How to get rid of moths – 9 strategies to save clothes and furnishings from destruction

Banish fabric-munching moths from clothes and carpets with this expert advice

Moth on clothes
(Image credit: Alamy)

It’s getting to that time of year when the winter woollies need to be unpacked. Unfortunately, it might also be that time of year when you discover your favorite cashmere sweater and merino wool cardigan are littered with holes by fabric-munching moths. 

Unlike when you get rid of fruit flies, which don't do any noticeable damage, moths can cost you real money. So how to get rid of moths to stop these pests in their tracks, and prevent a moth infestation that could potentially ruin the contents of your closet and your home’s soft furnishings?

Wendy Miranda, an expert at Lakeland, explains the critter basics: 'It’s not actually the moths that eat your clothes, it’s the larvae, making them very hard to spot until it’s too late and you see the tell-tale holes in your favorite sweater and soft furnishings. 

'Each female moth can lay up to 200 eggs at a time, and each larvae takes between two and nine months to mature into a moth – that’s a lot of time for them to munch on your belongings!'

The moths that do the damage to our fabrics aren’t the moths that we see fluttering around at night when a light is on – it’s the species of moths that we don’t typically see that are the problem. Adult moths don’t have mouths so the holes in the clothes are made from moth larvae. Other signs that you have a moth infestation include webbing and cocoons in cupboard corners, a musty smell and larvae on clothes. 

'You can get clothes, carpet and food moths,' says Robert Collins at My Job Quote. 'The brown house moth’s larvae eat plant and animal fibers including cotton and wool as well as seeds and flour and the gold-tinted common clothes moth lays eggs on fabrics which the larvae feed on. The case-bearing clothes moth’s larvae are white with a silken case – they’ll eat wool, hair and feathers and can be found in carpets and clothes. Less well-known is the Indian meal moth – its larvae are found in stores of dry food such as nuts, seeds and cereals and are capable of eating through plastic and paper packaging.'

9 ways to get rid of moths in the home

From specialist moth deterrents and traps, to organic sprays and storage tips, here are some expert ways to banish moths from the home – for good.

'Dark, warm places like closets and airing cupboards provide the perfect breeding ground for these unwelcome visitors, and with winters becoming warmer and our homes being consistently warm throughout the year, clothes moths are thriving and becoming a year-round problem in many households,' adds Lakeland’s Miranda.

'The adult moths emerge around the spring time as temperatures rise,' says Julia Murley founder and owner of Total Wardrobe Care. 'They mate and lay the eggs of the next generation through until fall. With centrally heated homes, this lifecycle can continue throughout the year.'

1. Store out-of-season clothes properly

When it’s time to swap over your seasonal clothing, don’t just chuck everything in a bin bag and stash in the attic. It’s important to store clothes in vacuum-sealed bags (this Amazon Basics range is excellent) to stop clothes moths becoming a problem – the removal of air will make it difficult for them to survive. Spray garments with a moth killer (Six Feet Under works for ticks and fleas, too) before putting them in storage bags or pop a moth deterrent sachet (we like Moth Trap) in with the clothes.

'We don’t suggest using our moth sprays on silk, so if you’re worrying about a moth infestation, pop delicate garments into a bag before putting them in your freezer for 3-4 days to kill off any larvae and eggs and then store in a protective clothes bag,' adds Lakeland’s Miranda. 

Keeping stored clothes moth-free in breathable garment bags is so important agrees Murley of Total Wardrobe Care: 'Clothes moths don’t like the taste of dry-cleaning fluid so if you are storing out of season clothes, dry clean them first.'

2. Deep clean your closet

If you have a moth infestation or you want to prevent moths from coming back when you swap over season to season clothing, the first step is to clean your clothes closet.

'Clothes moths are attracted to dark, dusty, undisturbed corners,' says Murley. 'Remove everything from your closet and drawers and use soap and water to wipe down surfaces and thoroughly vacuum cracks and crevices. Wash or dry clean everything including bedding and curtains which are in the same room.'

Alternatively, clean with vinegar, using a vinegar and water solution – moths don’t like the acid in vinegar, but be cautious when cleaning antique furniture. 

3. Keep clothes squeaky clean

Even when you’ve decluttered and streamlined your closet for the new season, you need to keep clothes super clean to prevent a moth infestation. It’s down to moths feeding on protein, which can be found in natural fibers (like cashmere, wool and silk) but also hair, dust and food.

'Protein from food residues on our clothes is attractive to clothes moths,' adds Murley of Total Wardrobe Care. 'Do not put dirty or even once worn clothes back in the closet because skin cells or food splats, even small ones that you cannot see, could become a food source that will attract moths.'

If you don’t want to wash your clothes so regularly, experts recommend shaking clothes from your closet every day: clothes moths don’t like disturbances, so this will help prevent moths from settling in and laying eggs. 

4. Use a natural moth deterrent

For a sustainable way to deter moths, try an organic or homemade bug spray that’s made using natural essential oils like lavender, rosemary or chrysanthemum. 

'Textile pests like clothes moths will feed on clothing that contains natural animal fibers like woollens, cashmere and fur,' explains John Stewart from Green Protect, a brand offering sustainable solutions for a pest-free home, 'and can cause a lot of damage if left unchecked. Organic deterrents are one of the best ways to get rid of moths and act as a fantastic preventative measure. Herbs like rosemary, lavender and bay leaves repel moths and the oil from these can also be sprayed on contaminated areas.'

