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Getting Rid of Clothes Moths

By: EarthKind

For such tiny quiet critters—Tineola Bisselliella, commonly known as clothes moths, can cause a lot of damage. For many, clothing has sentimental and financial value—even if you’re not a fashionista—having your personal items wrecked in your own home can be frustrating and upsetting.

Clothes moths are not the same as the ones you see flying around a light or the ones that infest kitchen pantries. If you notice holes in your clothing and you’re thinking you may have a clothing moth problem, or want to actively prevent one, we provide more information below.

cashmere sweaters with holes and damage caused by moths

Do Moths Eat Clothes?

moth larva on fabricWhile clothes moths are troublesome, they’re not actually the ones responsible for eating your sweaters, it’s their offspring that eat holes into your wardrobe. Adult moths lay eggs that hatch into the real troublemakers—clothes moth larvae. These worm-like pests feast on fabrics containing the protein keratin, which include wool, cashmere, mohair, and fur. They will also feed on synthetic material if it is soiled with body oil or food stains. 

They are tiny and often go unnoticed—but even just one moth can lay hundreds of larva eggs! This means the issue can get out of hand quickly, so once noticed, you’ll want to take the proper steps to get rid of them. 

Identify the Pest

While you might feel certain that clothes moths are responsible for the holes in your clothing, many bugs eat fabric. The first step is to identify the type of pest that’s causing the problem. 

  • Webbing Clothes Moths – These pests are only about ½ an inch long and will hide if disturbed. These larvae spin silken tubes or patches of web as they move about. They leave behind waste that resembles sand and feed on fabrics including wool, cashmere, and mohair. 
  • Casemaking Clothes Moth – The adult moths are small and often go unnoticed, while the larvae are easy to detect because of their tubular casing or cocoon. If you see a worm-like insect with a hard shell, it’s the larvae of the case-bearing clothes moth. These moths will often crawl off of clothing to spin their cocoon—look for them on walls, ceilings or crevices in shelving. The fabrics they are attracted to include fur, flannel, wool, soiled fabrics, and hair.
  • Carpet Beetles – Carpet beetles are very common pests in North America and can also eat keratin fabrics. They resemble fuzzy worms and are likely to be spotted on clothes. They are oval-shaped with six legs and two antennae. They have rounded, hard bodies and wings beneath their shells. They like wool, mohair, fur, and feathers. 
  • Cockroaches – Cockroaches will eat anything they can find and lay eggs in humid warm areas. Cockroaches have flat, oval-shaped bodies with long skinny antennas. They are known to eat food that is attached to fabrics. They like perspiration, body fluid stains, hair, food and drink spills, and laundry starch. 
  • Firebrats – Firebrats may eat small holes in fabric. They are commonly found near bathtubs or sinks searching for water. They are cousins of silverfish and look very similar. Firebrats are a brownish-grey color. Fabrics they eat include cotton, linen, and silk.
  • Silverfish – As their name suggests, these insects are a solid silvery or gray metallic color. They are attracted to cardboard but have been known to eat fabrics like silk and cotton. 

Items commonly infested with clothes moths include sweaters, scarves, coats, blankets, rugs, down pillows and comforters, upholstery, and taxidermy mounts. Moth larvae prefer to feed in dark, undisturbed areas such as closets, chests, and boxes where clothing is stored for long periods. Clothing and blankets that are regularly used are less likely to be infested. 

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Stack of sweaters sitting on table How to Get Rid of Clothes Moths

If all the signs point to this pest, follow these tips: 

  • Discard infested garments
  • Thoroughly clean items you’re keeping 
  • Deep clean your closet and storage area
  • Prevent them from coming back
    • Consider vacuum sealing or airtight containers
    • Use a botanical repellent to prevent the pests

Each of these steps is explained in detail below. 

Discard infested garments

Articles of clothing that are heavily infested with larvae, holes, or eggs should be thrown away. Dispose of any items that can’t be salvaged outside immediately, do not let them sit inside a garbage bin in your home.

Thoroughly clean the items you intend to keep

Dry cleaning—while it might not be the most eco-friendly option—is the most effective method for killing moth larvae. If you’re lucky enough, your neighborhood might have an environmentally friendly dry cleaner. If not, some sources suggest washing affected clothes in hot water—130 °F or warmer—although this can be risky. Eggs could cling to your washer or dryer and find their way back onto other fabrics. Also, many washing machines can’t guarantee precise temperatures; if the water isn’t hot enough, the eggs will continue to hatch. 

If you do decide to wash your clothes in extremely hot water, always read your labels first—some fabrics will shrink or wear down in hot water. 

At the end of the day, it’s better to be safe than sorry—investing in professional dry-cleaning services could help you keep the items you want and will make your clothing a less attractive food source. 

Deep clean your closet or storage area

After your clothing storage is empty, thoroughly clean the area. Start by vacuuming every corner of your closet, wardrobe drawers, and anywhere else where clothing is stored. Empty the vacuum cleaner vessel or bag and take out the garbage immediately. 

They love dark corners and openings—seal up small crevices in the infested area with caulking to prevent them from coming back. 

Steam your carpets, or have them professionally cleaned to ensure they’re free of eggs and larvae. 

Prevent them from coming back

To avoid future infestations, consider these steps: 

  • Wash items after you wear them before storing them again. Dry-cleaning vintage or secondhand clothing before introducing it back into your wardrobe is a good option.
  • Use plastic bags, vacuum-sealed bags, or airtight containers to protect important clothing.
  • Vacuum and clean your closet regularly.
  • Keep your windows open throughout the day—they don’t like natural light. 
  • Use a natural moth repellent to keep clothes moth infestations away.

Other people sometimes use Mothballs, which may seem like a great solution, but the main ingredient in mothballs — usually naphthalene — has been found to be very toxic to people and pets. 

People also have known for a long time that certain scents can prevent moth infestations — that is why cedar chests have been the traditional place to store special items like a wedding dress or lace tablecloths. Unfortunately, the cedar oil disappears over time and becomes less and less effective.

Stay Away Moths repels webbing and casemaking clothes moths by using powerful, fast-acting ingredients. The unique blend of plant-based ingredients such as essential oils of cedarwood, geranium, and geraniol will continuously protect your wardrobe for 30 days. It works by emitting a natural scent that is pleasant to people but burdensome to pests.

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