Inside: My detailed plan for how to get rid of clothes moths naturally, plus tips for prevention.
Reading in bed is one of life’s delicious pleasures. Snuggled under my duvet. Lights dimmed. A fresh book on the Kindle.
But recently, horrifying intruders have ruined my peace. Tiny moths flutter around the closet, looking somewhat drunk. Unfortunately, I know what that means. My cashmere is in peril.
I went through all the stages:
Denial: “Seriously? This can’t be happening to meeee!”
Anger: “I #$%& hate clothes moths!”
Bargaining: “If only I had protected my woolens from this scourge!”
Depression: “Only wine can fix this”.
Acceptance: “Apparently, we have a clothes moth infestation. Perhaps I should do something about it.”
Then I started Googling like a madwoman. Read on to learn about my findings and battle plan.
What’s the big deal about clothes moths?
A couple of clothes moths might not seem like much to worry about. But they can be the first sign of ongoing damage. They have champagne tastes—and they will satisfy them on your budget. Cashmere, wool, silk, fur, feathers.
Once they settle into the dark corners of your closet or dresser, they are extremely hard to get rid of.
You need to take action. But first, let’s understand what we are dealing with.
Natural history of the sweater-munching moth
Time for a quick biology lesson. Why? It will help you to eradicate clothes moths from
the face of the planet your closet. And justify my M.Sc. degree!
I’m not an entomologist but… Usually, we are dealing with the common clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella).
Their life cycle takes 4-6 months. To save your wardrobe, you need to get rid of every stage.
Adult clothes moths
Seeing moths flying around is usually the first sign of an infestation. That and finding holes in your sweaters.
The flying moths actually don’t feed at all, so eliminating them doesn’t solve the problem.
- are small (~1/4″), yellow-brown, with a satiny sheen
- avoid light and attempt to hide when disturbed
- prefer to scuttle on surfaces rather than fly
- live for 15-30 days
Moths flying around are usually males looking for some sexy time. The females tend to be too lazy to fly. Instead, they lounge on a sweater and wait for the males to come to them.
Females lay 40-100 eggs. That can hatch into 40-100 angora-loving larvae. Ugh!
Clothes moth eggs
Eggs generally take 3-21 days to hatch.
They can hatch in a wide variety of temperatures, from 50-91°F (10-33°C). Warm and damp is the hatching sweet spot (75°F/24°C) and 70-75% relative humidity).
Clothes moth eggs are surprisingly hardy. To break the clothes moth life cycle, removing and killing eggs is essential.
Eggs can survive freezing to -9°F (-23°C). The interwebs will tell you to stick your sweaters in the freezer. Unfortunately, at 0° F (-18° C), the typical home freezer isn’t cold enough to kill the eggs.
You can kill eggs with heat. It takes heating at 120°F (49°C) for 30 minutes or more. A typical clothes dryer on a hot cycle should be effective.
Clothes moth larvae
Hatching larvae are tiny. They hide away and begin to feed immediately.
The larval stage lasts between two months and two years. They wander around in the dark looking for your other cashmere sweaters. Eventually, they’ll make a cocoon. After pupating, the adult moth emerges and the whole thing starts over.
What clothes moth larvae find delicious:
- human hairs, pet hairs, or clothing strands that accumulate in corners
- synthetic/wool blends
- occasionally cotton
Larvae particularly love to feed on clothing after it has been worn. Human body oil, sweat, and food residue is like gravy to them.
So you have #$%& clothes moths in your closet
My first idea was to get moth traps. After all, if I could get rid of the moths, the problem would be solved, right?
Wrong. Getting rid of flying moths doesn’t get rid of moth eggs, moth larvae, or lazy female adults.
My next idea was cedar. Or lavender. Or cloves. The problem is that these aren’t reliable for killing any stage of the clothes moth.
Let’s not even talk about mothballs. They deter clothes moths. But the smell is nasty! Plus we don’t want to be breathing that in.
How to get rid of clothes moths naturally
I did a tonne of research on handling clothes moth infestations.
I ruled out a lot of suggestions. Like freezing (impractical and ineffective). And baking clothes in the oven (that couldn’t possibly go wrong!). And parasitic wasps (I can’t even…).
I came up with my very own battle plan. AKA Operation MOTH-ageddon.
