How to Control Bugs That Eat Clothes

moth on clothing

The Spruce / Michele Lee

Most everyone knows that moths can damage wool clothes. But did you know that there are bugs that can damage cotton, rayon, linen, and even stain synthetics?

Learn how to identify each bug and how to control the infestations that are ruining the clothes in your closet and drawers.

illustration of cloth-eating bugs
 Illustration: The Spruce / Alison Czinkota

Carpet Beetles

Three species of carpet beetles look very similar (the black carpet beetle is the most common); the only difference being in their coloration pattern.

Female carpet beetles lay around 100 soft, white eggs in concealed places that hatch in eight to fifteen days. They hatch more quickly in warmer weather. The eggs are laid on clothing, furniture, cracks in flooring and, of course, carpet. These beetles typically produce four generations within a year.

It is not the adult insect but the larva that feeds on fabric. It begins feeding as soon as the egg hatches and prefers natural fibers like wool, mohair, fur, and feathers. The larvae are most often discovered on fabric but they can crawl from place to place and hide in any dark crevices including air ducts, closets and behind baseboards when they are not feeding on your clothes.

Carpet Beetle
Matt Bertone/North Carolina State University


Insecticides to control carpet beetles should only be used after a thorough cleaning of baseboards, corners, and edges of carpeting where the adults hide. To vacuum thoroughly, you must go over infested areas several times. It is important to vacuum in different patterns to ensure that the carpet pile is moved in every direction to access the carpet backing.

In infected nonfood areas, household formulas pyrethroid insecticides can be used to kill the infestation. There are many products available and should list as the active ingredient: permethrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin or tralomethrin. Follow package directions carefully. You can also use organic methods to control carpet beetles.

Clothes Moths

There are millions of moths in the world—some quite beautiful. But the two that are commonly found munching away on your favorite wool suit are not so enchanting.

The webbing clothes moth (shown here) is a small moth with a wingspan of about 1/2 inch. It is pale gold with no unusual markings and a weak flier that seldom leaves dark areas. When you see the adult moth beware. It is no danger to wool, cashmere or mohair clothes; but if there are two that breed the larvae are detrimental as they feed and cut holes in clothes.

The larvae feed for five weeks for up to two years depending on humidity, temperature, and food availability. It then spins a case and emerges as a full-grown moth in 2 1/2 weeks. The cycle begins again and multiple generations can be produced within a year.

If you see a worm-like insect with a hard shell on your clothes, it is the larva of the case-bearing clothes moth. It is this creature that cuts holes in your clothing and other fabrics. The adult moths are very small and are rarely seen.

Webbing Clothes Moth
Mike Birkhead/Getty Images


Mothballs or blocks contain naphthalene a common repellent. Naphthalene is best used by scattering the balls in layers throughout the fabric. However, in moist conditions naphthalene can discolor fabrics and should be wrapped with paper so there is no direct contact with the fabric. It does not react with plastic but it can corrode some metals.

Paradichlorobenzene (PDB), is the common ingredient in moth crystals and is less toxic to humans. It should be used in sealed containers or closed rooms at a high concentration for two to three weeks. It reacts with some hard plastics and can even melt storage boxes and plastic buttons. Read directions carefully before using.

Cedar and lavender can be used as natural moth repellants


Along with its many habits that can cause asthma and carry disease, the cockroach will also stain and damage clothes and any fabric in the home. The cockroach is attracted to perspiration and body fluid stains, food and drink spills and laundry starch. As the cockroach eats away at these food sources, it can cut holes in the fibers or weaken them so that holes appear.

Their excrement will also stain clean clothes, often requiring the use of non-chlorine bleach on washable clothes to remove the brown stains.

Cockroaches crawling on baseboards and carpet
Jan Stromme/Getty Images


To get rid of the roaches, begin by cleaning and sanitizing the areas around your clothing. Remove soiled clothes and vacuum away insect eggs and droppings. You can then use residual insecticides or baits to control the cockroach infestation. The insecticide should have one or more of the following ingredients: chlorpyrifos or Dursban, propoxur or Baygon, pyrethrins or pyrethroid, hydroprene Gencor and silica gel.

Roach baits should contain propoxur or Baygon, boric acid, sulfluramid or hydramethylon. Follow package directions carefully. Repeated treatments will be necessary.

There are organic methods of cockroach control that you can make yourself. They are less toxic but take longer to control the problem.


Crickets are not commonly thought of as an insect that eats holes in clothes. They do not attack clean clothes. However, they find body soil, food and beverage stains, and laundry starch very attractive. The cricket will eat the remains of the stain and during its feast will often cut the threads of the fabric. Cricket excrement will stain clean clothes and often happens if clothes are dried outside.

close up of a cricket on a blanket
Rene B. Olesen/Getty Images


If you find you have indoor crickets, begin by removing sources of moisture and food. You must also find the points of entry from the outside. Look around light fixtures and inspect any cracks along floorboards and outside foundation walls. Insecticides should be used when there are a large number of crickets. Select a product that is labeled for control of indoor crickets and contains the ingredients chlorpyrifos (Dursban), permethrin, or propoxur (Baygon). Whether choosing an aerosol product or liquid, follow application directions carefully.

Silverfish and Firebrats

Cousin to the firebrat, silverfish (seen here) is a wingless insect about 1/4- to 1/2-inch long with five legs. Its carrot-shaped body is completely silver in color. Silverfish are found in dark areas around 70 degrees F. They feed at night and stay close to food sources.

They like natural fibers like silk, cotton, rayon, and anything starched. Body soil and food stains also attract contamination. Once they find a food source, they tend to stay close by. As they eat the "food" they cut irregular holes in the fiber usually following the outlines of the stain.

Firebrats are usually 1/4- to 1/2-inch long. The firebrat has a mottled silver and brown coat. They are wingless insects with carrot-shaped bodies and five legs. They are active at night and firebrats prefer warm spaces like attics that over 90 degrees F.

Scenics and Science/Getty Images


As with carpet beetles, before you can control silverfish and firebrats you must first remove moisture and food that these insects crave. A thorough cleaning before treatment is a must.

For an infestation, select a spray insecticide that contains synergized pyrethrin and pyrethroids. Look for listed ingredient bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, tetramethrin or phenothrin. Some sprays are an oil-based solution and should not be used near electric motors or gas pilot flames. They should not be used around food preparation areas.

Organic control can be done using silica gel after cleaning.


Few people consider clothing damage when thinking of termites. However, they are attracted to the food source of clothing that is stained with body soil, food or beverages. As they eat the food, they often cut into the fabric causing holes.

Close up of termites
jeridu/Getty Images


It is likely if you have found termite infestation in your clothing area, the problem is widespread throughout your home. Commercial pest control treatment is recommended because over-the-counter insecticides will not solve the problem.

You can improve the situation by vacuuming closets well, washing soiled clothing promptly, cleaning debris and firewood from around the foundation of your home and reducing moisture levels.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Paradichlorobenzene. National Pesticide Information Center.

  2. Waldvogel, Michael, and Patricia Alder. Termites - Biology and Control. NC State Extension Publications.