Please help me destroy my own personal Clothes Mothra!
September 13, 2012 12:59 PM   Subscribe

I have a MAJOR infestation of clothes moths. I've read advice on here about how to get rid of them and how to keep them away, but I still have some questions. Please help before all of our beautiful clothes are ruined!

Out of nowhere we have a huge clothes moth infestation. My husband and I have found holes in all of our clothes, from gorgeous cashmere sweaters to even lame old cotton tees (I know that moths only eat animal fibers, but from what I have read, the larvae can be laid on cotton and cause holes when they hatch). We have so many moths that at any given time you can look on the walls or ceilings of our closet and see several adult moths hanging out. Yes, I am sure they are clothes moths due to all of the damage to our clothes.

Based on tons of reading that I have done here and elsewhere on the web, we have devised a two part plan. Still, I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on whether our plan is missing anything. I also have some concerns and questions that I'd love to have addressed by anyone who has been through this.

Background: We live in Seattle where it doesn't get very hot in the summer to kill off larvae and it's very damp in the winter, creating a perfect climate for these jerks. We rent an old house (early 1900s) which I think maybe came with the infestation already brewing. The closets have carpet in them. We have already tried cedar (cedar chests, cedar blocks, cedar spray, cedar/lavender sachets, cedar clothes hangers) and it is not enough to control this. We do not want any chemicals at all, including moth balls, No Moth bars, or pest control services. Please do not suggest chemicals. We have cats that we cannot keep out of the closet, and my husband and I are both delicate flowers who do not want to breathe chemicals when we get dressed. Oh, also, we wear our clothes year round (yes, my husband wears sweaters in the summer), and nothing really goes into storage for a season, so we are dealing with a wardrobe that is constantly being cycled through wearing.

Okay, so on to the plan.

Step 1: Destroy the population and clean all the things
-We are going to clean all of our clothes. Delicate stuff will get sent to the dry cleaners, while everything else will get washed/dried on hot, put in the sun and shaken out
-Once cleaned, everything is immediately going into airtight packaging. Delicate stuff will hang in some sealable garment bags I found, and foldable stuff will go into vacuum seal bags (like Space Bags but more heavy duty).
-We will take everything out of the closets, vigorously vacuum the carpets, spray the walls and shelves with cedar spray, hang more sachets and misc cedar items and pheromone traps (even though I have not had luck with them in the past). We will also try to heat the closet up for a few hours using a space heater, which I have heard can help kill larvae in the carpet. Later we'll get a dehumidifier to keep the humidity down.

Am I missing anything here in the destroy and contain phase?

Step 2: Maintenance
-All clothes will stay in their airtight containers for several months until we stop seeing moths hanging out and stop seeing new damage.
-As soon as something gets worn it will go back into the sealable container that evening, whether or not it gets washed (more on this in a moment).
-We will continue to vacuum regularly, spray cedar spray, check pheromone traps, etc. We also have a house cleaner who comes by every other week who can help with this.

This is where I have some questions, because I really want to make sure this infestation is GONE before we start hanging our clothes in the closet in the normal way.

First, how long do I need to keep stuff stored in the airtight containers? I've read that the lifecycle of a clothes moth can be anywhere from 1-6 months.

Second, I have been reading that you absolutely should never ever EVER hang clothes back in the closet after wearing them, because they must be washed immediately. Really?!?! Am I the only person out there who finds it prohibitively expensive to dry clean all of my wool sweaters or nice dresses after wearing them just once, or wasteful to wash everything and potentially wear it out exponentially faster? I don't really know what to do about this. I don't want to keep everything zipped up in vacuum bags forever, but I also do not want to wash or dry clean everything after wearing only once. That seems incredibly wasteful and time consuming and expensive. And stupid.

Which leads me to my final question: at what point can we start hanging things out in the open in our closets again without fear of a new infestation? I covet the beautiful organized closets that I see on Apartment Therapy and that is so not possible if everything has to be bagged up constantly.

posted by joan_holloway to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
My biggest fear on your plan is the carpets - can you also clean them using steam or something like it? They love old carpet (or at least that's what I blamed them on in my old rental).

My experience with moths was that I'd think I'd gotten rid of them completely, and then seemingly a year later I'd have another hatch out. I discovered that while they don't love cedar, they will live with large quantities of it, so don't rely on it. I finally succumbed to mothballs (which really are nasty) in the basement in sealed containers, and I'd wash things again before wearing. That seems? to have done the trick. But you are wise to avoid them if you can.

So if I were you I'd keep things sealed up as much as possible for six months. That doesn't mean you can't leave a suit in the closet after it's been worn when you haven't seen a moth in a long time - it just means leave all of the other clean items in their bags as long as possible so that if you Do end up seeing moths again, there's much less to clean all over again.
posted by ldthomps at 1:16 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

We do not want any chemicals at all, including moth balls, No Moth bars, or pest control services. Please do not suggest chemicals.

Then you have tied our hands to a considerable extent. Without chemical treatment, it is much harder to assure that you will not have a future infestation. Moths, like most pests, are very good at hiding. While everything that exists is a chemical, you may wish to try camphor mothballs. They are as "natural" as cedar.

