Help! What Are the Small, Tiny Brown Bugs in My House, and What Can I Do About Them?

Little brown bugs in the house may be cause for concern—but you won’t know until they’re identified. Find out how to determine what insects you’re dealing with and how to get rid of them for good.

By Melissa Graham and Evelyn Auer | Updated Mar 1, 2024 5:29 PM

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A small brown bug on a floor.

Photo: istockphoto.com

What You Need to Know

  • In addition to seeing bugs themselves, other signs of a tiny brown bug infestation include insect bites, holes in food packaging, and damage to materials like wallpaper and carpeting.
  • Drugstore beetles, carpet beetles, spider beetles, silverfish, firebrats, weevils, pantry moths, cockroaches, ticks, fruit flies, ants, and mites are some of the most common tiny brown household bugs.
  • While many tiny brown bugs are completely harmless, some are not. It’s important to identify pests within the home to determine whether they are dangerous or can cause damage to the home.
  • DIY pest control methods for getting rid of tiny brown bugs can sometimes be effective, but in most cases, a pest control technician will be able to take care of the problem most efficiently.

Q: I’ve recently spotted small, tiny brown bugs in my house. I kill them when I see them, but they keep coming back. How do I figure out what type of insect I’m seeing? Should I be worried?

A: Small, tiny brown bugs in the house may seem harmless because of their size, but whether they’re harmless depends entirely on what type of bug has been spotted. Ticks, for instance, carry pathogens that can lead to disease if they come in contact with humans. Other small brown bugs, such as cockroaches, won’t sting or bite but will reproduce so rapidly that infestation becomes a health issue. It’s essential for a homeowner to get a good look at the color, size, features, and location of the bugs to determine which type of small bugs in the house they are dealing with, and ultimately eliminate the problem. Even better, Daniel Harris, an associate certified entomologist (ACE) and region technical training manager at Arrow Exterminators, recommends going further than consulting a household bug identifier by getting a sample. “Though this may be easier said than done, intact specimens of the pest significantly aid the identification process. Providing a good picture or video of the pest in action is also beneficial.” Whether a homeowner is attempting DIY pest control or getting help from one of the best pest control companies (such as Terminix or Orkin), identification is the first step in reducing the risk of damage to a home’s food supply or personal property.

Drugstore beetles are often found in stored food, while carpet beetles often lurk in carpets or rugs.

A close up of a brown bug.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Drugstore beetles, also called bread or biscuit beetles, are bugs that look like cockroaches because of their reddish brown color, antennae, and wing covers, although they are much smaller at about 2¼ to 3½ millimeters long. Drugstore beetles are attracted to pantry items like grains, seeds, and packaged food products. After spotting this small brown beetle in the house or pantry, it’s wise for residents to throw out any infested food and thoroughly clean the cabinets. Applying insecticide with pyrethroids can kill any remaining little brown bugs, and sealing food tightly can prevent drugstore beetles from returning.

Carpet beetles are oval-shaped, measure about ⅛ to 1¼ inches long, and can be black or mottled shades of white, brown, yellow, and orange. According to Harris, “Wool rugs, taxidermy trophies, or even accumulated pet hair under baseboards over the years can serve as a source of food for these pests.” He adds, “The insects leave irregularly shaped patches on the items they feed on and shed their exoskeletons as they grow. The damage they cause may accumulate slowly and go unnoticed for some time, as the beetles prefer dark or undisturbed areas of the home, such as under a couch or bed.” Sprinkling boric acid or vinegar wherever these pests have been spotted then vacuuming can be an effective way for homeowners to get rid of carpet beetles.

Spider beetles have a similar appearance to a bed bug that has recently fed on blood.

Spider beetles are unusual-looking tiny beetles in the house with very round, large, shiny bodies that are red to dark brown or black. Their legs and long, segmented antennae are amber or yellow in color. These bugs are very small and typically reach only 3½ millimeters in length.

