Apr 23, 2015

Moth Attack

Do you ever wonder what lurks in the nightmares of a knitwear designer? The villain that haunts my dreams isn't a vampire or werewolf. No, this is a different kind of monster—silent, almost invisible, and completely harmless. It's the common clothes moth. I've battled this tiny but formidable foe, at times felt powerless, but eventually took my place atop the evolutionary ladder.

To commemorate my trials and triumphs and to perhaps help a few of my darling readers, I declare this last week in April Clothes Moth Awareness Week here at Knit Darling. Whoo hoo! So pull out all your woolens, and let's get down to business.

Why should I care about clothes moths?
Moths will eat your clothes, and that should scare you. Well probably not all your clothes, just the ones made from silk, feathers, and animal fibers (i.e. wool, alpaca, angora—all my favorites). They will also eat your yarn, which should be even more terrifying if you're a knitter.

Who is at risk for clothes moths?
Desert folk, mountain folk, city folk, and prairie folk alike—almost everyone except for sterile bubble folk are at risk for a moth infestation.

How can I protect my garments from moths?
Simple: keep them clean and store them in plastic. Personally, I love travel size Space Bags for accessories, and vinyl zippered bags for sweaters.

When the weather gets too warm for sweaters, it's time to take action. Carefully inspect any at risk items for signs of moth damage or eggs. If you suspect moths, wash or dry clean the items before storing them away. It also helps to keep your house really clean because hair and food crumbs can attract moths. Moth eggs are kind of like dry sand, and are easy to vacuum away.

How do I protect my yarn stash from moths?
Like garments, I recommend storing yarn in plastic gallon(ish) size bags. Smaller bags like this help organize your yarn collection, as well as quarantine an infestation that might have come with the yarn. Inspect every skein of yarn you buy for evidence of eggs or damage. Damaged yarn will be frayed in areas, and the eggs look kind of like cookie crumbs.

What do I do if I suspect my yarn stash has moth eggs?
A few years ago, while I was working on my book, I experienced a small moth infestation in one of my (many) decorative yarn baskets. This was especially horrifying because I had been spending every waking/non-day-job-working hour knitting samples for my book. At the time I wasn't really storing ALL my yarn in sealed containers, so I felt a little like moth eggs were covering every surface of my apartment—a moth time bomb in a decadent wooly smorgasbord. Whether or not this was actually the situation, is beside the point.

Of course I couldn't easily wash every skein of yarn, so I had to find an alternative. I did a ton of research, and learned that I needed to interrupt the moths' lifecycle. Unfortunately, Moth traps only catch adults. To really be effective I also had to kill the larvae and eggs, which can lay dormant for years. Here are some methods that I recommend:

1. The fastest, easiest solution is to bake the skeins in a warm oven—about 2 hours at 150º F. This is so low, that you don't even have to remove the yarn labels. Be warned, your house will smell like hot wool while you do this, so think twice before inviting your MIL over for lunch.

2. Similarly, if you live in the south and own a car, on a really hot day you can throw the yarn in the back seat to bake in the sun for a few hours.

3. Freeze the skeins for several days at 0º F, remove for one day, then freeze again for several days.

4. Vigorously shake and brush the skeins to destroy fragile larvae and eggs. Though, if you find larvae in your yarn, it's way too late. That yarn is pretty much garbage.

If this hasn't scared you enough, check out my Moth Facts graphic below, and share it with your friends! They will think you're really cool for doing this, trust me.

I wish these little creatures didn't scare me anymore, but they most certainly do. I literally have had nightmares about them—in the past week. Writing this post has been cathartic for me, but I also hope it will inspire you to take moth-preventing measures. There's almost nothing sadder than tossing skeins and skeins of beautiful yarn, or worse yet—a hand-knit sweater, into the garbage.

Do you have any great tips for managing these pesky creatures? Well that's just wonderful! Please share your wisdom in the comments section below.


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    almost 8 years ago

    Good advice! I've had to toss out favorite sweaters and even a Persian rug that was poorly stored. Now I carefully clean and store all my woolens every spring. I hate those little moths!

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    Alexis Winslow
    almost 8 years ago

    Jean- that's so sad! I've only ever had to throw out yarn because of moths, thankfully.

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    almost 8 years ago

    Interesting! I didn't know about having to freeze items a second time. We're into our third spring/summer dealing with clothes moths in our house. It's the biggest reason I hardly ever enter a yarn store any more--I'm afraid of contaminating something. They LOVE cat hair and hide out in our cats' things (beds, scratching posts) and between the edge and pile of our rugs. When I vacuum I end up getting on my hands and knees to look for larvae in the crevices.

