Most people are terrified of centipedes. They have very long legs that make them appear more extensive than their actual size. They dart and scurry across the floor with alarming speed causing shrieks of panic. They like dark corners and seem to appear like aliens from the grey areas in the house.
Centipedes are seen in homes across the United States. Most homeowners do not want the centipedes in their places and would prefer them to disappear as rapidly as possible. So what is the best way to get rid of centipedes in your home?
Centipedes are not harmful creatures. If you want to eliminate centipedes, you should make the habitat unsuitable for them by removing damp, hiding places and blocking up cracks where they gain access. Remove their food source. Manually remove the centipedes or use natural or commercial poisons.
To understand how to get rid of centipedes from home, we need to know about their life cycle, behavioral, and feeding habits. This knowledge allows us to tackle the problem logically and scientifically. We will look at making the habitat unfriendly for the centipedes not to want to live in your house.
Removing their food source will also discourage centipedes from residing in your home. Finally, a look at removal methods and poisons will give you some ideas on how to get rid of centipedes.
What Are House Centipedes?
House centipedes have the scientific name Scutigera coleoptrata. They are indigenous to the Mediterranean area and arrived on ships hidden in cargo in first Mexico and the southern United States.
The centipedes spread north, and in 1849 they were documented as living in Pennsylvania. They have spread throughout the United States and can be found in many homes or buildings across the country.
The centipedes do not survive outside in the cold winters but are happy to ensconce themselves in warmly heated buildings and homes.
What Do House Centipedes Look Like?
A house centipede’s body is only one and a half inches long. They have fifteen pairs of long legs, with the pair on the first segment being almost three inches long. This results in the centipede appearing to be three to four inches long.
They usually have a yellow-grey body with three dark dorsal longitudinal stripes. The legs have light and dark bands. They can lift their bodies on their legs and run at speeds of 1.3 feet per second (0.4m/sec).
House centipedes can travel across floors, climb walls and even move across ceilings. The legs on the last segment are pretty similar to the first pair of legs, and sometimes it is hard to tell the front from the back end if they are still.
House Centipede Life Cycle
The male house centipede spins a web and deposits sperm in the web. The female absorbs the web into her body, and fertilization takes place inside her body. She lays eggs in spring or early summer.
The female coils herself around the eggs and keeps them free from fungus and mold by licking them. When the larva hatch, they have four pairs of legs. Larvae are not often seen as they rarely come out from dark areas.
Larvae molt six times and then become adults. Each time larvae molt, they grow another segment or two with another pair of legs. They have five, seven, nine, eleven, and thirteen pairs of legs.
On the sixth larval molt, they have fifteen legs pairs of legs. They then molt another four times to reach their final size as adults but do not grow any extra legs during these molts. House centipedes can live for approximately six years.
What Do Centipedes Eat?
Centipedes are insectivorous, eating spiders, crickets, moths, cockroaches, worms, silverfish, bedbugs, and even other centipedes. They have poor eyesight and hunt by using their antennae that are situated on the first segment.
The antennae sense movement, vibrations, and heat and, in this way, locate prey. There are a pair of claws on the first segment that is known as toxicognaths.
They use these poison claws to inject a toxin, stored in internal glands, into their prey. The prey is paralyzed and then pulled into the mouth, where it is chewed and swallowed.
Are House Centipedes Poisonous To Humans?
House centipedes will try to avoid human contact and generally run away. If there is unavoidable contact, the centipede can bite or sting, injecting venom into the person. Bites or stings are painful, will swell, become red and sometimes blister.
There may be puncture wounds at the bite site. Usually, the pain lasts a few hours, but it can last up to forty-eight hours.
Small children and people who are sensitive or allergic to the venom may have a more severe reaction showing systemic symptoms such as tremors, heart palpitations, nausea, headaches, and chest pain.
If any of these symptoms are felt, the patient should be taken to the emergency room or doctor immediately.
Larger house centipedes have more venom and more enormous poison claws, but bites from centipedes are rare. House centipede bites are uncomfortable – with pain similar to a wasp or bee sting.
The most significant risk from a bite or sting is infection. If you are bitten or stung by a centipede, wash the area well with a disinfectant. Apply antibiotic cream and cover the bite with a plaster.
