Holes in your clothes? Here’s how to get rid of moths for good

Stop these pesky flying foes from creating the larvae that will feast on fabrics.

Picture the scene. You’re off on a big day or night out. You’ve had your outfit planned for weeks. You reach into the wardrobe, pick it out, only to find it full of little holes. The moths are at it again.

Spotting a moth infestation isn’t always easy – they are small and stealthy insects, after all. But follow our tips on how to get rid of moths and you’ll find it relatively simple to keep your home moth-free, saving all your favourite clothes, carpets, blankets and even knitting supplies.

Hand holding moth eaten jumperCredit: Tatiana Foxy/Shutterstock

Prevention really is better than cure when it comes to moths, as invisible mending is rarely an option. Moths are naturally drawn to dark and damp spaces, so it’s important to keep your wardrobe clean and well ventilated. Similarly, you’ll want to start washing your clothes more often, as moths love the smell of human sweat.

Did you know?

Adult moths don’t actually munch on your clothes – they don’t have mouths. Instead, the holes you see are caused by caterpillar moth larvae that emerge from moth eggs.

“These larvae feed on natural materials such as hair and wool, cashmere, silk and cotton,” explains Julia Dee, founder of Total Wardrobe Care. “Natural fibres contain a specific protein called keratin, which the larvae convert into useful nutrients.”

Keratin is found in animal derived products, such as wool, cashmere and silk, but also in human hair, nails and skin.

1. Deploy a moth box trap

It’s a good indication of whether you have a problem

Aside from seeing moths flying around, a telltale sign you have a problem is finding moth larvae, which look a lot like small white grains of rice. Another indicator is spotting webbing and cocoons building up in the corners of wardrobes and drawers, on curtains, and under sofas and armchairs.

If you suspect you have an issue, a good way to check is to install a moth box trap, or to hang sticky moth paper. A moth trap is a small box with an adhesive strip inside, laced with female moth pheromone. The idea is that male moths will be attracted to the box and become stuck. This stops them from breeding with the females and breaks the cycle of eggs being laid and larvae destroying clothes.

If the trap is peppered with moths within a few days, you’ll know you have an infestation. If you spot only a few moths within a fortnight, it’s unlikely you have a problem.

Shop Moth box trap, £9, Total Wardrobe Solutions

2. Wash clothes regularly

Moths love sweat and food stains

Laundry room with blue cabinetsCredit: Carla Bullock/Shutterstock

If you’ve splattered food down a cashmere or wool jumper, that’s even better news for the moth larvae, as – aside from the wool itself – that’s more protein for them to munch on.

Adult moths will also be attracted to the smell of sweat, which is why it’s crucial to clean any dirty knitwear before you put it away. You can hand-wash your delicate woollens or, if the care label denotes it’s OK, have them dry cleaned. Moths are driven away by the smell of dry-cleaning chemicals, so this could be a savvy option.

3. Refresh soft furnishings with steam

Kill off any larvae in an instant

If you suspect you have moth larvae nibbling at furniture, curtains, or even on items in your wardrobe, a handheld steamer can be an instant way to stop them in their tracks. The heat of the steam is powerful enough to kill the larvae instantly (as well as bacteria), but is gentle on fabrics, so they won’t shrink or fade.

I’m a satisfied owner of a Philips handheld garment steamer, the Steam & Go Plus, which provides a powerful shot of steam in seconds, while still being lightweight and easy to store.

Shop the Philips Steam & Go Plus, £75 at Argos

4. Vacuum furniture as well as carpets

Moths see dust as a sign of safety

A female moth wants the best for her eggs. Which is why she will seek out a spot that’s warm, dark and – most importantly – hasn’t been used in a while. Piles of dust are a great signal to a moth that a spot is undisturbed, so by keeping on top of the cleaning, you’ll create a less inviting place for these winged pests to settle.

Vacuum inside as well as under and behind your wardrobe, paying particular attention to corners and along the clothes rail. It’s a good ideal to follow up any vacuuming with a wipe down with antibacterial spray. For a homemade remedy, a mix of water and white vinegar will do the trick.