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    Alexis Winslow
    almost 8 years ago

    Erika- In my research, I also saw one way to deal with the moths on a larger scale is to heat a single room using a space heater for a day. If I remember right, the room needs to heat up to 120ºF for at least a few hours. Good luck with your clothes moth problem, sounds like a tough one.

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    Dale Bliss
    almost 8 years ago

    While reading this article I envisioned in my mind a building (Maybe called a yarn bank?) with an ideal climate and pest controlled environment. People could store their excess yarn stashes almost like a safe deposit box scenario. For people who love to collect yarn even though they might not use it for a few years, this would ease their concern about moth infestations!

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    almost 8 years ago

    I have heard that lavender can be used to keep moths away (and of course storage in drawers with cedar wood or in cedar chests). Do you find these methods ineffective?

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    almost 8 years ago

    Thank you so much! I am definitely sending this onto all my knitting friends! GREAT advice!

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    almost 8 years ago

    Lavender, pennyroyal, cedar , etc do nothing. I had a terrible infestation once in a cedar closet. Only thing I have ever found to kill them is mothballs.

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    almost 8 years ago

    One other thing moths dislike, is strong smells such as cloves, lavender or nutmeg. I tend to place lavender soap in my cupboards, and regularly sit pusking cloves into an orange. Place them close together, and the orange will shrink as it dries out, leaving a very compact cloves ball, that will keep the monsters at bay for ages...

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    almost 8 years ago

    I was wondering about cedar storage. Does it help?

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    almost 8 years ago

    Thank you very much for sharing this info. I have used sealed plastic bins and bags as well as a cedar closet and sometimes those moths still sneak in.

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    almost 8 years ago

    I recently found some moth damage in a zippered bag of balls of baby yarn. The yarn was purchased and put in the bag about 10 years ago. Do I have to be concerned about the balance of my extensive stash...since the bag had never been opened till last week. How long are moth eggs viable?

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    Alexis Winslow
    almost 8 years ago

    Storing your valuable woolens in plastic will go a very long way to protect them, but if there are even tiny gaps, you will still have some risk of moth infestation. This is one reason I like to use vacuum sealed space bags. Just glancing at the bag, you can easily tell if the seal has been broken. I keep garments that I wear often in zippered bags for convenience sake, but if I'm putting something away for a very long time, I make sure it's cleaned first and in a sealed container.

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    Catherine Sweet
    almost 8 years ago

    I want to say thank you for not posting actual pictures of moths in this piece. Having lived through three infestations now, I also still have literal nightmares. I can't even look them up to learn about prevention because there are always pictures! I thought I saw one on my wall the other night and my heart nearly beat out of my chest. (It was a false warning - phew!) It's so nuts how traumatic losing a treasured stash can be!

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    almost 8 years ago

    I have no idea what moth larvae or eggs even look like, so I'm not sure if I've ever had them or have them now. Can anyone help with this?

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    Adele Jackson
    almost 8 years ago

    Moths hate the smell of cedar. So Cedar chips/shavings in little sheer fabric bags act as a moth repellant. There's also a soap made with cedar oil called Imperial Leather. You can buy cakes of this cheaply and nestle it in your woollen drawers for good measure - it has a pleasant woodsy scent.

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    almost 8 years ago

    i have bunches of lavender in my closet/ drawers etc. when I pick it I use a rubber band st the stem end then you can attach the bunch to a clothes hanger & I put the lavender flower ends into old laddered stockings/pantyhose ( same method for drawers but without the clothes hanger) & I've never had moths or silverfish eat my clothes

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    almost 8 years ago

    This post gave me flashbacks to when we had bedbugs in our old apartment... I was going through yarn to make sure nothing was hiding in it before I bagged it up for temp storage. I didn't find any bedbugs in my yarn but I found carpet beetle larvae. I admit that I ugly-cried, mostly from stress, but also because the larvae were all up in my beautiful lace and fingering weight wool and holes were everywhere.

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    Margaret C
    almost 8 years ago

    I microwave all woollens for 30 sec or so before storage in sealed plastic...nothing survives the rays in the microwave!

