Clothes Moths Undressed

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

grows and eventually transforms into a tough cocoon. Webbing clothes moth larvae attach to one small area of your sweater while they eat it, spinning silken patches or short feeding tunnels for protection. They don't move around much. Casemaking moths enclose themselves in a mobile, protective case as they eat, dragging it with them wherever they please. They eventually settle in a folded corner of fabric or dark, protected cracks high in your closet and make tough cocoons out of the chewed up pieces of your sweater, leaving you with a perforated garment.

Adult moths emerge from the cocoons and have about a week to find a mate. Females emit pheromones to attract males. They mate, and the cycle begins again. The next generation of moths may get into your supply of wool guest blankets or down pillows.

Are you convinced now that your house is infested? Are you ready to doff all natural fiber and switch to polyester, or just go au natural? You don't have to take drastic measures. Clothes moths are fairly easy to thwart.

Keep your woolens clean. Clothes moths are attracted to organic materials, such as body oils, perspiration and saliva, that commonly accumulate on woolens. Dry cleaning or laundering will kill the eggs and larvae.

Don't let stored items go undisturbed for a whole season. Unfold your blankets and sweaters from time to time. Shake them out. Hang your blankets, sweaters and feather pillows outside in the hot sun a couple of times during the summer. Hot, direct sunlight will drive away or kill eggs and larvae.

For long-term storage, keep your woolens in tight-fitting, plastic containers. Remember to clean them before putting them away. Cedar-lined closets or cedar chips placed inside your storage container will curb clothes moths. Cedar masks the males' ability to smell female pheremones, but it doesn't kill eggs or larvae. Neither do common household quantities of mothballs, although they do pose a health risk to pets or kids who could accidentally ingest them. Mothballs contain the chemical naphthalene, which is toxic. Mothballs also have a strong, lingering odor.

Try concocting an old-time moth repellant. In the 1800s, members of the Sturbridge Village farm community in Sturbridge, Mass. used a mixture of dried plants to ward away clothes moths. They placed dried geranium, lavender and tansy, along with pine needles and cedar chips, into small cloth bags and tucked the bags into their folded woolens.

If on that first, chilly fall evening, you discover moths have nestled into your sweater closet, get ready to clean. Empty your storage space and wipe it clean with a wet sponge. Wash your woolens by hand or take them to the cleaners. Give priority to the ones that aren't yet damaged. They are probably harboring eggs that have yet to hatch into larvae. You can also place sweaters and smaller items into a freezer to kill the eggs, or hang them outside for the first frost of the year. Repairing moth-chewed woolens can be tricky. Unlike a snag or little tear that can be stitched closed, moths literally devour part of the material. There's usually nothing to pull back together or rejoin. Try repairing knitted sweaters by turning them inside out and closing the hole the best you can with a needle and fine thread. Bulky yarn and knits tend to hide the repair job better than finer ones.

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