How do you get rid of moths when you can’t find the source?

By Dr. Killigan
How do you get rid of moths when you can’t find the source?

Moths can be quite the pesky roommates. Not only do they (clothing moths) have a penchant for gnawing holes into your favorite garments, but they (pantry moths) also have a nasty habit of leaving behind unsightly excrement and casings, and even daring to lay their larvae in your cereal or rugs.

Alas, getting rid of these winged intruders is not as simple as one would hope. Once they've decided to move in, they make themselves entirely comfortable and can put up quite a fight if you attempt to force them out. To make matters worse, there are various types of moths that can infiltrate and infest your household, which means the first step to devising an effective eviction strategy is to identify which type of flying insect you're dealing with.

Hence, we’ll continue this discussion by talking through this pertinent first step, followed by an additional four steps (five in total) that will help you and your family both get rid of moths (whose source you can’t find) and keep moths away.  

Identify the moth

The two most common species of moths that invade households are the clothing moth and the pantry moth. It’s important to differentiate between the two. Here’s a quick guide to help you distinguish between them:

Clothing moths (Tineola bisselliella and Tinea pellionella)

  • Body/Length: Smaller, at one-fourth-inch long
  • Color: Generally a uniform beige or buff-color, with reddish-gold to coppery tufts of hair on their head
  • Flight: Fluttery and weak, with a straight pattern 
  • Infest: Closets, drawers and other locations where keratin-rich items are kept
  • Diet: Natural fibers, such as wool, silk and fur

Pantry moths (Plodia interpunctella)

  • Body/Length: Larger, at one-half-inch long
  • Color: Gray, brown and tan hued, with wings that are whitish-gray near the body and dark reddish brown near the tips
  • Flight: Erratic and quick, with a zigzag pattern 
  • Infest: Pantries, cabinets and other locations where food is stored
  • Diet: Grains, cereals, nuts, birdseed and other dried goods

After you’ve clearly identified the type of moth, it’s crucial to clean thoroughly to get rid of them.

Clean and throw away infested material

If you have clothing moths: To do a thorough job, first sort through all of your clothes, linens and fabrics, and identify any items that are infested with moths. Look for visible signs of damage, such as holes or larvae casings. Remove all infested items from your home and place them in sealed plastic bags (in an outside trash can). If the items are washable, wash them in hot water and dry them on high heat to kill any remaining eggs or larvae. If the items cannot be washed, freeze them for at least 72 hours to kill any eggs or larvae.

If you have pantry moths: Meticulously examine and clean out your pantry. Throw away any infested food items. Look for any signs of this Indian meal moth infestation, such as webbing or larvae, and check all dry-food items such as flour, cereal, pasta and even pet food or birdseed.

Then, vacuum and then vacuum again. Pay singular attention to areas where you found infested items. Vacuum carpets, upholstery, and any cracks and crevices where moths may be hiding. Use the hose attachment at will.

Finally, wipe down all surfaces, including walls, shelves, baseboards, dresser drawers and clothing rods, with a simple water and vinegar solution. Remove all pantry items (in your pantry) and clothing (in your drawers) to do so. Wiping down surfaces will deter moths from returning. Follow this up with Six Feet Under, a non-toxic kill-on-contact spray that will kill any remaining clothes or pantry moth eggs and larvae.

Set up moth traps

Moth traps are a crucial step in the battle against these pesky insects. Without them, you will find yourself in a tizzy, forever struggling to keep moth numbers under control. With their proprietary blend of double-potent pheromones and the stickiest trapping glue, our pantry moth traps and clothing moth traps work by zemblanity luring adult male moths in. Once stuck, the male moths can no longer breed and, to your delight and joy, their lifecycle comes to an abrupt halt. So, while cleaning and discarding infested items are crucial, setting up moth traps is a key step in ensuring that your home remains moth-free.

Place them where moths are most active—such as closets or pantry shelves—and effectively reduce the population of these miscreants. Additionally, our moth traps are non-toxic and safe to use around children and pets, making them an ideal solution for homes with young families or furry companions. With a little patience and diligence, using moth traps can help prevent future infestations and keep your home free of moths.

Protect items from pests

Now that the moths are under control, you simply cannot relax—not yet, not fully. You must first safeguard your possessions from future invasions of unwanted guests.

For seasonal clothing, store them in airtight bags or boxes. I feel that the vacuum-sealed variety is especially effective. Keep them in a cool, dry place, preferably in the main part of your house. It’s important to keep them away from hot and humid areas (like the attic or basement).

As for the pantry, opt for glass or hard plastic airtight storage containers to keep food fresh and prevent pantry pests such as pantry moths, ants and cockroaches from getting in.

Tip: Remember to check your groceries for signs of infestations before bringing them home as that's usually where non-disease carrying pantry moths come from and how pantry moth infestations start. Clothing moths, on the other hand, generally get into houses through infested items (particularly used clothing) purchased from a store or on infested clothing brought in from an outside source.

Be proactive. Use moth repellents (not mothballs)

Well, it seems that pungent mothballs are out of fashion nowadays. The chemicals they contain—namely, naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene—are toxic to breath and considered a health risk by many experts. In fact, California already considers them carcinogens and the European Union banned them altogether (since 2008). Not to mention, mothballs may look like candy or other treats to small pets and children, and could be ingested accidentally.

Instead, I can’t recommend enough the use of eastern red cedar wood, as taking proactive measures is essential. Cedar Planks delivers the power of Mother Nature’s most potent moth repellent through the use of sustainably sourced, 100% eastern red cedar from the good ole' USA. Use these planks in your closets, drawers and even suitcases as you travel as a frontline defense against winged intruders.

Note: After thoroughly cleaning and washing and protecting, you should discover the source of your infestation. If you have not, please contact us. Together, let's get to the bottom of this infestation. You are clever and patient and persistent and can (and will) overcome these vermins. You can do your own pest control and conquer the vicious life cycle of clothing moths and pantry moths before they overtake your home.

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2 comments
  • Hello Karyn,

    Thank you for your comment on our blog.

    We suggest trading your traps out every three months or once they become full.

    Please let us know if you have any further questions or concerns. You can also reach our customer service team by emailing support@drkilligans.com.

    Cheers,
    Elyse & the Dr. Killigan’s Support Team

    Elyse on
  • How long are the pantry moth traps effective before they need replaced?

    Karyn on

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