Dealing with Clothes Moths

I was recently contacted by a customer who had been experiencing increased trouble from moths.They had been causing damage to curtains, carpets and presumably other fabrics around the home.

In 2020 they’d caught around 15 moths on each of the 10 traps and had recently replaced them.More recently they’d noticed them in other parts of the house as well as evidence of the larvae and eggs.

They now wonder if they have reached the end of the road and must embark on using a pest controller with the associated toxic chemicals.

The tineids are a family of moths who have adapted to feast on keratin (the protein in fabrics such as wool and cashmere).  Tinelola bisselliella (common clothes moth) and Tinea pellionella (case bearing moth).  These moths have generally benefited from the introduction of central heating creating a warm, dry environment for them to live in - whereas the once common tapestry moth has not enjoyed these modern conditions and is far less common now.

Generally speaking, female moths use their perfume to attract male moths.  The effect of pheromones on moths has been studied since the 1950’s and recent studies have shown some species of moths that can detect these pheromones from many miles away.  So their olfactory senses are extraordinary and we believe that they are able to distinguish between different pheromones that may be floating in the air.  However, it is possible that pheromones from different types of moth have some similarity so of course the traps may inadvertently catch a different type of moth.  With the knowledge of these incredible olfactory powers, we can now begin to understand how scents like lavender and cedar have been observed over generations to discourage moths.  Perhaps they smell like old socks to moths?

The pheromone moth traps we sell work by emitting a scent similar to the female common clothes moth.  Their purpose is to disrupt the mating cycle and also monitor moth populations.   By taking male moths out of the breeding cycle you prevent female moths laying their eggs and stop the larvae feasting on your cherished cashmere.

I occasionally get complaints that the clothes moth traps haven’t caught any moths.  Customers quite reasonably imagine that this is because they don’t work - you may have seen a moth flying around and wonder why the traps are not catching them.  However, given the specificity of the pheromones it is entirely understandable that you might see moths around your home (of another type) and in this case the traps works as an effective monitor for the clothes moth.  You’ll often see them dotted around in stately homes where they work to offer an early warning signal of trouble.

If you are catching a large number of moths with the traps then it may be wise to become slightly more strategic about their placement.  It’s worth placing traps at floor level (counter intuitive perhaps, as we imagine that moths are constantly in flight) but we find they work well here too.  Your trap placement and monitoring may indicate parts of your home that may be experiencing moth trouble.   At that point you can redouble your efforts to clean any areas where they may be hiding and deal with any localised infestation.  Wardrobes are more challenging to deal with than other household fabrics such as carpets as there are so many more fabric surfaces to check for damage and visitors.  I continue to emphasise that vigilance is key to success - whether you have a problem or are trying to prevent one.  An undisturbed moth is a happy moth!  Once you have things back under control you can scale back operations and use them as monitors to indicate if the problem flares up again and consider the use of non-chemical moth repellents to protect your clothing.It’s often the dark corners, areas under furniture,

Like this customer, I too would consider the pest controller to be the last resort.  I’ve spoken to pest controllers before who talk about using ‘a bomb’ to kill moths, which presumably wipes out any signs of life.  I believe you need to vacate your home for a day after the treatment.  I personally would be very uncomfortable having such strong chemicals used in my home and would worry about unintended consequences to my health and for my children.  With that in mind, I’d rather see if I could control the problem myself with a more strategic approach using traps and repellents.