Getting Rid of Moths (Podcast)

By Chris Williams on November 17, 2019.

Various types of moths will eat different things. Zach Cyrus, Quality Manager with Colonial Pest Control, discusses pantry moths and clothes moths and how to get rid of them. Listen or read more to find out about getting rid of moths.

John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher and I’m here today with Zach Cyrus, Quality Manager with Colonial Pest Control. Today our topic is getting rid of moths. Welcome, Zach.

Zach Cyrus: Thanks John.

John: So, Zach, what are two types of common household moths? I know that I’ve heard of pantry moths and clothes moths, and I think those are different and there’s probably multiple actual different species of moths within those groups. Is that right?

Zach: Yeah, yeah, you’re right. You’re right to say there’s more than two different categories that we commonly see inside of a home. So, a pantry moth, so you’ll see almond moths or different types of food moths. But the most common ones that people see as a pantry pass as a moth is an Indian meal moth. The Indian meal, corn meal. It used to have bags of Indian meal, that’s what they called it back in the day. So, when the researchers were finding and researching the Indian meal moth as we know it now, they found it primarily in cornmeal.

We see them in corn and flour and rice, in chocolate and nuts and flour, all sorts of different . . . more dry products. But the long chain starches is what they’re breaking down primarily. Indian meal moths, they could be a quarter inch, half an inch at most, usually a little bit smaller than that but they’re larger than the clothes moths. They’re primarily a tan color, but the lower third, lower two thirds on their wings is a darker brown.

So, when you have that bi-color, the lighter tan and then the darker brown on your moths, you’re pretty sure that’s an Indian meal moth and if you’re not sure of it, take a picture, send it to [email protected], we’d love to ID it for you. But the Indian meal moths, those driving pantry pests that we see in New England and my mother had them. I went over to her house to visit, after a little while and I looked up in her kitchen above her cabinets. I saw these little… I know it almost looks like spider webs, tightly spun spiderwebs. It’s really the pupate, the cocoons if you will, with the silk webbing around it. The moths are as a larval stage, as a little caterpillar, they’re crawling up away from the food source to pupate, to come out as a moth, and then repeat the process, breed and re-infest.

And I saw those. I said, “Ma, when’s the last time you cleaned out the cabinets?” She’s like, “Oh, who’s got the time?” But she had this great deal on pasta a couple of years ago. She bought so much spaghetti.

Clean Your Pantry to Prevent Moth Infestations

John: Right, right.

Zach: That’s where they were. If you don’t rotate your stock, keep track of your items. A lot of the food that we buy, especially the dried food, has insect eggs in it. So, if we give them enough time to hash out of that, it can develop into a bigger problem. Best thing to do to prevent those is to rotate your stock. Make sure there’s nothing, bird seed, dog cookies, all the other foods that we were talking about with the pastas and the flours. Make sure they’re all fresh. Not past the expiration date. Keep turning them out.

You’re not going to have as much in your cupboards as you might have typically, but you’ll have a lot fewer issues with Indian meal moths.

John: Right. You see this a lot of, when you’re occasionally, like you said, maybe you have a canister of dried oats or something like that and it sits in the back of your pantry for a long time. And then you go to take it out and look at it and you’re looking at and kind of shake the oats around and you can see that there’s this like webbing almost looks like spider webs on top —

Zach: — The webbing.

John: On top of it and that’s what that is.

What it Means When You Find Webbing in Your Cupboard

Zach: The webbing is the key thing to look for. And a lot of people, it sounds like you’re familiar with it, you know —

John: Absolutely.

Zach: What the webbing is.

John: Yeah, yep.

Zach: Yeah, yeah. A lot of people who haven’t dealt with it before, they don’t really know what the webbing is. They think exactly like you said, “Oh it’s some spiderwebs or whatnot.” Or they might not even notice it. And that’s the thing that we look for when we’re helping out a customer find the food sources, find the breeding sources for these moths. One of the big things we’re looking for is that webbing. It could even be on an unopened box of pasta. You’ll lift up where the flaps come down and if there’s webbing in there, open it up and check it out. They might be moths in there. But the webbing, the larva is a naked, creamy color. Sometimes they have a red head or a reddish-brown head, very small, maybe quarter inch to half an inch for the larva. And then the moths, of course if you open up a bag of flour, bag of nuts, you get a face full of moths. You’re pretty good at finding the source.

Eliminating Pantry Moths

John: Right, right. So, what can be done about those types of Indian meal moths and moths like it in the pantry?

Zach: Yeah. Pantry pest moths. As simple as you can get for a solution, but not always as easy as it might sound is you want to find it and eliminate the source is the number one thing. That’s 90% of the job is finding and eliminating the source. Whether it’s a bag of flour in the pantry, bag of bird seed in the garage, old dog cookies in the wall from a mouse who’s brought those in. Another good reason to really tackle your mice before they cause secondary pests. Finding and eliminating the source is the key thing and then using an insecticide, maybe an insect growth regulator as well as a residual chemical to bring down the population, knock down the adults.

