Check the racks of your local thrift store and you’re bound to find heaps of wool coats and sweaters riddled with moth holes. Who hasn’t found little holes in their favorite cashmere cardigan or wool sport coat? It’s common this time of year to unpack your cold weather clothes and find damage done by clothes moth larvae.
There are two kinds of clothes moths encountered in homes. Clothes moths, more specifically known as either the webbing clothes moth or the casemaking clothes moth, are occasional fabric pests. Their larvae will find any animal fibers containing proteins, including fur, wool, and wool blends, silk, hair, feathers/down, mohair, cashmere, and more. You could find damage (or the larvae themselves) on woolen clothing, carpets, rugs, upholstered furniture, furs, stored wool, animal bristles in hairbrushes, and even woolen felts on piano keys. Synthetics or fabrics such as cotton may also be fed upon if they are blended with wool. Larvae may use cotton fibers to make their pupal cases. Damage generally occurs in hidden areas such as under collars or cuffs of clothing, in crevices of upholstered furniture, and in areas of carpeting covered furniture. Fabrics stained by foods, drinks or perspiration, are usually more subject to damage.
Clothes moths are weak flyers and are not attracted to lights. They tend to hide when disturbed, and for this reason, infestations of clothes moths are not usually noticed until damaged fabrics, furs, or feathers are found. Close examination of the objects reveals the presence of silken webs that are spun by the larvae as they begin to pupate and chew holes from larval feeding. Because adult moths are weak flyers and are not attracted to lights, they are usually found very close to the infested items, such as in dark areas of closets. Adults are golden colored with reddish golden fairs on top of the head. Wings, with a span of about ½ inch, are fringed with a row of golden hairs and larvae are small and cream colored.
Heated building enable clothes moth to continue development even during the winter months. Generally, developmental time for the clothes moth from egg to egg is between four to six months, and there are generally two generations a year.
The best way to combat clothes moth is to prevent them from becoming established in the home. The principal weapon is the vacuum cleaner and its brush attachment. Rooms should be cleaned often enough to prevent the accumulation of lint, hair, and other clothes moth materials. Close attention should be given to rugs and carpets, draperies, upholstered furniture, closets (especially those containing woolens and furs), radiators and heaters, corners, cracks, baseboards, moldings, and other hard-to-reach places. If an infestation is known or suspected, the sweepings of the vacuum cleaner should be disposed of immediately in such a way to destroy the insects, to prevent a transfer of infestation from one part of the house to another.
Abandoned nests of birds, rodent and insects (particularly bees and wasps) that are in or near the house should be removed, for the larvae may feed on insect remains that they may contain. Bedding places of pets should be kept clean. Mounted animal specimens or trophies (or even fur covered toys), insect collections, stored woolens carpeting, clothing, feathers, furs, old spices, cereals, or seeds should be examined for signs of infestation. The attic and garage should be included in the inspection. Avoid bringing carpet beetle adults into the house on cut flowers, where they are sometimes found feeding on pollen.
Dry-cleaning kills all stages of clothes moths and carpet beetles but gives no protection against re-infestation. Woolen garments or materials that have been stored for a long time should be occasionally shaken and aired. Brushing can crush most eggs, particularly the fragile eggs of carpet beetles. If they cannot find protection from light, many larvae that are not removed by the brushing will fall from any garments hung in the sun, as on a clothesline.
The edges of rugs or carpets can be pulled up and the common household sprays can usually be applied on both sides, as well as on both sides of the pad. Treatment is particularly important under heavy furniture that is seldom moved. Upholstery and draperies can be sprayed, following the same directions discussed for clothing and blankets.
Pesticide sprays may be applied to any surfaces upon which fabric-infesting insects are likely to crawl, such as along the edges of wall-to-wall carpeting, in closets, behind radiators, and in corners, cracks, baseboards, moldings, and other hard-to-clean places. Closets, particularly, should be thoroughly sprayed after removing the contents.