Although clothes moths are usually blamed for
insect damage on fabrics, other insect pests,
most notably carpet beetles, are also capable of
causing damage. Serious infestations of clothes moths and
carpet beetles can develop undetected in a home, causing
significant damage to clothing, bedding, floor coverings
and other articles.
The immature stages (larvae) of both the clothes moth and
carpet beetle feed on a variety of animal-based materials,
including wool, fur, silk, feathers and leather. Items com-
monly infested include wool sweaters, coats, clothing, blan-
kets, carpets, decorative items, down pillows and comforters,
natural bristle brushes, toys and animal trophies.
Neither the clothes moth nor carpet beetle larva can
digest cellulosic fibers (such as cotton, linen, or rayon) or
synthetic fibers (such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic) so they
generally leave these alone. However, synthetic fabrics that
are blended with wool may be eaten along with the wool,
even though they are not digested. Cotton, linen and
synthetics heavily soiled with food stains or body oils may
also be occasionally attacked.
Even though the prevention of damage and the control of
both insects are similar, knowing which insect is doing the
damage will help you find and eliminate the infestation.
How to Identify Clothes Moths
Clothes moths are small (about 1/2-inch), buff-colored
moths with narrow wings fringed with hairs. Two different
species are common in Kentucky, the
casemaking clothes moth
. The webbing
clothes moth is uniformly buff-colored, whereas the
casemaking clothes moth is similar in appearance but has
indistinct dark specks on the wings
Adult clothes moths are seldom seen because they avoid
light. They prefer dark, undisturbed areas such as closets,
basements and attics, and tend to live in corners or in folds
of fabric. If you do see
tiny moths flying about in the
kitchen and other open areas, they are probably
originating from some infested cereal, flour
or stored food item. Clothes moth adults do not feed so they
cause no injury to fabrics. However, the adults produce
eggs which hatch into fabric-eating larvae.
The larval stage of clothes moths are creamy-white
caterpillars up to 1/2-inch long. Webbing clothes moth
larvae spin silken feeding tunnels or patches of webbing as
they move about on the surface of fabrics. They often deposit
tiny fecal pellets similar in color to the fabric.
The casemaking clothes moth encloses itself in a portable
case that it drags about wherever it goes. Often the larvae
leave the material they developed on and can be seen
crawling slowly over walls or ceilings. The casemaking
clothes moth, in particular, may travel considerable dis-
tances from the infested article to spin its cocoon in a
protected crack, or along the juncture of a wall and ceiling.
How to Identify Carpet Beetles
Although there are many different species of carpet
beetles, the adults of all species are small, oval-shaped
beetles about 1/8 inch long
. The black carpet beetle (a common variety of carpet beetle) is shiny black. Adults of other common species are brightly colored in various patterns of white, brown, yellow and orange. The larvae or immature stages of carpet beetles are about 1/8 to 1/4 inch long and densely covered with hairs or bristles
. Only the larval stage feeds on fabric and causes
damage. Carpet beetle larvae will also feed on seeds, pet
food or cereal products in the kitchen or pantry. In nature the
adults feed on flowers outdoors, but are often seen indoors
around light fixtures and windows, indicating that a larval
infestation is present somewhere within the home.
Habits of Both Pests
The larvae of the clothes moth and carpet beetle prefer to
feed in dark, undisturbed areas such as closets, attics, and
within boxes where woolens and furs are stored for long
periods. Clothing and blankets in constant use are seldom
damaged by these pests, nor are rugs that get a normal
amount of traffic or are routinely vacuumed. Edges of
carpeting next to walls or underneath furniture, however,
are often attacked.
These pests may also be found infesting upholstered
furniture (both inside and out), and in air ducts where the
larvae may be feeding on lint, shed pet hair and other bits
of debris. Infestations may also originate from bird or
Lives 15-30 days
CAST PUPAL SKIN
Hatches in 4-10 days
WEBBING CLOTHES MOTH
Tineola bisselliella (Hummel)
Hatches in 4-7 days
Stage lasts from
CASEMAKING CLOTHES MOTH
Tinea pellionella (Linneaus)
Lives an average
of 4-6 days
animal nests, or an animal carcass present in an attic,
chimney or wall space.
Some infestations occur when adult carpet beetles or
clothes moths fly from one house to another. Other times,
eggs or larvae are transported into a home on articles
containing wool or other animal fibers, such as secondhand
clothing, used furniture, and woolen scraps exchanged for
making rugs or quilts. Once inside, the larvae may crawl
from room to room, item to item, slowly causing widespread
Damage to articles may consist of irregular surface
feeding or holes eaten completely through the fabric.