While bed bugs have dull, flat bodies that resemble an apple seed, after a blood feeding they may swell up and take on a reddish hue. In this state, they may have an appearance similar to spider beetles. One way to tell these pests apart is to consider the location where they have been found. Bed bugs prefer to burrow in furniture, mattresses, and carpets where they can easily access people or pets for feedings. Spider beetles do not feed on blood and instead are often found in pantries where they will eat most kinds of grain and dry foods.

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Silverfish are attracted to dark, moist places.

Silverfish are widely recognizable, as they are one of the most common bugs that invade homes in the fall. Silverfish have silver or metallic brown scales and are relatively large at 12 to 19 millimeters long. They have six legs, two antennae, and three bristles that resemble tails at the end of their bodies. Silverfish are most often found in dark, damp places such as basements and bathrooms. They feed on sugar and starch from paper materials like books, wallpaper, and cardboard. Although these insects don’t fly or bite, they breed quickly and can trigger allergies, so it’s important to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

Firebrats are similar in appearance to silverfish but prefer a warmer environment.

Firebrats are commonly mistaken for silverfish as both bugs have grayish, scaly bodies and long antennae. Both insects prefer dark and humid parts of a home and feed on starchy materials such as wallpaper, books, and some pantry foods. One way to distinguish between the two is that silverfish have a shinier body, as their name suggests, while firebrats are duller in appearance. Another consideration is that while both bugs like moist environments, firebrats are most likely to inhabit hot, damp places that are around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Weevils are a pantry pest that will feed on grains like flour and rice.

Often called flour bugs, weevils measure only ⅛ to ¼ inch long. “This small, dark brown to black beetle has a very noticeable ‘snout,’” says Harris.

Female weevils will chew a hole inside a grain of rice or seed, lay an egg, and seal up the opening. The larvae will then feed off the kernel until it is fully grown. According to Harris, “Weevils are stored-product pests and can infest any whole-kernel product, such as rice, corn, or sometimes even legumes like beans and lentils.” If they’re not controlled, weevils can grow an entire population.

“One effective method for controlling these insects is to freeze these products before storage for at least 3 to 4 days,” Harris advises. “If an infestation is already present, unfortunately, it is best to discard the infested items. Implementing proper storage practices, such as using airtight containers, regular cleaning, and frequent inspections, plays a significant role in preventing infestations.”

As the name suggests, pantry moths hang out in kitchens and pantries.

Pantry moths start as tiny larvae that are pinkish in color with dark brown heads and resemble caterpillars. In their mature state, they can be identified by their large gray and brown wings. Pantry moths are typically introduced when infested foods are brought home from the market or grocery store. Larvae can chew tiny holes in the packaging of the food they inhabit and spread to other boxes and bags nearby on the pantry shelf. Once they reach maturity, pantry moths may lay hundreds more eggs, meaning an infestation can spread quickly. If signs of pantry moths are spotted, it’s important to dispose of any food and packaging that could be infested and clean the pantry thoroughly. It’s worth noting that according to the National Pesticide Information Center, while mothballs can be effective for keeping moths from damaging clothing, they are not safe to use in pantries or food-preparation areas.

A close up of a brown bug.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Cockroaches are notorious pests that start out small.

If someone spots one cockroach in their home, it may not seem like a problem. However, it’s likely more are lurking, since these hard-shell small brown bugs reproduce so quickly. These are common small brown bugs in the house and are about ¼ to ½ inch long and have six legs and two long antennae. They often emerge at night to search for food or to mate. Cockroaches can lay up to 40 eggs at a time, which is why it’s imperative for residents to put pest control measures like traps or one of the best insecticides in place as soon as they see even one or just a few.

Ticks are dangerous bugs with the potential to spread disease.

Ticks are bugs that look like bed bugs at first glance because of their size and brown color, but they can carry dangerous pathogens. Deer ticks are the smallest and most common variety and are reddish with a black dorsal shield and long, skinny mouthparts.

