Wood furniture can fall victim to insect pests that eat, burrow through, or otherwise damage wood. Left unchecked, these bugs can destroy furniture, flooring, structures, and beloved antiques. Knowing what bugs can invade your wood items, and identifying the signs of an infestation, allows for faster treatment and prevention of further destruction.
Common Wood-Eating Bugs
Several bugs feed on, nest in, or bore through wood. The most common wood-destroying insects include:
Termites are likely the most infamous wood-destroying pest. There are several different termite species, but they all rely on consuming cellulose from wood and other plant sources to survive.
Termites live in large colonies with workers, soldiers, and reproductive termites. The workers travel from their underground or indoor nests to find wood sources and bring the cellulose back to feed the rest of the colony.
Termites can eat softwoods and hardwoods but prefer to infest damp, decaying wood. Telltale signs of termites include mud tubes on wood surfaces, hollowed wood reduced to a thin outer shell, and frass that looks like sawdust.
Powderpost beetles encompass several species of wood-boring beetles in Anobiidae and Bostrichidae. Their name comes from their larvae feeding on and damaging wood, leaving behind a powdery frass that resembles sawdust or powder.
These beetles lay eggs in cracks, crevices, and holes in wood. When the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the wood to feed. They can destroy flooring, furniture, antiques, and structural beams from the inside out. A heavy infestation can turn wood into a mass of powder.
Small, round exit holes in wood prove that powderpost beetles are present. Wood may also have a shot-like feel or sound hollow when tapped. Powdery frass around holes is another giveaway.
Carpenter ants get their name because they excavate wood to form their nests. They do not eat wood the way termites and beetles do. However, carpenter ants can still severely damage wood structures.
Carpenter ants prefer to nest in moist, rotten, or decayed wood. They may also nest in solid wood if a colony is large enough. Signs of an infestation include hollowed wood, smooth tunnels, sawdust piles, and seeing large black ants near wood.
Many species of bark beetles feed on the inner bark of trees. These insects are common pests in forests and landscapes. But when wood from infested trees is milled into lumber, bark beetles can become an issue for wooden furniture and constructions.
Bark beetle damage shows up as long tunnels and galleries that run along the wood grain under the bark. Worm-like larvae do most of the feeding and leave behind frass. The outer bark may also have small holes from where adult beetles emerged.
Like carpenter ants, carpenter bees excavate wood to make their nests. They create neat, round tunnels in wood to lay eggs and shelter larvae. When many bees nest in the same area, structures can greatly weaken.
Carpenter bees prefer untreated softwoods like pine, cedar, cypress, and redwood. Damage often appears on eaves, trim, decks, outdoor furniture, and other weathered wood. Look for nearly perfect round holes about 1/2 inch wide, sawdust, and bees hovering near wood.
Old House Borers
Old house borers are beetles in the family Cerambycidae. As the name suggests, they often infest aged, weathered wood. The larvae bore deep tunnels through wood as they feed. This can severely compromise structural integrity.
Exit holes are oval-shaped and about 3/8 inch wide. Powdery frass and deep tunnels in wood are other signs these beetles are feeding. They prefer softwoods but will also infest hardwoods and wood products like plywood.
Anobiid beetles are a family of furniture beetles, deathwatch beetles, spider beetles, and drugstore beetles. The larvae and adult beetles feed on various cellulose materials, including wood, furniture stuffing, books, and pantry items.
Larvae bore into furniture, flooring, and wood constructions, leaving behind powdery frass and weakening the wood. Adults also feed on the wood surface. Small, round exit holes around 1-2 mm wide indicate anobiids are present.
Identifying Wood-Eating Bug Infestations
Identifying the signs of an infestation early allows treatment to start before extensive structural damage occurs. Here are some of the telltale signs that wood-eating bugs have invaded furniture or wood elements in the home:
- Holes in wood surfaces: Small holes are common evidence of wood-boring insects. Look for round holes, oval holes, or holes with smoothed edges. Note the shape, depth, and size of holes.
