Dealing with moths

It’s a familiar feeling. On an unseasonably cold evening, you delve into the wardrobe for that lovely soft cashmere jumper you bought last winter at considerable expense. But as you pull it over your head, you spot some light coming through. There’s a hole just below the neckline. And above the cuff. And halfway down the sleeve, and in the centre of the chest. In panic, you reach back into the cupboard where all your woollens are neatly piled up, to find they’re all the same.

You might have noticed a few more moths ricocheting off the windows lately. Traditionally, it was about May/June time that moths started to flutter around the fluorescent lights and the war of the woollens began in earnest. In our modern age of centrally heated homes, however, moths can be a year-round pest, and one that can cost you hundreds or even thousands of pounds, especially if they start getting into your carpets and curtains.

Larval appetites

In fact, it’s not the moth itself that’s devouring the angora sweaters, but rather its larvae. The moths lay their eggs in quiet, dark places, and when they hatch, the larvae begin chewing their way delicately through your finest clothing. Eventually, they pupate, and hatch out into more moths. The main problem with this being that by the time you see moths beginning to flutter around in large numbers, the damage might already have been done.

Clothes moth larvae are discerning eaters, and natural fibres (ie, the most expensive ones) are their food of choice. You’ll notice they leave the polyester well alone. The finer the fibres (like silk or cashmere), the more appetising they are. They also favour dirtier clothing, since sweat and dirt to us are valuable nutrients to a moth larva.

Weapons of war

The key is to catch the infestation as early as possible, and in fact prevention is much better than cure. If you’re putting a segment of your wardrobe away for a while – particularly if it contains silk or woollens – make sure the clothing is clean. To protect the clothing, store it in sealed plastic bags (the vacuum-type ones are good), and if you’re putting several items in together, an insecticide sachet might not be a bad idea. It seems obvious, but if you like your vintage clothing and aren’t always too particular about where it comes from, it’s probably an idea to quarantine or treat any new acquisitions before you chuck them in the drawer with all your favourite pieces.

Regular vacuuming also helps forestall infestations – particularly if you change the bag regularly (or empty and clean a bag-less vacuum cleaner) – as does going through your drawers and cupboards every once in a while and shaking the clothing out. If nothing else, it’ll help you spot any moth damage early.

There are lots of remedies for moth infestations out there, both herbal and chemical. The most famous are mothballs, though it’s likely that anyone who has ever used public transport in a major city will have a powerful loathing for the fragrance, since mothballs seem frequently to be used as a substitute for actually washing clothes.

As an alternative, many shops will sell very lightly scented insecticides, often in solid form where you peel back a film to expose them to the air and they gradually diffuse over a period of months. These can be placed in drawers or hung in wardrobes, and should help to keep you moth-free.

If the moths have already been at your clothes, you’ll need more drastic solutions. Insecticide sprays are a good bet, as are pheromone attractant traps and moth killer strips. Usually it’s best to hit the problem with everything you can get your hands on all at once, supplemented with lots of vacuuming and cleaning.

If an infestation is more serious – particularly if they’re in the carpets – you might have to call out the professionals. Pest controllers have a devastating arsenal of tools, though they come at a reasonably hefty price.

Giving all moths a bad name

As a final thought, it’s worth remembering that not all moths eat clothes. In fact, very few of them do. So if you see a moth (particularly a big, ugly-looking one), the chances are it’s not doing any harm, and you don’t need to go diving into the closet fearing the worst.