I had a similar issue with a tenant once. She saw a few cockroaches so I offered to have pest control sent in, but no, she wanted to treat it with catnip and borax. Fine, but we agreed that so long as she refused my offered pest control, she was probably going to have some new six-legged roommates.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:30 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I recently had a moth problem in my place. Like you, I have a pet that I wanted to keep away from chemicals and I was flummoxed at how to solve the problem.

I happened to move an old upholstered chair (the one my cat liked to sleep in) away from the corner where it sat. I noticed there was a hole in the wool upholstery & OMG inside this chair, stuffed with wool & cotton batting around a wood frame was the moth MOTHERSHIP. They (and their babies - omg I am embarrassed and grossed out to admit this because I promise I am not a messy, nasty housekeeper) were living on the batting/stuffing. The chair immediately went outside & was carted off. In a few days, no more moths!

So it may be possible some specific thing is housing most of your moths - I would suggest moving everything out of the moth-y rooms and having a good look. Hopefully you can discover & eliminate the culprit. Good luck!
posted by pointystick at 1:38 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I gave a moths reladed answer here:
"Since you have discovered some damage already, a thorough cleaning of all your clothes and the closet seem appropriate in order to get rid of the moths in all the different life stages. Used clothes tend to attract moths more than clean ones and there can be eggs or larvae in the cracks and edges of the closet. After everything is cleaned repellents like cedar, lavender etc. can be added.
Maybe there are some things you wear less frequently? Not enough for a whole box but maybe enough for an airtight vacuum bag like this one? I haven't used it myself though.
Here is a how to moth proof a closet on ehow and there is also some good info over at Martha's. Oh and eggs / larvae can survive in the vacuum cleaner bag.

I would try freezing clothing items in bags, hanging items out in the sun, cleaning shelves with vinegar, vacuuming everywhere thoroughly a few days in a row.
Good luck!
posted by travelwithcats at 1:46 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you can, try vacuum-sealing any off-season clothing. If there are moths that can breed in a vacuum, you'll be rich and famous for discovering them.

Also, change your vacuum-bag after this cleanout. They're cheap.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:52 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need to remove the carpets from the closet. It isn't optional. We are talking about a tiny amount of space so it should be very inexpensive to lay wood floors in the closets.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:16 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

The reason worn clothes cannot go back into your closet before washing is that clothes moths love love perspiration, food stains, and anything you might have wiped or smudged onto a garment as much as (or more than!) they love fiber. This is also why the carpets have to go. ASAP. They are filled with 5 or 40 years of dust and bug frass and spilled crumbs from that one time a tenant's kid ate an entire box of crackers while hiding from his mother.

As for avoiding chemicals I would strongly recommend as much fresh air and sunlight as you can get into the closet. And then call the exterminator and ask for the Material Safety Data Sheets on the chemicals they would use for moths in a closet. Or just ask for the names of the chemicals and the amount of a single application, you can find he MSDS online for most things these days. If reading the list of exposure hazards still has you concerned, get lavender essential oil, soak cotton balls in it and tuck those up into the ceiling areas of your closet. Replace frequently. You can also hang bags of cedar chips or blocks from the ceiling.
posted by bilabial at 2:57 PM on September 13, 2012

Best answer: Oh. And add a dehumidifier to this closet and the bedroom as well. Less moisture= slightly less appealing.
posted by bilabial at 3:02 PM on September 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far!

Yes, I already have the dehumidifier and lavender/cedar/natural things for adding to the closet. I really haven't had much luck with cedar, but I am going to continue trying it along with everything else. I'll add steam cleaning the carpet and vinegar-izing all the shelves to the plan too. I'll also check to see if there's anything hiding in the room that may be harboring a family of critters, but for the most part the only fabric in that room is the clothes and the carpet.

Just to emphasize, my landlord is not okay with the carpet being removed. It's wall to wall in the entire room, not just inside the closets. I can clean the hell out of the carpets, but removing them would put me on the landlord's shit list.

As for chemicals, I would MAYBE consider pest control if it's something that can be done in one application while we are away and the cats are at boarding, but it needs to not linger in the environment once we are back. Is that possible? My husband and I are way too sensitive to breathe that stuff in.

I'm still concerned about the whole don't-put-away-worn clothes thing. I understand the reasoning behind it, but if that's the case why doesn't everyone have this problem with clothes moths? I don't know anybody who washes every single item of clothing after wearing it just once unless they are super sweaty/stinky.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2012

The people that don't have this problem with clothes moths don't have clothes moths in their houses. We had a moth infestation at one point - there are a few here and there around our building, some got into a rug we had rolled up and stored in a corner, and while most of them and their legions of disgusting babies lived in the rug and ate from its delicious wool fibers, some of them made their way into our closet. The only things that got eaten were items that I had put away without cleaning. Seriously. We had a freakin' smorgasbord of delicious, very expensive wool and cashmere in there, and they only ate the stuff with skin oil on it. (We don't sweat a ton or anything, they are just attracted to human skin oils, not just sweat.)

