Why Do Moths Eat Clothes?

Sep 28, 2020

why do moths eat clothes

Why Do Moths Eat Clothes?

  1. Adult clothes moths do not eat clothes - it is their larvae that do the damage
  2. Animal-fibre based fabrics are targeted - think cashmere, wool, silk
  3. It is clothes moth larvae that do the damage, not adult clothes moths
  4. Clothes moth larvae get their sustenance from eating keratin, the protein in animal-based fibres
  5. Damage to clothes and other evidence will indicate a serious clothes moth infestation
  6. Clothes moth traps will reduce the population over time
  7. However, a clothes moth killer kit will help truly eradicate the clothes moth infestation without further damage to your precious clothes and home textiles
  8. MothPrevention can guide you and provide the support you’ll need


Clothes Moths Eat Clothes

That may seem like an obvious statement, but it is important to know that there are a wide variety of moths, and only a subset of those cause damage. Of those types of moths, the main split of groups are those which damage clothing, home textiles, carpets and rugs, and those that infest dried foodstuffs, commonly known as pantry moths.

These two broad groups above differ from the majority of moth species in that they both dislike light and look for dark, undisturbed places in your home.

And please remember that it is the moth larvae that cause the actual damage.

example of pink woollen sweater with moth damage


Clothes Moths / Carpet Moths

There is no distinction between the species of moth that may attack your clothes or carpets - these terms are commonly used depending on where the damage in your home has been found.

There are two main species most commonly found in the home; the webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella) and the case-bearing moth (Tinea pellionella).

Two other species that main be found that target clothes and home textiles are the white-shouldered house moth and the brown house moth.


Lifecycle Stages

Adult clothes moths only live for around one month and their sole purpose is to mate and for the female clothes moth to lay eggs. They do not eat anything during that short life as an adult. The eggs hatch into larvae and it is the larvae that eat clothes. The larvae pupate and then turn into adult clothes moths, and so complete the lifecycle.

From the presence of adult clothes moths to the start of damage of your valuable possessions could be as little as 4 to 6 weeks!


Why do Moths Eat Clothes?

Or, given our understanding of the clothes moth life cycle, more specifically, why do moth larvae eat clothes?

The larvae need sustenance to enable them to grow and pupate into adult clothes moths. Clothes moths have evolved to get their sustenance from Keratin - this is the protein in animal-based fabrics (cashmere, wool, silk, feathers, fur mainly). This is why your investment pieces in your wardrobes, your precious home textiles and your valuable rugs and carpets are threatened by the presence of clothes moths.

Keratin is also in human hair and shed skin cells. Household dust contains human and pet hair / skin cells so cleanliness is important.

Putting this together, and considering our busy lifestyles, the following common scenarios show how our homes can easily create the perfect breeding ground for clothes moths:

vacuum the rug and under the couch


Do Moths Eat Other Fabrics?

Very occasionally we have customers who have found moth larvae damage to plant-based fabrics (the most common of which is cotton garments). How could that happen?

As gross as it sounds, we must not shirk from the facts! This would only happen when a cotton garment is heavily soiled with food stains or human perspiration.

Most times when a customer asks about the holes in their cotton t-shirts, it is from damage caused by using the washing machine (fabric catching on buttons, clips, fasteners etc) or rubbing against a belt buckle when worn.


How can you tell if you have or are soon going to have moth damage?

Moth eggs are so small and often fall deep into the weave of loosely woven / knitted fabrics that they are very difficult to spot. So, there are visual clues to tell if you have a problem with moths eating clothes and other home textiles:

Can you see any webbing (thin, translucent, like spun silk) or cases from clothes moths?

moth larvae

Can you see the larvae? Usually a quarter to half inch long, cream coloured and a small brown head like little maggots (yes, we’re afraid so!)

Can you see holes or what look like small tears in garments that shouldn’t be there?

Can you also find carpet / rug piles eaten down and in the most extreme cases, you may see threadbare patches?

Have you seen adult clothes moths flying (or more likely resting in dark places)?


Ok, I’ve seen that moth larvae are eating my clothes; now what?

As specialists in dealing with clothes moth problems and having helped nearly 150,000 customers solve their moth problems, we can be your guide through this process.

Firstly, maintain active clothes moth traps to monitor for adult moth activity and reduce the population - remember that one mated female can lay 200 eggs in her very short life - it's easy to see how quickly it can get out of control

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Secondly, if you have clothes or carpet damage, we would highly recommend a Clothes Moth Killer Kit combined with a heavy cleaning of infested areas - this will ensure you deal with the larvae and provide residual protection.

Lastly, do not forget to try to trace the original source of the infestation and especially check any attics or basements that are less-frequently used.

moth trap being installed in a closet


Further Resources

You may find it helpful to read further with our step by step guide on how to stop moths from eating clothes.

We also can help identify your specific moth species if you are unsure. Please see our clothes moth identification guide or email us a clear picture and we’ll help you out.

Learn more about clothes moth traps to fight clothes moths from eating your precious cashmere.

We have a separate blog post on How to Get Rid of Pantry Moths and Food Moth Traps if that's your concern.

Please remember that if you need any guidance on treatments, identification of Moths or anything else, we are here to help - Contact Us at help@mothprevention.com.

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