Garment Moths

A Guide to Prevent and Combat Moths: Simple Steps to Protect Your Clothes

Moths and carpet beetles have a strong preference for protein-rich materials, making it crucial to handle garments and household items with the utmost care. These items may inherently contain protein or residue protein from human or animal body oils, hair, and perspiration or could harbor stains that contain protein (such as food stains or urine). Considering the impact these pests can have on your belongings, this guide will help you implement preventative measures to safeguard them.

Understanding Moths and Their Behavior

Clothes moth larvae can eat cellulose or synthetic fibers, but they cannot digest materials that are not protein-based. Synthetic fibers simply pass through them. Both the clothing moth and carpet beetles are common insects that cause damage to fabrics. People often mistake clothes moths for causing the damage done by carpet beetles because they have similar eating habits. While clothes moth larvae usually stay where they find food, carpet beetle larvae can move from one room to another. However, both types of larvae need a steady source of protein and prefer dark, undisturbed places to live and cause damage.

Unlike the moths you might see fluttering around lights, the culprits behind fabric damage are the webbing clothes moth (Neola Bissell Ella) and the case-making clothes moth. These adult moths share a buff coloration with minimal distinguishing features. Notably, they lack interest in light, preferring dark environments for activity. They also don’t feed as adults.

Clothes moth infestations can originate from accumulated hair near baseboards, doorways, or sliding door tracks. Rarely used furniture, lint-filled corners, garments of wool seldom worn, and dark storage areas are prime locations for them to establish themselves. Behind sofas, particularly in areas untouched by regular vacuuming, is a favorite egg-laying spot for clothes moths.

Damage and Material Preferences

Female clothes moths lay clutches of 100 to 150 tiny, white eggs, each roughly the size of a pinhead. These eggs hatch within a week or two, unleashing the true culprits of fabric damage: the larvae. Unlike their adult counterparts, these protein-hungry larvae thrive on materials rich in hair, perspiration, and body oils – a common occurrence in seldom-used furniture, neglected corners, and unworn garments.

Unfortunately, detecting a clothes moth infestation can be challenging. The female moth cleverly camouflages the larvae by spinning a silken web or protective case that blends seamlessly with the surrounding fabric. This disguise, often incorporating colored fibers from the very material being consumed by the larvae, makes them appear like harmless lint to the untrained eye.

The larvae of the webbing clothes moth leave behind a telltale sign of their presence: a silken web marking their feeding path.  In contrast, the casemaking clothes moth larva constructs a portable, protective case that it carries as it feeds.

Clothes moths progress through four distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Adult moths have a lifespan of two to four weeks, but their destructive potential extends beyond their brief existence.  In heated environments, females can lay eggs year-round, leading to a new generation emerging within a month to a year, depending on conditions.

Despite their destructive potential, clothes moth larvae are relatively fragile creatures. Although they are capable of surviving short periods without food, continuous control measures are crucial to prevent re-infestation.  After reaching maturity (a process lasting between one and nearly three years), the larvae spin a pupal case before emerging as adult moths.

While wool, fur, and feathers are their primary targets, clothes moth larvae can also consume dry milk, leather, and other animal products. They may even ingest lint, dust, or paper in the absence of their preferred food source.  Interestingly, while the larvae themselves can only digest animal fibers, they can still damage synthetic fabrics by cutting through them to access protein-based residues or reach nearby wool or fur.

The destructive potential of clothes moths extends beyond wardrobes and closets. These pests can also damage upholstery, piano felt, and even natural bristle brushes.  While they do consume fabric itself, the primary attractant is not the fiber content but rather the presence of lint, human debris, and food stains. Wool, with its inherent oils, is particularly susceptible, even in a clean state, though soiled wool is undoubtedly more enticing.

It’s important to note that clothes moth damage can be more extensive than visible holes.  Their feeding can weaken fibers, even if there’s no apparent tear.  During laundering or dry cleaning, this weakened fabric can break away, revealing the telltale “moth hole.”

Moths are Protein Predators 

Clothes moths are drawn to a wider range of materials than you might think. While wool, fur, and feathers are top choices, they’ll also target cotton, silk, rayon, and even synthetics – especially if blended with wool or harbor protein-rich stains from food, sweat, or body oils. Although the larvae themselves can only digest animal fibers, they can damage synthetic fabrics by chewing through them to reach these hidden protein sources or nearby wool or fur.

We often associate moths with chewed holes in clothes, but their destructive potential extends far beyond wardrobes. These pests can damage upholstery, piano felt, and even natural bristle brushes. Interestingly, while they do consume fabric itself, their primary attraction isn’t the fiber content but rather the invisible buffet of lint, dust, dead insects, and stains left behind by human activity – sweat, body oils, and food remnants. Wool, with its natural oils, is particularly vulnerable, even in a clean state, though soiled wool is undoubtedly more enticing.

It’s crucial to remember that moth damage can be more extensive than visible holes. Their feeding can weaken fabric fibers, even if there’s no apparent tear. During laundering or dry cleaning, these weakened areas can break away, revealing the telltale “moth hole.”

How Do They Get Into Your Home?