Good cleaning practices are the best prevention. Newly-
hatched larvae are so small that they can crawl into any
crack or crevice. Vacuum carpets thoroughly and frequently
to remove deep down debris. Pay close attention to dark,
out-of-the-way places, such as cracks, crevices, and vents;
under the edges of rugs; and along the walls, under
couches, chairs and other items. Use vacuum attachments
such as crevice and upholstery tools to thoroughly clean
places where larvae are likely to hide. If you have pets,
clean more often since pet hair is a food source for these
When you suspect insect damage, check all susceptible
items carefully. For example, the source may be on an old
woolen scarf at the back of a closet, a fur hat in a box, or
a remnant of wool carpeting in the corner of a room. There
may be more than one source of infestation.
Clothes moths and carpet beetles often breed in hair-
based accumulations that are likely to be found behind
baseboards, under door jambs, inside heating vents, etc.
Remove all items from the infested area, being careful not
to spread the infestation. Vacuum infested areas thoroughly.
If infested areas are cleaned well, it may not be necessary
to apply an insecticide. If an insecticide is used, treat only
cracks, crevices, and infested areas; it is not necessary to
spray shelf surfaces or walls. Sprays may be applied to
infested carpets (especially along and beneath edges adja-
cent to baseboards) and underneath furniture. Many house-
hold pesticides labeled for ant, flea, and cockroach control
are also labelled for fabric pests and can be obtained at
supermarkets and hardware stores.
spray clothing or
bedding directly with household insecticides. These items
should be removed before spraying inside closets or drawers.
Always read the label and follow product directions carefully.
Before returning items to storage areas, either launder/
dry clean items according to manufacturersí directions, use
another method of control from those listed below, or get rid
While the homeowner may successfully eliminate small
infestations of carpet beetles and clothes moths, wide-
spread infestations may require the services of a profes-
sional pest control operator. Trained professionals are able
to find and treat hidden infestations in walls, attics, and
other difficult-to-access areas more effectively.
Both laundering in hot water and drycleaning will
stages of fabric pests
that may be present and will also
remove perspiration odors that are attractive to pests.
Woolens and other susceptible fabrics should be drycleaned
or laundered before being stored for long periods.
55 days-2 1/2 years
Inside pupal case.
Is not seen for 9-19 days
Figure 1. Webbing clothes moth (left) and casemaking clothes moth (right).
moths, eggs and young larvae are usually killed within
several days with either insecticide if package directions
are followed. However, older moth larvae and most stages
of carpet beetles are more difficult to kill. As a general rule,
two to three weeks of treatment will ensure absolute kill of
all stages of insect pests.
After storage, air out items for a few days before using
them to get rid of any odor.
All mothproofing products must be registered by the
Environmental Protection Agency.
How to use moth control products
Since the vapors of these products are heavier than air,
the insecticide should be placed near the top of the storage
container so the vapors will sink.
Do not place any
insecticide directly on fabric as adverse reactions
to the fabric or dyes may occur.
Either place mothballs, flakes, or crystals on a layer of
paper on top of items in a box or chest, or, if the container
is deep, layer clothing and place paper and moth control
product between the layers. If using a garment bag, suspend
the moth control product in an old sock or nylon stocking at
the top of the bag or use a moth cake that can be attached
to a hanger. When using a garment bag, clothing should be
Do not use PDB in plastic containers
can occur with certain kinds of plastics. This could affect
both the container and the clothing. Hard plastics that may
be used in buttons and some ornamentation will melt when
they come into contact with the vapors. Some plastic bags
will melt and stick to the items, ruining them. Polyethylene
garment bags are not affected by PDB vapors. If you must
use plastic bags for containment of vapors, use naphthalene
rather than PDB. Many plastic bags do not retain PDB
vapors long enough to kill insect pests. It is not a good idea
to use plastic bags for long-term storage of textile items.
Contrary to popular belief, cedar closets or chests are
seldom effective in preventing fabric pest infestations be-
cause the seal is usually insufficient to maintain effective
concentrations of the volatile oil of cedar.
Brushing clothing or other items at regular intervals of
once or twice a month is a very effective means of moth
control as crushing or dislodging of the pests occurs.
Brushing should be done outside if at all possible and should
include all areas of the garment that are accessible, such as
under collars and pocket flaps. Items constantly in use are
seldom attacked by insect pests.
Cold storage (at 40
F) is often recommended as a means
of protecting previously uninfested furs and other items from
insect damage. Cold storage of furs is recommended as it
does help prevent skins from drying out and also provides
some degree of protection against insects. Although constant
cold storage temperatures may prevent larvae from feeding
it does not kill clothes moth larvae or eggs already present,
and both stages have been found alive after prolonged cold
Adult furniture carpet beetle
Larval furniture carpet beetle
Adult varied carpet beetle
Larval varied carpet beetle
Adult black carpet beetle
Larval black carpet beetle
Figure 2. Adults (left) and larvae (right) of common carpet
beetle species found in homes.
