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Keep Woolens Clean to Avoid Clothes Moths: Q and A

By Chris Williams on December 21, 2010.

Q. When I unpacked a box of wool blankets, I found that two of the blankets on the bottom had holes and spider webs all over them. I didn’t find any spiders in the box. Can spiders damage fabrics?

A. No, spiders can’t chew holes in fabrics, but clothes moths and carpet beetles can. Since you mention seeing webbing, I suspect that it’s clothes moths that have damaged your blankets. It’s the larvae (caterpillars), not the adult moth, that cause the feeding damage. The larvae spin silk webbing and silken tunnels in the fabric, using these for protection as they feed. The adult moth is less than 1/2-inch long and a yellowish-gold color. The adult clothes moth, unlike most other moths, is not attracted to light and hides in dark areas. It has a weak, fluttering flight and prefers to walk on surfaces instead.

Clothes moth larvae feed on materials that are of animal origin like wool. They also feed on felt (even inside pianos!), furs, accumulated pet hair, animal hides, feathers, and sometimes on cotton, linen, and silk, especially if the fabrics are soiled. Clothes or blankets that have been stored away for a long time, or those that were not cleaned before storage are the most susceptible to clothes moth infestation. Fortunately, all stages (including eggs) of the clothes moth can be killed by drycleaning infested items. Unfortunately, clothes moths may have laid eggs on other materials. Some infested items can be steam-cleaned, or treated with extreme heat or cold for extended periods to kill the moths. But this is tricky because fabrics and delicate items can be damaged; you’ll need expert advice.

To keep clothes moths from infesting other susceptible fabrics, keep them clean! Wash or dryclean fabrics and air them out, especially before storage. Brushing items, ironing, and vacuuming nearby areas helps, too. Store woolens in tightly sealed containers. Moth balls or moth crystals can be used but are not necessary if items are clean and stored properly.

If a large infested item can’t be cleaned, or if you think the clothes moths may have spread to other items in other areas, you should call a pest control professional. Insecticides can be used and are often the treatment of choice when clothes moths are infesting large area rugs or upholstered furniture. If you need help, call Colonial. We can confirm that you’re dealing with clothes moths. Our trained technicians will conduct a thorough inspection and offer treatment options that fit your situation.

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