How to deal with moths: Cleaning and smoke bombs

Friday, March 27th 2020
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This is a personal article about the journey I’ve been on to counter clothes moths, and the regimen I’ve found that works. For anyone that would like a quick summary, it comprises:

  • Fumigating at least once a year, using something like Pest Expert. 
  • Cleaning clothes regularly, and storing them clean. 
  • Cleaning wardrobes, shelves and drawers. 
  • Then using repellents, only to reduce future infestations.

One of the things I’ve managed to do while stuck at home recently is a proper Spring clean. 

I’ve moved all the furniture and hoovered behind it. I’ve taken all my clothes out of the closet and cleaned the shelves. 

I got into this habit a few years ago, less because I like to keep a tidy home in general, and more because I wanted to counter clothes moths. 

Clothes moths like dirty, natural materials. Not necessarily filthy or muddy, but a little sweaty and dusty - covered in the normal accumulations of daily wear.

The easiest way to deal with them, therefore, is to clean clothes regularly: wash knitwear occasionally and dry clean tailoring. 

And importantly, store things clean. If you put clothes away for a period of months, like summer suits, then make sure you clean them first. Moths need clothes that are undisturbed. They need to lay their eggs in the materials, have them sit there, hatch, and then the larva start eating at the wool, all without being disturbed. 

Part and parcel of this is keeping the places where the clothes are stored, clean too. Hence my Spring clean. 

I’ve tried many different methods for dealing with moths over the years. 

I love my clothes: they have often represented significant investments, and it kills me when they get eaten. There haven’t been many, but I’d say a half dozen pieces of knitwear have been destroyed in the past.*

Those methods have included:

  • Sticky strips. Quite effective but only attract the male moths, so prevent breeding but nothing else.
  • Cedar wood. Often sold (perhaps by hanger manufacturers) as anti-moth, but only seems to have a limited effect, even when regularly ‘topped up’ with a spray.
  • Conkers. Apparently a natural repellent, but no more effective than cedar. 
  • Lavender, mothballs and in fact any other scent. I once read that actually any strong smell would put off moths, and so I sprayed cedar balls with various perfumes. Same effect as above.
  • Freezing. Definitely works, but means you have to put all your clothes in the freezer once or twice a year (in a plastic bag). Impractical, even if you have a chest freezer.
  • Heat. Apparently just as effective as cold, but our attic is boiling in the summer, yet didn’t kill them. 
  • Cleaning carpets and upholstery. Definitely an issue. Moths can live in both, and what you’re trying to destroy in your clothes may actually be in other materials. But still, only a partial solution.
  • Cleaning anything pre-owned or vintage. Always a good idea - or at least, checking with the shop whether the clothes have already been thoroughly cleaned. Freezing is also good here.
  • Storing in plastic. Always a good idea with clothes that are in storage (though ideally they should have some breathable areas too). But impractical with any knitwear you wear regularly. 
  • Moth sprays. I’ve tried two different brands of sprays (Zeroin and Acana), both of which resulted in a reduction of moths, but still some issues. 

The turning point for me came last year, when I started regularly fumigating my cupboards and the attic.

I decided to ask a tailor what they do - something that I probably should’ve done earlier. They said they, in turn, used something recommended by the mills - who of course have more fabric to protect than anyone. 

That treatment was a fumigation product called Formula P Super Fumer, from Pest Expert

This is a small plastic container (above), with a paper wick under the lid. You put the container on a plate or tile, light the wick, and it burns briefly before turning into smoke, which issues into the room for 10-20 seconds.

You then close the doors and windows, and leave for 2-3 hours. The tailor I spoke to said they left it over the weekend. I usually leave it from morning til evening. The smoke kills the larvae and moths, and leaves no residue or smell on the clothes. 

I usually open all my wardrobe and drawers, and put the fumer a foot or so away from them. In the attic, though, I have freestanding rails with clothes, and put the fumer underneath the clothes there. 

I have to say, the products themselves haven’t always been that reliable. 

Some fumers haven’t lit easily, and the larger Formula P+ Fogger (centre in the picture above, white cap) is hard to use. It has the advantage of not having to be lit, but you have to press the top and then turn to secure it, which is not easy to do while smoke is escaping all around you. 

Generally though, the smaller Super Fumers have been OK, and effective. I haven’t had any significant moth issues since. 

The company advises the use of their repellents and sticky strips after this kind of treatment, but I haven’t found them necessary. 

One thing that is perhaps important to emphasise is the difference between preventing, and killing. 

