How to Get Rid of Moths
Moths. They may seem harmless, until you find holes in your favorite sweater — or in your outdoor fruit or tree leaves. Moths can be indoor or outdoor pests, depending on the species and what they like to eat.
So, how do you keep moths away? This page will help you identify a moth infestation, what moths look like, their lifecycles, as well as when and why they eat what they do.
What Are Moths?
Moths are winged insects related to the butterfly. Both moths and butterflies are in the order of Lepidoptera — which means “scaly wings.” The dusty stuff that comes off a moth’s wings when you touch it is actually scales coming loose. These scales are what give moths and butterflies their colorful wings, and the colors are used for mating.
Moths come in all different sizes, depending on the variety, but smaller moths are common house pests. And you may be surprised to learn that it’s not actually the moths that cause damage to your clothes and fruit trees, but the moth larvae.
Female moths lay eggs on fabric. They particularly like clothing with stains, sweat or urine that larvae can use to get the vitamins they need.
Outdoors, female moths lay eggs on fruit trees, and the larvae make a meal out of your trees’ leaves and fruit.
The methods used for getting rid of moths depend on whether your moth problem is indoors or out.
For moth larvae eating your clothes, rugs and linens, you can use Safer® Brand Clothes Moth Traps to stop adult moths from laying eggs in your clothes. To keep hungry moth larvae from eating flour and grain stored in your pantry, you can use Safer® Brand Pantry Pest® moth traps.
"Do I Have Moths?"
Different types of moths are found in the home. You can determine which type of moth you have by their appearance and the damage they cause. Here are some of the common species:
- Brown House Moth: Adult house moths are brown with a few darker spots. They grow up to 14 mm long, and their larvae are up to 20 mm in length. This is the most common type of house moth.
- Common Clothes Moth: Adults are straw-colored and have no other markings. They grow up to 8 mm long. Their wings are fringed along the bottom, and they make irregular-shaped holes in fabrics. Clothes moths produce cream colored eggs that hatch into creamy-white caterpillar larva that grow to be around a half-inch long.
- White-Shouldered House Moth: Adults have thick, dark-colored forewings with a few light spots. Their larvae are white and about 10 mm in length. These moths are rarer than the others, and they make circular-looking holes in clothes.
- Case-Bearing Clothes Moth: Adults have mottled wings and a brown head and are about 10 mm in length. Their larvae are white with a brown head and about 12 mm in length. These moths are not interested in your clothes. They are scavengers and eat food, so you’re likely to find them in your pantry.
Reproduction Cycle of Clothes Moths
Adult female moths can lay up to 50 eggs within 3 weeks and die soon after. The eggs are attached to the fabrics with an adhesive secreted by the female moths. Eggs hatch within 10 days during warm summer months, but take longer in winter — usually up to a month.
Most house moths only have one generation per year, and some moth eggs can take longer to hatch. The eggs of the common clothes moth can take up to 18 months to hatch in cold temperatures.
Common Outdoor Moth Pests
Moths can also cause damage to outdoor plants. Three common outdoor moth pests include the coddling moth, the gypsy moth and the winter moth:
1. Coddling Moth: Coddling moth adults are a shimmering-gray color with dark brown patches on their forewings that have gold- to copper-color markings.
Larvae are white with a black head, later turning pink in color. They wreak havoc on ripened or ripening fruit by taking a few bites, causing damage on the fruit’s surface.
2. Gypsy Moth: Adult female gypsy moths are white with dark bands on their wings. Males are light brown with dark-brown wings.
The gypsy moth larvae are hairy, black caterpillars with two rows of blue spots down their backs. They eat the leaves of hundreds of species of trees and shrubs, and when in large numbers, they can defoliate trees, including:
- Douglas firs
- Western Hemlock
- Sweet gum
- White birch
3. Winter Moth: Adult female winter moths are mottled-brown in color. They do have very small wings, though they are nearly invisible.
The larvae of winter months are green caterpillars. They begin feeding on new tree buds in early spring. When new leaves begin to emerge, they are riddled with holes. Large infestations can cause defoliation. The caterpillars feed on a variety of trees and ornamentals, including:
Reproduction Cycle of Outdoor Moths
Female outdoor moths lay their eggs in the branches, trunks, leaves or bark of trees. Some eggs, like gypsy moth eggs, overwinter in trees and hatch in spring to start munching on new tree growth.