Dog ticks are also fairly common on the West Coast and in the Rocky Mountains. According to Harris, a brown dog tick lays as many as 7,000 eggs in its lifetime and is “one of the few tick species that can spend its entire life cycle within a home, making infestations possible if conditions are favorable. In the early stages of their life, they are extremely small, making detection challenging.”

Since this little brown bug can transmit Lyme disease, it’s important to take action after finding a tick in the house. “Ticks are parasites, relying on a host for growth and reproduction, so early identification is crucial,” Harris warns. “Regularly inspect your pets, especially if they are indoor pets that venture outdoors occasionally … If a tick infestation is a concern, contacting a professional pest control provider is always a good idea.”

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Common fruit flies thrive in fruit bowls and kitchen drains.

Fruit flies are small flying bugs in the house that will often appear in kitchens where overripe fruit, food spills, or open garbage cans are readily accessible. They may also congregate around kitchen drains. Relatively tiny in size, fruit flies are about 2½ millimeters long with a brown or gray color and wings that cover most of their bodies. Fruit flies reproduce very quickly, but eliminating their food sources typically helps to keep them at bay. Storing fruit in the refrigerator, wiping down countertops regularly, taking out the trash, and cleaning sink drains will go a long way in deterring fruit flies.

Ants forage for food in kitchens and other areas of the house.

Ants are among the most common household bugs. Like fruit flies, they are attracted by food crumbs and scraps that have been left out in the open and are therefore most common in kitchens (although any part of the home where they can find food is fair game). Most ants are 3 to 4 millimeters long and light brown to black in color. While most ant infestations are simply a nuisance, some ant varieties may pose more serious threats. Carpenter ants, which are bugs that look like termites aside from their dark coloring, can do significant damage to a home over an extended period due to their burrowing behaviors. Fire ants have a reddish-brown appearance and can be aggressive and sting when threatened.

Mites ingest dust and can worsen allergy and asthma symptoms for the home’s residents.

Mites feed on dead skin cells, so a home’s residents may find these small, tiny brown bugs in the house or bedroom if dust has been allowed to accumulate. Because of dust mites’ small size, most people never even know that they have an abundance of dust mites unless they are allergic. According to the Mayo Clinic, allergic reactions to dust mites can cause itching, sneezing, and a worsening of asthma symptoms. Some allergy sufferers confuse the itchy rash they develop with bed bug bites. However, one way to determine whether a home has mites or bed bugs is to look for small brown bugs in beds and furniture throughout the house. Mites are so small that they will not be visible to the naked eye and cannot be felt crawling on the skin. However, bed bugs can be seen and felt. While it is unfortunately not possible to eradicate dust mites, regular dusting, vacuuming, and upholstery cleaning can greatly reduce their population and help relieve symptoms of dust mite allergies.

Some DIY methods can get rid of tiny brown bugs, but a pest control professional can handle the problem quickly and effectively.

Seeing little bugs in the house typically signals that something is attracting them: probably food, water, or shelter. As long as these three things are available, the bug infestation is not likely to go away of its own accord. That is where pest control comes in.

There is a wide range of homemade solutions that can treat insect infestation. Spraying store-bought pesticides or using one of the best insect foggers can also help (although effectiveness can vary among different types of bugs). Generally speaking, the best bet to get rid of tiny bugs in the house is to contact a pest control professional. “Choosing a professional pest control company can offer several benefits compared to a do-it-yourself approach,” says Harris. “Although the DIY method may initially seem cheaper, in the long run, having a professional take care of your home could provide much more benefit. Professionals undergo continuous training and education, and they likely have encountered the problem you’re facing before, which makes it easier for them to get control of the issue in a timely manner.”

Whether the culprit is carpet beetles or cockroaches, a pest control professional will know what type of solution and techniques to use to remove brown household bugs effectively and ensure they don’t come back.

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