Most treatments, such as moth balls and strips etc, are only useful to prevent moths. They stop them breeding, or repel them. But if you already have moths in your clothes, they’re useless. 

For that you need a product that kills, like fumigation (or freezing). I operate on the assumption that every year I have probably failed to prevent at least some moths. So I do both fumigation and repelling. 

I guess you could call it a belt and braces approach.  

*The only silver lining is that the pieces that get destroyed are the ones you wear least - because of the point above that moths need to be undisturbed. Which is also a reason to be particularly careful with protection of occasion wear, such as black tie. 

Feature on how I store clothes more generally coming next week

Photography: Jamie Ferguson or Pest Expert

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JDV

Thank you for this report. Very interesting.

Till now I keep each of my suits in a (closed) garment-bag. Does this resolve the problem with moths?

Thanks.

Noel

Hi Simon,

Can moths attack leather shoes as well? If do, what can you do given the impossibility of dry cleaning them ?

Triskel

Hi Simon, one thing you can do, for knitwear at least, is to seal every (dry, non-sweaty) item in a plastic bag. It won’t, on its own, stop a moth which is already there doing its worst, but at least it will stop is spreading to other knitwear stored in the same place.

Matt H

You could then give each item a time in the freezer, just to be sure you haven’t sealed eggs in with the knitwear.

Ian Fraser

Hello Simon, I’ve suffered from moths eating knitwear in the past, and I’m now really scrupulous with my storage methods, together with cleaning both clothes, wardrobes and drawers. You mentioned heat in the article, and I’m not quite clear what form that would take, but I’ve read that steam cleaners are really good at killing moths; I don’t know if you have any knowledge of them, but I was thinking of investing in one to try it. Regards, Ian

Anonymous

Simon is the Fridja considered the best hand steamer you’d buy? Have you found anything better? I have been looking for a hand steamer… thanks!

Anonymous

From which brand? I’m looking for a regular hand steamer and travel one. Thanks

Tony H

I have a Tefal upright steamer, and it goes pretty well. You do have to watch out if you’re steaming king things that hand down near the floor because you get hot condensation running out, but that’s pretty manageable.

I have used cheaper ones in the past, but they tend to clog up because of the residue from boiling.

Darryl

I have found Arcana products very effective, especially for knitwear when combined with specialist plastic knitwear bags. You can also get ‘hanging products’ for clothes hangers. Personally I don’t find it a nuisance to have to repack the knitwear as it really only takes a few seconds. Touch wood, so far I have suffered no attacks in 5 years using this method whereas previously I had a significant problem.

Burt

Why not brush and shake your suits once every 2 weeks? That’s what I do, summer and winter. It has become a habit. Also, it makes you remember what you have in your wardrobe 🙂
I put pieces of soap in between my stack of jumpers.

Michael Norman

Good article Simon especially the emphasis on dry cleaning and washing.
Let’s not forget the moth only like materials that have food,grease,body oils,drink on them. They will not attack clean clothes. The moth itself does not eat away at the fabric contray to public belief. It’s the eggs it lays that hatch to larvae which is the actual Culprit.

Lewis

Hi Simon,

Two points please:

1) As touched on above by Michael, I had understood that moths are only interested in fabric that has some dirt, grease or food on them. For that reason I hand wash all my knitwear prior to storing it away for the summer. So far no real problem.
But if this were true, then the mills would not have to fumigate to protect the fabric would they ? For this reason I am wondering if cleanliness alone is not sufficient.

2) Freezing is interesting, I hadn’t thought of it but like the idea.
So I just put a cashmere sweater inside a plastic shopping bag, how long do I leave it in the freezer for this to be effective ?
Is there any material that I risk damaging this way and really shouldn’t freeze ?

Thanks for this timely article.

Best regards.

Michael Norman

Reply to Lewis, the reason mills sprayed fumigated they factories was while every precaution was taken to keep them clean the workers working with the fabrics could have contaminated with natural oil on there hands

Anonymous

Simon

Very informative. I’m informed by a member of staff at Loro Piana that it’s also advisable if storing clothes ,in the hanging bags ( cotton), that you tape over the gap at the top of the bag where the coat hanger pokes through as moths can get in.

Regards Anon.

Noel

Very sensible advice Simon. Hasn’t heard if fumers, might give it a try next time I see adult moths on my sticky strips.

Regarding sprays, you’ve said you had some reduction but still some issues ? What sort of issues? Are you spraying the garment directly ? I’ve been doing so with the arcana spray. I always wondered if it was less damaging to the cloth than dry cleaning.

