4 Truths About Cleaning Away Spider Webs at Home, According to an Arachnologist
When you’re deep cleaning, you’ve probably mindlessly cleared away a cobweb in the corner of the ceiling. And understandably so — spider webs don’t exactly add to your home’s aesthetic. Your mindless swipe is unlikely to have consequences for you, but it could come with consequences for the spider that took time to make it (and relies on it for a habitat).
To learn more about the ins and outs of dealing with spider webs in the home, we spoke with Rod Crawford, an arachnology expert at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum. Here’s his insider knowledge on spiders, their webs, and the best way to deal with them both in your home.
We call them “cobwebs,” but there are many different types of spider webs.
The very first thing to know: Not all spider webs are actually cobwebs. Various types of spiders make different types of webs, and each kind has its own nuances. Depending on where you live, you might have different kinds of house spiders that make different types of webs — he says there are about 30 possible types most Americans could encounter.
For example, Crawford says cobwebs are the kind that have an apparently random collection of threads going every which way with no rhyme or reason to the eye of the uninformed viewer. Funnel webs are solid sheets of silk — they look like a slightly dirty thin piece of fabric with a tunnel in one corner where the spider hides. Sheet webs look similar to funnel webs, but the spider hangs on the underside instead of in the corner. These types may take a few weeks for a spider to finish. That’s why it’s so important to be thoughtful about destroying one — if you do, the spiders will still live in your house — they’ll just labor over a new web.
If the web is dusty, the spiders are long gone.
One rule of thumb: Take a good look at the web before taking any measures to destroy it. “If the web is dusty, the spiders can’t use it, and they must be gone,” Crawford says. “If the web looks neat and clean with little to no dust on the surface, then you may be displacing a spider or at least making a problem for it.”
If the web is shiny and clean and you’re inclined to destroy it (for good), you can move the spider first and hope it’ll make its next home somewhere less conspicuous.
You can move spiders and encourage them to create a web elsewhere.
Ultimately, spiders choose their web locations based on where they can get the food they need to survive. “But if the spider itself is moved, they’ll probably try to make a new web,” Crawford says.
The key is to move the spider to another, less-annoying-to-you indoor location, with one exception: Spiders that make cob, funnel, or sheet webs need to live inside to survive — but those that make orb webs (the complex geometric kind) aren’t actually house spiders — they probably just got in your house by mistake. Those can go outside.
Ultimately, try to treat your spider friends like the roommates they are.
What you do with spider webs and the spiders that live in them is up to you and your own conscience. Crawford currently lives in an apartment, but in his last house, he’d usually leave webs alone if it was high enough that he wasn’t worried about his cats disturbing it. Otherwise, he says, he’d move the spider to another part of the building.
But no matter how hard you try, keep in mind there’s not really a way to eliminate spiders from your place altogether. It may not be the news you want to hear, but unless you live in an apartment well above the ground, you should get used to spiders lurking in places you see and places you can’t. “Many spiders live in spaces such as in the wall or floor or crawl spaces,” Crawford says. “You can’t see them, but they’ll be there anyway.”
To learn more about spiders, Crawford recommends the Burke Museum’s resource Spider Myths.