Why Do Centipedes Enter Houses?
There are more than 2000 species of centipedes worldwide, and most live outdoors. Centipedes enter houses to escape cold or dry weather outside.
Buildings with central heating provide comfortable environments for the centipedes. They like damp places, and leaking taps or condensation in bathrooms, kitchens, and basements offer attractive spaces for them.
Houses and buildings protect from predators, and there are many nooks and crannies to hide in. Another reason for centipedes to enter buildings is that the buildings house many insects and spiders that centipedes can eat.
Generally, it is only house centipedes that live in homes. There have been occasions when other species such as the giant mice-eating desert centipede may enter a home.
Should Centipedes Be Eliminated From Homes?
The elimination of centipedes is a controversial point. Centipedes are insectivorous and eat pests that are living in homes. If you are an arachnophobe, having a centipede around might be a blessing as they eat spiders. Centipedes do not cause any damage to buildings.
The consensus is that they are helpful creatures, and it is not necessary to remove them. Some people are terrified of centipedes and don’t care how useful they are. They want them gone.
The presence of small children or someone with an allergy or sensitivity to the centipede venom necessitates the removal of centipedes.
If you have many centipedes in your home, it may signal that you have problems with damp or a plague of other insects. The insects could be damaging the structure of the building.
How To Tell If Centipedes Are In Your Home
Centipedes do not leave traces of themselves or cause any damage. They do not build nests and sleep in a new place every day. The only way you will be sure if you have centipedes is if you see them scurrying around.
Centipedes like dark, damp places. They are commonly found in bathrooms, basements, and drains. They like to hide under boxes, cracks in walls, in closets, and under any articles left on the floor. They come out to hunt, and at this time, the people in the house notice the centipede.
How To Discourage Centipedes From Entering The Home
There are several ways to discourage centipedes from entering the home. The basic premise is to make the habitat uninviting and inhospitable to the centipedes. If there is no reason for the centipede to want to be in the house, they won’t be tempted to take up residence.
1. Prevent Damp To Discourage Centipedes
Centipedes are attracted to damp areas, as they need moisture to stay hydrated. Ensuring there are no leaking pipes or blocked gutter downpipes that drip persistently is an excellent way to discourage centipedes.
If you have damp areas that are difficult to dry up, try placing silica packets in these areas. Silica absorbs moisture and will help to create a drier environment. Do not use silica if you have pets or small children.
Silica will cause nausea and vomiting if ingested. The most serious threat is that it poses a severe choking hazard. Silica does not break down easily. It dries moisture in the throat or stomach and can cause death through choking.
2. Dry Out The Environment
Centipedes must have moisture in the form of damp areas. You can create an inhospitably dry microclimate in your house using air conditioners, dehumidifiers, or exhaust fans.
These devices remove moisture in the air and help dry up any damp patches, giving the added benefit of destroying any possible mold.
3. Block Up Entry Points
House centipedes enter the house through cracks or crevices in the brickwork or foundations. Poorly closing doors and windows and drains allow centipedes access to the home. It is best to repair and close all gaps and cracks using caulk, cement fillers, and molding foam.
It is best to remove any organic materials from around the outside of the house. Leaf piles, compost heaps, or bins and plants should not be close to the home.
Organic material creates warmth as it decomposes, and this attracts centipedes. Other insects will be attracted to compost or decomposing leaf matter, providing a food source for centipedes.
4. Create A Centipede & Insect Barrier
You can create an insect and centipede barrier around your home by using products that deter them. You can make this barrier by spraying herbal oils around the outside of the house. Some favorites are:
You can also put a ring of ant powder around the outside of your home to deter the creepy crawlies. Spiders and centipedes abhor cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper is readily available.
It is harmless to other animals and children – although it will sting if it gets in their eyes, nose, or mouth. You can discourage entry with cayenne pepper sprinkled around the outside of your home.
5. Tidy Floor Clutter
Tidy away articles on the floor in the house so that it is as straightforward as possible. Clutter on the floor provides hiding places for centipedes. Try to keep a few items on the floor as possible. Preferably store things off floor level.