One frequent source of moth infestations is old clothing or furniture given to you by friends or purchased at antique stores, yard sales, vintage stores, or online auctions. Always inspect these items thoroughly for signs of moths before bringing them inside. Consider professional cleaning as a preventative measure for increased peace of mind.

These destructive pests can also hitch a ride on your clothes or shoes from the outdoors or simply fly in through open windows or doors. For carpet beetles specifically, flowering plants like spirea, daisies, and asters can be a source of attraction for adults, making them more common around homes with these gardens.

Avoid accumulating woolen garments that you don’t wear frequently. If left undisturbed and uninspected, they become a potential breeding ground for moths. Consider donating, selling, or responsibly discarding such items. Regularly cleaning, wearing, and brushing your clothes significantly reduces the risk of a clothes moth infestation.

Prevention Tips

  • To create a less hospitable habitat, thoroughly clean shelves and vacuum corners and crevices in your closet. 
  • Regularly brush down seldom-worn garments, focusing on areas like collars, cuffs, seams, and pockets. Remember, moth meals extend beyond visible dirt –  body oils, perspiration residues, and even faint stains like those from tannin sources (think wine spills) can be a hidden allure.
  • Never store worn clothes without cleaning them first. Launder or dry clean sweaters before packing them away. Dry cleaning is very effective at eliminating moths in all stages. However, if the infestation is advanced, the cleaning process might reveal weakened fibers due to moth activity.  If you suspect an infestation, inform your dry cleaner beforehand so they can isolate your belongings during processing.
  • For out-of-season garments and bedding, opt for breathable storage like wood or archival boxes. Avoid plastic bags or containers for long-term storage (several months) as they can trap moisture and potentially damage fabrics due to chemical reactions with the plastic.
  • For out-of-season garments and bedding, opt for breathable storage like wood or archival boxes. Avoid plastic bags or containers for long-term storage (several months) as they can trap moisture and potentially damage fabrics due to chemical reactions with the plastic.
  • Since moths prefer darkness, occasionally rearrange the furniture in your closet to expose hidden areas to light. Additionally, pay close attention to cleaning pet areas, as these can become breeding grounds for clothes moths.

If You Suspect You’re Feeding Moths

Find the sources by using a flashlight to inspect all the dark, undisturbed nooks and spots where moths like to hide. Pay close attention to clothing and carpets for signs of infestation, such as threadbare patches, holes in garments or woolen rugs, the presence of larvae themselves, or the telltale silk webs they spin.

If you discover dried larval skins or sand-like droppings, these may be signs of carpet beetles rather than clothes moths. Clothes moths prefer dark, quiet areas and are more likely to be found under or behind furniture, in closets, or within boxes of stored clothing.

Vacuum your entire home, with particular focus on the infested area. Make vacuuming a regular habit, and promptly dispose of the vacuum bags after each cleaning. Remember, the bags may contain moth eggs or larvae. Don’t forget to clean the vacuum brushes in between uses to prevent spreading the infestation further.

Wash down all surfaces within the infested area, including floors, walls, ceilings, shelves, drawers, and any other interior surfaces. This comprehensive cleaning helps eliminate any hidden eggs or larvae.

Even in the absence of visible damage, it’s crucial to take action. Wash or dry clean all items stored in the infested area. Use hot water exceeding 120°F (49°C) for laundering to ensure effectiveness. Act promptly and avoid moving these items to other parts of your house, as this could spread the infestation.

Consider seeking assistance from a professional exterminator. While over-the-counter pesticides are available, they require careful handling and may not be as effective as professional-grade products.

Other Tips and Important Information

Here are some signs of a moth infestation:

  • Irregular holes in clothing
  • Excessive shedding from fur garments and accessories
  • Moths flying or crawling on items
  • Silky tunnels or furrows in wool fabric and clothing
  • Crust-like spots on clothing, draperies, and rugs
  • Tiny, sticky tubes on fabric, rugs, or in room corners
  • A few more tidbits

Quick tips to get rid of moths:

  • Vacuum carpets, floors, and heating vents
  • Wash vulnerable fabrics
  • Clean furniture thoroughly
  • Set up moth traps
  • Use cedar clothes hangers
  • Fill bags with scented ingredients like bay leaves, rosemary, lavender, and
  • thyme
  • Keep your home well ventilated
  • Use a sticky trap
  • Dust and vacuum moldings and carpets

By following these steps and remaining vigilant, you can effectively combat clothes moths and protect your treasured textiles. Remember, prevention is key! Regularly cleaning your clothes, storing them properly, and maintaining a clean and well-ventilated home significantly reduces the risk of attracting these fabric fiends. However, if you do suspect an infestation, don’t hesitate to take action. Early detection and treatment are crucial to prevent these persistent pests from causing extensive damage to your belongings. 

Need Help Battling a Moth Menace?

If you’re facing a clothes moth infestation in Boston, don’t worry! Here at Columbus Cleaners, we offer professional dry cleaning and laundry services that can help eliminate these pesky critters and restore your clothes. Our thorough cleaning process, often exceeding 120°F, is highly effective in eliminating moth eggs and larvae. Plus, we offer convenient pickup and delivery services right across the Boston area, saving you valuable time and effort.

Contact Columbus Cleaners today for a free quote and say goodbye to clothes moths for good!