With Halloween around the corner, it's hard to avoid creepy images of dusty old cobwebs. But cobwebs are not just relegated to haunted houses. Look around your apartment — in the space between the bulb and a lampshade, under your desk, beneath the sofa. They're everywhere. How did they get there and how can you get rid of them? First, let's break cobwebs down.
Yes, spider webs and cobwebs are related. But not all spider webs are cobwebs. To add further confusion, the word “cobweb" comes from the Middle English, coppeweb, with coppe being the word for spider.
Over time, people have come to refer to the elegant, neat and tidy web occupied by a spider as a spider web and to refer to any abandoned, dusty web as a cobweb.
So, what are cobwebs, exactly? In science lingo, the word “cobweb" is specifically used to describe the messy, tangled three-dimensional web produced by spiders in the families Theridiidae (for example, cobweb spiders, tangled web spiders, comb-footed spiders) and Linyphiidae (aka money spiders or sheet weavers).
According to the World Spider Catalogue (you just knew there'd be such a thing), there are 49,657 species of spiders in the world. That number changes as new spiders are discovered.
Different spiders create different webs from silk spun in different shapes. Cobwebs are tangle webs, which are asymmetrical and look like a bunch of jumbled threads supported by a base. They consist of major ampullate silk and are “gum-footed" or sticky. They often collect dust and dirt and trap prey.
Spider webs are more sophisticated structures that appear two-dimensional. Their web designs vary from sheet, spiral orb, funnel or tubular to tent. Depending on the spider's species, they may up to three of four types of silk to make the webs.
Spiders hang out and eat insects, which is a good thing. When the food source stops, the spider is likely to pick up and leave. But the web remains.
And they can last a long time. If you took the ratio of strength-to-density, spider silk is stronger than steel, and it can stretch a lot before it snaps.
If the web is in a hidden spot in your apartment, all that sticky silk will attract dust and dirt. And then you've got a cobweb of the sort you see sprouting from skulls conveniently sitting on desktops in horror films.
Not to judge, but cobwebs make your space look and feel unkempt. The easiest way to get rid of them is to vacuum them up. For high webs, try using a long-handled duster or a broom handle covered in a sock – but then vacuum them up.
If they're attached to curtains, you should throw them in the wash or use a lint roller to pick up the cobweb.
Sometimes there are cobwebs outside your windows. Vacuum those if you can or run water over them to wash them away.
Spiders like to set up shop where they are left alone, where they can spin their webs and grab their food. Unused rooms with lots of clutter make ideal spots. Keep rooms as neat, clean and decluttered as you can.
Get to know your duster and use it often. Dust light bulbs, lampshades, plant leaves and other spots that might not get your regular attention.
You might also try spraying peppermint essential oil or vinegar mixed with water in the corners. The overpowering scent might make spiders set up shop elsewhere.
Spiders get into your house or apartment through vents, windows and doors. If it's possible, seal the areas around your windows to keep any unwanted pests from entering. The added bonus is that you'll be warmer this winter.
If you think you have too many cobwebs or too many spiders, you might have an infestation and you should call an exterminator.
Even if you don't want to live with spiders or walk into a cobweb in the middle of the night, it's good to keep in mind that spiders are beneficial. They eat insects (one spider can eat up to 2,000 insects a year), which keeps those pesky creatures out of our homes and away from our food crops.
If you don't want too many spiders hanging around, making your place unpleasant for them — keeping it clean, sealed from the outside and free of insects — makes it more pleasant for you.