Is this a moth-made hole in my sweater?
May 14, 2021 5:15 PM   Subscribe

More pandemic clothing maintenance woes! I went into the office today and pulled out a wool sweater that I have not worn since pre-covid times. I forgot to dry clean it at the end of the season because of covid craziness. I noticed that there is a seemingly new hole in the forearm area, near, but not quite at the elbow location. Is this a moth hole?

I've never had moths before in my years of owning my sweaters (all of which I have owned for about 5-9 years). It's plausible that I just never noticed this hole before due to the location on the back of my forearm, but I also feel like I take decent care of my stuff and would have noticed it. Also, it looks like the threads are just gone and not torn. It's the only hole in this sweater.

- There are no other (100% wool) sweaters in my closet with holes in them. Do moth larvae sometimes just eat a single hole in a sweater?
- Likewise, I have a few silk garments and none of those have holes in them, either.

If it is a moth hole, do I dry clean every sweater I own and hope for the best? Do I take out everything in my closet and air it out for a few days? Sun things out (is north-facing light inadequate for this)? I've heard the freezer thing doesn't consistently work. Does machine washing with Woolite also not help? Do I need to get plastic bins, lavender sachets, cedar thingies? What about my non wool/silk/linen clothing, do I need to wash everything as well? Do moths have a seasonality to their life cycle that I should be aware of? How easily can moths spread from garment to garment? Are eggs and larvae visible to the naked eye?

Bonus question: I'll check my own thread box soon, but does anybody remember if Woolovers sweaters come with spare thread with each sweater? Or if there is a place I can find some spare wool thread so I can repair it?
posted by gemutlichkeit to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Because there is material missing, it does look a lot like a chew hole, rather than just a cut thread that unravelled. Clothing moths will only eat animal fibres (wool, silk, fur) so your other clothes should be safe. It could be another insect too, maybe carpet beetle?

Probably not a bad idea to shake everything out and give it some sun and an inspection. Machine washing will kill the bastards. Heat also works (I've steam cooked yarn before). Lavender and cedar are mostly useless. I've accepted that moths are part of my life, and I store all of my (washed) wollens in those giant ziploc bags.
posted by bethnull at 5:33 PM on May 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

It doesn't have to be, but it could well be, especially given that it's not at a stress point.

Take my advice; take drastic measures now while the population may not have yet gotten much of a foothold. Examine every piece of clothing to determine what's been affected. The proteinaceous-fiber clothing should be dry cleaned. The cotton, etc. should be washed and dried at high heat. Then you need to get the poison spray. Spray the entire closet/drawers/anywhere clothes were. Get into the crevices. Vacuum with a sealed vacuum cleaner, preferably with a flexible extension that will allow you to vacuum those crevices (where eggs can be). Dispose of the bag immediately. Proteinaceous fibers go into airtight boxes (like you can get from the Container Store). Don't let dirty non-proteinaceous fibers sit around, either. Do the wash at least twice a week. Repeat the emptying out, spraying, and vacuuming at monthly intervals, twice. In the meantime, use the pheromone traps to get an idea of the extent of the problem. Don't forget any proteinaceous-fiber rugs you may have!

Since they can also survive off just regular dust (which contains an element of human skin), at a certain point, it's just luck whether you end up stuck with them, which is fucking misery. But I wish I'd known that lavender, cedar, etc. don't do diddly the first time I found a hole.
posted by praemunire at 5:38 PM on May 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

(Moths will eat non-protein fibers if they have a delicious condiment of, say, spilled sauce on them.)
posted by praemunire at 5:40 PM on May 14, 2021

Oh, the eggs are tiny, but apparently big enough to be visible. I've never actually spotted any, but I have seen the larvae, their empty cases, and frass, as well as adults.
posted by bethnull at 5:41 PM on May 14, 2021

The egg-webbing can sometimes look like dried spit, if that helps.
posted by praemunire at 5:43 PM on May 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

It's been a really bad couple of years for moths. My drycleaner, who I've known for at least a decade, was beside herself because a good coat she'd had for a while had been heavily damaged despite being cleaned first and stored with mothballs. She decided it was beyond repair and trashed it.

Moths can be a world of hurt once they become established. I've done cedar, mothballs, pheromone traps and cursed up a blue storm at them. I dry cleaned every natural fiber in sight, and paid for rep moth damage done to my deceased mother's fur coat, which I inherited and innocently placed (in a garment bag) in a closet. I threw out literally dozens of old but wonderful cashmere sweaters, coats, and throws. I still have moths, though much, much less. I still threw out a sweater just this week. It has been 3 years (!) of warfare.

Clean everything. Take multiple approaches - mothballs and pheromone traps (which trap only the adult flying moths), examine every single garment for damage and throw out anything that is damaged. Vacuum. They are a shit show to eradicate once they have established themselves.
posted by citygirl at 6:19 PM on May 14, 2021

Re: repair, I have had my share of moth visitors over the years (though never a proper infestation, thankfully - just a couple holes here and there now and then). I've had good results mending the holes with felting needles and wool roving, as described here. The technique is very easy.

You can mend with roving in a subtle way or an eye-catching way - I have some sweaters where I've matched the colors well (mixing together strands from different colored roving balls) and you really can't see the mend at all. The fuzzier the sweater, the less noticeable - if the fabric is really flat or the color isn't a good match, the felt is will be quite visible.
posted by marlys at 6:42 PM on May 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Here’s the guide I followed when I had a similar scare earlier this year. It was a royal pain but I’m glad I cleaned/washed/froze so thoroughly because it worked!
posted by stellaluna at 8:32 PM on May 14, 2021

Re: the bonus question, it’s been a few years since I bought a Woolovers sweater, but I don’t recall receiving a repair kit with my purchases.
posted by mumkin at 9:56 PM on May 14, 2021

Definitely order some clothes moth pheromone traps. That may help you figure out if you've got them and how bad it is.
posted by oneear at 10:00 PM on May 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm worried that getting pheromone traps would attract moths into my closet if I don't actually have them to begin with - is this a possibility? Because otherwise I could just wash and dry clean everything. I don't have rugs or carpets in my house.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:32 AM on May 15, 2021

Just seconding that this could also be carpet beetles. I discovered my carpet beetle issues via near identical sporadic effects on merino sweaters; the only other thing they have eaten in my house is parts of one specific carpet that has seems to have an animal glue used on the edges. The presence or absence of carpets doesn't really matter for them, as far as I can tell they're a bit misnamed, and e.g. can live in baseboards (and in fact mostly live outside).

Also, in my experience pheromone traps won't work very well on carpet beetles. (But I definitely have not gotten extra creatures as a result of trying them! They're quite short range.)
posted by advil at 11:26 AM on May 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also here to suggest carpet beetles as a possibility; we've had *both* moths and carpet beetles over the past few years (the moths, weirdly, like to eat cat toys, and the carpet beetles go for wool, paper/cardboard, etc.). We don't have carpets either, FWIW.

The best solution I've found to keeping the critters from wreaking havoc is a combination of frequent vacuuming (especially in nooks/crannies, behind dressers, etc.) and sealed (in plastic airtight bins or bags) long term storage for stuff made of natural fibers. I don't like the smell of mothballs and I worry about my cats getting into them, so I try to stick to "mechanical" removal and barrier storage, and thus far it's been pretty effective for both beetles and moths.
posted by aecorwin at 12:16 PM on May 17, 2021

« Older What can I do to seem like I care about my job...   |   Media Monitoring and Analytics: not for brands but... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.