5. Drive moths away with scent

Natural essential oils can work wonders

Bottles of essential oilsCredit: Photopixel/Shutterstock

You don’t need to rely on harsh chemicals to drive away moths. In fact, some of the oldest solutions can be the best. “Historically, across the world, essential oils have been used to repel moths,” says Louise Speigal at Total Wardrobe Care. “For example, the Romans used their laurel crowns as a general insect repellant.”

The company now uses a unique blend of eight essential oils, including laurel, lavender, patchouli and cedarwood, in a product to deter moths. “We’ve found that, rather than using them individually on their own, blended together they have a really good repelling ability,’ says Speigal. “The lady moth won’t lay her eggs where those strong fragrances are present.”

Eucalyptus is another moth-repelling fragrance. You could also consider using laundry detergents with these scents as a further deterrent.

“Normally, the main moth breeding season is between May and October,” says Speigal. “However, our warming climate is likely to extend that, making clothes moths even more of a problem.”

6. Kill the moths with tablets or spray

Take a hardline approach

If you’d rather kill any moths, rather than just discourage them, you can still take a natural approach. Chrysanthemums contain a natural pesticide called pyrethrum, which can be used in spray form to rid your home of moths. This is often mixed with those essential oil deterrent scents, giving you the best of both worlds.

Shop Chrysanthemum moth spray, £24 for 250ml, Total Wardrobe Care

You can also purchase chalky tablets that attract male moths with female moth pheromones, then coat the moth to make it smell like a female. As each male moth comes into contact with the next, mating stops and no eggs will be laid.

7. Protect woollens in garment bags

Put your clothes to bed for summer

Garment bags with clothes on rack in dressing roomCredit: New Africa/Shutterstock

If you’re worried about jumpers sitting unused over the summer, it’s a good idea to pop them in sealed garment bags, so that moths can’t get at them. Always handwash them first, to remove any tempting dust particles or food or sweat residue.

Look for bags with a good seal, such as Velcro, so you can be sure that the moths can’t get in.

How to protect carpets from moths

Wool carpets can be a moth paradise

As many carpets are made from wool, they’re the perfect breeding ground for moth larvae. Indeed, many historic houses and museums have to deal with moth infestations.

“Many use the chalky tablets to break down the reproductive cycle,” says Speigal. “The Natural History Museum use them, and I believe also Hampton Court Palace and the Royal Opera House. At Hampton Court Palace, they found 400 years of dust under the floorboards, and within that, an infestation of moths eating Henry VIII’s carpet!”

Living room with Carpetright Edmonton Twist Gold carpetCredit: Carpetright
Edmonton Twist carpet in Old Gold Plan, £27.99 per sq m, Carpetright

“Moths tend to thrive on wool and natural fibre carpets,” Punam Chada, carpet buyer at Carpetright, tells us. “Opting for nylon and polypropylene-based carpet (such as the Edmonton Twist design, above) will offer a less hospitable environment for moths. The most effective option to make your flooring completely repellent is to treat the flooring with a special permanent coating to deter the insect completely. You can purchase a variety of chemical treatments and powders to help mothproof a carpet.”

“The best tip for keeping moths out of the carpet is to regularly and thoroughly vacuum your floor, especially around the edges and under furniture,” Chada explains. “Make sure that you replace your vacuum filters periodically.”

Chada also recommends:

  • Checking all upholstered furniture and wardrobes for any signs of infestation.
  • Washing stored clothes and home furnishings regularly.
  • Keeping rooms well-lit and ventilated.
  • Using natural repellants such as cedarwood, lavender and lemon scents.
Amy Cutmore

Written by Amy Cutmore she/her

Updated:

Amy Cutmore has been writing about interiors for more than 20 years, harking back to the days when glossy red kitchens, toile de Jouy and rag rugs were all the rage, and everyone wanted a Changing Rooms makeover. You’ll have seen Amy’s work at Britain’s biggest homes titles, including Ideal Home, where she served as Consumer, Technology and Group Digital Editor. She has also edited or written for Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, 25 Beautiful Homes, Real Homes, Gardeningetc, Inside Readers’ Homes, Inspirations for Your Home, Country House & Home, Top Ten Reviews, Trusted Reviews and Country Life.

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