If you’re like a lot of folks, it’s probably been a minute since you needed your grown-up wardrobe. Many of us have been working remotely for the last few … years? Has it really been years? Holy moly. You might break out the dress shirts for a Zoom call, but otherwise, we’re living in a permanent Causal Friday, which gives moths a chance to get at all those slacks or dresses in the closet.
There are two species of moth that love to devour your natural-fiber clothes, and once they get into your house they will silently—and often invisibly—begin to literally eat your clothes like something out of a horror movie. Clothes moths love dark, undisturbed places, so the less you wear and wash your clothes, the better it is for them. Here’s what you can do if you discover that a civilization of clothes moths have been thriving in your closets.
First, how do you know if you’re dealing with clothing moths? There are three tell-tale signs:
- You open your closet or a drawer and moths fly out. This is not a joke, and it makes it kind of obvious.
- Your clothes start to develop mysterious holes, ranging from the size of a pinhead to the size of increasingly large coins. These are made by the moth larvae, who chew their way through your clothes until they’re ready to spread their wings and fly out at you when you finally open your closet door.
- There’s a layer of “dust” on the bottom of your drawers or closet floors that resembles salt and pepper—this is the remnants of the pupae or “cases” where the larvae hatch, as well as the remains of dead moths.
Most people first realize they have moths when those mysterious holes appear in their favorite sweaters. Moths like natural fibers, so it’s not unusual to have a closet or drawer where half the clothes have been devoured and the other half left untouched. One thing is for sure: Once you have moths, any natural-fiber item of clothing you place in that closet or drawer will be destroyed pretty quickly. You have to get rid of those moths or commit to the rayon and nylon lifestyle.
Death to moths
While many moth species are in decline, clothing moth populations are definitely increasing. If you opened a closet and an army of tiny, cream-colored insects flew out, you don’t need to feel bad about moving to DEFCON 1 and eradicating the enemy. Here’s how to do it:
First, treat the clothes. Pull everything out of your closet or drawers and inspect each item. You’ll be amazed how many holes you’ll find. Repairing moth holes is possible, but not easy, and it will be very difficult to make your expensive clothes look like new. You’ll need to decide if moth-damaged clothing is worth salvaging or if it should just be tossed.
Don’t assume that just because you don’t see any moth holes an article of clothing is safe—it may very well be host to moth eggs or larvae. You’ll need to ensure those little buggers are gone before you return the clothes to your closets:
- If the clothing is machine-washable and dryable, wash it in hot water. The water has to be hot, over 120 degrees, so you might consider temporarily turning up your water heater. Put them in the dryer, but again, it has to be at least 120 degrees in there. If you’re not sure about this, try another option.
- The key here is the temperature extreme. If you can’t wash your clothes and/or your dryer doesn’t bring enough heat, you can place your clothes in the oven at 125 degrees for half an hour, or put them in plastic bags and stick them in the freezer for 24 hours (or longer if you want to be extra certain). Note: If your clothing has plastic buttons, beading, or other notions you shouldn’t bake ‘em, as they might melt or deform.
- Alternatively (but much, much more expensively), dry-cleaning will definitely do the trick.
As clothes are treated, sequester them. It’s not a bad idea to pack them in sealable plastic garment bags to make sure no enterprising moth gets in there after you’ve baked their family members to death.
Second, treat your storage. Your closets and drawers are gonna need a deep cleaning. If you haven’t already, move everything out of the area. Moth eggs get into the cracks and seams of drawers, floors, and walls. Vacuum the heck out of all of them, getting into every seam you can manage. Then wipe everything down using whatever household cleaner you would normally employ.
For best results, you should use an insecticide to make sure any eggs or larvae you missed (these suckers are small) are killed, and to ensure future moth invaders don’t get a fresh toehold. Look for insecticides made with pyrethrum or a related compound, which are typically available in dust form (Delta Dust is a popular choice). These insecticides are specific to flying insects like moths. Be careful: These dusts are dusty and if you just start blasting them into your corners and crevices you will wind up with a cloud of death in your house. Instead of splashing dust around like a maniac, put a small amount into a container and use an old paintbrush to gingerly encourage it into cracks and seams—and be careful to clean up spills f you have pets or children who might get near it.
Finally, add some deterrents. Now that your closets are (presumably) moth-free, take some steps to keep them that way. Avoid old-school mothballs—they do work, but unlike Delta Dust they freely pump fumes into your home that are just as bad for you (and your pets) as they are for the moths, and they can also damage plastic, putting your garment bags and other closet items at risk.
Old-fashioned cedar will help. Moths are repelled by the smell of cedar and other essential oils, so placing some cedar planks or sachets in your closets and drawers will at least increase your chances of avoiding a second invasion. Just keep in mind that cedar fades over time—you’ll need to sand your cedar blocks once in a while to release a fresh scent, and give your sachets a good massage from time to time. It’s also a good idea to open up your closets and drawers and move your clothes around. Moths hate light and movement, so this will discourage them if they return, and you’ll spot damage much earlier, letting you get a jump on a second wave of remediation.
Finally, place some pheromone traps in your closets. Trapping adult moths doesn’t do anything to stop an infestation (there will always be more eggs in there), but the traps will act as a warning system: If you cleaned everything out and two weeks later you’re seeing adult moths, you didn’t do a good enough job, and your clothes are once again an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Clothing moths can do a lot of damage, both financially and mentally—but you can minimize both by being proactive. Or try to convince people that tiny holes all over your clothes are the new hotness, your choice.