So yes, if you take something out and wear it, put it back in the vacuum-sealed thing, or clean it before you put it into the closet. And deep steam clean the everloving hell out of the carpet in the closet.
posted by bedhead at 3:39 PM on September 13, 2012

Just to emphasize, my landlord is not okay with the carpet being removed.

Well, your landlord is renting an apartment with an insect infestation, so if he needs to get OK with the carpets being removed on the closet floors. It isn't going to be possible to erradicate this problem with them there. It is actually very likely his responsibility to sort this out but he's probably not going to do that within your chemical-free remit.

Look, you need to realise you're asking "I have a month infestation problem in my closet. Please tell me how to make it go away with NO chemicals and WITHOUT removing the infested carpet" and the answer to that is probably "This cannot be done within your constraints." At some point you may well need to choose between carpeting, chemicals and your clothing. You should probably consult with a pest company about your options.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:43 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can't address mothball-free methods for initial treatment, but (in combination with mothballs) I use these or similar glue traps for moths (which do contain a pheromone lure - don't know if that's an acceptable chemical for you or not) as part of my continuing insurance against infestation. Once you think they're gone, it's convenient to be able to check the traps every now and then for their mothy little bodies.
posted by periscope at 5:26 PM on September 13, 2012

oh, poor you. This is a really annoying issue. If you can't rip up the rug, I think you are doing everything you can. FWIW, I found moth balls did nothing but make my apartment stink, and didn't end up getting rid of the infestation. You're already doing most of what you can, but hanging clothes in sunlight can help too. Can you get a freestanding clothes rack? After you wear clothes, hang it out in the sun (like in front of a window, doesn't have to be outside) instead of putting it back. Don't put worn things back in a vacuum bag with clean things. Otherwise, yeah, wash everything, put it in vacuum bags, etc. Those are great. Cut down on your outfits and go minimalist for awhile--I know you said you don't do seasonal, but if you can vacuum pack a lot of stuff you'll have less to do the wash/dry clean/vacuum routine on. Go through all your clothes that aren't in the bags and shake them out and vacuum them every week, paying special attention to the seams. We did this for about a month and it seemed to help. It's just a really annoying, time consuming problem. Borax powder may or may not help; it's worth a shot. (get food grade.)

But honestly I think you really need to get on your LL's case, because they need to remove the carpet. I'm not sure this is a solvable problem if you have a rug you can't remove.
posted by min at 5:43 PM on September 13, 2012

Just a note one mothballs, if you use them, put them with the clothes in an airtight container. If you can smell mothballs in your home, you are not using them right. As for how to get rid of the clothes moths, you need to wash/clean everything and get rid of any carpet. BTW, the larve are what eat your clothes. Then you need to pack the cleaned off-season clothes in air-tight containers and only keep out the clothes you are wearing for the season. Growing up we had a hell of a clothes moth problem, but I never have.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 7:06 PM on September 13, 2012

I agree with pointystick that there is probably a MOTH MOTHERSHIP lurking in your house.

I've had trouble with them twice. Once the source of all doom was a wool sweater that had been improperly stored and was in tatters when I found it. The other (worse) time was caused by a wool dog bed that had gotten pushed under the sofa and forgotten. When I found it, it was crawling with larvae, just as pointystick describes.

Find and destroy the mothership, seal up the rest of the wool, and the moth problem will die down.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:39 PM on September 13, 2012

Second, I have been reading that you absolutely should never ever EVER hang clothes back in the closet after wearing them, because they must be washed immediately. Really?!?!

I think that's more about storage. I tend to wear my woll sweaters twice before washing (I turn the worn ones inside out so I know when I get them out of the drawer that they'll need washing this time around). If you store them for a period of time, though, moths like to munch on the flakes of skin and food which end up on worn clothes whether you realise it or not. Having said that, I had some things in storage once which were unworn and developed moth holes, so I think the storage method makes as big a difference. I keep my wool hats in a Really Useful Box, which are sturdy and whilst not airtight do prevent pests getting in.

Isn't this somethign your landlord should be dealing with, though? Renting rights in the UK are far more restrictive than in the US but I would still expect pest control to be my landlord's responsibilty. And you're going to have to make peace with chemicals I'm afraid.
posted by mippy at 5:57 AM on September 14, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas, everybody! I am going to ask my landlord about this, but I do not see it as an immediate solution since it is on his dime and his time and it would be quite a big undertaking. Also, we can't really prove that the infestation started with us. We've only been living there for a few months and the moth attack started in the last month or two when the weather got really nice and humid. It's possible that we carried over a motherload of larvae from the old apartment that just happened to ripen at the new place. Who knows?

Either way, I see the point that replacing the carpet is a necessity for the long-term solution, but it is not something that will happen today. The things that are in my control are the other suggestions made here + my original plan, so I'm going to do all of those things and basically just keep everything sealed up for many, many, MANY months until 1. the carpet gets ripped out or 2. we stop seeing moths for a year+. yay?
posted by joan_holloway at 2:11 PM on September 14, 2012

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