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    Alexis Winslow
    almost 8 years ago

    Christine, that sounds terrible! I can definitely see some parallels between a moth/beetle infestation and bedbugs. Fortunately, the moths don't bite! I've been at friends' houses before and seen clothes moths, and felt like FOR SURE I'm catching moths like a disease. Feeling powerless against a hoard of silent tiny bugs is almost enough to make a person crazy. I even get a little paranoid about leaving the windows open—my husband just can't understand that ;)

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    almost 8 years ago

    I just got through an EPIC moth infestation. Combine cat hair, a guinea pig, and a pregnant lady who can't manage a vacuum and you have a perfect storm. one of the ways I inspected my entire stash was to reball everything. Then pack it separately in food saver bags. Luckily we just moved so it was a good time to start new. But our new place has wool carpeting so I couldn't process yarn inside. I did all the reballing outside and the act of doing it shook of any eggs or moth husks. Also since there is tension on the yarn I knew what to throw away immediately. Here's a tip from the frontlines: don't assume your acrylic is safe. Those little demons were eating all the animal made goodies and then cuddling into the acrylic.

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    almost 8 years ago

    God yes! Moths are terrible! We had to de-moth a huge quantity of stuff and had it put in a infrared heat chamber for a few days. That helped - for now. I really hope we got all of them now, because a Persian rug and a dearly loved sweater fell victim to these little winged demons 😢

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    almost 8 years ago

    I have a serious mess with them now. The moth "cocoons" look like tiny grey flat-ish cotton things. Really tiny. I go through everything and I'll find them in folds of fabric even. I remove them and toss them in the toilet and flush. Especially after squishing them, lol! Also, I stopped buying yarn from thrift stores. I think it started with wool skirts and sweaters my daughter brought home from a thrift store and nicely stored them on her floor. But that's just a theory

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    over 7 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this info. I hope you are able to sleep easier now :) To be honest, I didn't like the idea of packing my yarn away in bags... I wanted to leave them on a shelf looking pretty. You have convinced me to protect my stash. Some of my skeins are almost impossible to replace and deserve better care. I will be picking up bags today. :D

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 7 years ago

    Cheri- I'm so glad to hear that you're are taking steps to protect your stash!

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    Judith Freed
    over 7 years ago

    These moths are indeed demons. However - a strong word about packing everything in plastic. You must never allow sunlight or any other heat source to shine on fiber in plastic bags. This produces condensation which will then leave the fiber prey for mildews and funguses. The best solution as moth repellent is light and air. Everything needs to be exposed. Rugs need to be lifted and beaten not just vacuumed. All wool yarn and fiber can be turned out onto a patio or lawn on cotton sheets and fully aired before returning to shallow shelves. Do not store yarn deeply or darkly. I know - it is a terrible problem to find the storage space. That means not in any closets but on open shelving. This also prevents infestation of carpet beetles, silver fish, weavils, and molds of all kinds. So many critters love to chomp on natural fibers esp wool and hair. Of course the best solution is to keep only what you need and use in a short time frame but we all know that is impossible.

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    Diane Maher
    over 6 years ago

    I just tossed about $150 worth of beautiful Peruvian wool because of moths.Heartbreaking. I am currently working on an Afghan for a wedding gift out of yarn that is 75% acrylic and 25% wool.It's a huge beautiful piece. I would die if moths got to it. What's the best way to moth-proof it?

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    Alexis Winslow
    over 6 years ago

    Hi Diane, I know, it's so heartbreaking to throw out yarn infested with moths! And after that experience, I'm sure you take moths much more seriously. You're smart to use an acrylic blend for a gift like that. Your blanket will be much less attractive to moths as a result. If the yarn is superwash, it's even better. With your gift, you can include some instructions for cleaning and storing the blanket. Maybe write your instructions on a recipe card, or something that implies they should keep the instructions for later reference.

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    Shelley Cade
    over 5 years ago

    I recommend using Enoz Lavender or Cedar Scented Moth Packets while storing your skeins or finished products. This products is does not have the same active ingredient that old fashioned mothballs do. The tablets are wrapped in breathable paper, no direct contact with stored items and leave behind no clinging moth ball odor. This is an EPA registered pesticide and the only thing that kills moths, moth eggs and their larvae, carpet beetles and silverfish.

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    Trudy Macy
    almost 5 years ago

    I just received an order (by mail) of all acrylic yarn....and now I'm noticing moths!! I just bagged all the yarn in plastic, and so far haven't seen anything! I'm wondering if the warehouse had an infestation and they burrowed into the scryic?! Any thoughts?

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    Alexis Winslow
    almost 5 years ago

    Trudy-- Yes, I would say that's possible. It's so hard to tell though. The eggs could have been transported on something else, and laid dormant for years too. Good luck!

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