Cat-safe moth treatment that isn't moth-safe as well
November 12, 2018 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I have some nice woolen jumpers, and some needle felted dolls I made. The jumpers keep getting infested with moths, and now I've seen suspicious signs on the dolls. Cedar blocks have done absolutely nothing to help this. I also have a cat whom I love to absolute bits. His name is Levinas and if anything happened to him I'd never get over it. Almost all things that actually kill moths seem to be highly toxic to cats. What can I do?

I've tried sealing things up in plastic bags - did nothing. Previously I've tried the freezer, which also did nothing. I'm currently trying to use dry ice, harvested from an old fire extinguisher, to suffocate the little blighters, but I am feeling a bit pessimistic about that. Similarly, dry cleaning hasn't ever done very much for me - and wouldn't work anyway for the needle felted dolls.

It seems like all I've got left optionswise is insecticide, but as far as I can work out all of them are extremely poisonous to cats even in very small quantities. Nonetheless, a bunch of the sprays etc. say they're safe to use around pets as long as you keep the pets away until they dry. But what if he gets the stuff on him somehow - kneads a jumper (something he likes to do), or pounces on a ball of fluff, or jumps into a drawer and catches a lungful of fumes? I'm very, very fond of him and I couldn't forgive myself for putting him at risk. I'm frustrated that most of the information that's around seems to be about dogs, who are less susceptible to low levels of moth killer. Is there any way around this?
posted by Acheman to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
We're a couple years into the clothes moth infestation which has so far destroyed one silk area rug, one mink hat, a couple merino 2 shirts, one feather fascinator and left a large number of wool sweaters, skirts and other items with repairable holes.

There is no meaningful evidence that cedar kills the larva (which are what does the damage) nor that it deters them. The *oil* from juniperus virginiana can kill very small larva but not the slightly more mature ones and the oil has a short life. Cedar blocks. sachets, chips & whatnot won't help if you have clothes moths. Completely airtight cedar chests will--but any completely airtight environment will suffocate the larva, which will keep eating your clothes until they die or turn into moths.

We have cats. We have moths. We used the highly toxic moth balls for a lot of things--sealing the clothes and the moth balls into air-tight NONPLASTIC containers (footlockers) and storing them in the storage unit away from the cats. When it was time to remove things from the moth balls, we first disposed of the mothballs. We then washed what could be washed and then aired it outside. We drycleaned and then aired outside what could not be washed. Many items took repeated laundering to stop smelling of moth balls. I store everything in zip-top plastic bags at all times not in use or in mothballs.

Other things, we did not use highly toxic mothballs for. We had the furs professionally cleaned and then stored in refrigerators. We drycleaned the wool blankets and overcoats and stored them off season in vacuum bags. I washed, dried, brushed in the sunlight or froze every piece of fabric in my stash. Took each piece outside, brushed it in the sunlight (the larvae will drop away from bright sunlight) then put things in zip-top plastic bags.

Vaccum constantly. Empty the bag OUTSIDE every single time. De-humidify.

It's been years. We still put out the pheromone traps during the part of the year when conditions are good for larvae to turn into moths and we still catch several adults a week in the traps. Expect to use those for years and years. Clothes moths suck.
posted by crush at 11:22 AM on November 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

The pheromone traps are cat-safe. We've checked with our vet about it. We have one cat whose stuck his paw to the sticky tape at least twice with no injury.

The moth balls-obviously--are not cat-safe (or anything safe--honestly, I wear glove and a respirator to dispense them). But once they have depleted their effectiveness, they and the clothes still smell but are no longer toxic. I don't have links to my sources in that, unfortunately, but napthalene is broken down by air and sunlight.
posted by crush at 11:32 AM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have the same issue, going on years. The little blighters will also feed and reproduce on cat hair, which gathers behind large immovable pieces of furniture, so I'm not sure I'll ever get rid of the damn things. Our flat is in a large building which is basically entirely infested, so yeah. Losing battle.

Honestly, I have slightly given up and binned or given away almost everything woolen. I have cotton jumpers now, which aren't as good, but at least last more than a season. I have a few pieces of wool clothing left which I store hanging on a clothing rail, in sunlight, and inspect and brush regularly. That does seem to help. The pheremone traps catch a tonne of moths but don't seem to impact the overall moth population (possibly because my flat is moth city).

My woolen dolls I froze, poured boiling water over, and have now put back in the freezer until I can get a glass, locked display case I can put them in. The plan is then to put moth balls in there, and display them out of reach of the cats. Possibly caulk any joins to make the case airtight.

You could try treating the jumpers by putting them (dry) in the dryer? I've heard that's fine for wool, although I've never tried it so maybe test on your least favourite one first.

Good luck, I hope you have more success than I did!
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:21 PM on November 12, 2018

Oh, forgot to mention, I also clingfilm-ed the dolls, which I imagine could be airtight.
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:25 PM on November 12, 2018

My wife is a knitter, weaver, spinner, tanner, and we sell wool yarn. Moths are obviously not welcome in our home. My wife also can't handle the smell of moth balls. So we use handmade soaps to help fend them off. They are placed in our woolen drawers, etc, and replaced each year. We use the soaps for their original purpose and then put new soaps in their place.
posted by terrapin at 12:44 PM on November 12, 2018

How vigilant can you be? Our neighbor hangs out clothes on a line almost every day (even in freezing or damp weather) and I used to scoff but now that I’ve had moths I think she is on to something. They hate being moved around, shaken and put in the sun or cold. Repeatedly until they move out is probably the answer.
posted by catspajammies at 12:52 PM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

So. I will preface this by saying that I wanted to cry and vomit simultaneously the first time I heard about this. But it really has helped.

