Open season for clothes moths

As woolens are pulled out of storage in this hemisphere, a battle plan for the pests.

After four years of effort, we still have some clothes moths in the apartment. I regard them as gardeners view aphids: I can control, but probably not eliminate.

A Parisienne whose family business produces exquisite fabrics told me, "They are going to be around. We know. It used to be seasonal, now it's all year."

 We've been moth-free for years at a time, but sooner or later there is a telltale hole or sighting.

We take the steps described here. You may use other methods, but be warned: inaccurate "advice" abounds, usually from vendors of various all-natural concoctions.

Hi handsome, where are you from?

Clothes moths, unlike pantry moths, are weak flyers, so they are most likely carried in, usually as eggs, invisible to the naked eye. Regard any organic fibre that comes into your home as their ride.

Items that you will wash "soon" or take to the cleaners when you have a good pile—that's like a sign that says FREE PIZZA. I'm not saying you're careless, you're busy!

They like those natural fibres—but also eat minuscule flakes of skin, feathers, fur, lint, paper and leather, and prefer things with traces of body dirt (undetectable to you). They will also eat natural fibres blended with synthetics.

Defensive moves

When you bring any natural-fibre item home, pop it in a bag in and deep-freeze it for a week. A cotton quilt? Give it a thorough wash on hot and press with steam. Both extreme heat and cold will kill eggs, which are invisible to your eye. 

Shake out or brush your clothes and linens; rotate hanging items— don't let anything sit in the back of the closet or in an open basket for months.

Moths can get into any container that's not airtight. Le Duc had a mournful moment recently, when he opened a snap-lid box and discovered destroyed sweaters. Either the lid had come loose, or he had stored something that harboured eggs that matured into munchers.

If you rent a storage unit, or store items in your garage or a shed, be hyper-vigilant. We are certain we picked up moths in our storage facility—we've seen them flying about—and transferred them to our home.

Weapons of choice
Products that work, and those that don't:


Pherome traps are Step One in the battle. The moment you find a moth hole or see something flying, get them.

KritterKill traps: best price, best product I've found.

They alert you to moths' presence and level. Unless you have a minor infestation, these sticky traps (which work by attracting the males) will not eliminate it. It takes just one male to not fall for the pheromes, and meet a real mothgirl.

The traps are effective for three months. If yours are empty, repeat the three-month cycle at least twice more before declaring victory.

A neighbour told me he would not use traps because they "would attract moths". Hogwash. If they are in your home, you want to know. Otherwise, they will keep breeding and oh, you'll be sorry!

How many to use? There are different opinions. I use one in each room and one in each closet. I use the plastic cages; the pads are super-sticky—you don't want them touching fabric.

Good old camphor/napthalene mothballs or cakes
They kill moths at all stages if used in a well-sealed closet or airtight storage box. Here is a comprehensive post that discusses their toxicity. I used the cake in our offsite storage unit because there was no exposure to children or animals, but not in our home. Up to you.

Moth-proofing sprays: These are professional products. We have our wool rugs cleaned and mothproofed every two years, as our carpet specialist recommends.

Elbow grease: If you're infested, vacuum and dust like a maniac. Vacuum the undersides of furniture, not just the floor beneath it, and don't forget the back of pictures, underneath objects like a sewing machine, or behind the dryer. Moths can live in the tiniest spaces, and unlike ants do not cluster in a nest.

Change the vacuum cleaner bag outdoors, because you are almost certainly going to suck up some stage of moth.

We have many spaces we can't get to, like behind floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I stand KritterKill traps back there. Be especially vigilant about our entryway or mudroom closets, where guests hang their coats and you are likely to let clothes sit undisturbed for months.

Two methods we do not use:
Diatomaceous earth: A pest control product for moths, bed bugs, silverfish.
Parasitic Trichogrammas wasps: The parasitic wasps are shipped live (as eggs, which then hatch); you introduce them to your home, where they eat moth eggs. They are harmless for humans and pets, and have a short lifespan. The wasp method takes several months to effect and does not guarantee complete results. The basic kit from a distributor near me is $160.


These products do not kill eggs, larvae or moths, but will make a stored item less attractive:

Lavender essential oil: instead of dried lavender sachets or drawer liners, I dab essential oil on cotton balls, and keep the balls in a small, open box in every drawer that contains something moth-edible. Refresh the oil monthly.

The efficacy of cedar hangers, sachets, or drawer liners is unproven; you need a high concentration of cedar oil to even hope that works. Ditto rosemary, cinnamon and other herbal concoctions, perfumed bars of soap and Avon Skin So Soft.


In your drawer:

If you have no moths, natural fibre storage bags that breathe are best—but if you do, use plastic sweater bags for individual items; I use Ziploc extra-large freezer bags. I let a few sweaters rest unprotected in a drawer, so the fiber can breathe, restricting those free-range garments to a few at a time, and washing before they go back in a bag.

You can also use those jumbo plastic vacuum storage bags from a Dollar Store for "next in line to wear" pieces. Don't suck out the air to create a vacuum, which will wrinkle your sweaters. The important thing is to limit what is exposed. Contrary to what some online cashmere merchants say, moths will chew through or live on cotton storage bags, including flannel shoe bags.

For seasonal storage:

Use large snap-lid boxes, and check the seal. Plastic boxes can dry and crack, or the closure's seal can loosen.
I place Rentokill or Kapo brand unscented, non-toxic moth killer papers inside each box, since the day I saw a moth strolling on my cashmere when I opened a snap-lid. Not easy to find; try Amazon or eBay.

(When in France, I stock up on Kapo moth control products; they make the full arsenal.)

Hanging garment bags or dry cleaner's bags are better than nothing, but the hole for the hanger creates an open door. I have shaken many dead moths from the bottom of those bags.

For rail-hanging moth-repellant cassettes: the effectiveness is compromised if the closet is opened regularly, and is not airtight.

Textiles are a happy part of my life; I'm not going to wear only synthetics, but it has occurred to me.

Good luck— and if you have no clothing moths, I envy you.


Jen Lawrence said…
Thank you for sharing. I've been doing battle and seem to have had success with the Total Wardrobe Care products from the UK. They make a pheromone trap as well as some deterrent oils and fabric protection bags. I've lost too many beautiful sweaters in the past. I'll take a look at some of the products you've recommended to bolster my efforts!
Duchesse said…
Jen Lawrence: Natural oils such as those sold by the company you mention are deterrents for adult moths looking for a place to live and breed. They smell divine but do not kill eggs, larvae or mature clothes moths. I use them but they are only adjuncts. Read how British national museums are fighting infestations: pherome traps (non-toxic) and vigilant housekeeping, not a natural herb product in sight. Article here:

Some pheromee traps are better than others.
Laura J said…
Excellent advice. As a knitter the freezer is a good friend. But the best is as you describe and so important to use woolen items. Great reason to have fewer things rotated through more frequently.

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