Moths in Knitwear

Moths in knitwear is every knitter’s worst nightmare. In this episode, I cover some of the telltale signs of moths, and how to get rid of them.

Webbing Clothes Moth By Olaf Leillinger – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

Types of moths in the UK

There are only two types of moths in the UK that eat clothes. The Case Bearing Clothes Moth has been around since Roman times. This moth can survive outside and has been found in bird’s nests. The other type is the Webbing, or Common, Clothes Moth. This is believed to have been brought to the UK in Victorian times. Originally from South Africa, it travelled to the UK via the large sound of skin and feather imports that took place. It can’t survive outside, but it does love a nice, warm, centrally heated UK home.

Case Bearing Clothes Moth

According to an English Heritage moth survey, there was a 216% increase in the number of Webbing Moths caught in moth traps in English Heritage properties and storage sites between 2012 and 2016.

It’s Not Actually The Moths That Eat The Knitwear

Despite thinking for years it was the moths that damaged knitwear, I discovered that adult moths don’t have the mouthparts needed to chew through clothing. It is the larvae that do the damage. The problem you have with larvae is they’re very hard to see. They are around 1mm long which makes it easy for them to slip into the knitwear unnoticed. An adult female can lay anything up to 300 eggs at a time, so if you’re unlucky enough for even one to move in, you could have a big issues. Larvae grow (and eat!) for anything between 2-9 months. That’s a whole lot of time to damage your cashmere.

Why Clothes Moths Are On The Increase

Napthalene, the main pesticide in mothballs, has been banned for sale in the EU since 2008. This did a pretty good job of killing off moths. Unfortunately it is also highly toxic to humans and a known carcinogen, so it’s one you want to avoid. Alongside this, our houses have become warmer due to central heating and also a focus on energy efficiency. What used to be drafty old houses are changing to be more airtight. Couple this with warmer winters and it’s a nice environment for a moth, particularly the Webbing Clothes Moth.

We also own more clothes these days, which means that items are often left in wardrobes for extended periods. Moths hate to be disturbed. Sitting clothes that aren’t moved or ventilated are ideal, and also mean there is more opportunity for the larvae to do damage before it is noticed.

How to Spot Moths In Knitwear

You can tell you have an infestation usually when there has already been damage and you find little holes in the knitwear. It’s common for these to be in areas like the sleeve and neck. This is because larvae feed on keratin, a protein found in natural fibres like wool and silk. It’s also (rather disgustingly) found in food residues, bodily secretions, like sweat, human hair and skin cells, dust and pet dander. As such, these areas more commonly have these sorts of residues that attract the moth larvae.

Moth damage

You may notice adult moths flying out of clothing when you move it around in your wardrobe. Pay close attention to dark and undisturbed corners. Moths love to hide in these areas, as they have more dust and are not subject to disturbance. You may see tiny white larvae which look like very small grains of rice. There also may be cocoons or webbing in corners.

In carpets, damage will be likely to be in corners or by skirting boards, or beneath pieces of furniture or rugs that are not moved often.

How to Remove Moths From Knitwear

There are ways to deal with the pesky blighters. The best way is to prevent them in the first place, which may not always be possible, especially if you live in an older property. Cleanliness is key, so vacuum inside the wardrobe regularly and ensure clothes are spread out on the hangers and kept off the floor. Adding natural repellants such as lavender, eucalyptus, laurel, rosemary, patchouli and cedar will dissuade the adults from wanting to lay eggs in the wardrobe. Keep valuable and out of season clothes in storage bags to prevent access.

Get Rid of Moth Infestation

1) Remove all the items from the wardrobe and clean them all. Either launder at a high temperature (60 degrees), dry clean or steam clean them, or clean them and put them in a freezer for 48 hours, which will kill eggs and larvae. You can use scented cleaning products that contain lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus or patchouli to add extra protection.

2) Clean the inside of the wardrobe by hoovering right into all the crannies and removing dust. Wipe the surfaces with a damp cloth and detergent, anti-bacterial spray or diluted white vinegar to remove dirt and eggs.

3) Place clean valuable, delicate or out of season items in storage bags or lidded containers. Consider adding silica gel sachets to keep moisture down and avoid mould.

4) Remove plastic bags from dry cleaned items. They attract dust which is a food source for moths.

5) Store clothing off the floor.

6) Add repellant products such as cedar wood rings and lavender sachets to the wardrobe. Some companies do special missed for their sachets, including rosemary, laurel, eucalyptus and patchouli. Camphor is a popular deterrent in China. If the cedar rings begin to lose their smell, simply sand them down a little and add some cedar oil to renew them.

7) Ensure you keep the wardrobe clean and vacuum it regularly. Spread the clothing out in your wardrobe so that it receives good ventilation.

8) Most moths enter the house via another means, such as in vintage clothing. Ensure anything brought in that is antique, second hand or vintage is carefully cleaned before putting it into your wardrobe.

Cedar Rings

Music Credits: Adam and the Walter Boys, ‘I Need A Drink’ used with kind permission and available from iTunes.

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