Two case making clothes moth larvae. The case can be mistaken for lint, so inspect carefully.
Effective non-toxic Clothes Moth control
Please be advised that this is my best advice on eradicating your clothes moth problem. The information is offered free of charge, we gladly accept donations. Please understand that there is a charge for individual/private consultations.
Identification of Clothes Moth
Like other moth, clothes moth go through four developmental stages: egg (small, round specks), larvae (crawling worm), pupae (cocoon stage), adult (flying moth with wings). Often people realize they have an infestation because they see the adult moth flying around in the room or they discover the damage in their clothing, carpet or furniture that the clothes moth larvae has done. Clothes moth resemble Indian meal moth in size (3/8 inch) and colour, but the clothes moth are lighter in colour (beige) and you find them usually in different locations. Indian meal moths are found in the pantry and kitchen or wherever you keep food and they have a dark stripe at the back. Clothes Moth larvae are whitish/cream coloured and grow to up to 1/2" in length with a dark, brown head.
There are two different kinds of clothes moth in homes:
Webbing and case making clothes moth differ in the cocoon that the larvae makes for itself, the Webb making clothes moth makes a soft cotton-like cocoon and the case making clothes moth makes a cocoon that reminds one of crustaceans, it’s rough looking. When looking for evidence you need to know that, because the cocoons look different and you may not recognize the case making clothes moth cocoon as such. Be careful not to mistake their cocoons as lint or dirt.
Inspection of building structure (your home)
Check carefully to find all hidden infestations. Under carpets, in closets, behind wall hangings. Woolen articles are esp. vulnerable. Check your bedding, pillowcases and the like. Case making clothes moth also like materials of animal origin, like feathers, so check pillows and down bedding and clothing.
Piano anyone? Check the inside, clothes moth have been known to use the felt pads for food. (Now you have an excuse to get the kids to practice piano: It’s so the clothes moth can’t take up residence, just kidding.) You can get synthetic felt pads if needed.
If you have pets (or the previous occupant of your unit had some), your heating ducts may be full with animal hair, so they will need to be professionally cleaned. Check companies and try to find one that uses brushes to get out all the dirt and not just suction and negative air pressure. They may have to cut openings into the ductwork (that they will seal later again) to get into all the areas of your duct system.
If you had previous other insect infestations, the clothes moth larvae may be feeding off these carcasses, they may be hard to find then.
One option is to blow food grade Diatomaceous Earth into the wall cavities in the area where the infestation seems to come from. Another one is to open walls if that is where the infestation is.
Nontoxic treatment options:
Vacuuming, washing, freezing, food grade Diatomaceous Earth, clothes moth traps, dry ice (carbon monoxide from party stores; well; I guess carbon monoxide is toxic, but less toxic then pesticides, as it has no residual action). Vacuum, wash with borax, wash infested articles in borax water or freeze, use food grade Diatomaceous Earth in cracks and crevices and out of the way corners. A thin coat of DE (food grade Diatomaceous Earth) will be enough and will stay effective as long as it stays dry. (That lasts longer than pesticides, hurray, unless you have water damage or really high humidity and then the clothes moth are the least of your problems. Mold then might be your bigger problem.)
Now, often the pupae development happens away from the food source, so good overall cleaning with borax is helpful. These pupae will develop into adults and you will likely see some flying around even after your clean up efforts. You can buy pheromone based clothes moth traps for these if your infestation is large, long standing or you are worried about valuable items. Pheromone clothes moth traps are non-toxic, it is a glue strip with an attractant added for the male clothes moth, and so pheromone clothes moth traps help to prevent new infestations. You can also swat and kill the adult moth when you see them.
Or use a “Spider and Wasp Trapper” from Lee Valley or a glass jar and paper to get them outside. This is our preferred method.
Once you find the infestation, you have a number of non-toxic options. Freezing by putting stuff outside if weather permits or using a freezer. Vacuuming to deal with the bulk of infestation and then spreading thin layers of food grade Diatomaceous Earth, esp. in cracks, between floorboards, behind baseboards.
Vacuum clean first if there are a lot of cocoons around. If it’s cold outside, you can also just bring the infested articles outside and leave it outside for a while. Cold temperatures and sunshine and wind will all kill larvae and adult clothes moth. The eggs are hardier and will survive longer; freezing temperatures will kill these off, too. Which brings us to the next available treatment method: your freezer. Freezer/fridge units will do, but a freezer unit on it’s own will be able to freeze at lower temperatures. If space allows, anything infested or suspected of being infested can go in there to kill all stages of the clothes moth cycle.
It helps to freeze things quickly, so do not put too much in at the same time.
Wash floors and walls with borax.
Freeze articles that can’t be washed.
Include feather pillows and feather duvets and the like in treatment
Use de-humidifier to lower humidity in the area of infestation. Hardware stores sell humidity readers if you are unsure of humidity level in your place.
Life cycle of clothes moth
Like all moth, clothes moth go through four stages during their life cycle. First, eggs, layed by the adult moth into a food source like woolens, cotton, silk, pillow feathers, pet hair. Next, the larvae (crawling) feeds on the material and this is the life stage that does the damage to your belongings. Next, the larvae turns into a pupae and spins a cocoon around itself. This may be done close to the original food source.
Thoroughly dust along baseboards, carpet edges, under furniture, carpet, and rugs, and in closets and shelving with food grade DE.
Where To Look for Damage
As the cycle begins, adults (moths) lay eggs in cracks or crevices near a food source or sometimes directly on it. When the eggs hatch, the larvae begin to feed on the fabric, frequently eating areas that have been stained with food or beverages or that contain body oils, sweat, or urine. This explains why carpet is often damaged where people sit and where food particles or stains may be found.
