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The Plant Medic


Be vigilant with moths and clothes

Q. Recently, I noticed holes in clothes that I had hanging in my closet. It sure looks like moth damage, but I don’t think I had any wool. I scattered moth balls through the closet, and doused the baseboard with cedar oil – but I still have damage. Can you help?

A. Pest-control experts say the number of moth infestations has been on the rise. We have more clothes than any generation in history. There is also an increased interest in vintage clothing, and blends of cotton and polyester fabrics containing wool are on the rise.

The webbing clothes moth and case making moth are most common in the United States.

The clothes moth larva is what does the damage. They are small whitish brown “worms” that are about 1/2 to 3/4 inch in length and can feed on wool and other items in the home that contain wool.

The clothes moth adult is gold with reddish-golden hairs on the top of its head. A row of golden hair fringes its wings.

Controlling clothes moth infestation is similar to control of grain moth infestations of food in the house; inspect, clean, trap, or exclude or remove the food sources.

The first step is to inspect clothing for moth activity. Pull all the clothes out of the closet. Inspect the clothing and pay special attention to look under collars, seams, pockets and sleeves where the larvae might hide. Take the clothing that isn’t damaged outdoors in a sunny area. Use a brush to clean the clothing thoroughly; brushing along seams and inside folds and pockets. Brushing destroys eggs and exposes larvae to sunlight, which they do not prefer. Launder clothing in hot water if possible. Wool items can be dry cleaned. Place stored clothing items in airtight containers after washing.

Vacuum the closet area and dispose of the bag after use. Use a disinfectant to clean corners and baseboard areas. Apply an indoor pesticide containing pyrethroids or products such as Orange Guard or Ortho Indoor Home defense along the baseboards. Hang up clothes moth traps in and near the affected area to monitor and trap any adult moths.

Moth balls or naphthalene flakes need to be used with caution, as they can be extremely toxic to pets and humans – especially if they are used in ways contrary to label directions. Research shows that cedar planks, oils from lavender and other botanicals can help – but alone will not control infestation of clothes moths. Freezing clothing can also kill larva and adults. Some people freeze vintage clothes as a precaution.

I have received just a few samples or calls about clothes moths over the years. However, it still pays to be vigilant with clothing items in today’s ever-changing world.


The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Sunday. Kemery is the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.