Search and Destroy: How To Get Rid of Sweater Moths

updated May 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Monica Wang)

Usually the first sign you have a moth problem is when you pull out a sweater and discover it’s laced with tiny holes. Clothes moths are sneaky little pests. They like to lie low in dark corners, snacking on your best cashmere. They rarely take time out from feasting to flutter about your house, so before you start swatting at each and every moth you see, here is what you need to know.

Tineola bisselliella and Tinea pellionella are the two most common types of clothes moths. They are both much smaller and plainer looking than the average moth. The first has dull gold wings and the second greyish brown wings with tiny pin prick spots. If you see a large, patterned moth in your home, rest assured it is not doing your clothes any harm.

It’s actually not the adult moths but the larvae that cause the damage, as they resolutely munch their way through your woolens. Sweater moths lay their eggs in dark, quiet spots where there is plenty of food, i.e., wool, hair, or pet dander. The back of your closet is their dream home. They have expensive tastes and will pick a fine cashmere over a wool blend any day. In theory cottons and synthetics should be safe, but that won’t stop them gnawing through them in their hunt for something better. They particularly love clothing that comes with a side of sweat, dirt or dust, so stay on top of your laundry!

If you have a serious infestation, you need to call in the professionals. Sweater moths can cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to clothing, carpets and curtains. Otherwise, here are some sensible steps to discourage the little blighters from taking up residence in your home:

  • Every few weeks, remove all your clothes from shelves, rails and drawers and shake them out.
  • Keep your closet clean by regularly dusting, wiping down surfaces, and vacuuming.
  • Stay on top of dry cleaning and hand washing, and never put away or store knitwear that is dirty.
  • Vacuum your carpets thoroughly at least once a week.
  • Pick up a pheromone trap from the hardware store to trap the adult males and break the breeding cycle.
  • Extreme changes in temperature can kill moths, so wrap affected sweaters in plastic bags, then place in the freezer for a couple of days. Remove and aerate in a warm room, then refreeze for a couple more days.
  • Place lavender sachets, cedar balls and even conkers with your clothes to repel moths.
  • Store seasonal clothing in sealed airtight plastic bags when not in use.
  • Streamline your closet by donating clothes you rarely wear.