Digging out your favourite jumper in autumn and finding it peppered with holes is heartbreaking!
Conventional moth repellents are potent pesticides. They work by off-gassing vapours which are toxic enough to kill the moths and larvae. When you open the storage container, vapours will escape and can be rapidly absorbed via inhalation. The health risks of using these products are serious and we strongly advise against using naphthalene or p-dichlorobenzene based mothballs, especially if there are children in the house.
What’s the alternative and how do you kill prevent moth damage without poisoning yourself and your family?
Natural moth deterrents such as lavender, cloves, cinnamon and cedar are effective at preventing moths from damaging your clothing, but it's important that they're used as part of a good hygiene-based moth prevention routine.
So what’s eating your clothing?
There are two types of insects that cause damage to your clothing. Clothing moths and carpet beetles, although quite different in habit and appearance, both lay eggs in animal based fibres. The adults actually pose no risk themselves, however, the emergent larvae feed voraciously on fabric, causing the distinctive and distressing holes.
Clothing moths tenaciously avoid the light so you’re unlikely to ever see them. Likewise, carpet beetles and their larvae prefer dark, undisturbed corners so unless you have an infestation, they can be difficult to spot. Moths and carpet beetle larvae attack animal fibres including silk, leather, fur, wool and animal hair, and rarely eat clean cotton or synthetics. They’re particularly attracted to anything which is soiled with perspiration, oil, pet hair and food.
Although spring and summer are the usual breeding period, perennially warm modern homes encourage moths to breed for a much longer period.
Disrupting the life cycle:
Your first and most important defence is vacuuming. Vacuuming carpets regularly, paying particular attention dark corners and under furniture will remove laid eggs and larvae while reducing the food sources available to them. Regularly vacuum furniture, upholstery and the shelves where clothing is stored. Steam cleaning carpets and upholstery may help as the larvae are killed by high temperatures. (If you already have an infestation, you may need to vacuum at least once per day in order to get on top of the problem). Dispose of the vacuum bags or empty the vacuum cleaner immediately. A few drops of cedar oil in the bag or filter of your vacuum cleaner may help to kill any young larvae that are sucked into your vacuum cleaner.
For clothing moths, sunlight is also important to disrupt the breeding cycle and getting things outside on a sunny day as often as you can will kill larvae, dislodge adult moths and cause unhatched eggs to drop off.
Pheromone traps are also a great help during spring and summer. They attract the male moths with a smell (imperceptible to humans) and then trap them, helping to disrupt the breeding cycle. Traps are also a useful way to see if you actually have a clothing moth problem!
The most important thing to do when storing clothing is to make sure everything you’re storing has just been freshly washed and dried. Warm water and detergent will rid the clothing of any previously laid eggs. Once clothing has been cleaned and completely dried (ideally in sunlight), it can be packed into airtight containers or vacuum-sealing bags with lavender sachets or cedar wood pieces. If you don’t mind smelling like a Christmas cake, cloves and cinnamon sticks are also effective (but the smell can be potent!). If you’ve used cedar oil to replenish any cedar wood products, make sure it’s not in direct contact with the clothing as it can stain. Use tissue paper in between your fabrics and anything impregnated with cedar oil.
For particularly expensive items or if you’re storing longer than a season, use good quality breathable bags that provide a good seal against moths but allow some air to circulate.
Clothing in use:
During spring and summer, be vigilant and keep your eyes open for adult moths and beetles.
Never put worn clothing back away into a wardrobe or drawers as this will attract moths. Air it outside in sunlight in between wears and then keep it on a hook or clothing ladder outside the wardrobe until it’s washed. To deter moths from laying eggs during the summer, use lavender sachets or cedar wood products in wardrobes and drawers.
Go through your wardrobe from time to time and shake woollen clothing outside and if possible hang in the sunshine. Moths hate sunlight so this will disturb adult moths and shake off any eggs before they get a chance to hatch.
Using an old-fashioned clothing brush to brush down winter coats and felt hats in the sunshine is also an effective way of disturbing the life cycle if eggs have already been laid on them.
If you have clothing you suspect to be infected, wash it on as hot a temperature as the fabric will allow. Freezing also kills the larvae so for delicates which cannot tolerate a hot wash, you can put them in bags and freeze for a few days. Defrost and repeat.
You may need to dispose of badly damaged and infected clothing.
Once you’ve got any existing problem under control, prevention of further damage using only natural moth prevention products is not difficult. Shaking, airing, cleaning and vacuuming are time consuming but the alternative is highly toxic chemicals that can harm your family and pets. Cedar and lavender are completely safe, natural alternatives that are highly effective and have the added bonus of making your clothes smell wonderful.