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It's frustrating to pull a favorite sweater out of your closet only to find that a moth has had a piece of it for dinner.

More accurately, an adult moth was not the culprit but its larvae -- a worm-like creature not more than 1/2-inch long. Larvae require nutrition -- and wool, fur, hair, leather, carpeting, upholstery, and feathers can provide it -- along with what the larvae can glean from food stains, soiling, and dried perspiration.

So as you're packing your sweaters away this year -- and pulling out your stored clothing -- keep the following information in mind.

Spotting a Moth Infestation
Not to be confused with food- and grain-infesting moths, adult clothing moths are weak flyers and quite small: only 1/4-in. long with a 1/2-inch wingspan. Look for them in dark cracks and crevices or, better yet, use a clothes moth trap to monitor whether you have an infestation (as well as to control it).

Note: Clothes moth traps attract the most common type of clothes moth -- the webbing clothes moth -- but not other species, including the casemaking clothes moth. And don't expect a food-moth trap to lure and catch any type of clothes moth. The pheromones (sexual attractants) are different for each species.

Clothes moth eggs and larvae are, of course, even smaller and harder to see than the adult moths. You'll know you have them if you spot the silky webbing (clothes moths) or a cocoon-like pupal case (casemaking clothes moth). Larval casings, left behind after molting, may also be evident. A good flashlight and a magnifying glass will come in handy if you go searching.

Taking Action Against Moths
If you have a moth infestation, kill the larvae and eggs by laundering your wool garments in hot water for 30 minutes. If necessary, temporarily turn up the thermostat on your water heater to ensure that water reaches at least 120° F. Check the label: If the garments cannot be washed in hot water, dry cleaning will do the trick. Dry cleaning companies may also offer moth-proofing as added protection.

Other methods for ridding clothing of moths include cooling clothing to below 18° F degrees. Put dry ice in a large cooler chest along with the affected clothing. Heating your clothing also works, but the inside of a clothes dryer does not get hot enough to do the trick. If the affected garments can survive high heat, it is worth trying. Put them in the dryer dry and don't mix them with wet clothing because the moisture will lower the overall temperature.

Insecticides work, too, but are a less desirable for obvious reasons. They may harm you along with the moths! They may also stain your clothing. If you go this route, try a Pyrethrin-based insecticide spray, which does not leave persistent toxic residues. Test the product for staining on an inconspicuous area of the garment before using it. For persistent infestations, it may be necessary to call in a professional exterminator.

Moth Prevention
To help prevent future infestations, clean your woolen garments regularly according to the instructions on the tag -- especially if you're packing them away for the winter. Moths are more likely to feast upon fabrics stained by foods, perspiration, and the oils in your hair. Even hanging your wool garments in the sun periodically and brushing them will remove the light-averse larvae and destroy eggs.

Mothballs, flakes and crystals that contain naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene have been used for generations to protect clothing in storage. Chemical moth prevention is not a good choice in most homes because of their toxicity (they must be kept away from children and pets). If you do use mothballs, do not allow them to contact plastic, including plastic buttons, hangers and garment bags, because they can melt it. In addition, only use mothballs in airtight containers. Otherwise, the toxic vapors will not reach high enough concentrations to be effective.

Cedar closets and chests are of limited value. While the essential oils of eastern red cedar will deter some larvae, the cedar will lose its ability to repel the insects after a couple of years. A better storage solution is airtight containers. Avoid storing woolen garments in closets where high humidity is a problem.

Regular vacuuming of closets, under beds and other pieces of heavy furniture, behind radiators, and in other recesses will help prevent infestations, too.


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