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What do Moths Eat? (And How to Get Rid of Moths)

Though quite harmless, moths can be a real source of aggravation. You may have dealt with moth problems, and found favorite articles of clothing full of holes after storing them away for some time.

Most adult moths only consume liquids (e.g., flower nectar, tree sap, rotting fruits, etc.) to help give them energy and balance their hydration. On the other hand, Clothes moths (Tineola bisselliella and Tinea pellionella)  and their cousins, the household pests known as Pantry (Indian-meal) moths (Plodia interpunctella), can infest your home no matter how clean it is, and wreak havoc on your wardrobe and dry stored food goods.

To help eliminate both clothes and pantry moths, it is important to understand their life cycle, so you know when and where to take action. 

What do Moths Look Like?

Adult Clothes moths are small (1/2" in length), beige to grey in color, and with narrow, hairy wings. These moths are rarely in sight, as they avoid light at all costs. They are sometimes mistaken for pantry moths, which are slightly different in color.  

Casemaking moth

Adult Panty moths are also about 1/2" in length, with narrow wings that are grey, with about two-thirds that is reddish-brown in color with black striping. If you see them flying around your kitchen/pantry area, that's the first clue you may have an infestation on your hands. Pantry moth larvae are an off-white color, also about 1/2" in length, and will spin silky webs as they burrow around inside containers of dry food.

Indian meal moth

What do Moths Eat?

Clothes moths are known for eating the natural fibers used to make clothing (including silk, cotton, wool, etc.), drapes/curtains, upholstery, carpet, bedding, etc.--just about any natural fiber, they can find. They will even eat through synthetic materials, on the lookout for any natural fibers that may be hidden inside.

Clothes

Pantry (Indian-meal) moths, on the other hand, will burrow into and infest food goods you may have in storage, like oatmeal, cereal, flour, grain, cornmeal, rice, and nuts, but will also get into pet food, birdseed, dry pasta, and dried fruits. Have you ever gone to make some oatmeal and found sticky webbing inside the container? Yuck.

Grains

What is a Moth's Typical Lifecycle?  

Adult moths congregate near their food sources to mate and lay eggs. Once the adult moths mate, females can lay between 40 and 50 microscopic-sized eggs within several weeks. Warm temperatures are conducive to faster hatching and will hatch between 4 - 10 days.

Larvae then continue to live anywhere between about a month and two to two-and-a-half years, depending on livable temperatures and the availability of food. Once the larvae hatch, they will spin a web (or tough casing) around themselves for protection.

Once they’ve eaten their fill of either your clothes or stored foods, the larvae will pupate (into adults) within about a week to 10 days in ideal temperatures, but the pupation can take as long as four months in colder conditions. Two complete lifecycles (egg to adult) are about average typical indoor house temperatures. If you do the math, you can see that within a few months you might go from just seeing a couple of moths fluttering around to having hundreds of moths on your hands to deal with! 

How do You Know if You Have a Moth Infestation?

Sadly, the easiest way to spot a Clothes moth infestation is by noticing damage to your clothes (usually collars, cuffs, and inside seams).

Adult Clothes moths can be more difficult to spot than Pantry moths (eggs and larvae are even more difficult to spot), but adult Clothes moths will not typically go far from their food sources. Pantry moths are known to fly around your home hunting for food if they can't find it in the obvious areas.

Pantry moth infestations are much more noticeable. Pantry moth larvae spin webs around themselves as they burrow and eat through your food products, and you will notice webbing and caterpillars in the food. After the larvae pupate, the adult Pantry moths can easily be seen flying around.

Your First Line of Defense to Get Rid of Moths

As with all indoor pests, the best defense you can mount is to make your home as unwelcome for them as possible. Cleanliness matters, but remember that pests can set up shop even in the cleanest homes. Be watchful and as proactive as possible (prevention, lots of prevention!) to help keep moths at bay in your house.  You can also spot treat for moths and other flying insects with a good home bug spray or flying insect killer.

How to Get Rid of Moths

It can be difficult to get rid of moths once they get a foothold in your home. Be vigilant so you can spot any problems quickly and then take quick steps to stop them from spreading. Don't lose it if you happen to have discovered an infestation. There is plenty you can do to get rid of these moths.

