“The old definition of moth was, ‘anything that gradually, silently eats, consumes, or wastes any other thing.’ It was a verb for destruction too. . . . ”
– Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs
There is one creature that really tests the otherwise impeccable and unflappable demeanour of The Lady’s Maid, and that is the clothes moth. It indiscriminately wreaks havoc within the finest of wardrobes across the land, ravaging the most expensive and luxurious of clothing in its path. So what should one do if ones winter woollens fall victim to the scourge of the dreaded moth? If your winter wardrobe is full of cosy cashmere and luxury knitwear, then I applaud you for your excellent taste, but unfortunately for you the moth has exquisite taste to match. In fact, the finer the yarn the more digestible it is, so angora, fur and cashmere are akin to banquet food for moths. Clothing made of animal protein fibres only, eg. silk, wool, fur and leather are the textiles most at risk from moth attack. The damage itself is not caused by the adult moth but by the larvae which the female moths produce, these larvae burrow across protein fibres within the textile eating it as they go and leaving behind holes in the fabric. It is worth mentioning here that the moths most likely to cause trouble in your wardrobe are the common clothes moth and the case-bearing clothes moth, which are generally smaller and paler in colour in comparison to the large brown house moths that you may find flying around kamikaze style into the light of your bedside lamp. These larger house moths prefer feeding on plant material, so they are not as keen on your clothing.
Recognising a moth attack
Clothes moths live quite happily in warm and dark areas, so you may not even notice that you have a problem until you bring out your winter clothing after storing it for the summer months. If you notice large ragged holes in your knitwear, then this is probably a result of a moth attack. Other signs could be the presence of little eggs about the size of a pin-head; these then hatch into larvae, which look like creamy white caterpillars which then feed on the clothing fibres leaving behind trails that look similar to wispy cobwebs.
Treating a moth infestation
- Remove all clothing from wardrobe units, even if it isn’t visibly damaged. Wash or dry-clean to kill any moth eggs or larvae that may be present on the clothing. Brushing clothing or ironing with a hot iron (between a damp pressing cloth if necessary) will also destroy moth eggs.
- Thoroughly vacuum and clean the wardrobe and room, paying particular attention to the cracks and crevices of the wardrobe and the corners of the room in case any moths are hiding under carpets. Dispose of the vacuum bag immediately as this will be a dream home for moths – if you have sucked up any larvae they will set up residence inside the bag.
- To trap adult male moths and prevent them from breeding place a moth trap inside the wardrobe, available from www.mothprevention.com.The strip contains powder saturated with female pheromones which will attract and trap the male moths preventing them from reproducing and causing any further damage. Use a pesticide spray such as Moth Stop Spray, available from Lakeland Ltd. Spray on infested areas, paying particular attention to the cracks and crevices of the units. Remember never to spray pesticides directly on clothing – all clothing should be removed from the wardrobe before any pesticide is used.
- For clothing that is damaged, isolate the garment by placing in a cellophane bag and then into a freezer for 2-3 days. This will kill the moth and any moth eggs or larvae present. On removal from the freezer leave the garment in the bag until it is brought back to room temperature. It may be possible to repair damaged woollen garments by darning if the holes are not too big. If the damage is very bad and the garment is valuable to you take it to a professional seamstress to repair. There is a process called “invisible mending” where threads are taken from the seam allowance of the garments and re-weaved over the hole by hand. www.invisible-mending.co.uk
- If after returning your clothing to the wardrobe you notice further insect damage, then it may be necessary to seek help from a professional to treat the infestation. See www.rentokil.co.uk for further advice.
Preventing future moth attacks
The following steps should be taken to prevent future moth attacks:
- Keep your house as clean and dust-free as possible – vacuum and dust regularly, especially the wardrobe space and clothing storage areas. The wardrobe should be cleaned out thoroughly a couple of times a year – perhaps when you are rotating the clothes with the seasons. Re-line drawers with lavender or cedar-scented lining paper eg. Cedar Rose Draw Liners from The White Company. The bedroom/dressing room, along with the rest of the house, should be deep cleaned once every month to prevent a build up of dust and dirt. Deep-cleaning is a thorough clean where furniture is moved and cleaned underneath, inside and out. Every surface, nook and cranny is thoroughly dusted, cleaned and vacuumed.
- Utilise insect repellents to deter the pests. Lavender sachets or cedar wood blocks are the Lady’s Maid’s particular favourites as they are natural and will also make the clothes smell nice. John Lewis and Lakeland Ltd sell good ranges; Cologne & Cotton also sells some pretty lavender sachets. Replace or re-fill every season as the moth-repelling properties will wear off over time.
- If you buy a vintage garment or any second-hand clothing made of animal fibres, always wash or dry-clean before putting in your wardrobe to minimise the risk of transporting any larvae that may be present on the clothing.
- Always wash or dry-clean clothes before long-term storage and pack away properly (see post one on seasonal storage). Pay particular attention to clothing that is made of protein fibres: wool, fur, feather, leather.