Clothing and Textile Pest Control
Textile pests (or "stored fabric pests") is a catch-all term for insects who feed upon and damage stored clothing, carpeting, tapestries, or other fiber products. In practice, this includes various species of moths and beetles, the most common of which are the Clothes Moths and Carpet Beetles. In the case of both moths and beetles, it is the larvae that do the actual damage.
Insects that feed on textile products only attack fabrics made of natural materials such as wool, leather, mohair, down, feathers, silk, cotton, and so forth. They don't eat synthetic products such as nylon, polyester, or "pleather." But they'll sometimes do damage to fabrics that are made of synthetic fibers blended with natural fibers, or to parts of garments that are made of natural products (for example, the down filling of a nylon jacket).
Moths that Eat Clothing and Fabrics
The three moths that most commonly attack clothing and textiles in the St. Louis, Missouri area are the webbing clothes moth (shown on the right), the casemaking clothes moth, and the tapestry moth. In all three cases it is the larvae that do the actual eating.
The larvae of all three of these moth species feed exclusively on animal fibers or fabrics such as wool, silk, leather, mohair, cashmere, etc. They'll also feed on fabrics made at least partly of animal fibers (such as wool / cotton blends), but they're really only interested in the animal fibers. They'll also sometimes use cotton fibers to build their cocoons if nothing else is available.
Clothing moths may also feed on cotton fabrics that have been stained with animal products such as blood, urine, body oils, or spilled animal-based foods. That's one reason why it's essential to wash or dry-clean clothing as soon as possible after they've been worn, and certainly before storing them away.
Beetles that Eat Clothing and Fabrics
Dermestid beetles, such as carpet beetles (shown on the right), will feed on practically any natural product, including both animal and plant fibers.
Most insect damage to cotton clothing, tapestries, or other cotton products is done by Dermestid beetles, not by moths. They also attack animal-derived fibers such as leather, wool, mohair, down, feathers, and pretty much anything else that was ever part of an animal.
Dermestid beetles have voracious appetites. In addition to clothing and other textile products, carpet beetles and other Dermestid beetles also readily feed on practically any sort of food eaten by humans, pets, or livestock. Many cases of carpet beetle infestation began with beetles brought into the home in bags of pet food.
Preventing Moth and Beetle Damage to Clothing and Textiles
There are several common-sense steps you can take to help protect your clothing, carpets, furniture, tapestries, and other items made of natural fabrics from insect damage, including:
- All clothing should be washed or dry-cleaned before being stored. Body oils, sweat, food, and other organic matter on clothing may make it more attractive to stored-fabric pests.
- Expensive items like furs and leather clothing should be professionally stored during the off-season, if possible. Otherwise, moth-repellent sachets, moth balls, or moth flakes should be used to repel fabric-destroying insects. Always use these products in strict accordance with their label instructions for the sake of both safety and effectiveness.
- Carpets, tapestries, and upholstered furniture should be frequently cleaned and shampooed in a manner appropriate to the item, especially after any spills.
- Non-toxic pheromone traps can be used to monitor for beetle or moth infestations, as well as to trap adult insects (hopefully) before they have a chance to breed.
Control of Clothing and Textile Moths and Beetles
Serious infestations of clothing moths or carpet beetles require professional treatment by a skilled exterminator. Professional control of clothing moths and Dermestid beetles always begins with an inspection to determine the exact specie of insect and the extent of the infestation. Depending on that determination, any or all of the following pest control measures may be needed:
Dry-cleaning, washing, shampooing, heat- or cold-treating, or insecticide treatment of the infested items. In most cases, insecticide treatment of textile items is limited to items like carpeting, upholstered furniture, and other items that can't easily and effectively be treated using other methods.
Insecticide treatment of closets and other storage areas using an adulticide and/or an insect growth regulator (IGR), depending on the situation.
The installation of pheromone traps to interrupt the breeding cycle by trapping adults, as well as to help monitor the area for ongoing infestation or reinfestation.