You pull out your favorite wool sweater only to find it has holes in it. Are clothes moths the cause? Possibly, but there are several suspects that could have chowed down on your cardigan. Here’s our guide to cloth-eating insects and getting rid of them.
Cloth-eating insects choose fabrics made from animal hair or plant fibers. In the case of wool, fur and feathers, the insects are feeding on the keratin in the fibers. These insects don’t usually dine on synthetics, but they’ll chew on clothing made from them if they are soiled with food, body oils or skin cells. If you touch a synthetic garment with food residue on your fingers or have unwashed synthetics in your closet, you’re inviting cloth-eating insects in to dine.
The likely suspects
Let’s start with the two most likely offenders: moths and carpet beetles.
There are two types of clothes-eating moths. The webbing clothes moth is light gold-colored with a wingspan of half an inch. It is not the moth itself that munches on your wool suit but its larvae. The case-bearing moth spins a case around itself and peeks out one end to feed on your favorite cashmere sweater. The case looks like a grain of rice, so small you might miss seeing the bug.
Another prime suspect that will dine on wool is the carpet beetle. As with moths, it’s the carpet beetle’s larvae doing the mischief. As the name implies, wool carpets or area rugs invite these beetles like a ringing dinner bell.
Other lesser-known cloth-eating insects are:
- Firebrats and silverfish, which are related. Both have bodies that taper from head to tail. Firebrats are light bronze-colored and silverfish are, well, silver. Both love wool, linen and rayon, especially clothing to which you have applied starch.
- Cockroaches. Besides being a disgusting presence in the kitchen, these creepy insects will chew on clothing soiled with food.
- Crickets. These insects will also put the bite on clothes that have food residue on them.
- Termites. Normally they feast on the wood in your house, but they’ll make an exception for clothes bearing food residue or body oils.
Conquering cloth-eating culprits
What can you do to keep your clothing safe from cloth-eating insects?
- Launder and dry clean clothes frequently. Don’t put clothes with food residue into your closet. Wash your hands between handling food and touching your clothes.
- Avoid keeping a lot of clothes packed in your closet or dresser drawers. Cull out things you’re not wearing, clean them, then store them in plastic tubs with snap-tight lids. Store suits and coats you wear infrequently in zip-up plastic garment bags.
- Vacuum carpets and rugs frequently.
- Sprinkle boric acid powder along the baseboards at the bottom of the closet. Boric acid is poisonous, so be sure to keep pets and children out. If you decide to use a chemical pesticide, be careful not to get any on your clothes to avoid stains.
Related – Avoiding Fabric-Munching Carpet Beetles