How to get rid of a moth infestation

Record numbers eating UK out of house and home

The common clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella)
The common clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella)

Are you suffering a moth infestation? We are and we’re not alone. Moth numbers have soared this year, thanks to a combination of a mild winter and warm spring.

Modern-day housekeeping habits aren’t what they were – in the past, people had few clothes, valued them more and we looked after them properly.

Now, thanks mainly to cheap fashion, we buy vast quantities of clothes and stuff them into wardrobes – dark, warm places where moths – silvery-brown, about a  can breed merrily undisturbed.

Moths can cost a fortune – the larvae eat carpets, wool, cashmere, cotton, etc – so how to get rid of them without calling in pest control?

Earlier this year, English Heritage said that clothes moths numbers have doubled in the past five years.

‘Outdoor’ moths tend to be drawn towards light, but clothes moths like dark, undisturbed areas near their food sources. The larvae make holes in clothes and carpets – bizarrely, the adults don’t have a mouth. Signs of damage will tell you where the eggs are, plus webbing and cocoons in corners.

Four types of indoor moths

  • Common clothes moth larvae (Tineola bisselliella) eat irregularly-shaped holes in fabrics
  • Case bearing clothes moth larvae create smaller, more regular shaped holes
  • Brown house moth larvae like materials like feathers and leather
  • White shouldered house moth larvae scavenge on a wide range of food, so are a less damaging to textiles

Preventing moths from infesting your home

  • As they have a strong sense of smell, moths are attracted to human sweat, hair and body oil on clothing made from wool, feathers, fur, and silk). Always wash clothes before you store them.
  • Store clothes in airtight bags or plastic containers, not cardboard boxes.
  • Vacuum regularly, under furniture and in dark corners – moths can lay eggs in carpets.
  • Keep wardrobes ventilated.
  • Use cedar hangers and put extra cedar balls in the pockets of garments in storage.
  • Turn off radiators and open windows to allow air to circulate.

How to get rid of a moth infestation

  • Wash clothing above 48°C for more than half an hour or put them in the freezer for a few days to kill eggs. Clean cupboards and wardrobes with a vinegar and water solution.
  • Natural repellents include dried rosemary, thyme, cloves, lavender or bay leaves. Put the herbs into a cloth bag and place in wardrobes and drawers. The essential oil form of these herbs, sprayed on contaminated areas, works too.
  • Beware eBay or charity shop bargains – larvae are recognisable as inch-long, silvery threads.
  • The moth life cycle is about three weeks, so shake out your clothing once or twice a month, to dislodge any larvae.
  • Rugs, curtains, and cushions can harbour eggs, so give them a good beating and brushing outside (like the olden days) to destroy eggs and expose larvae.
  • Remove dust from vacuum cleaners immediately, or eggs will hatch inside, live off the dust and fly out! Vacuum regularly under beds, carpets and behind radiators.
  • The Moth Box  (£6 from totalwardrobecare.co.uk), stops the breeding cycle by attracting male moths onto an adhesive strip impregnated with female moth pheromones.

Moth infestation in the kitchen

A musty smell, webbing in the corner or a sticky secretion in food cupboards, apart from visual evidence means you need to take action.

  • Throw out contaminated foods and clean the cupboard with a vinegar/water solution.
  • Larvae feed on grains, nuts, and rice. Dispose of any open containers.
  • Keep the kitchen well ventilated.
  • Buy a natural kitchen repellant.

Moths: what NOT to do

Attempt to treat an infestation with normal pesticides. These can be harmful to people and pets.

That old Victorian chestnut, mothballs, would seem to be an obvious answer, as the moth-repelling chemicals naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene slowly kill insects. However, unless the area is sealed, the fumes can be too weak to kill adults and they will leave toxic particles on your clothes.

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