What Do Moths Eat & How to Keep Moths Away

When your customers pull a favorite wool sweater out of storage and find it riddled with holes, they come looking for you for help.

Clothes moths and their cousins, the household pest known as the pantry moth, can infest even the cleanest homes and create untold damage. The key to eliminating both pantry and clothes moths is knowing their life cycle and taking steps to kill them based on where they live, breed, feed and hide.

WHAT DO CLOTHES MOTHS EAT?

There are actually two types of clothes moths distributed worldwide: the webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliell) and casemaking clothes moth (Tinea pellionella).

What they eat:

  • Natural fibers found in clothing, carpet, drapes, upholstery and bedding. They’ll eat wool, silk, cotton and any other natural fiber they can find.

In times of desperation, moths will even eat pet fur or chomp through synthetic materials to burrow into natural fibers underneath.

A CLOTHES MOTH’S LIFECYCLE

Female Moths Lay Approximately 40 to 50 Eggs over Several Weeks

The adult moth flutters near the food source to mate and lay eggs. Adult moths are about a quarter-of-an-inch long.

  • Webbing clothes moths: A reddish-gold or golden color
  • Casemaking clothes moths:strong> A pale, tan color with black spots on the wings.

Once the adults mate, the females lay 40 to 50 eggs over a period of several weeks on suitable fabrics such as cashmere, fur and wool. She attaches the eggs to clothing fibers with a special adhesive. The eggs are so tiny that they are difficult to see without a magnifying glass.

After about four to 10 days, depending on the temperature, the larvae hatch. Warm temperatures encourage faster hatching, while cool temperatures delay or prevent hatching. Larvae live anywhere between 35 days and two-and-a-half years, depending on the food source and temperature. In that time, they can cause quite a bit of damage to fabrics.

  • Webbing clothes moth larvae: Create temporary silken tunnels from which they can emerge at either end to feed.
  • Casemaking clothes moth larvae: Create a hard-shelled case around themselves, which they cart around as they crawl among your clothes.

Once they’ve eaten enough of to satisfy their appetites, the larvae pupates.

  • Casemaking moth pupae: Crawl away from fabrics and find a crack or crevice — such as the space between the floorboards of your closet — to pupate and emerge as adult moths.
  • Webbing moth pupae: Prefer to spin a web directly on fabrics to pupate.

In regular household temperatures, pupation occurs in about eight to 10 days, while in cold climates or unheated buildings, it may take as long as four months. Two complete lifecycles per year are typical in the warm, comfortable climates found in the average home.

HOW TO SPOT A CLOTHES MOTH INFESTATION

  • Casemaking clothes moth: Uses the fibers it eats to spin a case the same color as the fabric it’s feeding on, making it difficult to see. Look for the small case among the folds of material.
  • Webbing clothes moths: Easier to spot. Webs can often be spotted with the naked eye.
  • Fluttering moths near infestation area: Adult clothing moths fly around the area of infestation. They don’t travel very far from their food source. (Pantry moths will fly around your home seeking alternative food sources.)
  • Damage to clothing and other fabrics: Moths prefer to eat along collars and cuffs or within hidden places along the seams. Holes vary in size, but there may be several spots in a single garment where the material is eaten straight through.
What do Moths Eat and How to Keep Moths Away

HOW TO KEEP CLOTHES MOTHS AWAY

  • Stop moth entry: Clothes moths can enter a home in several ways. Newly purchased items can hide eggs, especially if purchased from resale shops.
  • Moth attractants: Perspiration, urine, food stains and moisture attract the adult moths, so cleaning your clothes before storing them is essential.
  • Proper cleaning: Dry-cleaning wool, silk and other fine fabrics is highly recommended. Not only does the dry-cleaning process avoid adding moisture to the garments, which attracts the moths, it also kills any existing larvae.
  • Cleanliness: Sweep up hidden larvae. Vacuum living areas, as well as closets, to reduce or eliminate pests. Move furniture and vacuum underneath. Run a vacuum cleaner over baseboards in closet and along floorboards. Empty vacuum cleaner bag in the trash immediately.