Articles to be stored should be packed in tight-fitting
containers with moth balls, crystals or flakes containing
paradichlorobenzene (PDB) or naphthalene. The
from these materials are
lethal to fabric pests
, but only
when maintained at sufficient concentrations
To achieve sufficient concentrations, enclose the
manufacturerís recommended dosage of these insecticides in
containers that are practically airtight. Trunks, garment bags,
boxes and chests, when tightly sealed, will be effective when
used with these insecticides. Seal boxes or other containers
with tape to achieve a tight seal, if necessary. Wardrobe
boxes from moving companies could also be used to provide
good storage space but will need to be sealed.
The length of exposure necessary to kill clothes moths or
carpet beetles will vary with the temperature, the size of the
larvae, the form in which the insecticide is used, the
chemical used and the concentration of the gas. Adult
storage periods of 6 to 12 months. Furs suspected of being
infested should be cleaned prior to cold storage by a
professional cleaner using the furrier method.
Freezing to control all stages of insect pests is effective
provided the procedure is done properly and the necessary
minimum freezer temperatures are obtained. Some house-
hold chest freezers will maintain -20
F but the average
temperature is approximately -10
F. Although a complete
kill can be obtained at -10
F. it would take much longer; the
cooler the temperature the faster the result. Check your
freezer before you attempt this method.
Generally, the infested materials are placed in polyeth-
ylene bags, the excess air is squeezed out of the bag as much
as possible, and it is then sealed tightly. The bag is then
placed in a chest-type freezer for a minimum of 48-72 hours
F. After the item is removed from the freezer, place it in
a refrigerator and let it thaw slowly before finally bringing to
room temperature. Items should remain in the polyethylene
bag until brought to room temperature. For complete insect
kill, it is also desirable to immediately repeat the freeze-thaw
cycle before removing the contents of the bag.
This procedure could be used by consumers for treating
small items which have signs of possible insect contamina-
tion that would be difficult to launder, such as hanks of yarn
or feather accessories.
Miscellaneous Control Methods
Insecticide products intended for direct application on
clothing, bedding or textiles in the home for either the
treatment or prevention of fabric pests are not currently
available to consumers.
that may be used for treating
cracks, crevices, and other areas where fabric pests may be
cannot be used to treat clothing or textile
. Always read the directions of any product carefully
before purchase and use.
Mothproofing is a chemical treatment given to fabrics that
protects them from insects without leaving any odor. Items
purchased with ìmothproofî or ìmoth resistantî on the label
have been treated with a protective chemical when they were
manufactured. This process is considered permanent.
Mothproofing products that can be applied using home
laundering methods are not currently being marketed for
Mitin FF is an industrial mothproofing agent available to
consumers and used by home spinners and dyers who make
or process their own yarn. It is a permanent mothproofer
which acts like a colorless dye. It is claimed that this
mothproofer is fast to washing, dry cleaning and to light, and
does not interfere with subsequent working of the goods. It
can be applied either in the dye bath or as a separate
application. It is not generally used on finished garments.
Repairing the Damage
All is not lost when a garment has been damaged by
fabric pests. Such damage, as well as damage from burns,
tears, etc., can be repaired or camouflaged. Choose one of
the methods below and consider the following questions:
ï What was the original price of the damaged garment?
ï Would it be expensive to replace?
ï Would you miss it?
ï Do you have several items that coordinate with the
ï Would it be cheaper to repair than replace?
Although probably the costliest choice, reweaving may
save you a lot of money and could provide the best result.
There are two types of reweaving: French and Piece. In both
methods, all work is done from the top side of the garment.
is used to repair small holes. Threads
are collected from elsewhere on the garment and the hole is
actually rewoven with those threads. It is usually almost
impossible to see this type of repair, even when pointed out.
is used to repair larger holes. For this
method, you need a piece of the fabric to make a patch in
order to make the repair. Pieces can be obtained from
facings, hemlines, pockets, etc. In this method, the threads
from the edges of the fabric ìpatchî are rewoven into the
edges of the hole.
The cost of reweaving, as well as the appearance of the
completed mend, will depend on: the method of reweaving,
the size and location of the hole, the type of fabric and
weave, and the time involved. A hole may cost approxi-
mately $30 to repair; several may cost approximately $70.
When having this type of work done, ask to see examples
of the work or ask for references. Sometimes this type of
work is done locally; sometimes a local store will send it to
a regional location that specializes in such work.
Sometimes the addition of a scarf, belt, pin or jacket may
hide the hole. Is the location such that something could be
added that would cover the hole? Is the design, fabric, or
style suitable for adding any embellishment such as an
applique, decorative thread, buttons, jewels, patches, etc.?
Ask a creative person for suggestions.
Consider the location of the hole and think of alterna-
tives. Could a pocket be added, a hemline or dart altered,
a cuff added? Try looking at fashion magazines for current
ideas and stretch your imagination!