As far as roommates go, moths may rank as some of the worst creatures to cohabitate with. They chew gaping holes in your favorite sweaters, leave behind icky insect casings and excrement, and reproduce as wriggling larvae in your cereal, rugs, or other household items.
But skip the cedar and mothballs if you truly want to get rid of these pesky fluttering pests. A multipronged approach of thorough cleaning and tightly sealing away will protect your home from moths — without the lingering smell.
Identify whether you have clothes moths or pantry moths.
Homeowners usually come into contact with one of two types of moths: pantry moths and clothes moths. Just like their categories imply, these insects go after different food sources in different parts of the house.
For the pantry variety, most go after grains and dry goods: cereals, crackers, rice, and other stored foods, according to Orkin entomologist Chelle Hartzer. You might notice icky webbing or tiny caterpillars inside your snacks, a not-so-pleasant gift from the pupae and larvae.
Clothes moths naturally like closets and wardrobes, with the caterpillars relying on natural fibers like linen, wool, silk, or fur for sustenance.
"While clothes moths mainly much on natural fibers, they have been known to eat through synthetics to get to a food source, like a stain," adds Carolyn Forte, Director of the Cleaning Products Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. "That’s why it’s imperative to clean your clothes before storing them. Even stains you can’t see, like perspiration or clear drinks, can oxidize over time in storage and attract insects."
Besides holes, these pests can also leave behind pupae skins, webbing, and frass, insect excrement that looks like large grains of sand, according to pest management brand Woodstream.
Start cleaning and throw out infested materials.
The first step in stopping a moth infestation is getting out the trash bags. Throw out any potentially contaminated food and get it out of the house.
If you're dealing with clothes moths, start making a laundry pile. Wash what you can with hot water and detergent, then dry on medium on high heat to kill larvae unless the care label recommends otherwise, Forte says. Dry cleaning can also debug garments.
In both the kitchen and the closet, vacuum everything: the carpet, walls, baseboards ... you name it. Then throw out the vacuum bag right away as it may contain eggs. Finally, scrub shelves and walls thoroughly.
Call in a professional if you can't identify the source of the problem. A pest control operator can also help with widespread infestations or hard-to-clean items ike moth-infested furniture or rugs.
Skip the mothballs and seal everything up.
Your grandma's favorite method is on the outs now that many experts consider the chemicals — naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene — a health risk. California already considers the pesticides known carcinogens, and the European Union has banned naphthalene. Children and small pets may also be tempted to eat mothballs because they can look like treats, the National Pesticide Information Center states.
Play it safe and deter clothes moths other ways, Forte advises. Seal seasonal clothing in airtight bags or boxes; the vacuum-sealed variety are a good bet. Store them in the main part of the house, not in a hot, humid attic or basement. "Items like expensive cashmere can even be placed in a ziptop plastic bag with some cotton batting to absorb moisture and stored in your freezer, if you have room," she says.
While you can try the natural repellent cedar, don't rely on it as a quick fix or lasting remedy. The wood's oils may prevent infestations by harming small larvae, but it won't clean up existing ones and the effect loses potency after a few years.
In the pantry, stash foods in airtight containers. This has the bonus effect of deterring moisture-loving mold and other pests like ants and cockroaches. It's also a good idea to check food from the grocery store before bringing it inside too, as that's how infestations usually start.
Vacuum and clean regularly.
Prevent future pest problems with regular housekeeping. Wiping down surfaces and getting rid of dust, fibers, and crumbs will go a long way. Monitor for signs of moth activity not only in your clothes and food, but other places as well. Pantry moths often go for birdseed, Hartzer says, so keep that away from the house and garage.
According to Woodstream, clothing moths will also find homes in antiques like wool rugs, horsehair-stuffed furniture, preserved animals, piano felt, and old dolls with real hair. Check these items before you snap them up at an estate sale, and inspect them regularly afterwards. Another favorite? Pet fur, so check your dog's supplies too. Keeping a watchful eye could prevent you another major headache later on.
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