How to Stop Moths From Eating Your Clothes

Keep those tell-tale tiny holes from appearing in your favorite sweaters, dresses, and shirts.

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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 the pests in your pantry, or the pests that feed on your houseplants, moths that thrive on garments like to reside in dark, undisturbed areas like closets, basements, and attics. They 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. Whether you're looking to keep moths out of your closet, or have already noticed a few suspicious holes in your favorite garments, here's how to stop moths from eating your clothes

How Moths Damage Clothing

Moths are destructive, 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. "They will only eat animal-based fabrics like wool and cashmere, because the caterpillars need animal proteins from the fabric to grow and develop," Newton says. 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.

How to Stop Moths From Eating Your Clothes

Buy a Clothing Brush

You might feel weird grooming your clothing with a brush ($28,, but it's a smart way to remove moth eggs and expose larvae. Experts at The University of California's Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources suggest 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.

Clean Clothes Before Packing Away

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 with small openings bugs can get through. Reserve your pretty storage baskets for items like toys, pet supplies, and knick-knacks—not clothing.

Freeze Your Favorites

Newton offers a novel, chemical-free approach to warding off moths: Once a year, slide 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."

How to Rid Your Home of Moths

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 emeritus of entomology at the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture. "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.

Avoid Chemical Cures

Mothballs and flakes contain paradichlorobenzene (PDB) or naphthalene, 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 them. If you're a die-hard mothball user, air out garments thoroughly before hanging them up in your closet at the start of a new season.

Spray or Diffuse Cedar Oil

Cedar oil (or cedarwood oil) is an essential oil derived from conifer trees, and moths hate the scent of it. Spray cedar oil ($35, into the corners of your closet, or pour some cedar oil into a diffuser. Other herbs that are repugnant to moths are lavender, rosemary, cloves, bay leaves, and thyme. Essential oils with these scents will also repel them, or you could make a DIY potpourri with them by placing them together into a mesh bag. Then stash it inside your drawer.

Call a Pest Control Service

If you have a severe moth infestation, these strategies might not be enough. In that case, call in an exterminator. An eco-friendly pest control service might use pheromone-based moth traps to locate the site of the infestation and develop a treatment plan.

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  1. University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources. How to Manage Pests: Clothes Moths. Accessed April 19, 2023.

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