in the first place. The following ways can help you ensure there is no recurring bug problem or that you don’t ever have an infestation at all:
- Vacuum your furniture regularly (once a week minimum)
- Air out furniture monthly, allowing for at least 6-8 hours of sun exposure
- Clean any spills and spots immediately to avoid luring insects into your home
- Ensure your pets are up to date on their flea treatments
- Fumigate the house every 6-8 months
- Ensure any access points like cracks are covered to keep pests out of your home
- Use a dog bed for your pets to avoid direct contact with the sofas and chairs where you sit
The Final Word on Keeping Insects out of Your Upholstery
Upholstered furniture can be costly, and maintaining your investment is about more than just cleaning it—you need to keep insect pests away that would love to make your sofa or chair their home. Regular inspections, weekly treatment, and regular care will keep you ahead of the pests that love hiding and burrowing in upholstery.
Pests are not only an embarrassment, but they are also a health risk. We all love snoozing on the sofa in front of the TV, or curling up in a favored armchair with some Netflix or a good book, but upholstery pests can make this a dangerous proposition.
Be sure to remove and treat upholstery pests immediately to prevent serious issues with your home’s hygiene. If you’re unsure of how to deal with a pest problem, reach out to a local entomologist or pest treatment professional for help and advice.
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