Do clothing moths actually eat clothes?

Do clothing moths actually eat clothes?

The weather has finally turned warm. You find yourself longing for the beach, flip flops, and tank tops. As your thoughts linger upon the glory of summer, you tug at your sweaters that are loosely folded in the back of your dresser drawers. It’s time to store all those cozy wool garments and warm socks once again. As you gingerly refold your pink cashmere sweater, something at the base of the neck catches your eye. Thinking that it must be a piece of lint, you hold the sweater up to the light and see that it’s…a hole.

Frantic, you toss your neatly folded stack of sweaters onto your wooden floor and get down on your hands and knees. Each sweater will need to be inspected. Another hole is found.

Clothing moths are real. They actually eat clothes.

What is a clothing moth?


The two most common types of clothing moths in North America are the webbing moth, Tineola Bisselliella, and the casemaking moths, Tinea Pellionella. It is their wiggling worm-like voracious offspring, rather than their mamas and papas, that are causing damage to your sweaters, your upholstery, your carpets, and your furs. These unfortunate household items contain keratin, which harbors essential nutrients and moisture needed for the growth of these winged closet invaders.

The best way to identify a clothing moth is by its activity. If you see irregular holes in your wool socks, the felt of your piano, or your collection of antique dusty bears that harbor old strains, you are unknowingly hosting a party of clothing moths.

There are other means of identifying a clothing moth infestation: 

  • Fur garments that have some hairs clipped at the base, causing loose fur and exposed hide.
  • Tiny, silken tubes (larva casings) in the hidden portions of clothes, such as under collars, or on other keratin-rich items. These may have fibers and feces in them.
  • Cigar-shaped, open-ended, ½ inch long silken cases with pieces of infested material incorporated into the case.
  • Evidence of these (irregular) surface-grazing holes in silk, leather, wool, angora, alpaca, and cashmere (to name a few) or garments harboring food stains, urine, or perspiration.

What is a clothing moth’s life cycle?

Adult female webbing moths and case-bearing moths lay 40-50 eggs on fabric. These eggs hatch in around a week’s time. The larvae then eat and eat. Could you imagine seeing a cluster of these rice-like wiggling pests on your beautiful woven woolen rug that adorns your front entrance? The larvae become fat and pupate. The pupal stage often goes unnoticed, as the pupae are hidden out of sight. Then, there is a certain fluttering and flittering that occurs. Friend, you now have a proper infestation on your hands.

Do clothing moths eat clothes?

By now, unless you’ve really been skimming this post, we all know that the answer to this question is yes. Moths find the nutrition and nourishment and even the moisture that they need from the following: 

  • Animal bristles in brushes
  • Animal-hide rugs or pelts (Bear rugs, etc.)
  • Books that are felt-lined or contain other natural fibers
  • Clothing that is dirty, either because of food stains, perspiration, or urine
  • Feather or down comforters, pillows, jackets, or mattresses
  • Feathers incorporated into artwork (Native American art, contemporary art, children’s art, etc.)
  • Felt made from animal fibers on hats
  • Felt as part of artwork
  • Felt or wool pads beneath the legs of furniture
  • Felt or wool pads on the base of decorative candlesticks or antiques that sit on table tops
  • Fish meal in fish food
  • Fur coats, hats, or boots
  • Furniture that is upholstered and contains wool, feathers or horsehair
  • Human hair art, jewelry, or vintage toys, dolls and teddy bears
  • Human hair in ductwork, hard-to-reach areas, or beneath wooden floors
  • Insect collections (pinned) or any accumulation of dead insects
  • Leather attire, including upholstery, luggage, purses, and recreational equipment
  • Mohair fabrics, including sweaters, hats, accessories, carpets, and upholstery
  • Pet hair in ductwork, hard-to-reach areas, or beneath wooden floors
  • Piano hammer felt (interior working parts of a piano)
  • Rodent or bird (dead) in a wall void, basement space or ceiling void
  • Silk attire or silk-lined attire, including Eastern folk costumes
  • Taxidermy
  • Wool attire, including sweaters, jackets, pants, hats, stockings, and slippers. *Includes alpaca and cashmere.
  • Wool blankets
  • Wool carpet padding
  • Wool felt pads in pianos
  • Wool rugs
  • Wool wall hangings, including macramé, tapestry, and Native American art

Most of these materials contain keratin, a complex fibrous protein that the worm-like clothing moth larvae can successfully digest. Dirty clothing does not necessarily contain keratin, but it does provide the moisture that clothing moths seek.

Clothing moths do not eat cotton. Nor do they eat other fabrics made from cellulose, such as rayon, polyester, or linen. They will only attack these materials if they are blended with animal components, if they are very dirty, or to burrow into natural fibers found underneath.

It’s interesting to note that several of these fabrics come from goats or camels, as is the case with the alpaca, a domesticated South American member of the camel family. Alpaca wool comes from Peruvian alpacas, whereas cashmere comes from the undercoats of Kashmir goats. Mohair is made from the hair of an Angora goat.

How do I get rid of clothing moths?

Getting rid of clothing moths is a slower process, as clothing moths are shy and will not immediately gravitate towards the pheromones in the traps, unlike the pantry moths (and their pull towards our pantry moth traps). First, it’s important to know which moth species you are dealing with. You must also be patient, diligent, and know that, in taking the proper steps, that you can and will rid your home (and your life) of these pesky favorite-sweater-eating moths.

Here is a quick 4 step process:

  1. Place Dr. Killigan’s Clothing Moth Traps in your closet. The pheromone attractant can permeate up to 100 feet if there is constant airflow, which will help draw out any moths that are in the vicinity.  
  2. Discard particularly infested items. Place these in your garbage can outdoors. 
  3. Thoroughly clean the clothes you keep. You can do this by washing your clothes with hot water over 120 degrees Fahrenheit or steaming or dry cleaning your clothes. 
  4. Clean your closet. Vacuum the area where the affected items were stored, paying special attention to the corners and edges. After doing a test-spot, spray a light dusting of Six Feet Under on your carpet. 

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