In addition to moths damaging wool clothes, there are several types of bugs that can damage cotton, rayon, linen, and even synthetic fibers. The good news is there are methods you can take to control bugs that eat clothes. Here's how to identify some common bugs and how to manage infestations that are ruining the clothes in your closet and drawers.
Three species of carpet beetles look very similar (the black carpet beetle is the most common); the only difference is in their coloration pattern.
Female carpet beetles lay around 100 soft white eggs in concealed places that hatch in eight to 15 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, such as 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.
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 formula pyrethroid insecticides can be used to kill the infestation. There are many products available, and they 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.
There are millions of moths in the world, with two that are common culprits when it comes to munching on wool clothing.
The webbing clothes moth is a small moth with a wingspan of about 1/2 inch. It is pale gold with no unusual markings, and it's 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 up to two years depending on humidity, temperature, and food availability. They then spin a case and emerge as adult moths 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 rarely seen.
Mothballs or blocks contain naphthalene, a common moth 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 also 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 other fabrics 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.
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, 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, which often happens if clothes are dried outside.
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, the silverfish 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 Fahrenheit. They feed at night and stay close to food sources.
They like natural fibers, such as 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 also 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 prefer warm spaces, such as attics, that over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
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.
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.
Clothes Moths and Carpet Beetles: Identifying and Controlling Fabric Pests. NC State Extension Publications.
Paradichlorobenzene. National Pesticide Information Center.
Cockroaches. UMN Extension.
Termites - Biology and Control. NC State Extension Publications.