Sometimes the larva will be crawling away from the food source in different areas. The Indian meal moths tend to go up, they like the elevation to pupate. So, hitting those areas with the repellent, that’ll bring down the population give you quicker results. But like I said, 90% of it is finding and eliminating that food source.

Ridding Your Closets from Clothes Moths

John: Okay. And then the next type of moths we want to talk about is clothes moths or clothing moths. When I was a kid and watching the Saturday morning cartoons, you would always have somebody put on a sweater, one of the cartoon characters. They put on a sweater and then a moth would come and just eat up the whole entire sweater right away and it would just fall off them in dust or something. Some kind of crazy thing like that. But that’s where I kind of know those types of moths from. But I haven’t personally dealt with having clothing moths and eating through holes in my clothes and things like that. But that’s still a problem that is out there.

Zach: It’s still a problem, but I will say it’s a problem again, that’s a more accurate way to say it.

John: Oh interesting.

Zach: Grandma used to smell like mothballs and she covered everything in plastic and it was you think, ‘Oh, grandma’s crazy, you don’t need all this extra stuff.’ But she knew what she was doing. It’s similar to the bed bug infestation we’ve been dealing with for the last decade or two. They went away back in the 40s and 50s. Everybody used DDT to spray the beds down. The travel wasn’t as prolific as it is now. Immigration wasn’t as hot coming into the country, so you had a lot less movement. Plus, the DDT, plus people were more aware of bed bugs then. We actually got the problem under control for a long, long time. Well, similar with the clothes moths, about the same time period as well, between the home sprays that were a lot stronger than anything that you can get commercially now, people used to be able to buy them from the Sears catalog.

The home sprays, the practices that people kept, as well as the moth balls and all that, but more of the practices. I think that’s the big driving thing why these moths are coming back with such a fury. We got complacent as a society. Things were really good and we were made really comfortable for a couple of generations, that we have nice sweaters. We’ve got cash. I mean we’ve got wool, we’ve got wool socks, we’ve got wool blankets, we’ve got wool rugs, we’ve got all these natural fibers that are luxurious. In the 40s and 50s, only the wealthiest among us would have all this nice stuff out in the open and not protect it. But we do, we got complacent. And those are the areas where these clothing moths like to breed where they get their nutrients from. They need keratin protein, they break down keratin protein.

There’s not a lot of things in the world that breaks down keratin, that we have in our hair and our fingernails. And that’s keratin reinforcing shampoo is probably where you hear that the most. But it’s a natural fiber that we make clothing and rugs and things out of. But it’s also the fur for an animal, keratin, hair for people, it’s keratin. So that thing needs to be broken down like everything else in the world, needs to be broken down by something. Domestic beetles and clothing moths basically are the primary things that break down keratin protein. Out in the wild, an animal dies, the bacteria’s going to do its thing, the flies are going to do its thing, and the beetles are going to do its thing. And then the fur’s left, and it’s the beetles and the clothing moths that break down that stuff.

So inside of a house, they’re also looking for that keratin protein. And in addition to the keratin protein, they’re also looking for different animal oils, especially B vitamins. So that comes embedded in the animal fibers as is naturally assumed, in all the wool and the cashmere and the natural materials, especially the softer fibers, it’s easier for them to eat. So, they go to those first typically. But anything that we’re wearing, even if it’s a synthetic running coat or a synthetic hat or cotton, which has no animal matter to it whatsoever, if we’re wearing it and soiling it even for five minutes at a time, that’s enough material to attract clothing moths to go in and start to feed on the oils. And in turn do damage to the fibers.

Signs of Clothes Moths

John: That’s really interesting. Yeah. So, what are some of the signs that you might have clothing moths? Am I going to see them flying around in my house or is it more like the clothes that I have stored in some bins up in the attic, I’m going to see them in there. What are the signs that I have that?

Zach: A lot of folks, they don’t know that they’re having an issue until they see the moths. By the time you’re seeing a clothing moth, the issue’s probably already progressed further than you might’ve thought. Clothing moths are generally not good flyers. You’ll see them flying around. Once you see them flying around, they’ve already been foraging for a little while. Especially a gravid female clothing moth. She’s very heavy. She’s more of a runner and a jumper then using her wings to fly. The males will fly a little bit more easily. But still that’s not their primary function is to fly. So other things to look for besides the moths. And again, if you have a moth, take a picture, send it to [email protected], we’ll ID it and see what track we need to be on to remedy the problem, if there is a problem.

