As the autumnal weather arrives, we start dusting down the woollens and rummaging in the back of the cupboards for the blankets or extra thick fluffy socks only to discover that moths have had a good nibble!
It’s the Clothes moth larvae, rather than the adult moths that are the culprits when it comes to damaging clothing and soft furnishings. The moth larvae cause damage during feeding by actively eating natural fibres in garments, carpets, curtains and other soft furnishings. They will also produce silk threads when feeding that can make the same items look unsightly.
Fibres containing wool are most commonly attacked, but hair and feathers are also attractive food stuffs. Coarse hair, such as horse hair, may not be so readily attacked as the moth larvae prefer finer pet or human hair. Worn, unwashed garments (for example in laundry baskets, or my teenage daughter’s floor-drobe) are even better for the moth larvae, as the grime adds nutrients to the fabric fibres.
The complete moth lifecycle can, on average take between four to six months, but in heated buildings they are able to breed all year round, and produce two generations per annum. Clothes moths go through a complete metamorphosis, which means they have four completely different life stages:
- Eggs – A female will lay 40 to 50 eggs in her life time, gluing them to a surface, usually on or very close to a food source. These hatch four to ten days after being laid depending on temperature
- Larvae – This is the growing stage when the larvae feed and cause the most damage. The larval stage will typically last a month but can take up to two years depending on the temperature and the quality of food
- Pupa – This stage will last from 10 to 50 days depending on temperature
- Adults – Do not feed and will only survive for a few days. The overriding need for the adult is to breed
The most eco-friendly approach to moth control and prevention at home is careful, regular cleaning:
- Pull out sofas and thoroughly vacuum beneath them
- Store woollen garments in clean drawers, preferably inside polythene bags
- Refrain from storing carpet ends in dark areas such as lofts
Less delicate items can be treated using a controlled heat system, which works on the basis that all life stages will be killed after an hour of exposure to temperatures of 55oC. More expensive artefacts, furniture and garments can be fumigated in specialist bubbles using phosphine gas or controlled atmosphere technology such as CO2 or Nitrogen. If however the infestation is present in carpets, throughout an entire property it would not be possible or practical to use controlled atmosphere technology or phosphine fumigation. Conventional insecticide treatments would be applied in these situations.