- Sawdust or powder: Frass left behind by insects looks like sawdust or a fine powder around holes or cracks in wood. Powderpost beetles and termites leave powdery frass while carpenter ants leave more granular sawdust.
- New cracks or bubbling paint: Structural damage from insects tunneling inside wood can cause surface cracks or paint to bubble up.
- Hollow wood: Tapping lightly on wood can reveal areas where insects have eaten away the insides, leaving just the outer shell intact. It will sound hollow.
- Mud tunnels: Long mud tubes winding over wood are evidence of termite activity, as they build these tunnels to travel safely to wood sources.
- Piles of sawdust: Carpenter ants often kick up little piles of sawdust outside their nests in wood. Termite frass also collects into piles beneath infested wood.
- Seeing bugs: Catching insects like termites, beetles, or carpenter ants around damaged wood confirms which pest you are dealing with. Capture a sample for identification.
- Staining or peeling: Exit holes weeping with sap or stains on wood are other signs. Damage may cause veneer or layers to peel.
If you suspect a wood-eating insect problem, inspect all susceptible wood closely. Damaged items may need to be removed for a closer look. Have a professional inspect wood that cannot be disassembled, like structural beams. They can confirm the extent of damage and what insects are causing it.
Preventing Destruction by Wood-Eating Bugs
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when protecting wood elements and furniture from hungry pests. Here are smart steps you can take to avoid infestations:
- Use treated wood outdoors: Pressure-treated lumber, naturally rot-resistant woods like cedar, or protective finishes help outdoor projects resist insects.
- Seal cracks and holes: Use caulk and sealants to plug any crevices, joints, or holes in wood, especially where it meets foundations or walls.
- Manage moisture: Keep wood dry and well-ventilated. Address leaks, condensation issues, and other moisture sources so wood does not rot.
- Use wood protectants: Sealants, stains, varnishes, and woods like cypress contain natural insect repellents. Treat vulnerable outdoor furniture and fixtures.
- Clean up debris: Remove scrap wood and tree debris around the home to deny pests food and habitat.
- Allow wood to dry: Prevent problems by allowing new lumber and firewood to dry for 1-2 years before use so pests are not attracted to “green” wood.
- Inspect regularly: Check indoor and outdoor wood for early signs of insect damage so treatment can start before it gets severe.
- Isolate infested items: Removing highly infested wood helps limit the spread of pests to other home areas.
With diligence and preventative maintenance, you can stop pests from destroying beloved wood elements and precious antique furniture in the home. Being proactive is more effective than reversing major structural damage down the line.
Treatment and Control Options for Wood-Eating Pests
If you do discover an infestation in your home’s wood elements, taking quick action is key to destroying the pests before they spread further. Here are common options for treating and controlling wood-eating bug issues:
Physically removing infested wood is the most direct treatment. This stops pests immediately and prevents them spreading to other areas in the home. Severely damaged wood may need to be replaced anyway.
For small infestations in a piece of furniture, it may be possible just to remove the invaded boards. But with structural infestations, removing all affected wood is often required.
Heating infested wood items to temperatures between 120-140°F can kill insects dwelling inside. This may be done by wrapping infested wood in insulating blankets and using heating devices. The goal is slowly raising the internal temperature to pasteurize pests and eggs.
For buildings, specialized heating and tenting systems heat the entire structure gradually. The process takes 1-3 days and effectively kills all life stages of wood pests. However, heat treatment does not prevent future infestations.
Exposing infested wood to freezing temperatures can also eliminate some wood-destroying pests. The sealed wood item is placed in a cold room or freezer for 7-14 days, slowly dropping the temperature below 0°F. This cold shock kills insects and eggs.
Freezing works best against termites, powderpost beetles, carpenter ants, and beetle larva. It is less effective against adult beetles. As with heat, freezing does not offer permanent protection from reinfestation.