I have birds, which are even more delicate than cats, and I'm a spinner/knitter/crocheter/general wool hoarder. I got a clothes moth infestation while my small birds were still on seed (everyone's now on pellets, yay). There's basically an infinite supply of sustenance for moths in my house.

Enter: the tiny, hungry, moth-egg-eating wasp. Yes. I know. It's disturbing. But I did a lot of research, and these things are almost as well studied as fruit flies and have been used for years. They're safe around people and pets. And they love to eat moth eggs.

I've done two rounds so far about 2 weeks apart, and I can tell that they are working! Many fewer little cocoons, and fewer moths flying around my house. You do have to treat repeatedly, because they only eat the eggs. But the wasps are so small you can barely even see them, let alone be bothered by them, and they don't sting or anything.

I bought mine on Amazon and am happy to report that I no longer want to cry and vomit at the thought. Which reminds me that I should probably do another round.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:07 PM on November 12, 2018 [22 favorites]

Similarly, dry cleaning hasn't ever done very much for me - and wouldn't work anyway for the needle felted dolls.

There's a common artist's oil paint solvent called "Gamsol" which was originally used for dry cleaning. It's basically carefully refined paint thinner - naptha/petroleum stuff, but with the sulfur compounds refined out.

It's fairly safe* around people who do oil painting, so you could try a spot test or a test sample for color fastness and then dunk the dolls in it?

Air dry the dolls outside, and treat solvent-wet rags as oily rags - store in a metal container.

Much safer than turpentine or citrus oil - you'd be ok as long as you're not huffing it or working with it in a tiny unventillated room.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:08 PM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for maintenance: I wash everything well by hand in hot water, then air-dry and immediately place in airtight zip plastic bags. Things that can't be treated this way I freeze for at least a week in airtight zip plastic bags. I have had no circumstance in which anything treated this way has been eaten while in the ziplocs, so it must be working.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:14 PM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wriglys Sprearment Gum sticks does not solve a moth infestation, but it does annoy them.
posted by ovvl at 6:59 PM on November 12, 2018

My yarn stash got a major infestation some years ago and I had good luck by putting the skeins in the oven on extra low (so below 100C) for several hours, in batches that had enough room to breathe on the wire rack. Then you keep everything in sealed plastic boxes, in plastic bags. I occasionally get some knitting eaten when I forget to do that, but that's probably moths coming from another flat - I don't see more than one a month flying around. In those cases, I launder the items with vinegar and wipe down wherever they were stored.

(I got the Raid moth tabs the first time I found the infestation, put them in drawers in my bedroom and promptly got symptoms of chemical poisoning - dizziness, inability to concentrate, disturbed sleep, the works. Had to air it out for a week and sleep in the living room. Don't be me.)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:12 PM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have good results with the sticky pheromone traps. Get lots of them and place them throughout the woolly areas of your house, and especially dark and out of the way areas like under furniture, closets, etc.

They don't wipe out the moths in one fell swoop, and they don't kill your existing larvae, but they attract the males which slows down the breeding cycle. I had to (sigh) throw a lot of stuff out, but the traps have prevented re-infestation.
posted by Gordafarin at 3:21 AM on November 13, 2018

I don't know if the regulations are different in the US, but I use these Rentokil Moth Papers and none of my cats have ever been negatively affected at all.

I poke one onto a closet hanger, or stick one into a drawer, two if the space is larger. They're supposed to last six months but I noticed little mothies here and there after five months. So now I replace them every four months.

As long as you don't, like, feed them to your cat or rub it on their fur, I'm sure it's fine.
posted by tel3path at 3:51 AM on November 13, 2018

Just popping in here to point out that I'm actually in the UK. I'm fairly sure we don't even have mothballs here any more, at least I've never seen any - just sprays/hangers/etc containing various insecticides - all of which are still poisonous to cats.
posted by Acheman at 6:21 AM on November 13, 2018

I use cedar oil. It does not kill moths, but it discourages them pretty well. I have some stopped rugs and it has kept them safe. Smells pleasant. I currently have a surplus of rosemary so I'm using that as well.
posted by theora55 at 7:22 AM on November 13, 2018

You can get trichogramma in the UK. I've had fairly decent results with them (probably would have better results if I were more consistent with ordering them periodically).
posted by diffuse at 12:09 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks guys! I've ordered some trichogramma. I had great success using nematodes against the slugs in my garden, and this is a great complement to that. Also it looks like the site can be my go-to supplier for both of those, which is very convenient. I'm all in favour of natural pest control.

I've also marked the answer suggesting the oven for the dolls; I will try that (cautiously!) as I'd like to be extra sure there aren't any grubs hiding inside them.
posted by Acheman at 12:40 AM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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