Clothes Moth: All You Need to Know for Prevention and Control

Clothes moths are a common household pest that can cause damage to various fabrics and materials. They specifically target items made from animal fibers, such as wool, fur, silk, feathers, felt, and leather, as these contain keratin – a protein their larvae can digest 1.

The larvae of clothes moths, which are essentially little caterpillars, feed on these materials for one to three months, causing damage that can be quite costly to repair or replace 2. These tiny moth species include the casemaking and webbing clothes moths, both of which have beige or yellowish coloring and a wingspan of around 1/2 inch 3.

Clothes Moth Identification

Webbing Clothes Moth

Webbing clothes moths (Tineola bisselliella) are small, yellowish-golden insects with a ¼ to ½ inch length. They have narrow wings that are held tentlike at an angle over the abdomen when at rest 1. Here are some key characteristics:

  • Adult moths have a wingspan of about 1/2 inch
  • Larvae are tiny white caterpillars with brown heads
  • Feed primarily on animal-based materials containing keratin

Some helpful ways to identify webbing clothes moths are by paying attention to their size, color and wing pattern.

Casemaking Clothes Moth

Casemaking clothes moths (Tinea pellionella) are similar to webbing clothes moths but with a more brownish front wing 2. Some distinguishing features include:

  • Adults have a slightly brownish hue on their wings
  • They also share a wingspan of about 1/2 inch
  • Larvae live in individual cases they create using silk

Comparing Webbing and Casemaking Clothes Moths:

Feature Webbing Clothes Moth Casemaking Clothes Moth
Adult Moth Color Yellowish-Golden Slightly Brownish
Wingspan 1/2 Inch 1/2 Inch
Larvae Habits Surface feeders Live in cases

Identifying clothes moths can be vital in determining the most effective method to control and prevent damage to your belongings.

Life Cycle and Behaviour

Eggs

Clothes moths begin their life as tiny eggs laid by adult females. These eggs are often found on animal materials such as wool, fur, and silk. They are:

  • Oval-shaped
  • Approximately 0.5mm in size
  • Creamy-white in color

Eggs hatch into larvae in about 4-10 days, depending on temperature and humidity conditions.

Larvae

The larvae are the stage that actually causes damage to fabrics and other materials. They are:

  • Small, white caterpillars
  • Brown-headed
  • Feed on the surface of infested materials

Larvae feed only on animal fibers and materials containing keratin, which makes wool, fur, silk, and feathers their preferred food source source. The larval stage lasts for 1 to 3 months, depending on environmental factors.

Pupa

When a clothes moth larva is ready to pupate, it seeks out and attaches itself to a wall, ceiling, or other high place source. The pupal stage takes:

  • 8-10 days in warmer conditions
  • Up to several weeks in cooler or less humid environments

Adults

Adult clothes moths are small, with a wingspan of 1/2 inch. They have a yellowish-golden or brownish color depending on the species source.

Webbing Clothes Moth Case-Making Clothes Moth
Yellowish-golden color Brownish color
¼ inch to ½ inch length ¼ inch to ½ inch length

Adult moths primarily focus on finding a mate and laying eggs. They do not feed on clothes or other materials.

How Clothes Moths Cause Damage

Infestation Signs

  • Numerous moth sightings
  • Web-like materials on garments
  • Shed larval skins or droppings

Clothes moths are infamous for the damage they cause to garments and other fabric items. Their larvae are the only feeding stage, consuming materials containing keratin, like wool, fur, feathers, silk, and even some furniture and carpets.

Preferred Materials

  • Wool: a favorite source of nutrients for larvae
  • Fur: another valuable protein source
  • Silk: offers different textures and nutrients
  • Feathers: provide larvae with abundant keratin
  • Hair: common in some fabric blends or accessories

One way to prevent infestations is to store garments in cedar-lined closets or chests, as the wood’s oils can repel these pests.

Garment Holes

Primary damage:

  • Irregular holes in fabrics
  • Weakened garment integrity

Secondary damage:

  • Staining from larvae droppings

Clothes moths vs. carpet beetles:

Clothes Moths Carpet Beetles
Larvae Cream-colored, brown-headed caterpillars Brown/black bristly larval appearance
Feeding Wool, fur, silk, feathers, hair Wool, silk, feathers, hair, skin, leather

The primary damage from clothes moth infestations is the holes in garments caused by the larvae’s feeding. Additionally, larvae droppings can leave stains, further damaging the fabrics.

