Identifying moths: clothes moths vs pantry 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

To most people, pantry moths and clothes moths look quite similar. In this moth identification guide, you will find out all about identifying moths and how to distinguish between the two different kinds of moths.

a moth showing its patterns sits on a wooden board
If you know the characteristics of the moths, you can easily distinguish between the pests [Photo: Tomasz Klejdysz/ Shutterstock.com]

Nobody likes having moths in their home. Be it webs in your cereal, a moth flying out of your kitchen cabinet or holes in your clothes. Aside from being a nuisance, these seemingly harmless insects are actually pests that can cause considerable damage. The first step to eliminating these unwanted guests is knowing whether you are dealing with clothes moths or pantry moths. Read on to find out all you need to know about identifying these moths and telling the two apart.

How to identify pantry moths

The Indian meal moth (Plodia interpunctella), the Mediterranean flour moth (Ephestia kuehniella) and the warehouse moth (Ephestia elutella) are all types of pantry moths. Pantry moths, also known as food moths, are up to 2.5 cm in size and, depending on the species, have irregular brown or black patterns on their bodies. It is not the adult moths, but rather the larvae that cause the damage. The yellow-white larvae grow up to 1.7 cm in length and look similar to maggots. They like to infest stored food items, such as cereals, flour, nuts, chocolate or tea bags, and contaminate them with their droppings and webs. Pantry moths are often brought into our homes via infested food from the supermarket.

a closed moth sat on grainy food
Pantry moths have grey-black wing markings [Photo: Tomasz Klejdysz/ Shutterstock.com]

Did you know? Not all pantry moths’ wing patterns are the same, but can vary depending on the species, the season, where the moths live as well as what they eat. Therefore, the easiest way to go about identifying moth types is by keeping a close eye on their food sources and by using pheromone traps.

a close up moth with red and beige patterned wings
Typical pattern of the dried fruit moth [Photo: Tomasz Klejdysz/ Shutterstock.com]

Pheromone traps such as our Plantura Pantry Moth Traps have proven to be effective tools to detect a moth infestation as soon as possible as well as to monitor moth populations. The traps contain pheromones, which are chemicals normally emitted by female moths to attract a mate. In pheromone traps, they are used to lure in the male moths, which then stick to the trap. Our Plantura Pantry Moth Traps are very easy to use as they simply need to be placed in the affected cupboards or drawers. The traps last for about six weeks before you need to replace them. Please note that moth traps are only meant for detecting and monitoring moth infestations, rather than eliminating them entirely. They will, however, enable you to act quickly if you do have moths in your home.

Pantry Moth Traps 6-pack
Pantry Moth Traps 6-pack
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star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating
(4.8/5)
  • 6 odourless, long-lasting pantry moth traps
  • Ideal for detecting infestations in kitchens & pantries early on
  • 100% insecticide-free & non-toxic
£8.99

Tip: Warehouse moths and clothes moths (Tineola bisselliella) are difficult to tell apart as they both have shiny wings and a fringe of hair. The only way to identify which of these moth types you are dealing with is with the help of pheromone traps or by looking for larvae either in your wardrobe or in your pantry.

small clothes moth on a grey carpet
Clothes moths and pantry moths are difficult to distinguish [Photo: New Africa/ Shutterstock.com]

How to identify clothes moths

Adult clothes moths (Tineola bisselliella) are about 0.4 to 0.9 cm in size. Their forewings are yellow and silver. Unlike the wings of other moth species, clothes moths’ do not have dots or markings – an important distinguishing feature! As with pantry moths, the actual damage is caused by the larvae. Adult clothes moths do not eat and therefore do not cause any problems. The larvae have a light-coloured, thread-like body with a dark head and feed on materials that contain keratin, such as wool, fur, silk, feathers and even natural wall insulation. Unfortunately, a clothes moth infestation can cause a fair bit of damage. Clothes moths love dark wardrobes. A tell-tale sign of a clothes moth infestation is finding small holes in clothing. However, some smaller moths also feel at home in carpets, which offer ideal living conditions for their larvae.

a light beige coloured clothes moth on balck material
Clothes moth are a solid straw yellow colour [Photo: Tomasz Klejdysz/ Shutterstock.com]

Female clothes moths emit pheromones to attract a mate. There are pheromone traps specially designed to attract clothes moths specifically. Our Plantura Clothes Moth Traps are very effective and easy to use. The traps can be stood up, hung up or stuck to walls or shelves. However, as there is no guarantee that the traps will catch all of the males, they are only meant to detect and monitor an infestation, rather than eliminating it entirely.