Other species, like the coddling moth, lay eggs that hatch within three weeks, and the larvae start eating fruit soon after.
Methods to get rid of outdoor moth pests can depend on when the moth larvae are active. You can use products like Safer® Brand Garden Dust with BT to kill most moth larvae that damage trees and ornamental plants.
Clothes Moth Habitat and Infestations
Clothes moths like moist areas of the home because they don’t drink water and need to get moisture from the clothes they eat. Human sweat left on clothing provides the dampness they need.
Moths eat a variety of natural fibers, like cotton and wool, and it’s not only clothing. Moths will also eat carpeting, drapes and upholstery. Learning what moths eat can help you notice early signs of infestation.
So, what are the signs of infestation? You may notice the obvious signs, like holes in clothing or draperies. But there are other indications to watch for, too:
- Small maggot-looking larvae in clothes drawers, storage areas and pantries.
- Silken cases or tubes where moth larvae live.
- Adult moths crawling in infested areas.
- Silk cocoons from where larvae have emerged.
Some types of house moths prefer munching on a wide range of food products, so look for the signs of moths in your cabinets, pantry or places you store flour, grains, pasta and other dry foods. You’re likely to spot adult moths fluttering about in your pantries and cabinets.
Outdoor Moth Habitats and Infestations
Moths are often found in areas where host trees are located. Coddling moths are found near apple and other fruit trees. They overwinter in cocoons under the tree bark. Adults only live long enough to mate and lay eggs, so the habitat can vary by moth species.
Signs of outdoor moth infestations also depend on the type of moth. Coddling moths love to nibble at apple and pear trees. You'll see signs of fruit damage and even premature fruit drop with subsequent infestations.
Large infestations of gypsy moths can cause complete tree defoliation. Watch for signs of them nibbling at the leaves of willow, birch, oak, linden and apple trees.
Winter moth larvae are active in spring, and you’ll see signs of feeding just as new leaf buds begin to emerge.
Do Moths Have a Purpose?
It seems that almost every creature has a purpose, and moths do, too. Depending on the species, moths may be pollinators by day or night. They are attracted to fragrant flowers, and moths that fly at night are attracted to white flowers. Moths have hairs on their bodies that pick up pollen and carry it from bloom to bloom.
Moths are also food for many other animals. Bats and birds both rely on moth larvae as food. Many small mammals eat moth larvae, too.
Organic Controls for House Moths
Safer® Brand offers a variety of products to get rid of house moths and ways to kill moths. The controls can be used around your family and pets when used as directed, so you don’t have to worry about exposing yourself and your loved ones to toxic chemicals. Here are some ways you can eliminate these pests from your life, both indoors or out:
- Traps are a safe and effective choice for getting rid of moths inside the home. Whether the moths are in your clothes or near your food, Safer® Brand has the right trap that you can use anytime you notice clothes or pantry moth infestations.
- Clothes traps attract and trap adult clothes moths, so they cannot lay the eggs that hatch into hungry larvae. These traps use pheromones to lure adult moths to the traps where they die. These traps won’t damage your rugs, clothing, upholstery or carpets. Each trap lasts up to 12 weeks.
- Pantry traps attract male pantry moths, so they are unable to mate. This breaks the breeding cycle, getting rid of both adult moths and their larvae. These traps control moths that feed on grains, flour and bird seed. Each pantry trap lasts three months and covers a 400 square foot area.
When to Use These Methods
Use Safer® Brand traps at the first sign of moth damage or adult moths flying around clothing storage areas or pantries. Traps allow you to monitor your moth population, so you can continue putting out traps until there are no more adult moths in them.
You can use Safer® Brand Flying Insect Killer anytime as an effective bug spray for moths. This way you can kill any moths on contact.
Other House Moth Control Methods
You can take other measures to keep house moths out of clothing, including:
- Washing all clothing and other linens before storing to remove any stains, spills or sweat that attract the moths and feed their larvae.
- Regular vacuuming helps you get rid of moth eggs that you can’t see hiding in carpets and drapes.
- Store clothes and linens in cedar chests. Cedar contains natural oils that kill the larvae of clothes moths.
- Place lavender sachets in dresser drawers, storage chests and closets to repel moths. The scent won’t kill them, but it will keep them away.
- Store clothes prone to moth attacks, like wool, in airtight bags. Moths can get through small crevices to enter storage chests and dressers.