HOW TO GET RID OF CLOTHES MOTHS

Wash Fabric in 120 degree water for 20-30 minutes to Kill Moths
  • Dry cleaning: Dry-clean wool items and anything marked “dry-clean only” before storing them at the end of the season.
  • Hot water laundry: Launder household items and clothes with hot, soapy water. Washing fabric in 120-degree-F water for 20 to 30 minutes kills clothes moths at all stages in their life cycle.
  • Freezing: Cold kills moths. Garments and fabric items can be placed inside airtight freezer bags and kept at 18 degrees F or colder for several days. Garments can also be fumigated with dry ice.
  • Sun & Brush: Combine the power of sunlight and a good brushing. Brushing destroys eggs and sweeps larvae to the surface. Larvae hate sunlight, and they fall off the garment as they rush to escape the light.
  • Clothes line: Air out natural fabrics on a clothes line or coat hangers in the sunlight, brush them off and allow them to remain in the sunlight for several hours to naturally get rid of clothes moths.
  • Mothballs: Mothballs contain a chemical called 1,4-dichlorobenzene or paradichlorobenzene that suffocates moths and larvae. This chemical is poisonous to pets and children so use with great caution.
  • Natural oils? Some natural oils such as cedar oils are said to repel clothing moths, but there is little research to support this fact. Other folk methods include bay leaves and blends of lavender and rosemary essential oils.
  • Moth Traps:Try Safer Brand® Clothes Moth Traps. They lure adult moths and prevent eggs from reaching your clothes. Use them around pets, and they won’t leave clothes smelling like mothballs! Clothes moth traps are the safest and most effective way to get rid of moths.
  • Kill eggs: Wipe the floorboards with Safer® Brand End ALL™ With Neem Oil RTU containing pyrethrin to kill any hidden eggs or larvae before placing items back in storage.

HOW TO GET RID OF PANTRY MOTHS

Your customers will be beating down your door when they open a box of cereal and see it squirm with pantry moth larvae. Even the cleanest pantries and kitchens can be infested with the Indianmeal moth, Plodia interpunctella.

If a customer spots pantry moth larvae in their food, or have moths fluttering around the kitchen, tell them not to don’t panic – you can help them!

WHAT DO PANTRY MOTHS LOOK LIKE?

Adult Indianmeal Moths are about 1/3 to 1/5 inches long

Like the clothes moth, it’s not the adult pantry moth you have to worry about — it’s the larvae that does most of the damage to your food.

  • Adult Indianmeal moths: About 1/3- to 1/5-of-an-inch long with copper-colored bodies and a whitish-gray underbelly.
  • How did they get here? Most pantry moths enter homes in infested foods.
  • Food sources: Favorite foods mostly include grain products (flour, cereal, cornmeal, rice, nuts, birdseed, pet food, dried pasta and dried fruit). Even chocolate is a food source.
  • Infestation: Pantry moths will fly great distances around a home to find new food sources.
  • Next generation: Larvae will also crawl out of containers to pupate in remote places in your home.

HOW TO SPOT A PANTRY MOTH INFESTATION

A pantry moth infestation is fairly easy to spot. The larvae spin webs around themselves as they eat, and infested foods will contain webs and small, white- or cream-colored caterpillars. Once the insects pupate, they emerge as the adult moths, which are also large enough to be seen easily as they fly about the house.

HOW TO KILL MOTHS IN THE PANTRY

Pantry moths can be difficult to eradicate once they take hold. Advise swift action to prevent moths from spreading.

  • Containment: Place the entire contaminated package — container and all — inside a plastic bag. Seal the bag and discard it in the trash. Don’t save any food that is suspected to be contaminated.
  • Inspection: Remove all the items from cabinets and pantry. Inspect them for signs of infestation. Discard any products that are contaminated.
  • Shelf Paper: Remove and discard all shelf-liner paper cabinets. Larvae can hide underneath the paper. Place it in a plastic bag and discard it in the trash.
  • Remove: Vacuum all pantry and cabinet shelves. Empty the vacuum cleaner bag in the trash immediately after cleaning your shelves.
  • Clean: Wash shelves, walls, door and floor with hot, soapy water.
  • Clean thoroughly: Clean on top of cabinets, ceilings, corners and behind appliances. Pantry moths can hide in unexpected places.
  • Trap: Use traps, such as the Safer Brand® Pantry Moth trap. These traps are non-toxic, and you can use them around food sources. They can contain any moths you may have missed, and they work for up to three months.

HOW TO KEEP PANTRY MOTHS AWAY

Suggest your customers take these simple steps to prevent Indianmeal moth infestations.

  • Watch what they buy: Avoid buying bulk foods, which may be contaminated more easily.
  • Monitor expiration dates: Use foods by their expiration date. Rotate stockpiled food so oldest items are used first.
  • Keep grains cool: Refrigerate grains and other foods you don’t use frequently.
  • Lock food up: Seal grains and other foods in airtight containers to prevent infestations from spreading.
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