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Clothes Moths and Their Control
Photo by Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series
Used with permission, courtesy of www.insectimages.org
Clockwise starting left: egg mass, adult, larvae on damaged fabric
Clothes moths were once more common in homes. During the 1950s and through the 1970s, wool was treated with long lasting residual insecticides which prevented damage to natural fibers. However, due to the phasing out of these products, organic fabrics such as wool are once again susceptible to clothes moths. Thus Clothes Moths are making a comeback of sorts.
Clothes moths go through complete metamorphosis: egg, larvae (crawling stage), pupae (cocoon) and adult (moth). However, it is the larval stage that damages fabric. Organic materials such as wool, hide, fur, down, etc. contain keratin, a protein that the Clothes moth and carpet beetles, another fabric pest, can digest.
Clothes moth larvae are cream colored and grow to up to 1/2" in length. All moth larvae possess three pair of legs just behind the head, but also have a set of short, stubby feet behind those legs called prolegs. Prolegs define the larvae as a moth rather than a beetle.
The moth (adult) is about 3/8" in length and is the wing color is copper to tan color. Since the indian meal moth, a pantry pest is the same size, you may want to look at our photo of the Indian Meal Moth to be sure that it is not that insect rather than a clothes moth. The indian meal moth is a common food pest. But because they're most active at night and are phototropic (fly toward light), they are likely to be found in other rooms which lends confusion to which moth is actually present.
Where To Look for Damage
As the cycle begins, adults (moths) lay eggs in cracks or crevices near a food source or sometimes directly on it. When the eggs hatch, the larvae begin to feed on the fabric, frequently eating areas that have been stained with food or beverages or that contain body oils, sweat, or urine. This explains why wool carpet or fabric is often damaged close to where people sit.
Also look for larvae or damage on wool sweaters, natural bristle brushes, fur (including pet hair) and other organic fabrics. Clothes moths have been known to damage non organic fabrics as well, but this is incidental to feeding on nearby animal based fabrics.
Resolving a Clothes Moth Problem
An important component in dealing with a clothes moth infestation is sanitation. Sanitation refers to vacuuming to remove food sources such as pet fur or hair which may keep the moth larvae well fed. In other cases, it may be a matter of removing affected garments and laundering or dry cleaning them. If you have a large number of vulnerable garments, ask the cleaner about a bulk rate for cleaning your clothes rather than paying per article. Note that dry cleaning processes have changed. Find out if their process will kill fabric pest life stages before spending money for dry cleaning of clothes.
Another way to kill insects on affected goods is to place them in a clothes dryer for 20-30 minutes on high if they can tolerate heat without damage to them.
Moth flakes or moth balls or cakes containing Para dichlorobenzene or naphthalene may be somewhat effective as repellents, but the odor of these products is obnoxious and they are respiratory irritants and carcinogenic. Garments may be packed with these products into tightly sealed, heavy duty plastic bags. An natural alternative to the other two noxious products is lavender which can be purchased in sachets for placement inside of drawers and in closet. However, with the newer plastic totes available that offer tight fitting lids, it is possible to shield garments from a moth infestation without repellents.
Insecticide sprays such as Permacide P-1, the product that we offer, are labeled to treat cracks and crevices for clothes moth larvae. You may apply this product along the corners of clothes closets and around the edge of shelves, above and below them. Also consider treating around baseboard moldings in rooms where carpets have become affected by clothes moths. In some cases, if carpet is installed over a hardwood floor, it may be necessary to treat between the floorboards where the larvae can hide. In addition, a total release indoor fogger such as Pro Control Plus, may be used rooms to quickly kill flying moths. You may also use a vacuum cleaner to remove moths (be sure to throw out the vacuum bag or empty the cup afterward as a precaution).
Three newer products are available for the control of clothes moth larvae: Bedlam, Bedlam Plus (two insecticides) and Alpine Dust Insecticide. Bedlam and Bedlam Plus are effective insecticides for use in cracks and crevice to help kill larvae hiding there while Alpine Dust Insecticide can be used to treat larger cracks and crevices (such as cracks between floor boards) very effectively because it spreads out well in such areas. However, dust may be an issue for some sites because it remains visible after application. Careful cleanup of any excess using a damp paper towel afterwards can minimize this problem.
Another way to capture mothes is to use pheromone based insect traps. We sell a Pheromone Insect Trap for Clothes Moths which is specific for webbing clothes moths. Placing these diamond shaped traps in a room or closet with a suspected moth problem will monitor for insects and help to capture adults. Note that the lure is for male moths only and may not attract egg laying females. Larvae active in the area may continue to do damage to animal-based fibers until they pupate and then later hatch as adults. This is a very conservative approach and is the least toxic (non toxic) solution, but is unlikely to solve a clothing moth problem if used alone.
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Most Recent Site Update: 04/2015 - Copyright 1997-2015