Stephen

Hi. Very useful article. To build on the point from Darryl. In the UK, Lakeland sell packs of sealable (zip) plastic bags. For summer storage I usually put in three (less if chunky) clean sweaters in a bag. I leave about one inch unzipped, press down on the bag then close the zip, which whilst not exactly a vacuum seal , it does make longer term storage easier. I do the same in winter with cotton polo shirts etc.
Thanks also Simon for pricking my conscience. My wardrobe is past due a clear out and clean – today’s job!
Stay safe.

Robin

Are the products you mention toxic to humans at all? Does it cause any smoke damage to paint?
It’s Just the process sounds quite harsh.

Also , if you hang clothes in a breathable or non breathable suit cover is there any risk of damage ?

Robin

Sorry, I mean leaving a suit in a suit bag .
Does just storing a suit in a suit bag in your wardrobe cause any damage ?

Patrick

Many thanks for this article, Simon, particularly for discussing the difference between preventing and killing moths/larvae. Regarding knitwear, washing is clearly an important preventative step. But will washing knitwear also kill moths/larvae that might already be on the garment? I apologize if you already addressed this. Thanks again.

Noel

Would it really kill the larvae if washing at 40C or less ?

Patrick

Thanks for your reply above, Simon. Another quick question. Given that knitwear can typically go several wearings between washing, is it worth storing worn sweaters away from those that haven’t yet been worn? Looking forward to the post on storage next week. All the best.

Ian Fraser

Hi Simon, I don’t know what other people use for storage of their clothes, but after trying out a few products I’ve settled on two in particular; the first, for suits and coats, is the Hanger Project garment bag. It’s not cheap, but well made from high quality materials, so it’s a once in a lifetime investment. The hole for the hanger is also small and shouldn’t allow moths in (something referred to earlier in the comments). I use one bag per item – maybe a bit over the top, but I think it’s worth it. The second product is a zip up knitwear storage bag from Total Wardrobe; they do two types, and the pricier one, made from cotton, is much better. I keep all my ties in individual zip lock plastic bags, which works well.

Triskel

Hi Simon, belated reply. Yes, the bags are a nuisance, but having lost some lovely items to moth I am determined not to let that happen again.

Michael Norman

The rule of thumb is simple
If you store anything regardless if it’s in plastic or cotton breathable storage bags the moth will attack if the garments are not cleaned. Also reading some comments Dry cleaning does not damage fabric in anyway shape or form. It’s more of the operation or establishment than anything else.

Jason

My Butler uses smoke bombs in the attic.
He keeps the place clean and places cedar wood (that he sprays thrice a year) in all closets and draws.
We’ve never had a problem!

Hawkan

I think I’ve read somewhere or heard someone say that juniper wood is good for repelling moths. So I put a piece or two in drawers and closets, though I have no idea if it is any good. Do you now? Either way; I think it smells good.

John 2

Try peppermint oil. It repels moths, and has the advantage of repelling crawling insects too.

David Jencks

All my clothes come from goodwill (charity shops) so I have to deal continually with possible new moths with each purchase. My information is that freezing requires about a week. I haven’t found it either practical or effective.
I have constructed a heat treatment box the size of a small closet with some halogen floodlights for heat, a blower for air circulation, and a thermostat. 30 minutes at 125F (52C) is supposed to be sufficient but I find 3 hours at 145F (63C) necessary. It takes quite a while for the clothes to warm up, so I measure in a breast pocket.
Dusting with diatomaceous earth seems to prevent moths, eggs, and larvae from hiding in carpets and cracks.
I store clothes in giant ziplock plastic vacuum bags, but not under vacuum. My experience is that moths can get out of just about anything that isn’t airtight and can eat holes in thin plastic.

Tim Fleming

Great article – certainly one to remember and apply all the advice, including the comments.
Thank you!

Joel

Simon,

Do you know a way we can get these products here in the US?

Peter K

Would storing knitwear in plastic containers in my unheated garage through the Canadian winter be a good idea?

I’m wondering if long term freezing would damage it?

Dachshund

I used Meister boxing glove deodorisers – they have a very strong cedar smell which lasts a long time, and the design means that you can hang them over rails. I use a few of them in my storage cupboard and have never had any problems with moths. Available from amazon.

MatthewV

Good advice Simon, thanks.

Peter O

Aside from those already in tapestry and carpets, how do moths enter your place?
Are they so quick they fly in when you exit or enter? Do you have screens over your windows?

Peter Martin

Hello Simon, have you tried hatching wasps?