You can also use heat and cold to get rid of moths in clothes. To use cold to kill off larvae and eggs, place your garments in a plastic bag and freeze them for 7 days.
Heat acts as a disinfectant for your clothing, killing moths at all stages. You’ll need to put your clothing in the dryer on high heat to get rid of moths.
Check labels on your clothing to determine whether heat or cold would be best for the materials. For example, wool cannot take heat, so cold would be best.
These methods and the traps available from Safer® Brand are the safest, most cost effective measures you can take to get rid of indoor moths.
Natural Controls for Outdoor Moth Pests
Outdoor moth pests require different control options than indoor pests. They can be more difficult to control as well, but Safer® Brand has many effective solutions that are approved for use in organic gardening for these pests, too. Some of these options contain bacillus thuringiensis var. Kurstaki, which is effective in killing young larvae of all types of moths and butterflies.
You can use Safer® Brand Caterpillar Killer to kill moths outdoors where they destroy trees and other plants. This product contains B.t. var. Kurstaki. The larvae ingest the product and die within days.
Safer® Brand Garden Dust also contains B.t. var. Kurstaki that kills moth larvae and protects an area up to 200 square feet.
Caterpillar killer only targets larvae feeding on plant materials and won’t harm honey bees, birds, earthworms or other beneficial insects.
When to Use These Methods
Use Safer® Brand products like the caterpillar killer that contains B.t. in the afternoon or on cloudy days to prevent the B.t. from breaking down in the sunlight and becoming less effective.
You can start using the product at the first sign of moth larvae damage, or prior to their feeding time to help prevent destruction of your trees and plants. Repeat the application every 7 to 10 days to keep your lawn and garden free of hungry larvae all year.
Other Outdoor Moth Control Methods
You can take other measures to control munching outdoor moths. Natural predators are a good way to keep outdoor moth populations under control.
Moth larvae have many natural predators from small rodents to parasitic insects. Many small animals control moth larvae population by eating pupae and larvae, including:
In addition, some insects also feed on young moth larvae:
- Calosoma beetles
- Parasitic flies
- Parasitic wasps
Natural & Organic Controls
Moth Pheromone traps such as Safer® Brand Clothes Moth Alert can help in controlling clothes moths.
Safer® Brand Clothes Moth Alert traps can be used to alert you to moth problems and to monitor the level of infestation. Male meal moths are attracted to the pheromone and enter the trap where it is caught and cannot escape.
The Safer® Brand Clothes Moth Alert should be placed in a clothes closet or area containing upholstery. Carefully read and follow all instructions completely for safe and effective use.
At the first sign of an infestation, place a Safer® Brand Clothes Moth Alert in the home to monitor the level of infestation. Continuous monitoring is extremely important when you have a moth infestation to check the degree of infestation.
Why Choose a Natural Solution?
Natural solutions break down quickly to their natural elements. They are preferable to chemical pesticides that leave residuals where they are sprayed causing long-term detrimental affects on the environment.
Clean clothes, the vacuum, tight fitting storage containers, extreme heat, and freezing temperatures are all methods that can be used to control clothes moths.
Take clothes to the dry cleaners to have the dirt and prespiration removed. Vacuum carpets, rugs, upholstery, baseboards and any other areas that may contain clothes moths. The lids of containers used to store clothing or fabric materials should fit very tightly so the tiny hatchlings cannot crawl inside.
Extreme heat can kill clothes moths if the temperature is high enough -- something that may be accomplished by washing clothes above 120 degrees F. or placing them in a hot attic for about 30 minutes.
On the opposite end, freezing may also kill the clothing moth if the temperature is below 18 degrees F. and the material is kept at that temperature for several days. Note: If you are freezing woolen materials, be sure to remove as much air from the plastic freezer bag as possible.
Take clothes to the dry cleaners to have the dirt and perspiration removed when they become soiled or dirty. Vacuum carpets, rugs, upholstery, baseboards and any other areas on a regular basis, especially if you have noticed symptoms of an infestation.
When placing clothing and other materials in a container, carefully inspect the lid and the container -- the lid should fit very tightly so the tiny hatchlings cannot crawl inside - this should be done each time you are storing fabric materials, particularly woolen clothing and upholstery.
Extreme heat or freezing can be applied when you find larvae, eggs, or fecal matter on clothing or fabrics.
Safer® Brand brings you a variety of effective insect control products that are gentler on the environment! Most of them proudly display the OMRI Listed® organic seal and comply for use in organic gardening!