Tineola bisselliella, known as the clothing moth, is a species of fungus moth, whose larvae are considered a serious pest, as they their main nourishment comes from clothing, in particular wool, but many other natural fibers, and also, like most related species, from stored foods, such as grains. This species has the ability to digest keratin protein in wool and silk. The moths prefer dirty fabrics for to lay their eggs in and are particularly attracted to carpeting and clothing that contains human sweat or other organic liquids which have been spilled onto them; traces of dirt may provide essential nutrients for larval development. Larvae are attracted to these areas not only for the food but for traces of moisture, as they do not require liquid water.
The range of recorded foodstuffs includes cotton, linen, silk and wool fabrics as well as furs. They will eat synthetic fibers if they are blended with wool. Furthermore, moths have been found on shed feathers and hair, bran, semolina and flour, biscuits, casein, and insect specimens in museums. Both adults and larvae prefer low light conditions. Whereas many other moths are drawn to light, common clothes moths seem to prefer dim or dark areas. If larvae find themselves in a well-lit room, they will try to relocate under furniture or carpet edges. Handmade rugs are a favorite, because it is easy for the larvae to crawl underneath and do their damage from below. They will also crawl under moldings at the edges of rooms in search of darkened areas where fibrous debris has gathered and which consequently hold good food.
Damage to woolens is actually done by the larvae that emerge from eggs after a few weeks and start feeding on the fabric they find. They thrive in clothing that is packed away and carpet hidden under furniture, especially if there are food spills or other attractive scents.
This is why the most important methods for preventing and controlling clothes moths is a good housekeeping. Good housekeeping practices are very important, as it is necessary to regularly monitor fabrics and closets for clothes moths and their damage so you can take action when infestations are still small. Periodic dry cleaning or laundering, proper storage, freezing, heating, fumigating with dry ice, trapping, or insecticides are further measures that can be taken. Keeping humidity levels low inside buildings creates an environment that isn’t favorable for clothes moth development. Buildings that don’t have numerous tiny cracks and crevices will also have fewer clothes moth problems.
To inspect for clothes moths, look to see if there are silken tubes in the hidden portions of clothes, such as under collars, or silken mats or patches on material. Both the silken tubes and mats often have fibers and feces incorporated into them. Check to see if you can find any sign of surface grazing of fibers, any holes, or both on the fabrics. With fur, look to see if you have some hairs clipped at their base, causing loose fur to appear. Fully grown larvae of the clothes moth make cigar-shaped, open-ended silken cases that are about 3/8 in long, often with pieces of infested material incorporated into the case. The case containing a live larva is often attached to the infested material at on end.
Prevention methods for clothes moths in your closet and home
Weekly vacuuming can keep these pests at bay without you even knowing. If you clean often, you may remove them without even knowing it, as vacuuming also removes moth eggs and larvae from carpets before they have the opportunity to hatch. Thoroughly clean beneath heavy pieces of furniture; along baseboards and in cracks where hair and debris accumulate; in closets, especially those in which woolens and furs are kept; and inside and behind heaters and inside vents. After vacuuming the infested areas, dispose of the bag’s contents promptly, since it can include eggs, larvae, or adult moths.
The most common and effective method for killing all stages of clothes moths in clothing, blankets, and other washable articles is to thoroughly launder them for 20 to 30 minutes in water that is at least 120°F. Because many woolen items shouldn’t be washed in hot water, sending your items to a dry cleaner might be the only suitable option. Another advantage of keeping your clothes clean is that insects are less likely to feed on clean fabrics than on heavily soiled ones. Also, before you pack up your winter clothing for storage, it is important to wash the clothes that have been worn. This will eliminate any moth eggs, and any perspiration remnants and food spills, which would normally attract and nourish moths. If your clothes smell like moths and there is no way of eliminating the smell, you should discard of them, as they eliminate a strong odor that can be detected by another moth even from a kilometer away.
As these insects can get through extremely small spaces, when storing woolens, re-closable plastic bags or plastic boxes are best for keeping pests out. You can also protect the items from condensation by wrapping them in lengths of clean cotton, before storing them away. Periodically hang your clothes in the sun and brush them thoroughly, especially along seams and inside folds and pockets. Brushing destroys eggs and exposes larvae. Larvae don’t like bright light and will fall from clothing when they can’t find protection.
Some furniture, mattresses, and pillows are stuffed with animal products such as hair or feathers. When clothes moths get into the stuffing, you won’t be able to control them simply by spraying the outside surface of the item. The best way to eliminate the moths is to fumigate the item with dry ice. With smaller items you can try an control the infestation and prevent its expansion by heating the infested item in an oven for at least 30 minutes at temperatures higher than 120°F, enclosing the item in a plastic bag and placing it in a freezer for several days at temperatures lower than 18°F, or also by fumigating the item with dry ice.
Other methods of preventing a moth infestation is by using natural scented deterrents when packing up your clothes. By using cedar chips between you clothes you can keep them fresh, and also moth free. Remember to always replenish the scent of boards, closets, and chests by sanding the wood lightly or by dabbing on them cedar oil, as moths do not like this smell. Lavender has the same effect as it acts as a natural repellent for moths. You can use lavender essential oil on a cotton ball in your clothes to help repel any pests. Sachets filled with lavender (and/or laced with its oil) and suspended in your closet or tucked in your drawers are said to protect woolens. They will also leave a pleasant scent behind. Lavender will not, however, kill moth eggs or larvae, so be sure the space is free of them first.
Be aware of the fact that these prevention methods will work only if the are used together. Just by washing a clothing item and storing it in an unprotected wardrobe will not guarantee that it will not be further attacked by moths or their larvae. A thorough cleaning session once a week and a constant maintenance of the way you are storing your clothes should be enough to help you prevent a clothes moth infestation in your house. Should you be already dealing with an infestation, apply the methods shown in our article about getting rid of clothes moths, and be sure to follow them up with the preventive measures shown here, to be positive that another infestation will not occur.