How can one tiny little moth wreak such destruction? Why do they always chomp a hole out of your softest jumper or best coat? Unfortunately for us, moths have a taste for the high life. They live off keratin, the substance found in natural fibres like wool, and the softer and the finer the better, which is why cashmere, silk and fur are so often a victim.
The common clothes moth, Tineola bisselliella, has been blamed for munching its way into homes across Britain. But it’s actually the larvae, not the moths, which cause the damage. Clothes moths have a life cycle of 65 to 90 days, during which time they can lay 40 to 50 eggs. The tiny white grubs burrow into fabric, leaving behind trails that look like cobwebs. By the time you see the adult moths flying around, your infestation maybe in full flow.
So, if you find yourself facing moth hell and a wardrobe full of hole-y clothes, what can you do?
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1. Start with a good clean
Vacuum cleaners are a moth’s worst enemy because they don’t like being disturbed. You need to identify the source of the larvae, which could be anything from old clothes, rugs, carpets, cushions or soft toys. If possible, take them outside and beat with a broom, or brush along seams and under collars.
Get in your cupboards, wardrobes and drawers once a month, shake all your clothes out, and vacuum thoroughly. Clean and wash down affected places, and pay special attention to cracks and crevices where eggs might be hiding.
Then move furniture and clean and vacuum underneath, especially where you have carpet. Open windows to allow the air to circulate - moths like warm rooms.
Dirty clothes are a moth’s favourite feast, so wash sweaty or stained clothes before you put them away, or have them dry cleaned. Freezing also eradicates pests: put items in sealed plastic bags, squeeze out air and pop in the freezer for a few days. Take out, return to room temperature, then repeat.
Store newly-cleaned and unfrozen items in a zipped and sealed plastic bag or an airtight box, wrapping precious items in lengths of cotton to protect them from condensation.
Thoroughly launder all other fabrics in the affected areas, such as bed sheets, linen and blankets.
Clean suitcases, bags and containers which might be concealing more eggs or larvae.
Read our tips for making the most of your wardrobe space
2. Getting rid of moths
Moth traps catch the adults, and vacuuming regularly in the affected area will remove all the larvae. The latest technology, developed by pest management group Exosect (www.exosect.com) and used by places like the costumes and wigs department of the Royal Opera House, is the pheromone strip. This lures male moths to a tray of statically charged powder containing female pheromones. The powder sticks to the male bodies, trapping them and making them appear female to other moths, thus ending their breeding days.
You can buy effective DIY kits online – try www.mothkiller.co.uk, whose kits start at £21.65 and provide a combination of the best clothes moth control products plus an advice sheet. They also stock the Super Fumer smoke bomb (£5.79) which contains the toxic chemical permethrin. Use when you’re going away for the weekend and there are no animals left in the house.
Mothballs contain pesticides, which can be harmful as they release a fumigant gas. Use only in tight-fitting containers, rather than loose in closets or drawers. Air thoroughly before wearing.
If you have a severe moth infestation, expert pest control is probably the best option but prices can be high, starting at around £150 a room.
Rentokil experts (0808 271 6366, www.rentokil.co.uk) can recognise the type of moth causing the problem. They’ll then use the most effective method to get rid of them, such as a spray, fumigation or heat treatment. Their chemical free ‘heat pod’ treatment’ is particularly useful for getting rid of moths, eggs and larvae in delicate items that can’t be laundered.
3. Alternative methods
Cedar balls contain natural oils that kill clothes-moth larvae but used on their own they won’t protect clothing.
Lavender sachets hung in your closets are said to protect woollens and they smell delicious but they don’t kill eggs or larvae.
Some people swear by fresh conkers, whose brown skins contain a compound called triterpenoid saponin that works as a mild insecticide.
Other strong repellents include eucalyptus and bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and cloves.
Read our tips for making your home more eco-friendly
Find out more with the Saga Equity Release Advice Service.