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How to get rid of clothes moths, according to experts

Protect your garments with these easy storage solutions.
Tatiana Foxy / Getty Images

When deputy editorial director Alexandra Deabler shared her moth infestation story, I had to see it to believe it. After attempting to wear her sweater in May, Deabler noticed holes and wool blankets devoured by critters.

"I had my clothes stored in the closet and haven't noticed the issue until I took my sweater out," says Deabler.

As a suspicious journalist, I still didn't believe her. The evidence was pretty clear, though, when I found her luxury wool coat and destroyed cashmere on my desk one morning, and so I knew we had to find storage solutions to keep the critters away.

The common clothes moth is one of the most common fabric pests you can find inside your home. They can nibble on your wool, cashmere and precious garments and leave you with a w-hole mess once you've found them.

However, there are ways to keep your favorite sweater hole-free with a little extra protection and organization. Shop TODAY interviewed a textile expert and entomologist to find easy ways to protect your duds and keep them safe from a moth invasion.

Why do moths eat clothes? | How to get rid of clothes moths | How do you keep clothes safe from moths? | Storage solutions to prevent moths | Meet the experts

What are clothes moths?

According to entomologist and associate professor at the University of Florida William Kern Ph.D., there are two types of clothes moths: the webbing clothes moth and the case-making clothes moth.

Webbing clothes moths are about 1/4 inch long and their larvae produce patches of silk webbing, plus they leave the webbing behind on the fabric when they move to another feeding area. Case-making clothes moths, meanwhile, are differentiated by their silken case while they grow. They never leaves the silken case behind and grows as it eats protein fiber.

"We tend to have few issues with clothes moths in Florida. They can feed on wool clothing, tapestries, carpets and upholstery, furs, taxidermy mounts of mammals or birds," says Kern.

Why do moths eat clothes?

If you're wondering why this insect attacks your wool instead of your other garments, it's because clothes moths bite on "animal protein, primarily keratin found in fur, wool and hair," shares Kern.

But what is actually biting on your fabrics is not the moth itself but the larvae. "Moths don't actually have teeth, but the larvae are attracted to the protein and keratin, which use them as a resource and fuel before it proceeds to its next stage of development and makes a cocoon," says textile expert and professor of textile sciences Karen Leonas Ph.D.

Courtesy Jannely Espinal

"When the moth looks for a place to deposit the eggs, a lot of the time they are attracted to soil or food that remains in the apparel," adds Leonas. Therefore, it's very important to dry clean or wash your items before you store them for the season.

Also, clothes moths reproduce in an enclosed and dark environment. "Usually, we keep our homes warmer than 68°F during wintertime, so as long as the temperature isn't above 75°F, your clothes should be safe," says Kern.

Courtesy Jannely Espinal

How to get rid of clothes moths

Kern and Leonas suggest two simple ways to kill the larvae from your garment. One way is to freeze them by placing the item in a Ziploc bag and putting it inside a deep freezer below 10°F.

The other way is to solarize the larvae by putting them out in the sun. "That will bring the temperature up to about 140°F, [killing] all the moths, larvae and eggs that are present," adds Kern.

Afterwards, you want to make sure to dry clean the items or wash them in warm water with a mild detergent to make sure the moths die and don't reproduce.

How do you keep clothes safe from moths?

Regular dry cleaning and keeping your clothes in garment bags are simple solutions to keep your textiles safe. Leonas also recommends checking your items beforehand and storing them properly in storage bags after the end of the winter season.

"Another thing that people need to be aware of, since vintage and thrifting are becoming really popular including secondhand items, is to clean the fabrics before they come into your home," says Leona. "It's a good idea to check those garments and treat them before you bring them in so it doesn’t spread to your other apparel." (It’s not always clear how garments were cleaned before you purchased them, so this is a great rule of thumb to follow with any item bought online or in-store.)

Additionally, you can protect your clothes by placing naturally-made mothballs composed of lavender, cinnamon, thyme or rosemary inside your closet. Traditional mothballs are typically made with napthalene, which is harmful to the environment. According to the University of Florida, mothballs made with napthalene are a pesticide and can be harmful to humans if they eat it or breathe enough of the vapor.

Below you will find the best storage products to keep out the moths and bags to protect your garments while they're stored away.

Best storage to keep out moths

Cedar Fresh Mothballs

This is a fresh mothball alternative that is made from cedar. You can place these in your cabinets or drawers for long-term storage. Aside from driving away moths, these can help in eliminating stale odors.

Richards Homewares Moth Away Sachets

"There are natural repellents that will keep moths away like lavender, cloves, cinnamon, etc.," says Leonas. This sash bag has a natural scent and can be put inside your sweater bins without worrying about the smell afterwards.

Variety Cuber Vacuum Bags

Create a barrier and put your clothes in plastic or vacuum bags. "Nothing can’t live there because there’s no oxygen. Even just sealing them well and airtight will reduce the possibility of moths getting in," adds Kern.

These bags can hold blankets, linen, sweaters and other bulky items.

Cedar Blocks for Storage

If you're hanging your sweaters, you can create a block and add these aromatic cedar sachets on your hangers. "The smell of cedar is strong, it smells fantastic and does exactly what it’s supposed to do, which is keep any pests away from my cashmere and wool clothes," shared an Amazon reviewer.

Hanging Garment Vacuum Bag

You can fit up to five hanging garments with this vacuum bag. All you need to do is pack your pieces, zip and vacuum. This will maximize your storage space and keep your seasonal items moth-free.

Norbi Vacuum Cleaner Bag

If you own many chunky sweater and scarves, this bag will be efficient at storing your winter fabrics. "My very bulky, oversized King comforter fits in it easily. I would definitely purchase this again," shared one reviewer.

Cedar Rings

These cedar blocks are easy to use while adding a touch of rustic charm to your closet. All you need to do is put them to your hanger or inside your drawers to hold the freshness after you wash your clothes.

Hanging Vacuum Space Saver

This is a space-saver that will come in handy when you need to store your wool coat after the season. It comes with a vacuum hose so you can easily compress your garments.

Dr. Killigan's Premium Clothing Moth Traps

Formulated with pheromones, this moth trap attracts the insects to interrupt the mating cycle. The product is 100% nontoxic and helps in ending the reproductive cycle of moths.

Taili Hanging Vacuum Storage Bags

Improve your organization with these storage bags that have better sealing. You can fit several pieces and zip along before you vacuum the air out.

"I found that it worked best vacuumed against a wall to make sure it stayed flat; also if the clothes did not compress completely the way you wanted open a small section at the top, let air in, adjust from the outside, and reseal and vacuum," suggested one buyer.

Meet the experts

  • William H. Kern, Jr. Ph.D. is an entomologist and associate professor at the Entomology and Nematology Department at the University of Florida.
  • Karen Leonas Ph.D. is a textile expert and professor of textile sciences in the Department of Textile and Management at North Carolina State University.