Fumigation involves sealing off an area like a home or furniture warehouse and releasing high concentrations of a gaseous pesticide. The fumes permeate wood, killing insects deep inside. Vikane gas and sulfuryl fluoride are common fumigants for termites and wood borers.
The structure must remain sealed for 1-3 days for fumigation. The chemicals used pose health risks for humans, so residents cannot be present during the process. Though highly effective, fumigation does not prevent future infestations after gases dissipate.
Surface insecticides can protect wood from future invasion by certain pests. Borate-based solutions are absorbed into wood fibers, making them toxic to insects but safe for humans once dry. Fipronil and pyrethroids can also repel and kill some wood pests.
Insecticides work by contact or ingestion, so they do not kill pests deep inside wood. They are more effective as a preventive treatment on high risk woods before signs of activity appear. Annual reapplication is needed.
To reach pests within wood, insecticides may be injected into galleries, tunnels, and voids where larvae feed. This brings toxic solutions directly in contact with active infestations. Common injected chemicals include pyrethroids, insect growth regulators, and borates.
Drilling may be required before injections to open channels into infested wood. This targets treatment to affected areas while limiting environmental exposure. It also reduces the amount of insecticide needed compared to fumigation.
In cases where structural wood is severely compromised or furniture cannot be restored, complete wood replacement is necessary. All damaged wood is removed and replaced with new, untreated boards, or antique furniture may need new hand-carved elements.
Before installing new wood, the original infestation must be controlled using other methods first. Otherwise, pests will simply invade the new wood again. Replacement should be saved for cases where wood cannot be saved.
Prevention and Monitoring
Whatever treatment method controls an active infestation, preventing future bug problems is equally important. This includes addressing moisture issues, sealing entry points, isolating affected items, using treated wood replacements, and monitoring for reinfestation signs.
Combining targeted treatments with preventative measures and diligent monitoring provides the best protection from wood-destroying organisms. Don’t allow them to eat your wood structures, furniture, antiques, and belongings.
When to Call a Professional Exterminator
When dealing with severe, structural infestations of wood pests, or rare antique furniture, it is best to enlist professional pest control support. Here are some scenarios where professional assistance is advisable:
- Large termite colonies in home framing or flooring
- Significant powderpost beetle damage in structural beams
- Valuable antique furniture with active woodworms
- Failed DIY treatment efforts and ongoing destruction
- Inability to locate the main pest nest or access infested wood
- Confusing mix of multiple species damaging wood
- Health risks from use of restricted insecticides
Exterminators have specialized tools, diagnostic skills, and stronger treatment options. They can assess the extent of damage, identify the pest species, and recommend the best mix of control methods tailored to your situation.
Professionals also know how to apply restricted-use pesticides safely. Fumigation, for example, requires extensive safety knowledge. The stronger solutions pros can use for severe infestations may be the best way to eliminate pests from your wood completely.
Don’t let wood-destroying bugs eat away at your home, antique collections, or landscape trees. Call expert help at the first signs of major destruction so thorough extermination and wood replacement can occur. With the right mix of treatments, even severe pest damage can be corrected by experienced exterminators.
Protecting Your Wood from Destructive Pests
Wood is vulnerable to damage from several boring, chewing, and nesting pests. But with diligence, prompt treatment, and proper prevention, you can avoid major destruction of your home’s structural and decorative wood elements.
Identifying the signs of infestation for pests like termites, carpenter ants, beetles, and carpenter bees allows early intervention. Seek help for large-scale invasions, but use available pesticides, barriers, humidity control, and isolation methods to protect wood yourself.
Catching wood pest problems while they are still minor limits the extent of destruction and cost of repairs. But even with advanced infestations, combining fumigation, replacement of damaged boards, and preventative insecticides can ultimately solve the problem.
