Clothes moths: detection, prevention & control

Clothes moths: detection, prevention & control

How to recognise clothing moths and their larvae and how to combat the clothes-eating moths successfully? Here are all our tips for fighting common clothes moths in the house.

When it comes to clothing, there is nothing quite as infuriating as small holes in your favourite sweater. These are most often caused by annoying clothing moths in your wardrobe. Clothes moths (Tineola Bisselliella) are a type of moth that belongs to the family of fungus or tineid moths (Tineidae). They are one of the most common species of moths in the house. They can be found all over the world, damaging all sorts of fabrics. However, it is not the adult moth that causes moth holes in clothes but their larvae that are responsible for the damage on our favourite wardrobe pieces. In the following, you will learn everything you need to know – from appearance to control – about the infamous moths in the wardrobe.

How to recognise clothing moths

To be able to detect clothes moths in the first place, it is important to know what the pests look like, how they develop and what they prefer to feed on.

Clothes moths: identification

Clothes moths are rather inconspicuous animals and are not particularly noticeable. The adult specimens have a wing span of 10 to 15 millimetres; their wings are lined and shiny. The moth’s colour depends on their food and can therefore vary from a dark brown to a light yellow.

Most clothing moths emerge in the months between May and September. During this time, the female can lay up to 250 eggs, which hatch out into yellowish-white larvae after about two weeks. The development of the moths from larval stage into adult clothes moths takes about 60 days. The best conditions for their development are temperatures around 24 °C and a humidity of 75 %. If the environmental conditions deviate strongly from these numbers, the development of the clothes moths may take longer. The clothes moths are therefore most active in the warmer months of the year, i.e. between May and September. However, in houses or apartments with heating, the pests can occur all year round. The larvae usually live in the nests of mammals or birds, where they feed on that animal’s hair and feathers. Those contain the fibre protein keratin, which the larvae need for their development.

By using animal hair in the production of fabrics, humans became the place to go for clothes moths. Our wardrobes full of garments made of wool or fur make a nice home for these little pests. But synthetic fibres are not spared either – they are merely eaten and then excreted as the larvae cannot digest these man-made materials. Clothes that are covered in hair and skin cells are often being damaged by the moth larvae, too. Furthermore, clothing moths are not restricted to wardrobes, which is why moth treatment might also be necessary for carpets. Materials used for insulation can also be damaged by these moths.

Clothes moths: damage pattern

The damage inflicted by clothes moth larvae can be determined by bald spots and holes on clothes and other textiles. These spots and holes appear as the larvae eat through the fabric. The clothes moths prefer textiles made of wool, fur or feathers. If they come across mixed fabrics, they only attack the woollen part, for example.

clothes moths
A sure sign of a clothes moths infestation are the characteristic holes in natural fabrics [Shutterstock.com/coco312]

Another key feature of a clothes moths’ infestation is webbing – very similar to spider webs – and excrement crumbs from the larvae. These crumbs come in different shapes and are usually the same colour as the infested textile.

Preventing clothes moths

Prevention is always better than treatment. This rings true with regard to a clothes moths’ infestation, too. Here are some tips and tricks to prevent clothes moths from settling down in your house in the first place.

First of all, you can attach insect screens to the windows of your bedroom or wardrobe to prevent the annoying moths from entering your living space so easily. You can also protect your clothes with storage bags. However, this method is more suitable for items that are stored for a longer period of time. Protecting bags are perfect for winter clothes that are stored over the summer in the back of your closet.

It is also advisable to vacuum clean your house regularly to prevent the small pests from settling there. But be warned: the moth’s nest can also be in the vacuum cleaner bag, as the larvae prefer quiet, dark places. Therefore, do not forget to change the bag in the vacuum regularly, too.

A proven classic in the prevention of clothes moths are the so-called mothballs. These keep the insects away due to the deterrent substances they contain, such as naphthalene. However, most of us will be familiar with the strong smell of grandmothers’ closets for winter clothing and this is certainly not something you want to go for. And even if today’s mothballs contain the less intense smelling paradichlorobenzene, both substances are potentially dangerous to the environment and our health.

