I remember my mother making the big clothing shift in the spring from upstairs in our closets to garment bags zipped and hanging in the basement, and then reverse in the fall.
Ever the reader, she discovered that mothballs not only smelled but weren’t the best for a house full of children.
Though mothballs are meant to be used in close, airtight containers many times, fumes can leak out. Mothballs contain high concentrations of either naphthalene or para-dichlorobenzene.
Napthalene gives off irritating fumes that can cause respiratory problems, and para-dichlorobenzene not only causes respiratory irritation but is also a suspected carcinogen and can cause long-term damage to the kidneys and liver. Because mothballs can contaminate plants, soil, water supplies and air and can harm wildlife, you must treat them as hazardous waste rather than simply putting them in the trash.
Given the damage Tineola bisselliella or clothing moths can do though, you can see why mothballs were invented. Clothing moth larvae feed on keratin, a protein found in the hair, nails and skin of animals, including us. That means they’ll eat not only wool, but also cashmere, fur, leather, feathers and even pet and human hair.
On average, female moths lay 40 to 50 eggs shortly after emerging from the pupal case. They glue visible, bright white eggs onto the threads of fabric. Larvae can live upwards of 35 days and adult moths up to 28. But in the friendly microclimate of our homes, clothing moths can hatch, grow, eat and reproduce all year.
Though once mothballs were the only accepted method for keeping your wool rugs, blankets and clothing free from moth holes, many other methods exist.
Plain old housekeeping is your first line of defense. Undisturbed, dust, lint and hair make the perfect place for moths to breed, so vacuuming goes a long way toward removing the problem. Pay careful attention to rugs, carpets, draperies, furniture cushions, corners, moldings, along baseboards, on shelves, inside closets and drawers, and around heat registers, where hair collects. After you’ve vacuumed, don’t forget to throw out the bag.
Sprinkling boric acid where they might hide is another way to discourage clothing moths. Unless consumed or inhaled in large quantities, boric acid won’t harm either humans or pets.
Another obvious yet crucial step is to hand-wash or sustainably dry-clean your woolens. Clothing moths are particularly drawn to food stains, sweat and dead skin, so even if a garment appears clean, you’ll need to clean it before storing it. This is especially important to do when you bring home clothing from thrift stores or yard sales, as used clothing can contain moth eggs you didn’t catch.
Once you’ve washed your woolens, seal them in airtight containers or garment bags. Though the jury is still out on the repellent qualities of cedar, many still swear by it. Just make sure you often sand the wood you enclose in the container and use cedar oil to refresh it.
You can also enclose handmade sachets of cloves, thyme, fresh rosemary, lavender, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and/or eucalyptus. Stashing the sachets in dresser drawers and hanging them in your closet can also repel moths and give your clothing a sweet scent.
Sunlight is a primary enemy of clothing moths. If you periodically shake your woolens and hang them in the sun, eggs will die and the larvae will drop from the fabrics to find protection in the darkness. That’s why removing a closet door or installing solar lights in a closet can be effective protection as well.
Freezing temperatures also kills clothing moth larvae and eggs. You can either hang woolens outside on a freezing day or pop them in the freezer for a few days.
If clothing moths got to a sweater before you did, you can try repurposing the untouched areas. Also, check out this blog for repairing small holes with embroidery floss.