Clothes moths – and how I (mostly) got rid of them

Last spring my bedroom was infested by clothes moths. I’d never seen so many moths at once. One day dozens of them were just flying around the bedroom! I was shocked. All I could think was, oh, no! what about my wool fabric! My vintage hats! My silk fabric that I’ve been saving for the right pattern?

I immediately checked my fabric and I didn’t see any telltale holes but I was paranoid that they would get eaten or maybe they were in danger of being clothes moths fodder. My hats were fine. A wool scarf in the closet had a few holes in it but luckily my actual damage was minimal.

But I didn’t know where the clothes moths were coming from or what they were eating. They were hanging out on the curtains but the curtains didn’t have any holes in them. Plus they were crawling around on the carpet. Yes, these things don’t just fly, they also crawl around like any other insect with legs. Ugh.

I started doing some research online and found this very helpful page on home pests, courtesy of the University of California. I learned some gross facts, which I will excerpt here:

“The larva is the damaging stage of the clothes moth. Both species feed on wool clothing, carpets, and rugs; upholstered furniture; furs…. They will feed on synthetics or cotton blends if these fabrics also contain wool. Larvae might also use cotton fibers to make their pupal cases. Damage generally appears in hidden locations such as beneath collars or cuffs of clothing, in crevices of upholstered furniture, and in carpeted areas beneath furniture. Fabrics with food, perspiration, or urine stains are more subject to damage.

Ewwwww. It’s the larva that eat the natural fibers and after they are done munching on your cashmere sweater, they moth emerges and flies around to lay more eggs. And get this, female moths lay “an average of 40 to 50 eggs during a 2- to 3-week period and die once they’ve completed the egg-laying process,” according to the UC page. Yes, 40 to 50 eggs!!! That’s how you can easily get an infestation of clothes moths.

We have a synthetic carpet in the bedroom so I knew they weren’t eating that. But I couldn’t tell where the clothes moths were coming from. A couple of weeks later I discovered that clothes moth larvae had infested a small wool rug that was under the TV cart in the corner of the bedroom, near the curtains. I totally didn’t see this. It wasn’t until I vacuumed the rug the second time that chunks of wool pile came off the rug.

The wool pile was no longer attached to the backing because moth larvae were munching on it! Here’s what the rug looked liked after I brushed off all the wool that was eaten where the tufts meet the backing.

Wool rug eaten by moths

Here’s a close-up of the larvae. This really, really grossed me out. I took the rug out of the house immediately, put it in the direct sun to kill them and then tossed out the rug.

Moth larvae in wool rug

Before I made this gross discovery, I posted a photo on Instagram asking for advice on killing clothes moths. They were still flying around and their crazy flight pattern made it hard to kill them by clapping my hands together. I had more luck when they were resting on the curtain or the wall. The response made me realize that it is a HUGE pain in the ass to get rid of clothes moths. I got some helpful advice from the following people:

Sonya Philip (@sonyaphilip) of 100 Acts of Sewing: “Take everything out, shake stuff and the vacuum the heck out of all the closet nooks and crannies.”

Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) of Custom Style: “Put everything you have in sealed plastic bags while it has to wait in line to be washed.” She also tagged Traci Hutton (@arttdolls) to ask her opinion and Traci commented: “Once you do your cleaning of everything, I always seal smaller wool pieces in some kind of ziplock bag or larger bag to seal them out. I then also use some type of cedar shaving or lavender sachet. Cedar wood blocks need to be sanded over time to activate the smell again. Nothing smells better than a cedar lined closet if you like that idea which is the best, IMO. I love mine. There are “kits” you can purchase from hardware stores. Time and money to do it right though.”

Here’s what I did in my attempt to eliminate and control my clothes moths problem:

  1. You have to break the clothes moths life cycle, which means you need to kill the eggs. Moth eggs could be in crevices in the closet, the carpet, in clothes, you name it. This is the most time-consuming and expensive part of the process.
    To kill the eggs, I did the following:
    • I put all my wool hats in zip lock plastic bags and then put them in the freezer for a about a week. Freezing is supposed to kill moth eggs. My freezer isn’t very big (top part of the refrigerator) so it took me about a month to freeze them all. My berets were easiest to freeze because they’re flat and don’t take up too much room.
    Hats in zip lock bagsFreezing berets
    • I vacuumed every inch of the carpet twice over and then once a week afterwards.
    • I washed or dry cleaned nearly everything in the closet. Wash in hot water if you can. My bedroom closet is a walk-in closet with two racks of clothes, mine plus my husband’s, plus coats are also in there because we have no coat closet. After a few loads of clothes were washed and dried, I put them in large plastic zip lock space bags (affiliate link here) to keep them safe from clothes moths. You put your neatly stacked clothes inside and then use you vacuum hose to suck the air out. They store fairly flat. These large bags are expensive – about $16 for three. But they are reusable. It took about a month to get everything cleaned.
    • Dry cleaning is expensive. If you have wool clothes, consider investing in a clothes brush and give them a good brushing before they go back in the closet. No need to constantly dry clean your wool garments, according to Douglas, the dapper staff member at Britex Fabrics. Wool resists dirt so good brushing will keep it clean and you can cut back your dry cleaning to once a year or so.
    • I washed the closet shelves with warm soapy water but maybe I should have used hot soapy water to guarantee clothes moth egg death.
    • In my initial panic, I put my expensive wool fabrics in a plastic container and bought some lavender-scented Moth Sachettes from the hardware store. The box said they were supposed to kill larvae and eggs. BUT the scent is super strong – sort of like moths balls but with a lavender tinge. My husband couldn’t stand the smell. The scent didn’t stay contained in the so-called air-tight container. I had to throw out the sachette put the container outside until the smell would lessen. I haven’t opened the contained in months. Now my wool may be larvae free but it stinks, creating a different problem. (sigh)
  2. You need to trap clothes moths to prevent them from mating and laying more eggs. I bought two different types of traps because I didn’t know which would work. I got the Safer Clothes Moth Alert Trap about $10 for a package of two at my local hardware store (Amazon associates link here), which works by attracting male moths through a pheromone. They fly inside and then get stuck to the adhesive on the inside. I also got a similar trap by Raid (associates link here).
    The first Safer traps I got didn’t catch anything and the Raid trap only got a couple of moths. But when I bought another package of Safer traps, they caught several moths. Maybe the first one I bought was old or my timing was off and there weren’t any moths around to attract.
    I also hung up a strip of clear packing take near the trap in the closet. My thinking was: If they were attracted to the trap, maybe they’d also get stuck on the tape. I was right. Here’s a photo I took last year of the trap in the closet and the packing tape. You can see all the knitwear in big zip bags on the left and my berets in bags just below.
    Safer clothes moth alert trap
    The moths flew to the trap and some got stuck to the tape. I don’t think it matters whether your tape is clear or not. It’s just what I had on hand.
    Clothes moths stuck to packing tape

What didn’t work
I bought this cedar wood kit to repel clothes moths. I had read mixed things about the effectiveness but I thought, why not? The kit was a little over $12 (affiliate link here). I even bought the cedar spray to revive the scent in the wood. You’re supposed to sand the wood or spray it with cedar spray to reactivate the scent.

Cedar kit to repel clothes moths

One day I saw a moth literally on one of the cedar pieces I had put in the closet. So I can’t say that they are effective. Also, they don’t kill moth eggs or larvae. Their purpose is to repel moths. Maybe they need more constant reactivation. I don’t know.

What does work

Stay vigilant. Put at least one Safer Clothes Moth Alert trap in your closet, check it every week, and change it every three months. If you see a lot of moths, hang a strip of wide packing tape near the trap. I saw a moth in the bathroom on a towel. So now I need to check the linen closet. We may have clothes moths there. But at least they are out of the bedroom!

Vacuum your carpet at least once a week.

This Vogue UK article, recommends that you only store clean clothes in your closet because “[m]oths love to feast on human sweat and food particles. Do not put any clothes back in your newly cleaned wardrobe that are dirty – especially knitwear.” The article also has links to other products you can buy. (Thanks to Catja of Gjeometry for pointing this article out to me.)

California has been in the drought for five years so I have not been washing my clothes as frequently as I used to. This meant that I put skirts and tops I’ve worn (and not washed) back in the closet. One tee-shirt has two small holes in it so that got eaten.

I hope my experience will help other people who face a clothes moth infestation. If you have any tips on what worked for you, please let me know!

How to get rid of clothes moths - freeze garments to kill moth eggs, trap adult moths, and clean everything

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