To Get Rid of Clothes Moths:

  • Dry clean all your "dry clean only" clothes (especially those made of wool) before storing them.
  • Wash all of your clothes, towels, etc. with hot water (120° F for at least 20 to 30 minutes) will kill any Clothes moths (including eggs and larvae). Keeping your clothes laundered will also remove moisture and food stains, making them less appealing to moths.
  • Sunlight and brushing your clothes is an "old school" way to help get rid of Clothes moths. Larvae hate the sunlight, and as you brush your clothes out in the sun's rays, they will fall off along with the eggs as they try to get away from the light. Hang your clothes out in the sunlight on hangers or a clothesline for several hours, and brush them thoroughly. Goodbye, Clothes moths.
  • Some natural essential oils, like cedar in particular, and also lavender and rosemary essential oils, as well as bay leaves, are known to repel Clothes moths from areas where clothes are hanging up or stored.
  • Mothballs contain a chemical called 1,4-dichlorobenzene (paradichlorobenzene) that suffocates moths and their larvae, and are useful in helping you to get rid of these moths…This chemical is also poisonous to children and pets, so handle with care.

To Get Rid of Pantry Moths:

  • Whenever you find a package of food infested with Pantry moths, place the entire package, including the container, into a sealed plastic bag, and discard it in the trash.
  • Next, remove ALL items from your cabinets and pantry, and inspect them for signs of Pantry moths. Throw away any products/containers that appear to be contaminated in sealed plastic bags.
  • Do NOT try to save any of the food, even if it looks OK. Small eggs or larvae that you don't notice because of their tiny size may still be in the food.
  • Remove and throw away all shelf liners from your pantry/cupboard shelves (larvae can hide underneath the paper). Place it in a sealed plastic bag and throw it into the trash.
  • Thoroughly vacuum all pantry and cabinet shelves. Immediately empty the vacuum cleaner bag into the trash.
  • Thoroughly wipe down all pantry/cupboard shelves, doors, and surfaces with hot, soapy water.
  • Clean way up on top of your kitchen cabinets, too, as Pantry moths are masters of hiding where you'd least expect to find them. They can spin webs on top of cabinets, in the hidden corners of your pantry, and even behind the appliances. Thoroughly vacuum and clean all these potentially infested areas with hot, soapy water and/or disinfectant.
  • Replace shelf-liner paper with new, clean lining when the shelves have dried, then replace the food.

How to Prevent Clothes Moths

  • Keeping your clothes clean and dry in your closet or in storage will go a long way to help prevent clothes moths in your wardrobe.
  • Be wary of clothes you buy in resale shops (get them dry-cleaned or thoroughly launder them in hot water followed by drying them on the highest heat setting before using/storing them).
  • Maintaining a level of cleanliness in your home also helps prevent moth infestations.
  • Keep living areas and closets well vacuumed to help reduce ideal conditions for moths (and other pests), get rid of eggs and larvae.
  • Reposition couches and other furniture so you can thoroughly vacuum underneath.
  • Vacuum over the baseboards in your clothes closets and along floorboards to scoop up any hiding larvae.
  • Empty vacuum cleaner bag into a trash bag immediately after vacuuming to help prevent any survivors from making a comeback in your house.
  • Traps for Clothes moths are also effective at keeping moths away and many are labeled safe to use around pets and children.

Closet

How to Prevent Pantry Moths

No matter how clean your house is, no matter how clean the grocery store is where you shop, at some point or other, you will probably face some kind of Pantry moth problem, as most homeowners do. Here are some steps to help prevent them:

  • As much as possible, avoid buying bulk foods, which may be contaminated and which may run the risk of being stored for longer periods of time in your pantry.
  • Consume foods by their expiration date. Organize your pantry so older food containers are in the front and newer containers behind. Rotate your pantry foods regularly (first in, first out).
  • Refrigerate grains and other foods you don’t use regularly.
  • Seal grains and other foods in airtight containers (ideally made of glass, rather than plastic) to help prevent infestations.
  • Be careful to buy only the food you and your family will be able to use within a reasonable amount of time. The longer food is stored, the more likely it can become infested with Pantry moths, their eggs, and larvae.
  • Remember to never use pesticide sprays in your pantry or cupboards near your food, as the residual pesticide can make you and your family sick. Use non-toxic pantry moth traps instead, as they can be used around stored food. They will catch Pantry moths you might have missed, and can remain effective for several weeks.

Pantry

What are your favorite methods to help prevent and get rid of moths in your home? Leave us a comment below! We'd love to hear about it!

 

For scientifically-tested, effective moth control in your home that is friendly to the environment, try Maggie’s Farm pest control products. Our promise is that our plant and mineral-based products are developed by scientists and seasoned pest control professionals to be the most effective.


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