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Clothes Moth

- Larvae feed on fabric, dried skins and hair -

Summary: Clothes moths infest closets, drawers and storage areas as well as rugs, wall hangings and upholstery. Damage occurs when larvae feed on certain animal-based fabrics like wool and silk. Sanitation and attention to how fabrics are stored are the keys to clothes moth control.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Clothes moth identification

Clothes moth, or clothing moth, larvae (below) feed on a variety of dried animal protein like hair, feathers and hide; adult moths (right) do not feed. Damage occurs when larvae feed on wool, upholstery, rugs, felt, dried skins, hair and similar materials but not synthetic fabrics, cotton and other plant-based fabrics. Other fabrics may be damaged, however, if they are in contact with infested fabrics that are made of animal fibers.

There are several species of clothes moths including the casemaking clothes moth and the webbing clothes moth. All species have similar life histories. The adults are small buff-colored moths but one species has dark spots on the wings. Female moths rarely fly so you won't find them fluttering around the house like the pantry-infesting moths.

common terms: moth-eaten clothes, clothing moth, webbing clothes moth, casemaking clothes moth

clothes moth (adult)

Clothes moth (probably the webbing clothes moth) approximately 1/2" long. Notice fringe of hairs at ends of wings and reddish-golden hairs on head.


Clothes moth larvae can do considerable damage to certain types of fabrics and other natural articles. Generally, only items in long-term storage or those that are not disturbed for long periods sustain damage. Items that are regularly used and/or cleaned are much less likely to be infested.

Clothes moth larvae

Some clothes moth larvae build a case made of silk and bits of whatever the larva is feeding on (see photo below). This is the casemaking clothes moth and the case is carried wherever the larva goes, while other species do not make this case.

Clothes moth larvae are especially damaging to fabric that has been stained or soiled; food stains, sweat and urine are especially attractive. In fact, there is evidence that clothes moth larvae will not develop on clean fabric because it lacks certain necessary nutrients. Therefore, always launder or dry clean clothes before putting them into long-term storage.


Storage

Only use air-tight storage boxes or bags for long-term storage and store only clean clothes. This alone will prevent most infestations. Infested closets and drawers should be emptied and thoroughly cleaned with a mild household cleaner. There is no need to treat indoor spaces with insecticide.

Clothes moth traps

Clothes moths are not attracted to light like other moths but instead tend to seek darker areas or dim light. This behavior makes them difficult to detect in dark closets and drawers. You'll probably notice fabric damage or larvae before you see the moths themselves.

casemwking clothes moth larva and case

Casemaking clothes moth larva and case. The silken case is about 1/4" long. Notice the larva's dark amber colored head (lower center of image).

If you suspect clothes moth, based on damage you find, use pheromone traps placed in the closet or drawer. These traps will capture male webbing clothes moths. Traps for clothes moths and a variety of other pests can be purchased here: Insect & Spider Traps. Traps may not eliminate an infestation but will reduce numbers until you can take further action.

Don't use mothballs!

Clothes moth infestations are not as common and damaging today as they once were. Nowadays most wool carpet has been replaced with synthetics and even wool clothing is not as common. Wool rugs and wall hangings are sometimes infested and/or damaged.

At one time clothes moth damage was so common and costly that a material called mothballs was routinely placed in closets and drawers to deter these moths. However we do not recommend using mothballs for fabric pests anymore because of the toxicity of this material to people. See Why Mothballs Should NOT Be Used for details about not using mothballs. Most infestations can be eliminated with proper storage of clean clothes combined with cleaning of closets and draws, and trapping of male moths.

clothes moth larva

Clothes moth larva, about 1/2" long.

clothes moth cocoons

Clothes moth cocoons on fabric. Notice the shed skins at lower left.


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Jack DeAngelis, PhD,  , email:  [email protected]

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