BIOLOGY OF CLOTHES MOTHS
The casemaking clothes moth (Tinea pellionella) and webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella) are pests of fabrics in the United States. Moths, like butterflies, go through complete metamorphosis where they spend most of their life as caterpillar larvae with chewing mouthparts. Adults do not live very long, hence the larval stage is considered the pest stage. These clothes moths are not to be confused with moths (e.g., grain moth, meal moth) that may be pests of stored products (e.g., cereal, rice, flour) found in your pantry.
The casemaking clothes moth makes a silky case/tube and the webbing clothes moth (most common in United States) spins a silky web from which the larvae feed on natural materials, such as wool, yarn, upholstery, dust, paper, feather (in pillows), taxidermy mounts, felt in piano hammers and many other materials. The casemaking clothes moth will also feed on plant materials such as tobacco, tea, and spices. The casemaking moth can be especially difficult to see because their cases are the same color as the item they are eating. The webbing clothes moth will not feed on materials such as cotton or synthetic items unless there is some type of animal residue on the item (e.g., oils, perspiration).
Both the webbing and casemaking clothes moths are an infestation issue for historic textiles and other materials and an integrated pest management approach is taken in museums and similar settings (e.g., Querner et al. 2017).
HOW CAN I HELP GET RID OF CLOTHES MOTHS?
Clothes moths may feed on pet hairs wedged under baseboards or in air vents and even dead insects. Hence, thorough vacuuming (dispose of vacuum bag after each cleaning if an infestation is suspected) can help remove the pests from the home if they do not have a food source. Infestations for items such as clothes, blankets and curtains can be treated by washing and drying (or dry cleaning) the items, as manufacturer’s instructions allow. Pest management professionals can be consulted to help with inspection and treatments if an infestation is suspected.
If moth balls (containing 1,4-dichlorobenzene) are used in sealed containers, the vapors can kill insects, such as moths. If this material is used in an unsealed area (e.g., closet) there may be a repellent effect; however, moth balls give off an odor that may be unpleasant for humans and can cause damage to plastic materials. Smells from chests made from eastern red cedar trees may have some detrimental effect on young moth larvae, but often have a lesser effect on older (larger) larvae.
Pheromone traps (sex attractant) can be used to trap adult moths and are considered both a surveillance and control tool, but mostly surveillance. The occurrence of moths in these traps can help you determine if you have an infestation and also help remove adults that could potentially mate and lay more eggs.
Querner P, Sterflinger K, Piombino-Mascali D, Morrow JJ, Rospischil R, Pinar G (2017) Insect pests and integrated pest management in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy. International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation. In press. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0964830516306321