The bookmoth, or protecting your books from vermin
August 6, 2017 11:37 AM   Subscribe

I found a moth in my bookcase. It's probably not a big deal, but now seems like a good time to ask if there are any steps I should be taking to avoid insect damage to my books.

I was just rearranging my bookcase (as one does), and there was a moth crawling around on the inside of the door. I didn't have a chance to take a picture, but it looked like your ordinary brown house moth to me. I've read that they can damage cloth bindings, and in my apartment I have some treasured old cloth-bound books, as well as about 50 cloth-bound library books. I just bought some very old used books ($3 for a book printed in 1890!), and I suppose it's possible that this moth hitched a ride in one of them, or in a book that I brought home some other time. It could have just flown in through the window, who knows.

I'm not assuming that one bug means there's an infestation, but I'll let this serve as a gentle reminder to make sure everything is in order. Should I be doing anything to prevent insect damage to my books? I already practice basic care, like keeping food away from books, etc., but is it a good idea to thoroughly clean my bookcase or set up traps, just to be safe?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk to Home & Garden (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd vacuum them once a month to keep dust down and suck up any larvae. And take the books out when you do this. It's amazing how much dust gets in back of them.
posted by jgirl at 12:27 PM on August 6, 2017

I used to work in museum conservation, and as far as I know, moths aren't a problem for books, unless they attaqck the cloth bindings. The main insect problem you might face is woodworm beetles, especially Anobium punctatum, which generally go for old wood, but will attack books (basically they eat cellulose, which includes wood and paper), in which case they become bookworms . I would check the wood of the shelves to make sure it is free of woodworm holes, and dust/vacuum the books regularly., taking them out of the case to air while you do so. There are also several types of household beetle that might be attracted to cloth, leather or starch-based pastes used in bindings, but again, regular dusting should take care of them.

Most ot the pests which attack books, like booklice and silverfish are actually feeding on moulds and fungi growing on damp materials, which also cause damage on their own. Make sure your books are kept dry, and never (as I once discovered to my cost) have books on shelves that back onto an uninsulated exterior wall.

Pests are no usually a problem on books unless they are left undisturbed for long periods of time in dark, undisturbed places. Regularly dusting and airing should be all the prevention you need, but if you are especially worried and have the books in a closed case, putting one of those strips they sell to kill clothes moths might help. The moth you found is probably no threat - it might even have just been hibernating in you bookcase!
posted by Fuchsoid at 12:36 PM on August 6, 2017

Sounds like I've got some vacuuming and/or dusting to do! Thanks!
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:25 PM on August 6, 2017

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