The moth of clothes are insects also known as the common clothes moth, webbing clothes moth, or simply as the clothing moth. They are part of the Tineola genus and Tineola bisselliella species. When it comes to the damage it does as a pest, the moth itself is not the one doing the most damage, but its larvae are the ones that take nourishment from clothing, thus leaving behind the specific holes that warn you of their presence. They mostly prefer wool, but also like natural fibres and stored grains, in extreme conditions. An infestation with these pests becomes clear as the textiles that are eaten will have holes in them due to the chewing done by the above-mentioned larvae.
The larvae and the moth eggs are not visible to the naked eye. The infestation can occur if you bring into your home clothes that are infested with eggs, or if a mature moth, ready to lay eggs, makes its way into your home. Serious infestations can cause severe damage to clothing, beddings, floor coverings and other textile articles.
Description and distribution
The length of the body of an adult moth is about 6-9 mm, and their wing span is about 12-16 mm. The wings are golden-brown and are fringed at the margins. The larvae (caterpillars), soon before they turn into a pupa, reach a length of 10 mm and they have a white-yellow contour. Moths of clothes are seldom seen, as the tend to avoid light. They stay in undisturbed areas, such as dark closets, attics or basements, and lay their eggs in folds or corners of fabrics. As mentioned before, it’s not the adults that damage the clothes, but their larvae, which are quite difficult to see. You can recognise their patches of webbing, as they tend to spin silken feeding tunnels when they move on the surface of the fabrics they feed on.
These moths are easily found in Europe and Asia, but can be easily transported to other areas as well, as they have been already transported to Australia, unknowingly. The species will be found attacking textiles of all kinds, no matter what they are made of: keratin, cotton, jute, cellulose, silk and even synthetic fibres.
Breeding and dietary information
A female moth is able to lay 100 to 250 eggs on the cloth they choose. They will be placed at a distance from each other and the eggs will not be glued to the cloth. The evolution of the egg will take about 2 weeks, and after that time, the larvae will hatch, if optimum conditions (70% humidity and temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees) are met. If there is enough food, the larvae evolution will continue until it will become a pupa, which happens after about 2 months. The caterpillars have strong jaws which they use to rip through and chew the cloth with. To turn into a pupa, the caterpillar will make a long tube, open on both ends, and they will carry the tube with them until the moment they transform. After the metamorphosis takes place, an adult moth will appear. As the adult moths’ lack jaws, they will no longer feed on fabrics. Their whole purpose from now on is to mate, lay eggs and die. The life expectancy of this insect is about 12 to 18 days, and on average, there will be 2 generation of moths per year. In hot summers, there can be up to 4 generations, as optimum conditions allow the eggs to hatch quicker.
As mentioned before, the larvae manage to eat any type of fibre, from keratin, cotton, jute, cellulose, silk to synthetic fibres. Carpets and tapestries are items which are often destroyed by these insects. They can also feed on hair, feathers, furs, and lint, and depending on the lack of such products, they can also eat grains.
The most infested items in a household are wool sweaters, coats, blankets, carpets, decorative items, down pillows and comforters, toys and animal trophies. They do prefer eating soiled fabrics, and are attracted by those who contain human sweat or other organic materials or liquids that have been spilled onto them. Any type of dirt that can be traced on the fabrics they eat bring them more nourishment and help their development. These traces of sweat or other organic liquids also help with their thirst, as this is where the larvae get the moisture they need.
Moths of clothes as pests
As it is very difficult to discover an infestation in time, it is important to know how to prevent it. If you see adult moths flying inside the house, it is a sight that they might have laid their eggs already. A worst case is when you do not see any sight of their presence, and you only discover the infestation once you find holes in your favourite clothes. Preventing an infestation is thus easier than getting rid of an already existing one.
The most common clothes that get attacked are the ones that are hardly used. Making sure you keep your winter clothes safe is very important. Cleaning them and keeping them in sealed bags is one way of making sure moths are not attracted to them, and also do not have direct access to woollen pieces of clothing, which are their favourite. Airtight containers should also be used to keep moths and larvae away from your clothes or important fabrics. You can also include naphthalene balls or cedar chips inside, as they are known to repel moths of this kind.
If these pests have already damaged your closet contents, patience is needed, as you need to locate the potential source of infestation and then deal with getting rid of it. Depending on the degree of infestation, compromised items need to be dry cleaned, laundered or even thrown out.
A high level of sanitation is also important when dealing with such an issue, as vacuuming can effectively remove larvae from carpets and other places where they can easily hide, such as baseboards, underneath furniture or inside closets. Again, depending on the degree of infestation, the use of insecticides can be taken into consideration. However, some are more effective than others. You will need to use insecticides based on active substances, such as pyrethrum, allethrin, chlorpyrifos and permethrin. No matter what type of insecticides you use, always read the label and its instructions properly before applying it, especially when it comes to the substance making contact with your clothes.
There are other methods, such as physical ones, which can also work, depending on the degree of the infestation. Moth traps containing pheromones and adhesives can be used, in order to prevent males and females from mating. Dry cleaning, freezing, heat treatments and vacuuming are also options, again, depending on the level of infestation, and on what type of items are infested.
You can also try preventing infestations by using natural measures. Camphor, cedar, lavender and other natural scented deterrents can keep adult moths away, thus preventing them from laying eggs on your clothes.
No matter what situation you are in, whether you just want to prevent an infestation, or you are already dealing with one, you can find more details in our relevant articles. Visit our piece on ‘How to get rid of Clothes Moths’ to find out what the natural and chemical ways of eliminating these pests, or check out our article about ways in which you can ‘Prevent infestation with Clothes Moths’.