When mite is not right: Taking on moths

Call it hubris; moth-free for decades, I though that counted for something.
But one day in late September, I pulled out a fine wool shirt out of my closet, and saw a drowsy moth staggering down the front.

I freaked. Where did they come from?

Turns out, through the back door. We have a small storage locker off site, to warehouse items that our sons want but can't use right now—mostly furniture, but also several antique rugs. I failed to store them properly; we had simply rolled them in a corner. 

The unit has a wire mesh ceiling, so moths, hearing the siren call of old, undisturbed wool, set up shop, then likely jumped to something carried home

We visit the unit rarely and had never seen anything, but this time, we found a wild kingdom, from larvae to mature insects (ewww).

The carpets were destroyed beyond repair.

If you rent a storage locker, check their pest-protection practices. Our facility is sprayed regularly, but because of that open ceiling, moths (or their nasty friends, carpet beetles) carried in by someone else become free-range. We cleaned thoroughly and took all wool out. The unit now looks moth free.

The evening one fluttered by in our apartment, I knew they had breached our home. Searching frantically, I found a drawer full of wool berets, infested.

Several friends made their own discoveries after hearing my plight. Where their new pets were hiding:
- Vera's armoire, where she had sentimentally kept  (but never worn) her mother's old fur coat,
- Helen's daughter's closet; N. had long moved out, but kept some favourite old clothes there, and
- Natasha's spanking new apartment; they seem to have crashed the housewarming, arriving from somewhere. 

Natty's lavender
Natty asked me to buy her a kilo of lavender from the market; lavender or cedar sachets have some deterrent effect (depending on concentration) but do not vanquish an infestation according to this Guardian article
For a good tutorial on both prevention and dealing with the sons of bitches pests if they gain a winghold, see this article, and here is Martha Stewart's advice.

No free lunch!
The only guests I want are the kind who come over for a roast chicken dinner, not the type who say, "Hi, if you're not wearing that sweater, can I eat it?" But they are here.

I shall fight in the closets, I shall fight in the drawers, I shall fight around the baseboards; I shall never surrender.

Has anyone tried those pherome-emitting traps?


LauraH said…
What a lousy break, so nasty for you to deal with as well as the loss of your lovely carpets and berets. I've read your previous posts about moths and have stored my cashmere sweaters, newly bought with your advice/guidance, in Brora storage bags. I figured they must be adequate to keep the sob's out.

Thank you for the additional info links to help us all keep the enemy at bay.
LauraH said…
Also wanted to add that I thoroughly washed and dried all my sweaters as per your instructions - washing machine, baby shampoo, etc. Thanks again for guiding us cashmere newbies.
materfamilias said…
We have an ongoing low-level problem in our Vancouver condo. If I spent enough time there, I'd go right through my husband's closet and clear out anything suspect, wash, vaccuum, lavender/cedar, etc. Instead, I check regularly for any traces and if I spot any signs I lay garments out to expose them to light which the moths, apparently, don't like. I've also thrown things into the freezer. Chucked a few items as well, sadly.
Not just wool is susceptible. They'll also go for silk (animal protein is the draw) or leather, although that's quite a chew. . . In our main home, where I have a huge stash of wool, we've been lucky so far, but I'm always vigilant.
Good luck!
So sad to look at those beautiful rugs - not to mention the bérets!
Wow they really did have a go at your wool rug.
I had a cashmere scarf that was eaten beyond repair a few years ago and I never saw any moths flying about in the house. I store all my wool sweaters in a plastic tub over the spring and summer seasons and so far we have been lucky. But it is probably just a matter of time before they attack.
I have heard that cedar is a deterant so you may want to buy some in addition to the Lavendar.
Duchesse said…
Laura: I'm so glad you tried that method of washing! I too use bags and snap lids but the berets were just stacked in a drawer.

materfamilias: Have begun to air things in rotation. My godfather, who sold exquisite quality woolens, always said, "Mess 'em up"- meaning your clothes; moths like undisturbed corners.

lagatta: The berets are a hell of a lot cheaper than those rugs, which I doubt we will replace.

hostess: If you read the Guardian link, apparently cedar has to be in quite high concentration of the oil in the wood to have any effect. I do have cedar balls and tiles in my drawers but I have not sanded them, which apparently brings back some of the deterrent scent.
Anonymous said…
Another deterrent is strongly scented bath soap, numerous cakes in the corners of drawers and scattered among layers of knitwear.
Also as you say, constant vigilance.
It's a war we can't win, just hope to keep them at bay.
Oh, I know the bérets are a tiny fraction of the price of even one of those oriental rugs!

Even my lovely moth-consumed Austrian loden coat was worth more than all my bérets, and it didn't cost as much as most oriental rugs, even small and less precious ones.

But one does love one's bérets.
Anonymous said…
I can contribute a pantry moth horror story.

One unusually wet summer I had an infestation of these moths in my pantry cupboard - nothing was spared, they even got inside glass jars and laid their eggs everywhere. It was dreadful and I had to throw all food stuffs out.

I now use pantry moth traps which contain a lure and it's extraordinary how many moths are caught. They are only needed in summer and seem to be effective.

I also place bay leaves and lavender around the cupboard and place sealed bags around especially delicious (to moths)foods.

