How to identify and control clothes moths

Verena
Verena
Verena
Verena

I grew up on a small, organic family farm and after a gap year spent working on an American ranch, I started studying agricultural science. Soil, organic farming practices, and plant science are what I am most drawn to. At home, when I'm not in our garden, you can find me in the kitchen, cooking and baking with our harvested fruits and vegetables.

Favorite fruit: Even if a bit boring - apples
Favorite vegetables: Bell peppers, red beets, zucchini, white cabbage

There is nothing worse than finding that moths have munched holes into your favourite jumper. In this article, we explain how to identify clothes moths and their larvae and provide you with a guide on how to prevent and get rid of moths in the house.

clothes moth
Clothes moths are an unwelcome guest in the closet [Photo: DeZet/ Shutterstock.com]

Clothes moths (Tineola bisselliella) belong to the family of tineid (or fungus) moths known as Tineidae. They are one of the most common species of indoor moths and can be found across the world. However, the actual problem-makers are the larvae rather than the adult moths, as they cause holes in all kinds of fabrics. Here is everything you need to know about these infamous insects – from how to identify them to how to deal with an infestation.

How to identify clothes moths

To detect clothes moths, it is important to know what they look like throughout their life cycle as well as what they like to feed on.

Identifying adult moths and larvae

Clothes moths are very small and not easy to see, especially when they are at rest. Adult moths have a wingspan of 10 to 15 mm. Their wings are shiny and have a fringe of hair. Depending on what they eat, they can vary in colour from dark brown to light yellow.

Clothes moth on white wall
Case-bearing clothes moths are one of the types of clothes moths responsible for nibbling holes you’re your clothes [Photo: JorgeOrtiz_1976/ Shutterstock.com]

Moth traps such as our Plantura Clothes Moth Traps help detect a moth infestation at an early stage. The traps contain pheromones, which are chemicals normally emitted by females to attract a mate. They are used as lures for male moths, which then stick to the trap. Moth traps are therefore great for detecting the presence of a pest and enabling you to act quickly. However, since pheromone traps have no effect on females or larvae and do not catch every male, they are only meant for detecting and monitoring a moth infestation rather than eliminating it entirely. Our Plantura Clothes Moth Traps are very easy to use and can be stood up, hung up or stuck to walls or shelves. The pheromones in traps last for three months, at which point the trap will need to be replaced.

Clothes Moth Traps 6-pack
Clothes Moth Traps 6-pack
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(5/5)
  • 6 odourless, long-lasting clothes moth traps
  • Ideal for detecting infestations in wardrobes & storage rooms early on
  • 100% insecticide-free & non-toxic
£9.99

Clothes moths are active between May and September. During this time, a female can lay up to 250 eggs. The yellow-white larvae hatch after about two weeks. Given the right conditions – a temperature of around 24°C and 75% humidity – it takes only 60 days for them to develop into adults. The larvae usually live in the nests of mammals or birds, where they feed on hair or feathers. These contain a fibrous protein known as keratin, which the larvae need for their development. Although moths usually only emerge during the summer months, they can survive in our homes all year round due to central heating.

carpet moth larvae
It is the larvae of clothes moths that cause the damage, rather than the adult moths [Photo: PHOTO FUN/ Shutterstock.com]

Clothes moths love wool and fur, making wardrobes with garments made from these materials an ideal home for the little troublemakers. Clothes moth larvae cannot digest synthetic fibres, but sometimes they will nibble away at them anyway and excrete the fibres undigested. Worn clothes usually contain hair and dander, making them an ideal source of nutrition and even more prone to larval damage. You may also find clothes moths in carpets because, unfortunately, these pests are not restricted to wardrobes, but will also munch their way through carpets and even wall insulation.

Note: Even cars can become infested by clothes moths. Read more about this in our article on moths in cars.

Identifying clothes moth damage

Threadbare patches and holes in clothes are signs of clothes moths. Materials such as wool, fur or feathers are especially popular. If the moths come across mixed fabrics, they will only eat the parts made from natural fibres.

Holes in clothing from clothes moths
Clothes moths leave behind tell-tale holes in your clothing and other textiles [Photo: coco312/ Shutterstock.com]

In some cases, you may also find moth webbing – similar to spider webs – and moth excrement. Larval excrement looks like little crumbs that differ in shape and resemble the colour of whatever piece of fabric the larvae chewed through.

How to prevent clothes moths

Prevention is better than cure – this also goes for moth infestations. Read on for some tips and tricks to prevent clothes moths from making their way into your home in the first place.