A more natural and much more pleasant alternative are essential oils and woods such as those of the Swiss stone pine, cedar and neem tree. Another plant, which is effective against clothes moths, is lavender. Lavender can be used dried and stored in scent bags, which can be placed in closets and chests of drawers.

Summary of how to prevent clothes moths:

  • Attach insect screens to your windows
  • Use garment bags for storing clothes
  • Vacuum clean your house and change the vacuum bag regularly
  • Use mothballs to deter clothes moths
  • Use essential oils or scented bags with dried lavender or woods, such as Swiss stone pine, cedar or neem tree

If clothes moths have already spread in your wardrobe, you are probably looking for ways of getting rid of clothes moths. There are a few options for clothes moths’ treatment. Do you prefer to use home remedies, beneficial insects or chemical control methods? Below you will find various approaches that you can use separately or in combination to get rid of clothes moths and their larvae.

Getting rid of clothes moths with chemical methods

Chemical treatments include primarily various moth sprays or ordinary insect sprays, which often contain active ingredients from the pyrethrin group. However, we advise to use such agents cautiously, as they often contain toxic and harmful ingredients that you do not want to have in the house, in the wardrobe and in the presence of children and animals.

How to get rid of clothes moths naturally

Sustainable alternatives to questionable conventional products are beneficial insects, such as ichneumon flies, or the use of household remedies. Pheromone traps are another way to help with the infestation. The traps catch the male moths, that are drawn to the pheromones contained in them. However, such attractant traps are only really useful for identifying an infestation. They can be attached to the closet at the first suspicion to confirm that you are really dealing with clothes moths. However, these traps are not sufficient for complete control, as they do not eliminate the female moths, eggs or larvae. In the following sections, you can learn which methods you can actually use to win the battle against the fabric-eating moths.

Ichneumon wasps against clothes moths

It may sound strange to bring more insects into the wardrobe to fight clothes moths, but ichneumon wasps are immensely useful little animals that have been used to control pests since the 19th century. Many species of the genus Trichogramma are specially bred to control various moths, as they are highly specialised and therefore very effective. The ichneumon wasps parasitise the eggs of the clothes moths, which prevents them from developing further and kills them.

Home remedies against clothes moths

Since large temperature fluctuations are not ideal for clothes moths and their offspring, you can use it to treat textiles that are not so easy to wash – such as upholstery. A heat treatment in the oven at 50 to 60 °C for about one hour can kill the moths, larvae and eggs. However, be extremely careful with this method and do not leave the kitchen, as a piece of fabric in the oven is always a fire hazard. Alternatively, you can also place the textiles in the blazing sun and cover them with black foil. This method also works for larger pieces, such as carpets. For this method to work fully, we only recommend doing it on very warm days, when sufficiently high temperatures are guaranteed. Leave the infested pieces outside for several hours.

clothes moths
One of the ways to get rid of clothes moths is with cold or hot treatment; both of which have to be repeated several times, though [Shutterstock.com/PHOTO FUN]

Another, safer method is cold treatment, but this is often not as effective as heat treatment. However, hot washing is not an option for wool garments, as they will become very matted. Instead, you can put the affected garments into the freezer for at least a week to eliminate the hidden clothes moth larvae. This method is also suitable for other textiles. This process needs to be repeated over several weeks to ensure that all larvae and eggs are gone.

Summary of how to get rid of clothes moths:

  • Chemical control with moth sprays (beware of toxic ingredients!)
  • Effective natural elimination with Trichogramma ichneumon wasps
  • Heat or cold treatment of the garments concerned

Another pest that likes to appear uninvited in our homes and is very similar to the clothes moth is the pantry moth. You can find out how to get rid of pantry moths and use ichneumon wasps to eliminate them in our special matching article.



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