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Clothes Moths

Facts

Appearance & Identification

What do clothes moths look like?

clothes moth adult & larva
photo credit: npic.orst.edu/

Color
Yellowish-tan or golden in color.

Elongated and slender, clothes moth larvae are white in color and measure about 1/2-inch in length. Prior to achieving full development and reaching adulthood, clothes moths pass through larval and pupal stages of their life cycle.Each larva has a brown or black head at one end of the body.

Wings
Unlike the webbing clothes moth, the casemaking clothes moth features three dark spots on the wings. While the wings of webbing clothes moths remain free of spots or other markings, the more common moth species boasts clusters of reddish hairs on the top of the head.

Size
Adult clothes moths generally measure about 1/4 of an inch long. When extended, the wings of a typical adult span roughly 1/2 of an inch.

Larvae
The larvae of casemaking clothes moths also construct protective tubes or cases, which the developing insects inhabit and carry at all times.

General Information

Distributed worldwide, clothes moths are members of the family Tineidae. Webbing clothes moths and casemaking clothes moths are the two most prevalent clothes moth species in the United States. Residents of northern states encounter the webbing clothes moth most frequently, while the casemaking clothes moth remains more common in southern regions of the country. Both species look and behave similarly. Named for their tendency of feeding on clothing and other fabrics, clothes moths often cause significant damage around the house. The insects commonly invade homes and become pests by consuming a variety of natural and synthetic fabrics.

Habitat

Where Do They Live?
Unlike other moth species, clothes moths tend to avoid natural as well as artificial light. Consequently, homeowners often find the pest insects hiding in dark places, such as crevices in upholstered items, closets and attics used as storage spaces for clothes, and carpeted areas covered by furniture or other shielding objects. Clothes moths prefer dark, undisturbed environments so strongly that people frequently fail to notice infestations until the insects have already produced considerable damage. When disturbed, clothes moths attempt to escape by running more often than flying. Despite demonstrating a preference for fleeing to new hiding places on foot, the clothes moth is capable of flying substantial distances, particularly in good weather during the summer.

Diet

What do clothes moths eat?
Although clothes moths are known and named for their habit of consuming and damaging clothing and items made of similar materials, the pest insects only feed on fabrics during the larval stage of their life cycle. In addition to clothing, immature clothes moths consume furniture upholstery, carpet, and common home furnishings like blankets, drapes, and pillows. The insects often feed on fabrics containing wool and also eat other animal-based items such as fur, feathers, and hair.

Life Cycle

Clothes moth larva hatch from eggs, which adult females deposit on clothing or other fabrics.

Eggs
A newly mated female can lay up to 300 eggs, though a brood of about 40 or 50 offspring is average. The eggs hatch within a week or two in warmer environments, while the incubation period takes longer in cooler surroundings. After hatching from the eggs, clothes moth larvae emerge and begin feeding on the fabric near where they were laid.

Larvae
Greatly influenced by the temperature of the surrounding environment, the larval stage of the clothes moth life cycle ranges from about a month to a year or longer.

Cocoons
Upon completing the larval stage, clothes moths either find a crevice or construct a silken cocoon and pupate. The insects emerge as fully developed adults roughly one to four weeks after beginning pupation.

Life Span
Clothes moths typically complete the entire life cycle in four to six months and live as adults for two to four weeks.

Damage

Because clothes moth larvae feed on fabric, the insects have the potential to damage a variety of common household items. Clothes moths regularly feed on and cause visible damage to the following:

  • blankets
  • clothing
  • drapes
  • furs
  • upholstered furniture
  • rugs

Clothes moths are more attracted to fabrics stained with food or sweat.

What Does the Damage Look Like?
Damage appears as small feeding holes scattered across the surface of the item or garment. The pest insects can also cause carpet to become threadbare by feeding on the fibers of the carpeting.

Signs of Infestation

Often difficult to detect due to their fondness for dark and undisturbed habitats, clothes moths frequently leave behind evidence of their presence nevertheless.

The most common sign of a clothes moth infestation is the damage the insects inflict on fabrics.

Holes in Clothing
Small holes produced by the feeding larvae commonly appear in concealed places like underneath shirt collars or in the crevices of furniture upholstery.