I truly sympathise with your much larger losses and have taken away some useful tips re storage of goods.

Anonymous said…
So sorry to hear about your experience. I had a similar one recently. After years of buying oriental rugs through reputable local dealers, I bought a beautiful rug on ebay for a good price from a well reviewed seller. It turned out the rug had casement moths - I kept seeing these odd creatures here and there around the house and finally diagnosed the problem. I ended up calling my pest control company, who came and treated the house, including fumigation. I still saw a casement moth every now and then for a few weeks, but finally the house seems to be back to normal! I've read that the moths are an ongoing problem in the UK. Wouldn't wish it on anyone. Good luck!
Anonymous said…
Oh, what a relevent post as we all look to our stored fall/winter clothes. I thought I had beaten those ugly butterflys. I have used large bags of bulk lavender, but I just put on a sweater the other day only to find 'the hole'. It is in NYC now, with the man who has repaired my last two moth eaten cashmere sweaters, perfectly. The time and expense involved is so annoying. Will we ever win?
Unknown said…
These little pests are the bane of my life as I store my winter wardrobe in our garage. Everything is wrapped and bagged and I hang up moth traps everywhere. By the end of the season I have caught quite a few. It is me against them. All out war.
Anonymous said…
I use the cedar balls and once a month or so put a drop of cedar essential oil on them.
Don´t use the pheromone traps, they just attract more into your house!
Rita said…
I use Raid Fumigators every three or four months - I treat the entire house every time, also the garage in the summer months. This prevents anything from getting a foothold.
Anonymous said…
As a knitter and lover of animal fibers, my heart clenched at your post. How awful to lose your beautiful rugs.

I will share the advice I picked up at the yarn shop where I worked -- and where people brought things for the owner to mend invisibly. With clothes, scarves, bérets, etc., it's important to store everything CLEAN. It isn't 100% guaranteed to keep moths out, but they do like the combo of animal fiber with a little human "flavoring" a lot more than clean fiber. It's a pain in the neck, and pricy, to hand wash what you can and dry clean what you daren't, but in the long run, it's money well spent compared to the pain and expense of losing cherished garments.

I still have some wool rugs (and tons of knitting wool) in my storage unit in the States -- I'm hoping everything is safe from harm. Guess I'll find out when I am home this winter.
Duchesse said…
Lilibet: Thanks, I had never heard of that.
Sue: I've had pantry moths but they never invoke the horror in me that clothes moths do. There are pherome traps for both types of moth.

Anon@ 5:46: In my continuing research I learned that ducts in apartment or condo units can actually blow moths into your place.

I use your essential oil method with lavender oil, which i put on cotton balls, then into open small boxes in the drawers.

rubi: I knew that and always kept on top of the cleaning for garments. I just zoned out about the rugs which of course must have had organic debris in them, even if they looked more or less clean.

And as materfamilias pointed out they will eat many fibers other than wool: silk, cotton, feathers and even natural bristle brushes.
Jane in London said…
Moths are a problem here in London - I have sucessfully used Zensect Bouchard Mothproofer Balls for years. Liberally sprinkled wherever clothes are stored, they keep the moths at bay. They don't smell, and they gradually fade in colour so you can see when they need to be replaced. Nothing else works! Good luck.

Duchesse said…
Jane: Very helpful to have product recommendations, not only for me but for all readers. The problem seems to be more prevalent each year.
Unknown said…
Can't resist telling this pheromone-trap story. In the late 80's I was working in a restaurant in Toronto on Yonge St. You just can't get rid of roaches in those old bldgs, we tried, often. Those trap were new out and the manager decided to try them. What we ended up getting were droves of sex-crazed roaches who, abandoning all discretion, now were running up the patrons' legs, running up on the tables right into people's dishes of food and wildly waving their antennae at them, and dive-bombing everything off the wall and ceilings. In short, a massive fail.
Unknown said…
Most people miss this point, so it bears emphasizing to always check your storage facility's pest control measures. Pests flourish when no one's around, and since storage facilities are some of the places that are rarely visited, this is even more important. I hope you guys don't have to deal with these again. Good luck!

Everett Tyler @ General Store-All Mini Storage
frugalscholar said…
Well, other than my commiseration, I can't add very much. I think brushing of wool garments--esp coats, blazers, and the like--helps a bit. i have found that moths generally go for the most expensive and treasured items--e.g. camel hair and cashmere coats.
HelsBells said…
I had moths literally DESTROY 75% of my beautiful winter wardrobe that I had been building for over a decade. And they did it in a matter of just 2 months!! I cried when I discovered the devastation and each day that it took me to clean out that closet. I still feel sick thinking about all the beautiful, well-made, unique pieces that could not be saved. The only thing that's worked for me is getting everything laundered/ cleaned and stored in air-tight plastic bins with fresh cedar. I'm so sorry for your loss. Kill those ravenous bastards!!
June Huston said…
Duchesse said…
HelsBels: Oh no! And they did that without you noticing. Evil personified. I have now turned the 2 main coat closets into
"cedar closets" with cedar oil and cedar 2x4s (which will not kill existing moths or larvae, only deter new infestation.) I clean clothing and keep seasonal items in snap boxes, but hanging things like wool coats are still vulnerable.

JuneHuston: They are not interested in you, just your textiles.

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