Read on to find out exactly how I plan to tackle this vexing problem.
But first, the dry ice safety chat
My plan includes using dry ice. You must take complete responsibility for transporting and using dry ice safely (here’s some info). I take no responsibility for the consequences of your use or misuse of dry ice.
Next, let’s gather supplies.
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- contractor grade trash bags
- clear plastic bags
- stickers for labeling bags (color-coded ones would be great)
- marker for bag labels
- dry ice (try searching for “dry ice near me” in Google Maps): see dry ice safety info above
- newspaper or rags for wrapping dry ice
- leather work gloves for handling dry ice
- caulk for baseboards (buy it fresh…caulk expires!)
- new vacuum bags
- white vinegar and cleaning cloths
- pet bedding made from Eastern Red Cedar wood chips (find strong-smelling chips locally, or order a brand than has reviews mentioning the strong smell)
- fine mesh laundry bags: I like these because the loop makes them easy to hang
- adhesive hooks
- lavender sachets: find fresh, natural, strong-smelling sachets locally
- clothes moth traps: I have tried Aeroxon brand clothes moth traps and they work (this brand might be easier to find in the US)
- optional access panel: we have an opening for plumbing access in our closet; a readymade like this will likely be easier to seal off
- optional tape: for sealing access panel door when not in use
- optional dehumidifier for small spaces: this one is quiet and effective in our bathroom
- wine: I have a feeling I’ll need it
Plan for Operation MOTH-ageddon
Here is my detailed plan for how to get rid of clothes moths naturally. It won’t be easy, but I hope that it will be a permanent solution.
- Supplies: buy and order (see above)
- Calendar: plan time blocks to get the job done
- my dry ice supplier is only open on weekdays so I will need to plan around that
- dry ice fumigation time: as long as it takes for the dry ice to dissolve, plus 3-4 days
- Clothes/accessories needed for the next week:
- put these aside
- pretend you’re going on vacation, except no margaritas on the beach, or fun
- preferably, pick items that you can wash and put in a hot dryer to treat easily
- Empty closet & dresser
- set up a staging area that you can clean easily
- I’ll be using clean sheets on the living room floor as my staging area
- remove contents of closet/dresser and put into the staging area
- Sort clothes into categories:
- bag and label accordingly
- not heat sensitive: wash in hot water then dry using sanitize cycle (clear bags are fine for these)
- delicates that are not impeccably clean: put in clear bags labeled either “dry clean” or “hand wash”
- delicates that are clean: shake off outside, store in contractor-grade bags, and mark “Fumigate”
- steam clean or
- store in contractor-grade bags and mark “Fumigate”
- Shoes and handbags:
- store in contractor-grade bags and mark “Fumigate”
- Hangers and closet organizers:
- steam clean or wipe down with white vinegar solution
- Items stored in closet
- some may need fumigation, especially: sewing supplies, Christmas decorations, craft supplies
- wash all the things
- dry in a hot dryer until bone dry
- to ensure that the maximum temperature is reached, put in fewer clothes than the dryer’s capacity
- store in clean, clear bags until the closet and dresser are ready for clothes to be returned
- Hand wash:
- hand wash delicates
- hang or lay flat to dry
- store in contractor-grade bags and mark “Fumigate”
- Dry clean:
- dry cleaning will kill all stages of the clothes moth (except for alternative “green” dry cleaners)
- take items to dry cleaner and mark calendar to pick up when clean
- Clean staging area:
- wash sheets using hot wash/dry cycles
- Get dry ice
- review safety info above
- plan to get dry ice right before you will use it
- handle safely using long sleeves and thick leather gloves
- wrap ice in newspaper or rags
- transport in a cooler that is not airtight
- do not transport dry ice in the main compartment of your car (I plan to attach cooler onto the roof of my car)
- Fumigate using dry ice:
- do not use dry ice inside your home due to the risk of carbon dioxide gas accumulation (I plan to use my balcony)
- gather contractor-grade bags marked “Fumigate” containing clothes, shoes, handbags, and other items
- this method “gives quick, satisfactory control and kills all stages of clothes moths”:
- wearing thick leather gloves and long sleeves, wrap the ice in rags or old t-shirts then place in the contractor-grade bags
- if you use a bag with a 30-gallon capacity, a 1/2 – to 1-lb piece of dry ice should be adequate (I’ll be using 1 lb for the 42-gallon bags)
