What is a Clothes Moth?

Christina Edwards

Tineola bisselliela is a type of fungus moth known colloquially as the webbing clothes moth, or the common clothes moth. The larvae of these tiny moths are a common household pest all around the world and can cause extensive damage to certain types of fabrics, especially wool. Depending on the level of infestation, getting rid of these moths can either be very easy or moderately difficult.

Moth balls.
Moth balls.

Originally, this species of moth was native to Eurasia. The clothes moth is now found in countries around the world, though. Travelers bringing them home in their luggage or clothes is most likely the cause of this.

Travelers sometimes bring clothes moths home on their clothing.
Travelers sometimes bring clothes moths home on their clothing.

Both the juvenile and adult clothes moths are somewhat picky about what type of area that they inhabit. Most of these types of moths can be found in moist, dark areas. They can often be found in rooms used for storage, such as attics, basements, garages, and closets. If conditions are not ideal, however, these moths can lie dormant for years, if necessary.

The adult clothes moth is quite small, often growing to be less than 0.5 inch (1.3 centimeters). They are typically a light tan or a gold color, with small rust-colored tufts on their heads. Clothes moths are considered to be very poor flyers, and usually just flutter around. Because of this, the adult clothes moth will typically stay around the same area for its entire life, which usually lasts no longer than a month. A few weeks after the moth emerges from its cocoon, it will lay tiny eggs on or near a food source, then die.

Eggs of a clothes moth will typically hatch within a week or two. These tiny caterpillars emerge from their cocoons looking for food, which can be any type of organic fabric. Silk, fur, feathers, and especially wool are susceptible to damage from these larvae because these types of organic fabrics are made up partly of keratin, a protein that these larvae ingest as food. Hidden spots and crevices in clothing, such as cuffs and seams, are particularly susceptible, since they give the caterpillars somewhere to hide.

To get rid of moths like this, the entire area where they are found must be cleaned. This may mean that the clothes in which they have taken up residence must be washed or dry cleaned. Also, any crevices like baseboards or corners should be vacuumed. Moth traps may also help by trapping the adult moths to keep them from breeding.

To prevent an infestation, clothing and other fabrics should be stored in airtight containers. These can be either plastic tubs with a fitted lid or heavy duty plastic bags. Moth balls or other types of moth repellents may also be helpful to keep these pests at bay.

Clothes moths are poor flyers and tend to stay in one area for their entire life.
Clothes moths are poor flyers and tend to stay in one area for their entire life.

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