Preventing Clothes Moths

Storage Recommendations

To prevent clothes moths, it’s essential to store clothes properly. Consider these storage tips:

  • Keep clothes in well-ventilated areas
  • Use airtight plastic bags or containers
  • Store wool, fur, and silk items in a cool, dry place

By storing your clothes properly, you reduce the risk of clothes moth infestations.

Cleaning and Care

Consistent cleaning is an effective way to prevent clothes moths. Before storing items, ensure they’re cleaned as moths prefer soiled clothes. Vacuum rugs, carpets, and upholstered furniture regularly to remove any larvae, and consider using heat treatments like steam cleaning for further protection.

Method Pros Cons
Vacuuming Removes larvae, easy to do regularly May not catch all larvae
Steam cleaning Kills larvae with heat, sanitizes Requires special equipment

Natural Repellents

Many people prefer natural alternatives to chemical moth repellents like mothballs, which contain naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene. Here are some effective natural repellents:

  • Lavender: Known for its pleasant scent, lavender can deter clothes moths
  • Cloves: A powerful aromatic spice with moth-repelling properties

While natural repellents can be helpful, they may not provide the same level of protection as chemical-based options.

Clothes Moth Control and Removal

Detection and Inspection

  • Visual inspection: Check closets, drawers, and storage areas for small, white larvae with brown heads. Adult clothes moths have a wingspan of 1/2 inch and are yellowish or brownish in color1.
  • Moth traps: Set up pheromone-based traps in the infested area to catch adult males and monitor infestation levels.

Chemical Treatments

  • Pesticides: Use products containing active ingredients that are lethal to all stages of clothes moths. These should reach a specific concentration for optimal efficacy2.
  • Moth repellents: Apply natural or chemical repellents to protect your textiles from moth infestations.
Chemical Treatment Pros Cons
Pesticides Effective against moths May harm other organisms
Moth repellents Protect textiles Temporary solution

Non-Chemical Treatments

  • Freezing: Place infested items in a sealable bag and freeze at 0°F for at least 48 hours3. This kills all stages of the moth life cycle.
  • Vacuuming: Regularly vacuum carpets, upholstered furniture, and areas where clothes moths may hide. Dispose of the vacuum bag promptly.
Non-Chemical Treatment Pros Cons
Freezing Effective; non-toxic Time-consuming
Vacuuming Removes eggs and larvae Requires frequent upkeep

Managing Infested Environments

Household Areas Prone to Infestation

Clothes moth infestations often occur in specific places within homes where conditions are favorable for their survival. Some common household locations include:

  • Basements: Typically damp, dark, and humid, attracting clothes moths.
  • Attics: Similarly, attics are dark and may provide ideal conditions for moth breeding.
  • Wardrobes: Clothing storage areas, especially when items are made of organic materials like cotton or cashmere.

Treatment of Furniture and Textiles

Dealing with moth infestations in furniture and textiles has been a challenge. Here’s a list of strategies for treating infested items:

  • Dry cleaning: Effective in killing both clothes moth larvae and adult moths from textiles.
  • Vinegar solution: Mix equal parts water and white vinegar, and spray it on draperies and upholstery as a non-toxic alternative to chemicals.

Monitoring high-risk areas, ventilating spaces regularly, and keeping wardrobes and storage areas clean can help prevent new infestations.

Method Pros Cons
Dry cleaning Highly effective; professional treatment Can be expensive; not suitable for all materials
Vinegar solution Non-toxic; affordable; easy to apply May not be sufficient for severe infestations

Remember to act fast when you notice signs of clothes moth infestations to prevent damage to your belongings.

Footnotes

  1. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IG090 2 3

  2. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/clothes-moths 2 3

  3. University of California IPM 2

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Clothes Moth

 

Whats this ?
Can anybody help ? Is this a carpet moth emerging from its cocoon ? The case is approx 1cm long. I have several fist sized areas of damage to carpets under cupboards where the cocoons are attached. They are also attached to walls.
Cheers
Robert

Hi Robert,
We are not sure if this is a Clothes Moth or a Case-Bearing Clothes Moth. Our suspicion is thqt it is the latter, Tinea pellionella.

Letter 2 – Clothes Moths

 

moth
Hello,
I live in Northern NJ and certainly never thought I could get moths. My dry cleaner never even saw one in all the years of her business. I noticed a few things flying around in my hallway about 2 weeks ago but thought they were little fruit flies or something. As the days went by I noticed more of these and a few in the house. I am terribly afraid of bugs of any kind so I frantically started cleaning the hallway to find a white with a pale greenish worm on one of my jackets.

