Beware of Clothes Moths!

The long, hot, beautiful summer is now just a fond memory and the cooler weather is back. This means that it is time to put away the sundresses and short pants and pull out the sweaters (jumpers) and other warmer articles of clothing. Don’t be among the many who discover in horror that while they were out enjoying a BBQ feast and a beer, that clothes moths were busily feasting on their favorite woolens! Clothes moths (or Tineola bisselliella) are a species of moth that can be a serious pest to your clothing. If you are not from Western Europe, which is their natural range, you may not be fully aware of the damage they can cause. If you have nice woolen clothing or clothes made of other natural fibers (eg, silk or cotton), you need to arm yourself against them before it is too late!

The moths themselves are rarely seen, even when you have a serious problem—they only move around under the cover of darkness and rarely or never fly, so they can often go undetected for months or even years. The moths themselves are not the problem, but rather their larvae. The female moth will lay eggs, often in clusters of 30-200, that she glues to the surface of your nicest clothes. When these eggs hatch a week or so later, the tiny white caterpillars immediately begin to feed on the textiles’ fibers; they prefer wool but will also feed on wool blends, silk, cotton, and other natural fibers. They will also spin a webbed mat under which they feed to prevent detection. When these larvae reach the pupal stage, they spin a cocoon to develop into adult moths, and the cycle begins again. At normal house temperature and humidity, this cycle is completed in 4-6 months, which can translate to considerable clothing damage in the course of a year. Clothes that have been victim to the moths will have holes, and you will often also see streaky shiny or webby tracks on your clothing.

What Can You Do to Prevent Month Infestations?

There are a number of products available for purchase in grocery and hardware stores, from strips you hang in your closet and impregnated papers you can place between your sweaters, to moth sprays, powders, scented products like balls and pouches, and even moth pheromone traps. Use of the old-fashioned naphthalene moth balls is not recommended because of their known cancer-inducing properties. Moths are also naturally repelled by scents like cedar and lavender, so products that use concentrates of these may be effective alternatives to chemical repellents.

What Can You Do if You Already Have a Moth Infestation?

If you discover moth-damaged clothing, you need to act fast to get rid of the culprits. Chances are that by the time you realize you have a problem, it is often too late to salvage the affected clothing. If this is the case, it is best to wrap the damaged clothing tightly in plastic bags and dispose of it carefully. All clothing sharing a drawer, cupboard, or room should be treated to try and get rid of possible eggs or larvae. Dry cleaning is effective against moths, but not always against eggs or larvae. An approach you can use at home is to place the clothes in an oven above 49°C for 30 minutes or more. Washing clothing at high temperature is also effective in getting rid of moth eggs and larvae but will cause wool to shrink. Another useful but time-consuming technique is to iron each piece of clothing, using the steam setting of your iron and pushing excessive steam through the fabric. Freezing is another good technique; wrap you clothes in plastic bags and pop them in the freezer for a minimum of 24 hours. Check your freezer’s temperature to be sure that it is low enough—the temperature must be below -8°C to kill the larvae and below -23°C to kill the eggs. Wash out your cupboards/drawers well before returning your treated clothes, and be sure to place adequate amounts of moth repellent products in and around your clothes. Read the packaging carefully, as each product is only effective for a limited period of time (normally 3-6 months) and will need to be replaced regularly. It is best to write down the date that you have opened or applied the product to be sure that you don’t miss a cycle. Good luck!