I hate them. They get everywhere. The little buggers take over the whole house as they (or rather their caterpillars) feast on cereals and grains in the kitchen, and anywhere with wool, silks and other fabrics. They ruin carpets and far too many clothes to mention. I swear that this year is the worst ever and I find myself constantly clapping my hands to swat them away.
I need an effective solution, that does not include removing carpets – which I have done in some rooms, but I am reluctant to do this throughout.
So, if you find little holes in your clothes or webbing in the corner of cupboards, you know you have a problem. You must act quickly before they make their way through your favourite carpet or cashmere coat.
Most of our 2,400 species of moth are harmless to us. But there are a few species that cause problems in the home. The brown house moth, common clothes moth and case-bearing clothes moth are the main culprits for clothes and (woollen) carpet damage. The white-shouldered house moth is particularly fond of dried fruits, cereals and potatoes, but will also nibble your fabrics. The species most likely to infest your food cupboards are referred to generically as pantry moths and have established themselves in the UK having been imported in different food. The most common in the UK is the Indian meal moth, which originates from South America.
Some moth facts
- The larvae seek out dark areas and are difficult to detect.
- Only male moths fly at night in search of female moths
- Moths fly from April to October
- Carpet moths complete several life-cycles throughout this period with the last generation of larvae carrying on during the winter and eating your carpet.
But never mind the entomology: how can we get rid of the damn things?
What to do?
Wherever the infestation is, you can use three basic techniques to take back control.
- Use pheromone moth traps to catch and kill the male moths, which breaks the breeding cycle.
- Invest in proper storage solutions to prevent the moths getting access to the materials and food they need to breed; and
- Keep a clean house that deters a re-infestation.
You don’t have to resort to sophisticated and expensive chemical products that may be harmful to the environment and your pets. Instead, here are some solutions using natural household products, which can be effective if used in the right way.
You can make a moth trap by dabbing a little fish oil (which attracts them) onto some fly paper and hang in your cupboard or wherever cloth moths hibernate. Or you can use cedar hangers by sprinkling cedar oil on wooden hangers near your susceptible clothes. The volatile oils will kill younger moth larvae, but they need to be quite concentrated, and soon lose their effectiveness, so replace or refresh regularly. Scented bundles using lavender, thyme, cloves, rosemary and bay leaves placed in carefully selected places can deter moths in the first place. Other essential oils (lavender, mint and peppermint) are also said to work well and strengthen the bundles, but again, you will need to refresh these regularly.
If you have cleared your cupboards of moths, use a strong vinegar and water solution to clean surfaces and deter their return.
Moths on your clothes
Once you see signs of moth damage to your clothes you must remove your clothes from the affected areas and do the following:
- Wash every item of clothing in the cupboard or drawers to get rid of the eggs the moths may have laid.
- If possible dry on high heat in the tumble dryer, or if the item cannot be tumbled dried, freeze it for a few days to kill the eggs.
- Clean the cupboard and hard surfaces within it, such as suitcases, with vinegar.
- Vacuum the carpets in and around the cupboard.
How to prevent a re-infestation
After you have gone through the whole time-consuming process of getting rid of moths, these tips will help prevent a re-infestation:
- Keep your clothes very clean
- Brush clothing after you have worn it
- Dry clean clothes before you store it away, especially winter clothes, and keep in an airtight bag or container with scented moth repellents.
- Vacuum bags are ideal for longer term clothes storage
- Keep your clothes cupboard cool and well insulated
- Air your clothes often
- Use the chemical deterrents (cedar or scented bundles) listed above
Moth in the carpets
- Keep a clean house and regularly vacuum the carpets, especially in corners, under furniture and up to the skirting boards.
- Place scented home-made repellents under furniture
- Use moth traps on carpets to break the breeding cycle.
Moths in the pantry
The tell-tale signs that moths have found a home in your pantry are clear. You will see food items that are stuck together. There may be a musty smell, light webbing around boxes or caterpillars or full-grown moths flying around. It’s time to act.
- First throw away the infested food. It is not healthy to eat. They are particularly attracted to bulk food items such as grains, rice, nuts and cereals so check these often and keep them in air tight containers. If in any doubt put them in the freezer for 3-4 days before you store them as usual. This will ensure that any eggs that may be present are killed.
- Set moth fly traps – see above
- Clean the kitchen from top to bottom using a soapy water mixed with vinegar. Use a scourer not a sponge to make sure you remove the eggs.
- Moths love warm humid conditions to keep food in an area that has good ventilation. A good old-fashioned pantry or larder with windows open to the outside is ideal (remembering the tropical origin of most pantry moths)
- Seal off places you cannot clean regularly like cracks and crevices in the pantry and behind shelves.