I right away suspected moths and took a few of my sweater coats to the dry cleaners. We found two cocoons on the bottom rim of one of the sweaters. Another day has past and I noticed three on one of my suede coats. I thought they only liked wool?! I have 2 long suede coats two that have lambs wool around the collar and cuffs which have the cocoons. Another suede coat with fur and a few other sweater coats all have them.
My landlord went through them all and put them in plastic bags and I am going to take them to the cleaners today. Three jackets are left in the hallway without any visible signs of cocoons but I am sure I should clean them anyway. There was one moth hanging out on my ceiling in the hallway yesterday and now I just spotted one on my wall leading into my kitchen (which may be the one from the hallway?). I took a few pics but under the nervous pressure to get close to it they are blurry. I am attaching it anyway.
I have no idea how they got here because I am obsessively neat and work so much that I rarely have food in the house. I do have a lovebird who eats a pellet diet but has spray millet for treats…this I keep in the refrigerator though. Will they go near him and can he get sick from them if they do? I am so upset over this and how can I get rid of them if I do not know where they started. The coats were not in a closet but hanging on hooks outside my door and I live on the second floor and my landlord doesn’t have them. However, one of my bosses said they had clothes moths a few months ago. Is there any correlation?
What should I do?
Any help with be GREATLY APPRECIATED!!!
Lisa Tomsky, MS, RD
Innovative Nutrition Consultants
www.dietaryconsultant.com

Hi Lisa,
Moths are attracted to lights, so if anyone in your vicinity has either clothes moths or pantry moths, they can easily fly into your home and begin to feed if they find a food source. Naturally, a sheepskin lining in a coat is a food source. Animal skins including suede are also viable food sources. One of the best ways to protect your woolens is to take all clothing to the dry cleaners at least once a year, whether or not you wear it.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Clothes Moth

 

Whats this ?
Can anybody help ? Is this a carpet moth emerging from its cocoon ? The case is approx 1cm long. I have several fist sized areas of damage to carpets under cupboards where the cocoons are attached. They are also attached to walls.
Cheers
Robert

Hi Robert,
We are not sure if this is a Clothes Moth or a Case-Bearing Clothes Moth. Our suspicion is thqt it is the latter, Tinea pellionella.

Letter 2 – Clothes Moths

 

moth
Hello,
I live in Northern NJ and certainly never thought I could get moths. My dry cleaner never even saw one in all the years of her business. I noticed a few things flying around in my hallway about 2 weeks ago but thought they were little fruit flies or something. As the days went by I noticed more of these and a few in the house. I am terribly afraid of bugs of any kind so I frantically started cleaning the hallway to find a white with a pale greenish worm on one of my jackets.

I right away suspected moths and took a few of my sweater coats to the dry cleaners. We found two cocoons on the bottom rim of one of the sweaters. Another day has past and I noticed three on one of my suede coats. I thought they only liked wool?! I have 2 long suede coats two that have lambs wool around the collar and cuffs which have the cocoons. Another suede coat with fur and a few other sweater coats all have them.
My landlord went through them all and put them in plastic bags and I am going to take them to the cleaners today. Three jackets are left in the hallway without any visible signs of cocoons but I am sure I should clean them anyway. There was one moth hanging out on my ceiling in the hallway yesterday and now I just spotted one on my wall leading into my kitchen (which may be the one from the hallway?). I took a few pics but under the nervous pressure to get close to it they are blurry. I am attaching it anyway.
I have no idea how they got here because I am obsessively neat and work so much that I rarely have food in the house. I do have a lovebird who eats a pellet diet but has spray millet for treats…this I keep in the refrigerator though. Will they go near him and can he get sick from them if they do? I am so upset over this and how can I get rid of them if I do not know where they started. The coats were not in a closet but hanging on hooks outside my door and I live on the second floor and my landlord doesn’t have them. However, one of my bosses said they had clothes moths a few months ago. Is there any correlation?
What should I do?
Any help with be GREATLY APPRECIATED!!!
Lisa Tomsky, MS, RD
Innovative Nutrition Consultants
www.dietaryconsultant.com

Hi Lisa,
Moths are attracted to lights, so if anyone in your vicinity has either clothes moths or pantry moths, they can easily fly into your home and begin to feed if they find a food source. Naturally, a sheepskin lining in a coat is a food source. Animal skins including suede are also viable food sources. One of the best ways to protect your woolens is to take all clothing to the dry cleaners at least once a year, whether or not you wear it.

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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