- seal the bag loosely at the top until all of the dry ice has vaporized; this will allow the gas to escape and keep the bag from bursting
- when the dry ice has completely dissolved, tighten the seal, and let the bag sit for three or four days
- Install access panel
- we have a plumbing access panel in our closet that cannot be adequately sealed; a readymade access panel will be easier to seal
- cut drywall if needed
- caulk the edges of the panel where it meets the drywall
- seal panel door with tape
- Caulk baseboards
- caulk any cracks or crevices where moths could hide
- Deep clean closets and dressers
- wipe all surfaces with vinegar solution
- Discard vacuum bag
- seal in garbage bag first
- Put treated clothes back in closets and dresser
- Hang cedar in closet
- the volatile oils of Eastern Red Cedar can kill small larvae and deter moths
- fill mesh bags with fresh cedar chips
- hang in closet using hooks
- replace chips when they lose their scent
- Put lavender sachets in drawers
- there is some evidence that volatile oils of lavender repel moths
- replace sachets when they lose their natural scent
- note to self: check if husband will tolerate lavender scent on his clothing…
- Moth traps
- these will help you figure out if you have solved the moth problem or not
- they also serve as an early warning signal if moths re-invade
- check traps regularly
- replace regularly according to manufacturer instructions
- set up in closet
- Mark calendar with reminders:
- check moth traps
- replace moth traps
- sniff test to find out if chips or sachets need to be replaced
- empty dehumifier
Phew! I feel exhausted writing all that out. But I know that having a plan will make the process more efficient and streamlined.
After I eradicate moths from my closet and life, prevention will be key.
Preventing clothes moth infestations
There are many ways to avoid the misery of clothes moth infestations.
Clothing storage location
Clothes moths and larvae like to live in dark, damp, and undisturbed places. So the ideal storage is dry and well-ventilated.
Vulnerable items might be best kept in airtight containers or bags. Beware of an imperfect seal though! If moths or larvae sneak in, they will find the ideal conditions for living and feeding due to the lack of ventilation. Taping seams and openings can help.
Sadly, I lost an heirloom blanket to moth damage when a compression bag seal failed.
Make sure clothing is clean before you put it away
Ideally, clothing is impeccably clean when you put it away. Especially if it won’t be worn for a while. Remember, munching larvae love nothing more than the traces of sweat, body oil, and food on clothing that you’ve worn.
But how realistic is that? Are you really going to dry clean your wool dress every single time you wear it? Or handwash a sweater after every wear? What about silk scarves?
A compromise might be to quarantine moth-prone items after wearing them. Extra vigilance with deterrence in your “lightly worn” quarantine area may help.
Brush and shake clothing
Moths and larvae hate to be disturbed. Brushing and shaking clothing outdoors can help to remove larvae and eggs. Getting into a routine of doing this every few months can’t hurt.
Spring clean closets and drawers
Periodically deep clean your closets and drawers. Any human hair, pet hair, or keratin-containing clothing strands that accumulate in dark corners provide nice food sources for larvae. Vacuuming can remove cloth moth eggs. Cleaning surfaces with vinegar can kill eggs.
Clothes moths love humid regions like where I live. A closet-sized dehumidifier can help keep your closet dry. Desiccant sachets can be used in drawers, storage bins, or trunks. These have the added benefit of keeping mustiness at bay.
Caulk baseboards and crevices
Remove access to dark crevices as much as possible. Fill holes and caulk baseboards to reduce areas where moth larvae can live undisturbed.
Bring light to dark corners
It helps to light up closets and spaces regularly. It won’t kill any stage of the clothes moth, but they won’t feel as comfortable moving around.
Use natural scents to repel moths
Both Eastern red cedar and lavender can be effective for repelling clothes moths. But only as long as their natural scent remains strong.
Quarantine vintage and thrift store finds
This is probably how some of us get clothes moths in the first place.
Any clothing, shoes, or bags from a vintage or thrift store should be kept in sealed bags. When possible, treat new-to-you items with dry cleaning, laundering (hot dryer), or fumigation.
Trap rodents rather than using poison
Okay, the ick factor is really high here. Clothes moths can feed on rodents that die in inaccessible places. So it’s better to trap and remove rodents rather than using poison.
