(Springtails, Moisture, and Mold)
When caring for your home, nothing is more aggravating than tiny jumping insects that appear to come out of nowhere. Springtails (order Collembola) are usually the culprit. They are very small jumping insects that often alarm homeowners by appearing in large masses in your home. There are several hundred species found here in North America (over 3,000 worldwide) where these tiny creatures are the most abundant insects in the world.
Springtails are more of a nuisance than a health risk. Causing harm mainly to young plants. But one thing for sure is that poorly managed moisture intrusion is often to blame for their presence.
The Connection Between Springtails, Moisture, and Mold
Springtails are often found around common moist areas in your home, like kitchen sinks, bathtubs, and in the soil of potted house plants. Outside, they are around your swimming pool, moist landscaped areas, gardens, etc. Greenhouses also tend to help fulfill their year-round moisture requirements. They are attracted to areas of overwatering. So are mold and bacteria.
They are often encountered in spring and early summer (after spring rains) but are more of a nuisance if they are associated with moist environments (like damp basements) or squishy yards that don’t seem to drain well. They tend to congregate and reproduce in these areas and venture out into other parts of the home or yard.
Springtails live outside in soil, especially highly organic composted soils, where they are scavengers, feeding on dead / decaying organic / plant material, fungi, molds, or algae. The large masses of springtails often seen outside often spill over into the home. If you have a hidden moisture or microbial problem in your home, that might be the moisture and food sources that are luring them into your home.
Home Invasion (Identifying Springtail Infestations)
Damp spaces in the home are preferred spots for springtails. But when outside sources dry up, it can seem like a “Home Invasion” when they move in looking for moist sources. They enter through window screens, open doors, vent pipes, or potted plants. They may be attracted to light, entering through windows or under doors. After a hot day, they may congregate on the side of your home in very large masses and often “spill over” into your home.
After entering your home, they crawl in search of moisture and often become trapped in sinks, washbasins, bathtubs, potted plant drain water, floor drains, damp basements, crawl spaces, and moist wall cavities. They soon die after entering a home unless they find moisture.
Preventing Springtail Infestations
In Your Yard
Some good ways to keep Springtails out of your home start with your yard area close to the home. Look for these areas and address:
- Damp soil close to the home: Extend your gutter downspouts, regrade low spots, fix leaking hose bibs, cut back on the mulching, and extend the air conditioning condensate discharge lines away from home.
- Gutters: They tend to collect debris and hold some water. Make sure to keep them clean and dry. Hire a service to come at peak times in the year.
- Ponding Areas: Some damp areas in your yard just won’t go away and may need a formal drainage system.
- Pools: Many times, Springtails can be found on the surface of pools in large mats. Clinging to windblown pollen and debris. Make sure your skimmers are working properly and that you maintain the pool.
- Home Exterior Envelope: Be sure to seal all penetration points on the home’s exterior: around windows, doors, gas lines, electric service, phone/cable lines, foundation cracks, etc. Use caulk and replace window and door weather stripping (or you might need new windows).
In Your House
Sometimes, Springtails get in your house and flourish when they find hidden leaks, damp areas, and a food source (like molds, algae, and bacteria). Look for these areas and address:
- Look for damp crawl spaces, basements, intermittent foundation leaks.
- Use a dehumidifier (portable or permanent in-line ducted system).
- Have a mold inspector perform a mold assessment. The assessment identifies all moisture sources, as molds need moist areas in order to grow and reproduce, just like Springtails.
- Don’t forget about the hidden sources of molds that are in typical “Reservoir Areas” like behind refrigerators, under stoves, on top of cabinets, etc.
Getting Rid of Springtails
One thing is for sure: their continued presence indoors is an indicator of a persistent damp environment. Correct the moisture issue(s) inside and outside your home, and that should help keep molds under control, which also helps deter the springtail problem.
Mold Management is Key
Mold is a part of all our lives. But when it grows out of control, it can create a variety of problems like unexplained illnesses, degradation of indoor air quality, creation of odd odors, rapid decay of building materials, and provide a food source/attract other creatures. Managing moisture sources is key to controlling molds and also is key to insect control as well.
We eat a lot of mold, and guess what? So do insects. Critters like Cave Crickets, Springtails, spiders, centipedes, mold mites, silverfish, carpenters and odorous ants, etc., all love to eat mold. The experts agree that visible mold should be cleaned up right away to keep other critters out of your house. Keeping the mold out will help keep the insects out.
Managing Moisture Sources
Water is a unique element that we can’t live without. So can’t molds and insects (like Springtails). But add it to our homes, and it can create all sorts of havoc. Try some of these ideas to help manage your moisture issues that will also help manage your mold and insect issues:
Easy (least expensive)
- Extend the gutter leaders on your home to at least 10 feet.
- Avoid drying clothes in your home.
- Use slotted doors and passive air vents throughout your home.
- Have exhaust fans on timers in the bathrooms, laundry area, and kitchen.
- Provide for good attic ventilation with vented soffits, baffles, and gable vents.
- Avoid desiccant bags as they are short-lived and fill up quickly, becoming expensive long term.
Complex (more expensive)
- Install ventilation systems
- Install sump pump and French drain systems.
- Re-waterproof your home’s foundation.
- Upgrade HVAC to include whole home dehumidification.
- Install dry-hydrogen peroxide devices.
FYI – Guess Who Else Manages Moisture
Honey bees keep a tidy hive. They do this by first addressing the hive’s moisture load (to make honey) and keeping the hive hygienic (by keeping molds out). Oh, they do all the low-hanging fruit stuff like sealing all gaps and cracks in the exterior envelope of the hive, keeping insects out, and cleaning the hive to more advanced things like producing hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to decontaminate the hive. But a more novel approach is their manual ventilation system. Watch the hive, and you will see bees at the entrance ventilating the hive by fanning their wings. Even honey bees recognize the need for moisture management and good ventilation.
Maintenance and Long-Term Prevention
Let’s face it, no one likes doing maintenance on their home unless they absolutely have to. If you knock the horns off by taking care of the easier items, try hiring a service to help annually inspect and maintain the more difficult items (service technicians for engineering controls, integrated pest management, irrigation, household hygiene. That way, you get the best out of your budget. The worst thing you can do is nothing. Letting the moisture creep back in re-stimulates dormant molds that also start to attract all the other creatures. So whatever you do, maintain, persist, and persevere and make moisture management and mold control for your home a top priority.
So if insects (like Springtails) are becoming an issue with your home, remember to reduce all moisture sources. You can improve your home ventilation and clean up any visible molds that might make an easy food source for all the insects that like to eat mold. Not sure if you are doing enough for your home? Reach out to a Building Biologist at a firm like GreenWorks to help you get the upper hand. Remember, it is a real battle out there. Don’t let the bugs take control of your home environment.
- Planet Natural Research Center (2004-2023). Springtail. Website Article.
- UCA Agriculture and Natural Resources. Springtails. Website Source.
- Koehler, P.G. and M.L. Aparicio (1994). Pests In and Around the Southern Home. Gainsville, FL.
- Moore, W.S. and C.S. Koehler (1978). Springtails (Leaflet #21038). Oakland, CA.
- Hopkin, S.P (1997). Biology of the Springtails (Insecta: Collembola)
- Hopkin, S.P. (no date). The Biology of the Collembola (Springtails: The Most Abundant Insects in the World. On-Line Lecture Outline