Moths may look sweet and innocent, but they can do some serious damage to your possessions. If you don’t act quickly to take the right treatment and preventative measures, you could be left with just your birthday suit.

It’s Just A Little Moth, Right?

You’ve taken great care, time, and money to establish a nice wardrobe and carefully hang each item in your closet. One day, you open it up to find a little moth fluttering about and admiring your possessions. You shrug the cute little fella off as harmless. A few weeks later, you pick up your favorite sweater. It’s full of holes. You try a few at-home moth remedies, like hanging cedar bags around your clothes.

Sadly, the moth larvae have turned your wardrobe into a fabric smorgasbord, and you now have hundreds to thousands of dollars worth of items full of holes. It’s at this point that you realize your interloping moth wasn’t so cute and innocent, and you should’ve taken action immediately to thwart the attack.

What To Do About Moths?

According to leading entomologists and textile conservators, moth treatment strategies are most effective when implemented at the first sign of infestation. And, these treatment strategies don’t have to involve mothballs and other pesticides. With quick action, you may even avoid the need for an exterminator. How?

Step One: Identify The Culprit

There are many types of moths, only two of which eat fabric - the casemaking clothes moth (Tinea pellionella) and the webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella.) Identify these two culprits by their yellow/grey bodies that are around one centimeter long. The casemaking clothes moth’s wings are more brownish, and it head has lighter hairs. Look at the size of the moth carefully. If it’s length exceeds one centimeter, then it’s likely eating plants, not clothing.

Moths aren’t the only bugs feeding on fabric. Various types of beetles love to munch on clothes, too. Due to a beetle’s longer life cycle, they’re actually easier to get rid of than moths. Beetle eggs are larger than moth eggs and aren’t covered in an adhesive layer, which makes the beetle eggs easier to remove with a household vacuum.

Speaking of larvae, it’s important to remember that killing all the moths flying around doesn’t eliminate the infestation. The larvae those moths leave behind are the culprits behind the bulk of the damage. Baby moths are attracted to warm, humid, and dark spaces, such as your closet or dirty clothing piles, where they can feed on fabric fibers and any human residue left behind. You’ll likely notice that they prefer to target animal-origin fabrics, such as mohair, feathers, fur, wool, and cashmere.

Most larvae leave behind a web of dried snot-like residue around their feeding grounds. It’s presence can help you identify whether or not it’s moth larvae damaging your clothing.

Step Two: Cleaning.  After you’ve identified the culprit, it’s time to clean your wardrobe and closet.

  • Discard damaged items beyond repair and that may be holding more larvae.
  • Read cleaning instructions on all items to prevent further damage. It’s best to dry clean all salvageable and undamaged clothing, particularly delicates and fabrics prone to shrinkage. If you wash at home, be sure the water temp is at least 120 °F to kill the larvae.
  • Heat and cold may work for items that can’t be washed. You can place items in direct sunlight for a few hours and then brush away the dead larvae. An oven, set at 120 degree, can also be used to heat-treat items. Quick freezing from room temp to 0 °F is an alternative option, but it’s less reliable; place the item in your freezer for at least 72 hours.
  • Thoroughly vacuum the entirety of your closet space, the contents of which should be immediately discarded outside your home. You may want to consider a cleaning service to deep clean your closet’s carpet, rugs, and upholstery with steam, which is hot enough to kill any remaining larvae.

Step Three: Proactively Protect Against Future Infestations.  You’ll need a preventive maintenance plan for your wardrobe space.

  • Use plastic storage bins or compression bags to store animal-based fabrics like wool and fur.
  • Use sealable garment bags for hanging clothing.
  • Add light to your wardrobe space.
  • Keep doors open to encourage airflow and prevent moisture.
  • Wash all used clothes before introducing them to your wardrobe, and never put worn clothes away without washing.
  • For webbing clothes moths, go with a pheromone trap instead of cedar and herbal scents or mothballs. Cedar does repel moths, but the odor loses volatility with age. Mothballs are pesticides that inject harmful fumes into your breathing space and present safety risks for kids and pets. Pheromone traps kill adult male webbing clothes moths so that larvae production is significantly reduced.

Do You Need To Call In The Pros?

Even with the best identification, cleanup, and prevention plan, your infestation may just be too daunting or large to handle alone. If so, don’t be afraid to call on the professionals for help. After all, the cost of an exterminator and cleaning services is likely a lot less than losing your wardrobe to pests.