Tubes
Clothes moths also either produce silken tubes or occupy hardened cases to provide protection during pupation. Presence of these pupal cases is another sign of infestation. Discarded tubes and cases often remain at infested sites after developing clothes moths finish pupating.

Detection

Finding the infested materials can involve several tools, and one is simply your eyes and your knowledge of where you have placed items that may be subject to attack by fabric feeding insects. The adult moths may be more common in one room, and this can lead you to most thoroughly inspect that room. Perhaps you are finding the case-making larvae wandering around on the walls in a closet, and this is a definite sign that something nearby may be infested. It is even possible that a wild animal, such as a rat or a bird, has died in the attic or within a wall void, and these recyclers will eventually find that carcass and feed on the hair and feathers. You can purchase insect traps that use a pheromone, an odor highly attractive to clothes moth adults, and place these in a few places to see which traps draw the most insects, again narrowing your search for the infested materials. Some pest control companies may be able to sell these to you.

If you suspect or determine that you have clothes moths, it does not pay to focus on the adult moths, although killing them will certainly prevent them from laying more eggs. It also is likely that the moths will be active near to where they developed as larvae. What you need to find is the items in the home that the larvae are infesting, and deal with them appropriately. If there has already been substantial damage to the items it may be that placing them inside plastic bags and disposing of them is most appropriate. If the damage is slight then cleaning or laundering the items will remove or kill the larvae. Since we rarely have actual wool rugs in our homes anymore it is unusual for carpets to be infested. However, exotic rugs may be made from wool, and older carpets may have a waffle padding under them which could have wool threads in the matrix. Clothes moths have been found infesting this hidden resource.

Prevention

Keeping garments cleaned and stored properly represents the best way to prevent clothes moth infestations. Clothing should be cleaned before going into storage and kept in tightly sealed containers. Residents should also vacuum and inspect storage areas regularly. In fact, clothes moth infestations are sometimes prevented or controlled simply by thoroughly vacuuming on a regular basis. Because clothes moths tend to infest fabrics easily damaged by pesticides, victims of severe infestations should consider using the services of a professional pest control specialist.

Cedar & Moth Balls
The use of cedar chests is NOT a guarantee that you will avoid clothes moths or carpet beetles. While fresh cedar may emit an odor strong enough to be slightly repellent to insect larvae, it is not a certain guarantee, and over time the wood ages and fewer vapors are given off. You could store your susceptible clothing in a sealed container with moth balls or moth crystals in it, but this is not advisable. These products use either PDB or naphthalene, both of which are slight fumigants that can kill or repel insects when the insect is trapped in the container, but they also give off strong odors that can impregnate the fabrics, and your sweater or blanket will also give off that strong smell when you use them again. Moth balls are insecticides, and even could be harmful to people if too much of the vapor were inhaled.

Control

Pesticides play only a minor role in the control and elimination of clothes moths, and really would only be necessary if you had very, very large numbers of adult moths flying around the home, or if something like that carpet padding were infested and could not easily be washed. However, even in the rare instance of infested carpet padding the best course of action would be to remove it and physically eliminate the larvae, possibly then contracting with a licensed pest management company to do any application of pesticide. These companies have a wide variety of products they can use, including many that are derived from natural sources such as plant extracts.

Vacuum
One of your tools for elimination of clothes moths should be a vacuum cleaner, physically removing any larvae, their webbing, and their fecal pellets from that infested item. If it is clothing that can be laundered you should use hot water and detergent, and these should kill or remove any larvae and eggs. Some studies have shown that insects on fabrics are quickly killed at temperatures of only 130 degrees, so if it is appropriate to place the material in a hot dryer this will effectively kill the bugs on it. Clothing can be cleaned by a professional dry cleaner to also eliminate the eggs and larvae. Preventing new invasions of the moths in the future can be done by storage of susceptible materials in moth-tight enclosures.

When you see that moth in the house don’t panic. Odds are pretty good that it just flew in from the outside. However, there also is a chance that it is a moth that is infesting food, or a moth infesting fabrics, and until you know what you are dealing with you will have difficulty controlling the problem. For most problems with clothes moths or food moths there is no reason to reach for the can of insecticide. Instead, make a search, find the infested materials, and dispose of them or deal with them appropriately to rid yourself of the problem.