Peter

Dear Simon
Off topic, I know, but could you tell me more about the blue gilet you are wearing in one of your photos? Which outfits do you tend to wear it with?
Thanks

Josh

One recommendation you make is to store clothes clean. My question is: what is “clean”? Say that you’ve worn a suit twice over the winter, and haven’t knowingly had any accidents while wearing it. Can you still consider it “clean” or should you send it to the dry cleaners before storing? Perhaps one should, just to be careful. But on the other hand dry cleaning suits too often is bad for the fabric. So where do you strike the balance?

Karol

I’ve got two questions. Do moths only eat wool, or do they devour pretty much anything that isn’t polyester? Besides, what precisely do you mean by “undisturbed”? If moths lay their eggs in a piece of clothing, but then I start wearing it every other day, will this damage the eggs? It seems like having a small compact wardrobe would solve the problem instantly, because there would be nothing laying undisturbed for more than a week.

Matt H

In your experience, are there any tell-tale signs that a moth has laid eggs in clothing? Other than seeing a moth itself or, obviously, the damage? I have noticed little clumps of debris that I believe signal that a moth has been tucked up there for a while.

Moths are bad, but I’ve had some things chewed my mice when I lived in an old house. They can do very serious damage before you’ve realised that they’re there and dealt with them.

R Abbott

Does fumigation leave a residual smell? How long before the smell goes away?

J

Hi there,
I made good experiences with moth paper. Easy to change and seems to keep moths away.

Cheers
J

Ty

Personally, I’m terrified of taking my bespoke garments to a dry cleaner. Do you think a good brushing and maybe some sponging is sufficient to clean my winter items before I pack them in plastic for the summer?

I suppose I could use some moth balls as well but I’m quite put off by the carcinogenic nature of most products I’ve seen and have also found that they impart significant odor to the clothing as well.

Ned Brown

Very helpful Simon. Will definitely fumigate. In hot and humid climates, we have to also deal with mold. I have fans for each one of my closets. Cheers.

Anonymous

Hi! Very helpful report – thank you! Just wondered what constitutes a moth infestation? I had 6 last year and so far have found 3 this year, over 3 months. Two of them were stuck to a moth trap and I think they fit the description of the gold clothes moth. Could they be accidentals? When is it time to panic?

Anonymous

The ominous ‘yet’! I know what you mean … thank you – will keep a close eye!

Michael Norman

It’s not the moth that will eat the clothes. Each moth can lay 100 eggs which take between 6-10 days to hatch. It’s the actual Larvae the eat the cloth normally where food/oil/grease/drink is on the fabric. Only making sure clothes are seasonally cleaned are you guaranteed no damage to your investment pieces

Anonymous

Ah yes, I realise it’s not the moths that do the damage but they are responsible for laying the eggs and are also the product of the eggs … so I just wondered what sort of numbers might signify a problem. But thank you – will certainly carry on cleaning, freezing, brushing, laying traps etc. Little pests!

David

Very helpful information – Until now, I have been using Orphea strips and spray with reasonable success. It’s only a repellent but it seems to help. The adhesive pheromone moth traps are a good way of monitoring activity, rather than eliminating population – they cost little and are a useful warning beacon.

I’ve also invested in some cotton gusseted garment bags with some particularly close-fitting hanger hook holes (I suspect gaping ones would defeat the object). so far so good.

Joseph Corsello

Great story on moths and trying to keep your closet clean! Attempted to order pest expert but found they could not ship to the United States. Would you have any suggestions? Would love to hear your comments on this.

Anonymous

Any recommendations for a comparable product for those of us in the U.S.?

Anonymous

If you wear suits in regular rotation, does that prevent moths from taking hold of garments?

Never had a moth problem, but I now do not wear suits due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Is taking them out and wearing once every month of two sufficient?

Thank you.

J--

Any recommendations for a smoke bomb product available in the US?

Noah

Vacuum garment bags. They are basically huge ziplock bags with an air valve. A home vacuum cleaner provided enough air evacuation to kill the larvae and months from lack of oxygen alone, in less than a day. Also, the crush of atmosphere against the bag is intense enough to crush the pests. I tested these both. A good bag will hold vacuum indefinitely. I’m not a fan of chemicals and odors. The drawbacks are clear: creases, wrinkles, smashing shoulder pads and lapels flat. The suits get sweaters stuffed inside to reduce this.

Alex

Hi Simon,

You mention moth eggs need clothes that are undisturbed to propagate and hatch. Presumably one could just periodically shake out garments to destroy delicate eggs?

