We all live in fear of those tell-tale tiny holes in our favorite sweaters, dresses, and shirts. Here's how to keep moths out of your closet—and what to do if it's already too late. 

By Susan Brickell
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Nothing can ruin a morning faster than reaching into the closet for your favorite sweater—and finding one or more tiny holes in it. You've been victimized by moths. And where there's one, there are many. Unlike summer's outdoor moths that flock to light, or those pests that take up residence in your pantry, moths that thrive on garments like to reside in dark, undisturbed areas like closets, basements, and attics—and can live in the corners and folds of fabrics, especially if the clothes contain microscopic skin cells or bits of food from the last time you wore them. Gross, we know.

Moths are destructive, no doubt, but they don't actually eat your clothes—their babies do. According to Blake Newton, an Extension Entomologist at the University of Kentucky, moths lay eggs on fabrics, caterpillars hatch from those eggs, and then the caterpillars munch on the clothing. Another surprise? These caterpillars have refined taste, Newton tells us: “They will only eat animal-based fabrics like wool and cashmere, because the caterpillars need animal proteins from the fabric to grow and develop.” In addition to wool or cashmere sweaters, consider your fur coats, silk blouses, and anything with feathers fair game to your new closet-squatting housemates.

Whether you’re looking to keep moths out of your closet, or have already noticed a few suspicious holes in your favorite garments and want to get rid of clothes moths for good, these are the best methods to get—and stay—moth-free.

Vacuum Weekly—Even in Your Closets

“Vacuuming effectively removes larvae which are already present as well as hair and lint which could support future infestations,” says Dr. Mike Potter, a professor of the Entomologist department at the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture. “Be sure to vacuum the edges of carpets, along baseboards, underneath furniture, inside closets and other dark areas where clothes moths prefer to feed. Vacuuming up an infested area? Dispose of the bag’s contents immediately, as it could include eggs, larvae, or adult moths.

Buy A Clothing Brush

You might feel weird grooming your clothing with a brush, but it's a smart way to remove moth eggs and expose larvae. University of California’s department of Agriculture and Natural Resources suggests placing items in the sun and brushing them thoroughly, paying special attention to seams, folds, and pockets. According to their Integrated Pest Management Program, brushing will destroy eggs, and exposing larvae to bright light causes them to fall from clothing.

Never Pack Away Dirty Clothes

Before you get offended that we'd even suggest such a thing, know that even if you wore a cardigan once for an hour or two, over another top, it counts as dirty. Before packing up your clothes at the end of the season, wash or dry clean items that have been worn at all to remove dirt and oil—both things bugs are drawn to. The University of California’s Pest Management Program advises laundering clothes for 20-30 minutes in water that is at least 120°F. Or send them to the dry cleaner.

Keep Off-Season Clothing Airtight

Once your garments are clean and pest-free, place them in airtight plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, as opposed to dressers and trunks that have small openings bugs can get through.

Give Up on Chemical "Cures"

Moth balls and flakes work contain paradichlorobenzene (PDB) or napthalene, which are lethal to moths—but only in concentrated doses, says Dr. Potter. “In order to achieve the right levels of concentration, the vapors must be tightly confined with the items you wish to protect.” Since there's no way of knowing if your mothball fumes are concentrated enough to be effective—and because these chemicals can also be harmful to you—Blake advises against using them at all. If you're a die-hard moth ball user, be sure to air out garments thoroughly before hanging them up in your closet at the start of a new season.

A safer and more natural way to repel moths? Tuck small satchels of lavender in dresser drawers or hang them in your closet. Note: This won't kill existing moth eggs or larvae, so be certain you’ve eliminated the pest first.

Freeze Your Favorites

Newton offers a novel, chemical-free approach to warding off moths: Once a year, slide your your wool sweaters, prized silk scarves, and feather boas into zipper bags and stick them in the freezer next to the frozen peas.  “Keep them there for a few days," he says. “This will kill any caterpillars.”