Cedar rings (like these from Amazon which are designed to hook on to coat hangers), are made from aromatic wood which is unpalatable to the clothes moth but safe and non-toxic for humans, and can be placed in food cupboards, drawers and closets. You can also make your own natural repellent by placing dried rosemary, thyme, cloves, lavender or bay leaves in a small cloth bag and hanging in your closet and placing in your drawers. 

5. Set a moth trap

Trapping moths is another preventative method to ensure you’re alerted early that there could be a pest problem.

'Using pheromone lures are a good way of trapping adult, male moths as they perceive the signal as a female and therefore enter the trap with the aim of breeding,' says Stewart of Green Protect. 'Trapping the male will help in suppressing the population as the male may not get the chance to breed.'

If you find tiny moths stuck to the sticky pads of the trap, you know you’ve got clothes moths and can take action. Pheromone traps are generally effective for up to eight to 12 weeks (check individual products), after which the sticky pads should be replaced.

Total Wardrobe Care also offer a clever moth decoy product to guard against moth damage. The small micro-powder tablet is infused with pheromones of the female moth which attracts nearby male moths. When the male moth comes into contact with the electrostatic powder it sticks to the antennae, blocking the receptors and confusing the moth into attracting other males rather than female partners. This breaks the breeding cycle over time without any moths being killed. 

6. Use a clothes' steamer

Not only will a clothes steamer give you a crease-free wardrobe, it is also great for dealing with clothes moths. 

'Steam will kill all of the clothes moths' lifecycle because insects are sensitive to temperature,' adds Murley at Total Wardrobe Care. 'Anything above 122℉ will cause their proteins to denature, so steam will do the job. Glide the steamer up and down the garment paying attention to the places moths can hide and where garments get dirtiest, such as pockets, cuffs, collars and underarms.'

7. Get tough on carpet moths

Regular and thorough vacuuming is the best way to get rid of carpet moths and will remove any eggs or debris that might be in the carpet. Pay attention to dark areas of carpet under and behind furniture and along the skirting boards and remember to frequently empty the vacuum cleaner. 

'Moths tend to like dark and undisturbed corners so this means you’ll need to move furniture to reach their favourite hiding places,' says Collins at My Job Quote. 'Moths like natural fibers so if you have wool carpets, they may benefit from an insecticide spray treatment. You can do this yourself or hire a pest control company to do it for you.'

'Wool carpets contain keratin which is attractive to moths, but there are things that you can do to keep them at bay,' says Julian Downes, managing director of Fibre Flooring. 'Most wool carpets are sold already moth proofed but for an additional natural remedy you can use bags of dried lavender and cedar balls which repel moths and other insects. Sisal is an ideal floor covering for properties prone to moths and also dust mites; it is 100% plant based and doesn’t contain keratin, the enzyme which attracts moths to live or breed in certain materials. So, if you are worried about moths, then sisal can create a healthy, clean environment and prevent future problems.'

8. Be alert to pantry moths

Food moths are less common than clothes and carpet moths but can still pose a problem by eating through food stores, leaving excrement behind and spoiling food. If you have spied small tan, brown or grey winged insects fluttering about in a zig zag pattern, you might be dealing with pantry moths. The most common is the Indian meal moth which is less than half an inch long with a small, bronze-colored head, a yellowish top half of the wing and reddish brown on the bottom. Pantry moths – or meal moths as they are also referred to – will seek out and attack grains, cereal, beans, flour, dried fruit, animal food, chocolate and spices.

'If food moths are a problem, give your kitchen a thorough clean and remove any infested open packets,' says Collins at My Job Quote. 'And keep your dry ingredients in airtight containers to protect them from future problems.'

9. Renew anti-moth products

Refresh out of date, anti-moth products – throw them away if they have been in the closet for more than a few months and replace sachets and strips in moth traps and decoys.

'Moths can cause irreparable damage to your clothes if left unchecked,' says Daniel Martin of family-owned Coopers of Stortford. 'A good way to combat them is with moth balls which contain Transfluthrin, a fast acting insecticide which can protect clothes over a full cubic meter around them for up to three months.'

What causes lots of moths in the house? 

Moths can enter your home through open windows or doors, they can also be carried in on clothes and soft furnishings. Harmless field moths are not unusual in the home during the summer months but a moth infestation can damage clothes and carpets. Always be sure to shake out any clothes that are not packaged, like those from a charity shop or car boot sale before you bring them into the house. Keep your closet ventilated too: moths are attracted to warm, humid spaces so open your closet door regularly to increase airflow.

How do I get rid of moths quickly?

If you’ve recently discovered a moth infestation, take instant action by washing clothes at a high temperature and tumble drying at a high heat, if possible. For delicate garments and fabrics, either get items dry cleaned or put wet clothes in the freezer for a day to kill larvae and eggs. Wash and scrub any areas where you found evidence of larvae or eggs with a vinegar and water solution.

Contributing Editor

Lara has worked in the ever-changing world of interiors and lifestyle journalism for many years. She cut her teeth in a busy newsroom of a kitchen and bathroom business title where she gained vast product knowledge and industry contacts that would prove invaluable. She now freelances for a variety of magazines, newspapers and online blogs and relishes the changing landscape of the interiors world