Daniel

This is a comment solely in regards to moth prevention. I have been using ACANA moth hanger devices that are advertised as moth killing devices and that they also work on moth eggs. Do you have any experience?

Viktoria

Hi Simon,

Great article. I am about to embark on Operation Moth Annihilation. My package of pest expert smoke bombs (plus box of sprays, hangers, and sachets!) has just been delivered.

What is your experience of smoke bombs vs smoke detectors? My detectors are hardwired and I have a sneaky suspicion its not as simple as flicking off the fuse to disarm them and switching off the electricity completely would be inconvenient as I will have to tackle rooms on separate days due to things such as pets, NHS shift ‘patterns’, etc. It would be disappointing to set off a smoke bomb only to have to fan the chemical ‘goodness’ out of the window to quiet a wailing alarm.

I want to ensure my campaign is as thorough as possible from the outset! 🧐

Thanks

WES WP

Hi Simon –

I’ve commented on your wonderful blog for years, and I’ve read (pretty faithfully) your work. I’ve also seen your readers get more soulful and philosophical (the current beard piece is Exhibit A – those comments are metacognative delight in action) through osmosis.

Problem (sort of) – I have a walk in closet that has a medium sized window. The shade is always down to minimize light (and the shade is UV coated), but there is a small gap on either side of the shade allowing a thin beam of light to caress the shoulders and left arms of my suit jackets, shirts, and the fabric edges of trousers.

Is this inevitably going to cause discoloration and unevenness?

Would you do anything to mitigate this, or is it probably not a source of worry?

Thank you, in advance, for weighing in.

WES WP

Thanks for trying, Simon, and I will let you know what I discover.

Just one question about bag care:

I bought a used leather weekend bag that’s in very good shape, but it has a bit of an internal smell. Any experience getting odors out of bags? Should I pull out the lining and give it a gentle soap scrub? Other ideas? The lining, of course, is not leather, but a standard material.

Malcolm B

Simon. Have you considered or assessed the new steam closet options that are appearing now (e.g. LG styler and Samsung air dryer). Fairly expensive items, but not if they extend the life and ‘ or reduce dry cleaning on expensive bespoke items, safely and effectively.

Malcolm B

Thanks. They do seem a bit over the top, but when you have space and very valuable, delicate clothing you want to look after, maybe worth considering. I’ll stick to a steam generation iron and a couple of brushes . :). But it will be interesting to see if they remain a very niche item or become more standard over time.

Caroline Sabin

Hello!
I’m in the middle of a big anti-moth cleaning session having seen a few flying about recently. Historically I’ve noticed damage in both clothing and carpets. My question is – all my hanging clothes are on an open rail in a well lit room so I’m wondering if the hanging type of repellent cassettes would be any use if not in an enclosed space? In theory clothes hanging well spread out in daylight shouldn’t be bothered but I’m afraid that not only have holes appeared on hung items I’ve actually seen a moth leaving the crime scene. If the repellent cassettes aren’t effective outside of a small enclosed space do you have any other suggestions for open rails? Many thanks for your time and skill Simon 🙂

Jonathan Limbert

Hi Simon,
Thanks for a very informative blog. Would I need to vacate the room I am using a Formula P Super Fumer? I don’t have any doors on any of my rooms apart from the bathroom. Why do you recommend Formula P in particular?

Erin

I am sorry to say that they do eat cotton. They absolutely do. My favourite 100% cotton trousers from M&S have holes all through them. It is a myth that they don’t eat cotton. They do. They have. Even after freezing they continue to. It’s dreadful.

Erin

Yes unfortunately they do eat cotton and I have the pictures and first hand experience to confirm it. Have seen a few other people on other forums also confirm that they do eat cotton. I rented an apartment last year that was ridden with carpet moths. I thought they didn’t get into my clothes but when moving house recently I found lots and lots of eggs under/attached to my wicker laundry basket. They had been eating all the clothes I threw into the laundry basket – lots of cotton under garments. Basically if they can’t find their desirable fabric they will go onto more undesirable fabrics like cotton and linen. These cotton trousers I wore every single day too had them on constantly and they still ate through it. They are nasty little buggers and are horrifyingly capable of doing even what we think they won’t.

Lauren Medina

Hi, I have a question. When you use the smaller super fumer, is there risk of it setting off your smoke alarm?

Diego

Hi Simon – apologies for commenting on this old article but I have got moth issues at the moment and I remembered that you had already written about it. I have got a question regarding the use of the pesticide: have you only used it in your attic? I store my clothes in my bedroom and I am a bit concerned about breathing toxic fumes.