6. Remove Food Sources
As discussed earlier, centipedes eat other insects, spiders, and other centipedes. The presence of centipedes is a good indicator that there are other insects in your home.
A proliferation of centipedes should warrant a thorough investigation as you may have a plague of more damaging insects such as wood borers or termites.
If you remove the centipede’s food source, they will move away from your home or die from starvation. A lack of food sources will not tempt any more centipedes to move into your home.
It would be best if you attempted to identify what insects are attracting the centipedes. Once you have done that, you should take steps to eliminate those insects. This can be done using poisons in contact sprays or room foggers.
You need to choose the correct poison to get rid of the particular insects in your home. For example, if you have cockroaches, choose sprays, toxins, or traps that target cockroaches.
You may be lucky, and the poisons used to get rid of the insects serving as a food source will also eliminate the centipedes.
How To Remove & Release Centipedes
House centipedes can be caught and removed to an outside area. You can do this using a broom and dustpan. Sweep the centipede into the dustpan and quickly tip it into a bag or other receptacle that will contain it.
You can also sweep the centipede along and brush it out the door. Some people like to vacuum up the centipede and then empty the contents of the vacuum bag outside. In that way, they have minimal contact with the centipede.
If you are brave enough to do this, then this is the best environmentally friendly option. The centipedes help keep other insect and spider populations under control which assists with the balance of the ecosystem.
1. Sticky Traps For Centipedes
Sticky traps consist of tape or board with very sticky glue surfaces. They are placed in areas where centipedes are frequently seen. The theory is that the centipede will get stuck to the glue, and you can then dispose of the centipede.
This method works for smaller centipedes, but larger centipedes may be able to pull themselves loose. Some centipedes also manage to free themselves by breaking off the body segments and legs stuck in the glue.
2. Pesticides & Natural Deterrents
Some people prefer to use natural pesticides. The advantage of natural pesticides is that they are not harmful to children or pets. They are not usually toxic to humans and do not provoke allergic reactions.
This is sometimes called hydrogen borate or orthoboric acid. It is derived from that naturally occurring element, boron, and is found in seawater and many fruits.
You can buy boric acid and sodium borate salts over the counter. It would be best to use it according to instructions as it can cause some reactions in some instances.
Borax is one of the borate salts and is irritating to the eyes, and you should be careful not to inhale powder forms.
Wash your hands well after applying borax or boric acid. Do not allow pets or small children to access borax or boric acid products.
Pregnant women should not handle boric acid as it can affect the development of the unborn baby. It comes in various forms, including powders, granules, liquids, pellets, and bait blocks. Boric acid is toxic to centipedes and kills them in three ways:
- It affects their digestive system, so they are unable to process food.
- It disrupts the neurological impulses causing neurological misfiring, which affects the centipede’s ability to move.
- The powder is abrasive and breaks down the centipede’s exoskeleton causing it to dehydrate.
Products That Contain Boric Acid Or Its Salts
You can buy boric acid products at hardware and garden stores, local supermarkets, and farming cooperation stores. Some names of products that contain boric acid or its salts are:
- Zevo Anti-Roach and Fly Spray – can also be used for centipedes.
- Enoz roach-away Boric Acid Powder – also used for centipedes.
- JT Eaton Answer Boric Acid Dust
- Harris Roach Killer – will also work on centipedes.
- Harris Boric Acid Roach and Silverfish Killer Powder w/ Lure
- Grocery stores often sell borax in the cleaning department as it is used for stain removal. The powder can be used in areas of high centipede traffic.
Other Deterrents That Work
- Food grade Diatomaceous earth: is fossilized crustaceans. The powder has sharp shards in it from the shells of the crustaceans that kill centipedes in two ways. It either cuts up their exoskeletons and allows them to dehydrate.
If they ingest any of the diatomaceous earth, it lacerates their gastric system. Perma-Guard is a brand of diatomaceous earth that you can use on centipedes.
- You can make a soapy spray by mixing dishwashing soap and water. Use a one-to-one ratio and spray it on centipedes.
The dishwashing soap contains degreasers that will absorb the natural oils on the centipede exoskeleton. When the oils are gone, the centipede dehydrates and dies. This spray is entirely non-toxic to people and pets.