Do not let wood-eating bugs ruin your wood flooring, furniture, timbers, antiques, or anything else made from this classic material. Be proactive about keeping wood dry, sealed, and regularly inspected. And at the first sight of insect damage, take swift action to exterminate the pests.
With vigilance and the help of pest control experts when needed, you can outsmart termites, carpenter ants, powderpost beetles, and other wood-consuming bugs. Protect your wood investments by getting educated, taking preventative steps, and utilizing integrated pest management techniques.
Dealing With a Wood-Eating Bug Infestation
Discovering that wood-boring pests have infiltrated your home or furniture can be distressing. But you can take steps to deal with an infestation and limit the extent of damage. Here is a comprehensive guide to responding to a wood-eating bug problem:
Assess the Severity of Damage
Carefully examine all wood elements in the affected area and note any signs of infestation like frass, holes, hollow areas, cracking, etc. Tap on wood with the handle of a screwdriver to detect hollowing. Estimate how widespread the damage is so far.
Inspect attached wood trim, frames, and structures adjoining the main infestation to see if it has spread. Termites and carpenter ants can form satellite colonies, so look for signs near the main activity area.
For furniture, examine undersides, interior corners, joints, and crevices for evidence of pests. Look for exit holes or openings where bugs entered. Peel off felt pads on furniture legs to check the wood underneath.
Identify the Wood-Eating Pest
Capture samples of bugs and note details like their size, shape, color, and antennae. Photograph them next to a ruler for scale. Also photograph damage, collecting samples of frass in a ziplock bag.
Note the shape and size of any holes and tunnels found. Use an identification guide to match the insect evidence to known wood-destroying species in your region. Correct identification ensures proper treatment.
Determine if a Professional Should Be Called
DIY treatment may be possible if the infestation is limited to furniture or just a few boards. But for major structural damage, rare antiques, or complex mixes of multiple pest species, calling a professional is best.
They have the expertise, tools, and legal insecticides to fully identify, isolate, and eradicate large-scale infestations. Let them assess whether wood can be saved or full replacement is needed.
Isolate and Remove Infested Items
Seal off infested furniture in plastic sheeting so pests cannot escape. Carry it outdoors immediately. Empty drawers and shelves fully as bugs can hide inside.
For structural invasions, isolate affected rooms and seal off access holes to other areas. Remove any wood items, trim, or panels with visible damage to limit the spread.
Choose an Extermination Method
For furniture, freezing, heating, or fumigating in an airtight space may be options. For homes, professional treatment typically involves fumigation, localized chemical injections, or wood replacement.
Topical sprays or injections of borate solutions can also be preventatively applied to uninfested wood adjacent to damaged areas, creating a toxic barrier against spread. Follow product label safety precautions.
Replace Severely Damaged Wood
After extermination, any extensively tunneled, hollow, cracked, or crumbling wood will need replacement. Use only certified treated lumber or freshly kiln-dried wood. Take care not to seal bugs inside with new constructions.
Before full removal, a pesticide pretreatment may be sprayed onto surrounding wood to create a “no-pest zone” that deters spread once the infested wood is removed.
Monitor and Make Prevention Upgrades
Keep observing the treated areas for signs of pest survival or new infestation. Install preventative barriers like insect screens, wood seals, and dehumidifiers. Ensure moisture issues are fully resolved.
Continue applying borate spray yearly to create an inhospitable environment for wood-destroyers. Maintain diligence and deal with attempted re-infestations swiftly.
When to Tackle It Yourself or Call In a Pro
You can likely handle an isolated insect invasion in a piece of furniture or outdoor fixture yourself. But for whole-home damage involving difficult areas to access, multiple pest species, or unclear extent of destruction, professional extermination services may be the best answer. Their experience and legal tools help ensure thorough eradication.
Don’t let woodpests destroy your home and valuables. Assess the damage, isolate the infestation, identify the pest, and use available DIY or professional treatment methods. Stopping them quickly limits expensive destruction, so you can enjoy wood’s beauty safely.