Also look for larvae on wool sweaters; natural bristle brushes, fur (including pet hair) and other organic fabrics. Clothes moths have been known to damage non-organic fabrics as well, but this is incidental to feeding on nearby organic fabrics. If you have a lot of pet hair in your heating ducts, you need to get them cleaned professionally.
Methods to carry out at home include:
sunning and brushing woolens outside to kill and remove eggs and larvae
properly storing clean items in air-tight containers
freezing, heating, or fumigating items with dry ice
trapping (which also helps you to detect an infestation in its early stages)
using an insecticide (which you don't want to do because of safety concerns)
maintaining low humidity (such as running a dehumidifier in the one closet where woolens are stored)
sealing crevices and cracks that let the moths into the building
good housekeeping, including vacuuming under furniture and in crevices, cracks, closets and heating vents
If humidity can be kept low inside your house, an environment that is not suitable for clothes moth development will be created. They will not be able to establish colonies. You may not be able to do this in the entire house depending on the climate where you live and the structure of your house. However, you may be able to set aside one closet that you can keep drier, possibly by running a dehumidifier, or store your woolens in tightly sealed containers in which you can put silica drying gel.
You also want to keep the moths from entering to begin with. If you like to go to garage sales, then make sure to dry-clean or launder any clothing you get this way. If something can't be cleaned, such as an heirloom wool carpet, then putting it out in the sun and brushing it thoroughly will help ensure there are no hitchhikers.
Good Housekeeping Practices
Periodically clean areas of a home that may harbor clothes moths to prevent or control infestation. Those areas include many seldom-cleaned spots, such as:
under heavy pieces of furniture;
along baseboards and in cracks where hair and debris accumulate;
closets, especially those in which woolens and furs are kept; and
heaters, the areas behind them, and vents.
The vacuum cleaner is the best tool for most of this cleaning. After using it in infested areas, dispose of the bag contents promptly; they may include eggs, larvae, or adult moths.
Clothes moths may first become established on woolen garments or scraps stored for long periods. If such articles are to be saved, they should be stored properly, or periodically hung in the sun and brushed thoroughly, especially along seams and in folds and pockets. Brushing destroys eggs and exposes larvae. Larvae are strongly repelled by light, and will fall from clothing when they cannot find protection.
Dry Cleaning and Laundering
Dry cleaning or thoroughly laundering items in hot water (temperature above 120°F for 20 to 30 minutes) kills all stages of insects. This is the most common and effective method for controlling clothes moths in clothing, blankets, and other washable articles. (Because many woolen garments should not be washed in hot water, dry cleaning may be the only suitable cleaning option.) Keeping fabrics clean also has another advantage: insects are less likely to feed on clean fabrics than on heavily soiled ones.
Protecting Items in Storage
Clothes moths often damage articles that are not stored properly. When storing susceptible items, be sure they are pest-free and clean, and place them in an airtight container. Insect repellents can be placed in the storage container.
Questions are often raised as to the effectiveness of cedar chests and closet floors made of cedar. Aromatic eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana, contains oil that is able to kill small larvae, but it does not affect large larvae. After several years, however, cedar loses this quality. Having the chest tightly constructed is more important in the long run than the type of wood used to make it.
Freezing and Heating
Clothes moths can also be controlled by heating the infested object for at least 30 minutes at temperatures over 120°F, freezing the object for several days at temperatures below 18°F, or fumigating with dry ice. The trick with freezing is to place the object in an almost empty freezer in order to drop the temperature as rapidly as possible.
Rugs, carpets, furs, and household furnishings require special attention for protection from clothes moths. Rugs and furnishings made entirely of synthetic fibers are not affected. This includes most wall-to-wall carpeting.
Rugs and Carpets. Closely inspect areas beneath heavy furniture and along carpet edges for infestation. Area rugs can be dry cleaned or hung out in the sun and vacuumed. The edges on wall-to-wall carpets can be pulled back so that an insecticide can be applied to both sides of infested carpets. Spray the upper surface of the carpet lightly to reduce the possibility of staining. If the rug pad contains animal hair or wool and has not been treated by the manufacturer, spray it also. It is preferable to wait until the rug has dried before putting any weight on it.
If you are storing fur at home, have it cleaned professionally before storing it. You should be able to put tiny amounts of food grade Diatomaceous earth around it; however, I have not tried this myself,
Household Furnishings. Some furniture, mattresses, and pillows are stuffed with animal products such as hair or feathers. When clothes moths get into the stuffing, simply spraying the outside surface of the item cannot control them. The best way to eliminate them is to expose the furniture to very cold temperatures. Canadian winters do just fine. You can also wrap the furniture and fumigate the item with dry ice. Most modern mattresses have boric acid in them as a fire retardant, and then your mattress is okay.
To fumigate an object with dry ice, place the item and the dry ice in a thick (4 to 6 mils) plastic bag. (Do not handle dry ice with your bare hands because it will quickly freeze your skin.) If you use a plastic bag with a 30-gallon capacity, a 1/2- to 1-lb piece of dry ice should be adequate. Seal the bag loosely at the top until all the dry ice has vaporized; this will allow the air to escape and keep the bag from bursting. When the dry ice is gone, tighten the seal and let the bag sit for 3 or 4 days. Proper fumigation gives quick, satisfactory control, and kills all stages of clothes moths, although it does not prevent reinfestation.
Sometimes felts and hammers in pianos become infested and so badly damaged that the tone and action of the instrument are seriously affected. The services of a piano technician are then recommended; synthetic felts are available.
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