But the clothing moths, they also have the larval stage, their complete metamorphosis. So, egg, larva, pupa, adult. It’s the larva. In most of these insects that do the damage. It’s the larva, the caterpillar, the worm, if you will, of the clothing moth that actually does the damage. It’s not the adult moth. The adult moth is only there to breed. That’s all they do. So the larva is going to find those food sources with the keratin, with the animal oils, all that kind of stuff. And they’re going to do the damage.

There’s two primary types of clothing moths in our area. The most common is a webbing cloth moth. So that silk that we’re talking about with the pantry pests with the Indian meal moth specifically, it’s a similar silk material that the larva or the worm spins around it. So, you might see these little faint . . . they almost look like lint poles on your sweaters or your clothes or your carpets. Up underneath the carpets, especially if it’s underneath an item like a bed or a dresser or a chest, anything that’s underneath an area, that’s where you’re going to find some of this webbing and it might just look like spider webbing. Oh, I haven’t cleaned that out for a while and it’s really stuck onto my sweater or stuck onto my rug.

The webbing for the web and clothes moth, it’s a little harder to tell exactly what it is, but it’s something to look into. It helps you dig a little bit deeper to see what else might be going on. The case making clothes moth looks very similar to the webbing cloth moth, they’re about a quarter inch, maybe half an inch for the adult moth, light tan type of color. The webbing cloth moth has reddish hair. If you look really close or under a microscope or a lens, you’ll see little reddish hair on the webbing clothing moth.

The case makers, if you catch them young enough, they’ll have three dots on their forewings, but usually by the time you see the moths, those dots have already been rubbed off. It’s like a darker brown on them. So, they look pretty identical except the casemakers don’t have the red hair. The casemaker’s cases or the larval cases, those are a little bit more distinct from the webbing of the web and cloth moth. The web and cloth moth, you’ll be more likely to see the actual worm as it’s working around feeding and just trailing the webbing behind it.

The case maker, it’s a cigar tube shape, so it’s kind of pointy on one end and blunt on the other. The blunt end is where the larva sticks it’s head out, takes a little bite and then drags the case behind him, almost like a snail with its shell, just dragging it behind it. So those little tiny cigar tube shaped pieces of fiber are a key giveaway for the case making clothes moth. So those cases they can be . . . it’s mostly the silk that they’re using to travel and to protect themselves, but it’s also a lot of the fibers that they’re consuming. So those two things, the webbing and the cases are things to look for in addition to the moths in addition to the larva. One final thing I’ll note is debris, fecal pellets and other kinds of debris that is from the food source will be the same color. What goes in, what must come out.

So, if they’re feeding on an orange sweater, it’ll be orange pellets that come out of that. If they’re feeding on a brown rug, you lift up the rug. Maybe you see the cases, maybe you see the webbing and you’ll see these little pellets of a darker brown, similar color to what they’re feeding on.

Those are the big things to look for and looking in the areas where you might have keratin and animal oils, it’s really difficult to explain it without pointing it out. I talk to people all the time. We really need to make a visit and make a good plan and point out this is what you’re looking for, this is what you’re looking for. It could be some dog hair in a pocket, a slider door, and a wall void that the really breeding in or might be under a rug or might be in a toy chest from 30 years ago with a baseball glove in it they haven’t looked at in 25 years.

All those kinds of things are things to look for. Once you kind of get the hang of what you’re looking for, you’ll start to pick up on the potential food sources and try to store those and clean those in a better way to prevent the moths from going in.

Getting Rid of Clothes Moths

John: Okay. So then once you know that you do have these clothes moths in your house, how do you get rid of them? Do I need to go back to putting mothballs in my closet and in my dresser drawers like my grandmother did?

Zach: Mothballs aren’t highly encouraged anymore, but better processes, better ways to store things like she did as well. So, there’s different materials. You can still get mothballs, but there’s also other materials that you can use as insecticide in confined areas. But the big thing is really cleaning the items. If it’s not animal fibers, then they will not attack an unsoiled piece of material. If you have a cotton sweater or a cotton sweatshirt that you’re wearing every day in the late winter and into the springtime, and then you hang it up and it’ll be cold next week, I’ll pick it up later. And then just not until the next fall you see it. All those animal oils might be on it. So, making sure that everything’s clean after you’ve worn it even a little bit, your hats especially.

If there’s any rolled-up carpets or anything like that, you want to get those cleaned before you roll them up and then tighten them up in a tight container or tight plastic. You want to make sure they’re clean. So, we’re not inviting insects from getting to the food source that they’re looking for, and also containing them. So, if you’re putting away your sweaters for the summer, you put them in nice sweater bags or a big tote once they’re clean so that you know they’re protected. So, as you’re not looking at them for four or five months, the moths won’t find them in your stead.

John: All right. That’s really great advice, Zach. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Zach: My pleasure.

John: And for more information, you can visit the Colonial Pest Control website at or call 1 (800) 525-8084. That’s 1 (800) 525-8084.



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