There are two species of moths that make their homes in our homes and feed on some of our most treasured (and expensive) belongings. These are the casemaking clothes moth (Tinea pellionella) and the webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella). Of the two, the webbing clothes moth is by far the most common.
Moth and Larvae Identification:
It is always important to verify the identity of any insects you see in your home if you want to control them properly. Most other moths you may see in your home are not a threat to textiles and other insects that do feed on them (like certain beetle species) are easier to kill. The procedure to successfully eliminate a clothes moth infestation is geared to their specific reproductive and feeding behaviors.
It is unlikely you will see the adult clothes moths because they avoid bright wide-open spaces. But, if you see a small (about ½") moth with a fringe of golden hairs along their wings and on top of their heads, that's an adult webbing clothes moth. The casemaking clothes moth is very similar to the webbing clothes moth in size. But their appearance differs in two ways: Their wings are more brownish and are lightly spotted with black dots and the hairs on there are lighter in color.
Another identifier is that both kinds of clothes moths are poor flyers and basically flutter around ineffectually, as opposed to the purposeful, direct flying of other moth species.
The larvae of both clothes moth species are nearly identical in appearance, with one exception. The casemaking clothes moth larva carries around a silken case. They use this as a portable shelter to retreat into as needed. They will enlarge these cases as they grow and stay in them throughout this life stage. Webbing clothes moths don't carry cases around. Instead, they create webbing and feeding tubes. As they move from one location to another, they will leave these behind and create new ones in the next location.
Correct identification is important, but it is also important to understand that killing any adult moths you may see will not fix your problem, as it is their larval stage that does the damage. Females lay between 40 and 50 eggs during their life span. Once a female has eggs, she secretes an adhesive substance that she uses to attach her eggs to fabrics. In warm weather, these eggs can hatch in 4-10 days and in the warm interior of homes this process can go on year-round. Once the eggs hatch, they dig into the fabrics they were placed on and use them for food and shelter.
The larvae of clothes moths feed on natural fibers of animal origin like wool, feathers, silk, fur and leather. This extends to upholstered furniture, rugs, animal bristles in hairbrushes, and items as obscure as the wool felt pads inside pianos. Synthetics blended with natural fibers can also fall victim to the appetite of these moths. Clothes moths are extremely skilled in locating a food source; they will find the tiniest piece of food left in a carpet and will even go after the fish meal in commercial fish food.
Infestations and Control Measures:
The locations that female clothes moths prefer are dark, warm, humid, and out of sight. Closets and storage areas perfectly fit these preferences, as do seams in clothing, crevices in furniture and under collars. The hidden nature of these larval homes can make it challenging to discover and control. Some indicators that you are dealing with a clothes moth infestation are silky little tunnels, furrows, or tubes on clothing, furs that shed excessively, crusty deposits that resemble mucus, webby bits, and irregular holes in fabrics. As with many other types of insect control, preventative steps are often the best first steps. Here are some recommendations:
- It may seem indelicate to say, but good housekeeping and only storing clean garments helps immensely. Clothes moths are drawn to materials that are holding body oils and food residue. They will also find areas in the home that don't often get deep-cleaned, like under furniture.
- Store items in a sealed storage bin, vacuum-compression bag, or any other tightly-sealed storage situation.
- Whenever possible, store clothing by hanging it instead of folding it. The larvae are drawn to folds they can hide in. If you store items in a hanging garment bag, be sure to thoroughly tape up the zipper and closure area.
- Rotate items in a closet regularly so that nothing stays hidden in the dark too long.
- Periodically air out and allow light into your closet or storage area - clothes moths will abandon an area if they cannot find a spot safe from bright light.
A few words about cedar: For hundreds of years people stored their garments in cedar chests and cedar-lined closets in the belief that cedar keeps the moths away. We now know that the efficacy of cedar as a deterrent/repellent wans as soon as the oils dry. However, if you use a cedar chest and it closes tightly it will act as a barrier control long after the oils are gone.
Mothballs are another traditional method of control that is still recommended with some caveats. These aromatic spheres are strong pesticides that work best in ample numbers in closed environments, which means that the fumes can build up and make you sick. Additionally, the chemicals in moth balls can soften plastic, which may allow moths to enter.
Cleaning up an infestation includes many of the steps delineated above, with a few additional deep-cleaning steps and pesticidal options. Adding sticky traps to the area when possible is also effective, as are phermones lures/traps. These types of traps eliminate the love-hungry males and cut down on future generations. In Europe, they have had success with the moth egg parasite, Trichogramma. When you're ready to order, give us a call at 1-800-827-2847 for and we can help determine just what and how much to order from us to meet your particular needs. It is important to not let an infestation overwhelm you; although labor-intensive, prevention and elimination of clothes moths is very doable.