How to fight back against the attack of the hungry house moths, eating through your clothes and carpets
A plague of moths is invading Britain causing millions of pounds of damage by eating its way through clothes and carpets.
Even households not yet under attack are being advised to draw up a battle plan, taking advantage of combat techniques that include everything from freezing to microwaving garments.
The population of the common clothes moth is up a third this year due to a mild winter and an early start to spring. Rentokil Pest Control says the number of call-outs it has received to destroy them is 103 per cent up on the same time last year.
Invasion: The population of the common clothes moth is up a third this year
Brian Roberts is one of the country’s leading moth control experts. He warns that unless you tackle the problem early, ideally before your wardrobe’s contents are rendered unwearable, you could find yourself spending more than £300 getting professional help.
Roberts, from Porth in Glamorgan, is owner of ServiceCare MothSolutions and specialises in tackling moth problems in stately homes.
He says: ‘The common clothes moth has expensive tastes. It feeds off proteins found in natural materials such as wool, silk and fur. You might find it nibbling your favourite cashmere jumper, designer silk garments, a top quality bespoke suit or an heirloom such as a Persian rug.’
Roberts adds: ‘It is the tiny caterpillar larvae that is destructive – the mature moth does not eat clothes. You may not notice you have moths until it is too late because it is hard to spot the tiny amounts they eat individually.’
Advice: Doctor Zoe Randle says only a fraction of moth and butterfly species are a nuisance
They start life as eggs laid in dark corners. The spring weather sees many hatch and they later evolve into moths which are keen to breed.
A female moth can lay up to 200 eggs in a wardrobe. These develop into hungry caterpillar larvae that are smaller than a grain of rice so almost impossible to spot.
Of the 2,500 species in Britain there are only five – thankfully – that can do your wardrobe and carpets serious damage. The common clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella) and the brown house moth (Hofmannophila pseudospretella) are the worst offenders.
The ‘most wanted’ list is completed by the case-baring clothes moth (Tinea pellionella), the white-shouldered house moth (Endrosis sarcitrella), and the new kid on the block, the pale-backed clothes moth (Monopis crocicapitella).
The Butterfly Conservation charity offers an online ‘identify’ service where you can tap in key details about your discovery – such as its size, colour and markings. It will then come up with a shortlist of possibilities.
Roberts says traditional methods for tackling moths, such as mothballs and lavender bags, are no longer as effective because moths have become immune to them.
He says: ‘It may sound odd but one of the most cost-effective ways to get rid of moths is to put your clothes into a deep freeze for 24 hours. You can buy a zip-up plastic bag for a few pounds and no damage is done to the clothes. I would also recommend this as a precautionary measure for new clothes just in case larvae eggs are hidden inside.’
A trip to the dry cleaners can do the same job as your clothes will be exposed to heat of up to 60 degrees centigrade. Moth larvae can only survive to a temperature of 49C. Another option is to pop your garments into a microwave for three minutes.
Roberts warns against experimenting with chemicals, especially if treating carpets and you have pets living at home – it could cause skin irritation and be fatal for some pets.
One of the modern ways to tackle moths is to use a pheromone trap that gives off the scent of a female moth. It attracts the male moth but once it comes into contact with the trap, it confuses other males who think it is female and try to mate with it. Female moths are left frustrated and alone.
Solutions: An option is to pop your garments into a microwave for three minutes
Although traps can be purchased from shops from as little as £10, it is often better to use a professional.
Doctor Zoe Randle, of Butterfly Conservation, says only a fraction of moth and butterfly species are a nuisance.
She says: ‘Before calling pest controllers or reaching for a can of harmful pesticide spray or moth balls make sure you are doing the right thing. Remember, it is humans who have been stockpiling clothes that are to blame – the insect is just trying to survive. Often a big clean-out and vacuum is enough.’
Scientists group both butterflies and moths in the Lepidoptera order of insects. A way to spot the difference is that almost all butterflies have thin antennae with a bulb at the end while moth antennae are often furry and bulbless.
Moths also tend to tuck their wings in behind them while butterflies usually fold them vertically on their back. Randle adds: ‘Moths play a vital role, pollinating plants and providing food for bats and small birds. They are fascinating insects.’
Brown House Moth