- Cedar oil is a natural insect killer. When sprayed on the centipede, it causes suffocation. It also causes the centipede’s body fluids to move out of the body and dies from dehydration.
Another action of cedar oil is to homogenize body fats, not to utilize the fats.
3. Commercial Insecticides
Commercial insecticides contain poisons that kill centipedes. The poisons are usually either pyrethroids or permethrins.
- Pyrethroids – cyfluthrin, deltamethrin, lambda-cyhalothrin
- Permethrins – cypermethrin, permethrin, tralomethrin.
These poisons come in a contact spray. The contact spray is used to spray directly onto the centipede when you see it. They also come as a fogger spray.
Fogger sprays are used to clear the environment. The spray can button is depressed, and the can is left in a sealed room for a few hours. After the specified period, the room must be opened and aired before you can use it.
Pyrethroids and permethrins kill centipedes by disrupting the neurological system.
Pyrethrins are a poison that occurs in nature in chrysanthemum flowers. Permethrins are similar to pyrethroids, but they are synthetically produced.
Generally, pyrethroids and permethrins have low toxicity for mammals. They can cause skin irritation if there is a lot of exposure or sensitivity, or allergy.
Inhalation will cause respiratory difficulties resulting in coughing, wheezing, or feeling short of breath.
People with asthma should not be exposed to airborne pyrethroids and permethrins as they can trigger a severe asthma attack. Inhalation of these poisons also irritates the mucous membranes and will cause mucous secretion, and may also cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Ingesting large quantities of pyrethroids or permethrins will cause incoordination, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, agitation, exhaustion, and possibly seizures.
Chronic exposure to pyrethroids and permethrins can result in that person becoming hypersensitive to these toxins. An allergy may develop where exposure to only a small amount will cause a severe allergic reaction—unfortunately, people who live in rural communities where insect pests are often over-exposed to the poisons.
If you start to experience headaches and nausea when you use an insecticide spray, this is the start of overexposure. It would be ideal if you avoided any further exposure for the rest of your life. Each exposure will make the symptoms you experience worse.
When using pyrethroids or permethrins in the house, please do not use them in the presence of pet birds, as they are vulnerable to inhaled poisons and can quickly die. All pets should be removed from the house when using room foggers.
It is essential when using poisons to familiarize yourself with the laws governing poisons in your particular state. You must use poisons strictly according to instructions, or you could face fines. Each state has its own laws and restrictions.
4. Plant Chrysanthemums Outside Your Home
Some people are firm believers in planting chrysanthemums around the outside of their home or pots around the house. They feel that these natural insect-repelling plants keep away centipedes and other insects. People also use lavender, rosemary, peppermint, lemon thyme, marigolds, sage, and catnip as insect-repelling plants.
What Should You Avoid When Dealing With Centipedes?
- Do not squash the centipedes on carpets, curtains, or other fabrics. Their bodily fluids stain fabrics, and it is almost impossible to get the stain out.
- Do not stomp on centipedes with your barefoot or touch a centipede. Remember that they do contain venom that can cause a painful, unpleasant sting.
Centipedes are natural insect predators and can be considered beneficial if you do not like insects or spiders. They are mildly venomous but rarely ever bite people, preferring to evade human contact if possible.
Smaller centipedes will battle to bite into human skin, but the larger specimens can pierce the skin, causing a painful sting or bite. The puncture wounds or blisters that form are prone to infection.
If you have small children or someone sensitive to venom, it is best to remove centipedes from your home.
Modifying the environment and eliminating food sources will discourage centipedes from living in your home. Closing access points will prevent them from gaining entrance.
Centipedes can be manually removed and relocated to the garden. They can be poisoned using natural or commercial poisons.
National Pesticide Information Center. Boric Acid. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/boricgen.html
National Pesticide Information Center. Pyrethrins. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/pyrethrins.html
PennState Extension. 2017. House Centipedes. https://extension.psu.edu/house-centipedes
Ramchandra, A.M., Chacko, B., and Victor, P. J. 2019. Pyrethroid Poisoning. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6996658/