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Why Do Moths Eat Clothes?

09/19/2016

Are you tired of opening your closet to find moths flying around and your clothes damaged? We'll tell you why this is happening and how to stop it.

Photo by: Shutterstock

Why do moths damage clothing?


Well, their growing larvae have to eat something.

Have you ever pulled a sweater out of the closet only to find it riddled with holes? Then you’ve dealt with a moth infestation. Naturally, you’re going to want to deal with that situation before it gets out of control. But to properly treat or prevent a moth infestation, it’s important to first understand the root of the problem. And that problems all starts with some tiny insects known as clothes moths.

Meet the clothes moths


There are primarily only two species of moths that damage clothes in the U.S.—the webbing clothes moth and the casemaking clothes moth. Both are members of the family Tineidae bisselliella.

Many people are under the impression that the adult moths named above are the culprits when it comes to the holes in cashmere cardigans or wool jackets. This is likely because the adult moths are more visible. After all, if you open your closet door and an adult moth comes fluttering out, you’re going to assume that’s what’s damaging your clothes, right?

But here’s the thing: The adult casemaking and webbing clothes moths don’t damage your clothes at all. In fact, they couldn’t if they wanted to, as they don’t have mouthparts with which to feed. Their larvae do, however, and they like to feed on the natural fibers of your wardrobe. But why do the adult moths choose your closet as a breeding ground in the first place? And how exactly do their larvae leave holes in your clothing?

Well, unlike many other species of moths which are attracted to light, adult webbing and casemaking clothes moths like the dark. That’s the first reason they seek out your closet. The second reason is because their bouncing baby larvae require keratin to develop.

clothes moth
Wikipedia

Keratin is a protein found in your skin, hair and fingernails. It’s also found in natural fibers that we get from animals including silk, leather, feathers, furs and — you guessed it — wool.

The adult moths lay their eggs — lots and lots of eggs — on keratin-rich materials so that the larvae will have plenty of nourishment as they grow. Webbing clothes moth larvae spin little tunnels that they travel through as they devour your sweaters and coats. These feeding tunnels are often the same color as the material of the clothes the moth larvae is damaging, as the tunnels are made of fabric particles and excrement. Casemaking clothes moth larvae, on the other hand, have portable cases that they carry along with them as they feed. These cases grow along with the larvae, and they also take on the color of the fabric the larvae are feeding on, making them almost impossible to spot, just like the tunnels of the webbing clothes moth larvae.

As each of these types of moth larvae feed, they make their way across the surface of your clothing. Think about a caterpillar munching holes in the leaves of your tomato plants. That’s similar to how the moth larvae damages the clothes in your closets.

Of course, the more larvae you have in your closet, the more damage you’ll see on your wardrobe. Additionally, moth larvae will eventually enter their pupation stage and will undergo metamorphosis to become adult clothes moths. After these new adult moths emerge, they will lay their own eggs, and the moth lifecycle—and destruction of your clothes—will begin anew. Typically, the entire lifecycle takes between four to six months.

Ways to Protect Your Closet from a Moth Infestation


Now that you know what moth larvae eat and how they damage your clothing, you probably want to learn how to prevent a moth infestation. Here are some methods you can use:

Cedar:

Cedar blocks work to a certain extent by repelling the moths, but they won’t kill the larvae. If you use cedar as a repellant to try to reduce your chances of a moth infestation, you’ll need to sand the surface of the wood every two or three months to rejuvenate the strong smell.

Cleaning:

Before packing up winter clothes in storage bins, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning to try to kill any eggs or larvae. Moths and their larvae are especially attracted to clothes that have food spills or stains on them. You can also try placing items in large plastic bags and freezing them to kill eggs and larvae. You’ll need to leave them in your household freezer for seven to 10 days. Additionally, regular vacuuming can help reduce your chances of moth infestation. You may also want to consider using an attachment to vacuum the walls of your closet and any hanging clothes that won’t be going into storage.

Storage:

To prevent larvae-ridden clothes, your storage needs to be airtight. However, you also want to be sure your clothes are stored in such a way that condensation can’t sneak in and cause mold or mildew. Vacuum-sealed bags or airtight storage containers lined with cotton work well for short-term and seasonal storage.

Call an expert:

If moth larvae are really doing major damage to your wardrobe options, you need to get the situation under control. Our trained technicians can help you do just that by working with you to create a moth control plan that fits your needs.

There you have it. You now know why moth larvae leave holes in clothes, as well as ways you can try to protect your closet from a moth infestation. Keep in mind, however, that moth larvae aren’t the only pests that enjoy munching on fabrics. Some beetles and other insects do, too. Be certain to ask your pest control technician what steps you need to take to protect your wardrobe from all critters that damage clothes.

Next > Quiz: Moth or Butterfly?

Sources:
Live Science
University of Kentucky Entomology
University of Califorina Agriculture and Natural Resources