Keep clothes in a freezer
Some go to the extreme of keeping their most precious items in a freezer. But that’s not practical for most. And keep in mind that freezing will only kill larvae and prevent eggs from hatching while frozen.
Yearly dry ice fumigation
I’ve already gone over how to use dry ice to fumigate items that may have clothes moth eggs or larvae in or on them.
Yearly fumigation can also be used to nip an infestation in the bud before there are visible signs. Blogger Erik Nillson’s write-up of his yearly routine for fumigating woolens makes for an excellent read (see his follow-up comments below the post).
Wish me luck!
So there you have it. Operation MOTH-ageddon won’t be easy. But the attack on my sweaters must end.
I’ll let you know how it went. And how many bottles of wine the whole process took…
Over to you…
Have you battled clothes moths? Did you win? Or have you given up and started pretending not to notice them? Tell me about it in the comments!
So did this work? Will it actually kill eggs? If so, is it the cold or lack of oxygen?
If an infestation is really bad and been ongoing, why not just stay elsewhere for a night or two and fumigate the whole closet/ affected area?
Moths driving me crazy! says
How full can I fill the 30 gallon bag? Can I fill it half way and add a pound of dry ice, do you think it will penetrate at fabrics effectively? I was hoping to dry clean a few items and then just fumigate everything else in my wardrobe. All of my clothing says to wash it on cold or gentle so I’m nervous to try washing on hot. I have been struggling with clothing moths for a while now and would like to fumigate every last article or clothing!
Clothes moths have remained undefeated for WAY too long and it drives me insane knowing there are unspotted larvae right now doing more damage
Has anyone actually tried the dry ice thing? Will certain fabrics be damaged by contact with dry ice?
I have a lot of clothes and really don’t know where their eggs are and aren’t by this point; they’ve sadly had a lot of time to work and spread around. A mass dry ice nuke sounds f’in great, but also sounds too easy…
Ann Heatherton says
Thanks for your interesting post. Because I have many cats I am not going to be using your dry ice methods. But I have done everything else that you mention since this clothes moth infestation began several years ago. I believe it started when I purchased infested potpourri at swap meet. I stored it in a dark closet for future use and that gave those moths a big advantage. There was a time when I would wake up at 5 a.m. and vacuum moths off the ceiling of one of my bedrooms. I bought several rounds of clothes moths traps and gotten lots of the males that way, but as you say, it’s harder to catch the females. Fortunately, they love to rest in the crevice of ceilings and I snare them on a 15 ft duster and kill them by hand. They make a wonderful, watery pop which is very satisfying. The females with eggs are full of a creamy slick stuff so I know when I’ve gotten one of those. I have removed the carpeting and padding from two bedrooms to eradicate them. They loved feasting on cat fur or a hairball under the bed that I could not find. I’ve frozen stuffed animals and washed clothing in hot water and aired them out in the sun. All the collectibles made of lace and fine textiles had to be washed and never displayed again. They are stored in sealed bins now. I still find moths everyday. But it’s gone from killing 10 to 15 to 3 or 4 a day but only in certain seasons. Today I killed 5 in my loft. Whenever my efforts lapse, they try to gain the advantage once more and it is unending. Luckily for me, I enjoy the hunt. I know how to find them with the flashlight in a closet and catch them with a duster and kill them. It’s harder to find the larvae but for a while I discovered they were being hatched on the undersides of cat beds. I had fun killing all those. When you squish larvae, they are really really stinky. Gross. My walls need painting because of the light brown smears from snaring them. You barely touch them and their wings disintegrate.
Kathy O says
I have Googled “clothes moths” a thousand times and this is the first I have seen of your post! Thank you, thank you! I have been living this nightmare for months and months. I buy a gallon of vinegar every week and and have thrown out so much of my clothing. Today I opened a zipper type bag that contained three bras in it that had been washed in hot water but guess what?!!! Yes, lots of little holes. They were all dark colors which I have noticed that the moths prefer but the fabric was nylon so how come the moths get to cheat and eat anything at all in my house? I love your honesty and appreciate your research. Ironically, I am not sure I am ready for dry ice. I was considering purchasing a freezer but I guess that is not the answer unless I can find one that gets cold enough. The NIH allows for a slightly higher level of freezing and their advice is for museum pieces. I wonder if manufacturers will reveal just how cold their products get?