Clothes Moth Traps 6-pack
Clothes Moth Traps 6-pack
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star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating
(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

Tip: Case-bearing clothes moths are a type of clothes moth. Their wings have grey-black markings and they are not to be confused with similar-looking pantry moths.

a beige moth on a white fur
The fur moth is often similar to the clothes moth, but can also have darker patterns [Photo: JorgeOrtiz_1976/ Shutterstock.com]

Differences between clothes moths and pantry moths

Clothes moths and pantry moths differ mainly in their appearance. Unlike pantry moths, clothes moths do not have dark patterns or dots on their wings. They are a plain straw colour with a silver sheen. One thing both moth types have in common is that they are considered pests. Food moths are a storage pest as they infest stored food and clothes moths feed on keratin fibres, making them a fabric pest.

Since they feed on different things, they are found in different places, which is another easy way of distinguishing the two. You will not find food moths in a wardrobe, as there is no food for the larvae to feed on, and clothes moths are rarely found in kitchens. Simply pay attention to the differences in appearance and occurrence of the two moth types and it will become quite easy to tell them apart.

Summary: Identifying moths

Food mothsClothes moths
Found primarily in warmer summer monthsMostly plain straw yellow (clothes moth), rarer straw yellow with dark markings or darker grey-black (fur moth)
Infest and contaminate various foodsLeave behind damage in textiles and natural insulation materials from feeding
Occur mainly in the warm summer monthsCan be found all year round
Develop optimally in temperatures of about 30 °CDevelop optimally at about 24 °C; however, slower development is possible at 15 °C and above
Recognisable by webs or larvae in foodsRecognisable by webs and larvae in the wardrobe or holes in clothing

food moth larvae in a transparent container with a blue lid
Food moths are particularly unappetising [Photo: JSep/ Shutterstock.com]

After identifying which kind of moth it is you are dealing with, it is time to get rid of them. However, using pesticides full of chemicals is not the most pleasant or safe option for controlling moths in the wardrobe or in the kitchen. Ichneumon wasps, such as our Plantura Mini-wasps against Clothes Moths and our Mini-wasps against Pantry Moths, are an environmentally-friendly and safe alternative. These parasitic wasps are highly-specialised to parasitise the moth eggs and are thus a very effective biological pest control method.

Mini-Wasps against Clothes Moths - Natural Moth Control
Mini-Wasps against Clothes Moths - Natural Moth Control
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star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating
(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

Our ichneumon wasps come in carded dispensers containing about 2000 wasp eggs each and simply need to be placed at the site of infestation. One card covers an area of approximately one square metre or one enclosed area, such as a cupboard compartment. The number of cards needed therefore depends on the size of the affected area. For a standard sized kitchen, for instance, we recommend using four cards. To ensure that all moths are eliminated and to completely break their life cycle, you will need to introduce cards four to six times at two week intervals. When you purchase our Plantura Mini-wasps against Pantry Moths, you will receive a new batch of the required number of cards from us once a fortnight.

Mini-Wasps against Pantry Moths - Natural Moth Control
Mini-Wasps against Pantry Moths - Natural Moth Control
star-placeholder star-placeholder star-placeholder star-placeholder star-placeholder
star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating star-rating
(5/5)
  • Effective & chemical-free biological control for pantry moths
  • 1 one-time payment for 4 separate lots of mini-wasp cards delivered at 2 week intervals
  • Highest quality parasitic wasps - not harmful to humans or pets
£23.99

Tip: As clothes moths and food moths develop at different rates, you will need to introduce the cards six separate times for clothes moths and four times for pantry moths.

Ichneumon wasps are practically invisible to the naked eye and only stay until their work is done. They then die and, as they are so small, literally turn to dust. After using ichneumon wasps, simply wipe your shelves with a damp cloth and wash your clothes. After that, there will be no traces of the little helpers left.

Tip: Continue setting up moth traps while you are using ichneumon wasps to monitor the moth numbers and to detect when your home is moth-free.

small clothes moth larva on a beige carpet
The larvae of the clothes moth eat fibres containing keratin [Photo: PHOTO FUN/ Shutterstock.com]

To prevent pantry moths and clothes moths from infesting your home in the first place, read our articles on getting rid of pantry moths and clothes moths.

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