Clothes moth pupae
Moth larvae pupate in protective webs while they are still active [Photo: Young Swee Ming/Shutterstock.com]
  • Flyscreens: Install flyscreens on the windows of the rooms in which your clothes are stored. They will make it harder for moths to enter your living space.
  • Garment storage bags: Place clothes you do not need regularly in bags to keep them protected. This is especially useful when it comes to clothes you will not need for a long period of time, e.g. winter clothes throughout the summer.
  • Hoovering: Hoover regularly to prevent the small pests from settling anywhere. But be warned: moths can also nest inside hoover bags, as the larvae like dark, quiet places. Therefore, make sure to change the hoover bag regularly as well.
  • Moth balls: An old homemaker’s trick is the use of mothballs. They contain substances such as naphthalene which keep these insects away. However, many of us will probably remember the strong smell of our grandmothers’ closets – certainly not something you want in your own home. Today’s mothballs contain a substance known as paradichlorobenzene which has a less intense smell. Unfortunately, it is not very environmentally friendly and can be a health hazard, which means moth balls are not an ideal solution.
  • Natural methods: The good news is there are more natural and more pleasant alternatives, for example the use of essential oils from woods such as Swiss stone pine, cedar or neem trees. Lavender is an effective herb against moths. Simply place scent sachets filled with dried lavender in your wardrobe or chests of drawers. This also smells much nicer than moth balls!
get rid of moths in house
Scented sachets can keep clothes moths away [Photo: igra.design/Shutterstock.com]

Summary: How to prevent clothes moths

  • Install flyscreens
  • Place clothes in garment storage bags
  • Hoover and change the hoover bag regularly
  • Use moth balls
  • Use essential oils or scented sachets with dried lavender or woods such as Swiss stone pine, cedar or neem tree

If these pests do happen to make their way into your home and you find moths in your wardrobe, you will want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. There are several ways of dealing with a moth infestation, including home remedies, chemical treatments as well as the use of beneficial insects. Here are several moth control methods for you to consider individually or mix and match.

Chemical moth control

Chemical treatment mainly comes in the form of insecticides – usually sprays. Their active ingredients are often constituents of pyrethrins. These chemicals are not good for the environment or for our health, which is why we suggest using them with caution, especially if you have children or animals.

Natural moth control

For those of us who do not want to rely on chemical treatments, there are a number of sustainable alternatives to choose from – ranging from home remedies to pheromone traps to the use of beneficial insects, such as ichneumon wasps. Moth traps such as our Plantura Clothes Moth Traps help detect the presence of moths at an early stage. Although they cannot be used to eliminate a moth infestation entirely as they only have an effect on males, they are a great means of monitoring moth populations.

Clothes moth trap full of moths
With pheromone traps you can detect an infestation early on [Photo: andras_csontos/ Shutterstock.com]

Clothes moth control with ichneumon wasps

An effective way of getting rid of a moth infestation is the use of ichneumon wasps. Although it may sound strange at first to bring more insects into your home for insect control, ichneumon wasps have been employed to control pest populations since the 19th century. Many species of the genus Trichogramma have been bred specially to eliminate moths. They do this by parasitising the moth eggs, thereby preventing the eggs from developing any further or hatching.

Our Plantura Natural Moth Control – Mini-Wasps against clothes moths come in carded dispensers containing the beneficial insects of the genus Trichogramma. They are living moth killers and enable you to control clothes moths in a natural and sustainable way.

Mini-Wasps against Clothes Moths - Natural Moth Control
Mini-Wasps against Clothes Moths - Natural Moth Control
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(3.8/5)
  • Effective & chemical-free biological control for clothes moths
  • 1 one-time payment for 6 separate lots of mini-wasp cards delivered at 2 week intervals
  • Highest quality parasitic wasps - not harmful to humans or pets
£39.99

Each card contains about 2000 ichneumon wasp eggs and simply needs to be placed at the site of infestation. One card covers an area of approximately one square metre or an enclosed area such as a cupboard compartment. After hatching, the tiny insects immediately get to work. They have a short life span and only stay until their work is done, as they cannot reproduce without moth eggs. Ichneumon wasps are practically invisible to the naked eye and are harmless to humans, animals and clothing.

Tip: Once you are done using ichneumon wasps, wipe your shelves with a damp cloth and wash your clothes. After that, there will be no traces left of these little helpers.

To ensure that all moths are eliminated and to completely break their life cycle, you will need to introduce cards six times at 14-day intervals. Should you choose our Plantura Natural Moth Control – Mini-Wasps against clothes moths, we will deliver the required number of cards right to your doorstep over the course of several weeks. Applied correctly, ichneumon wasps are an effective way of getting rid of clothes moths – and the same goes for pantry moths.

Home remedies

The fact that both adult moths and larvae do not like extreme temperatures is something you can use against them with textiles that are not easy to wash, such as sofa covers or cushions. Simply place them in the oven at 50 to 60 °C for about an hour to kill the moths, larvae and eggs. However, be very careful and do not leave the oven unattended, as a piece of fabric in the oven is always a fire hazard.

Another heat treatment method is placing textiles in the blazing sun on a hot day and covering them with black foil. This also works well with carpets. Make sure to leave the items in the sun for several hours.

While cold treatment is a safer option than hot treatment, it is often not quite as effective. However, since washing woolly jumpers at high temperatures is not an option, sensitive items can be placed in the freezer. Leave them there for at least a week at regular intervals to get rid of the moth larvae.

how to get rid of carpet moths naturally
Woollen clothes can be put in the freezer for a few days to get rid of moths [Foto: Lolostock/ Shutterstock.com]

Summary: Methods for getting rid of clothes moths

  • Chemical treatment with sprays – unfortunately poisonous
  • Natural control with Trichogramma ichneumon wasps – safe and effective
  • Home remedies such as heat or cold treatment of clothing

Another unwelcome intruder very similar to clothes moths is the pantry moth. Find out how to get rid of pantry moths, for instance with ichneumon wasps, in our article.

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