A Four Letter Word: MOTH

We fibery people never say it. It’s taboo. If you say it, it might happen to you. An infestation the likes of one of the great plagues. “MOTH! AHHH!!!” (run screaming in all directions like in the old movie “The Blob”.)

The Blob

What we are really talking about here is Tinea pellionella. The casemaking clothes moth. These little horrors construct a tube or bag that they occupy and carry with them. This tube, made of pieces of wool, pet hair, and your hair, may be very difficult to see because it is the same color as the item being eaten. They feed on all types of animal hairs and fibers. Not just wool. The tubes are approximately ½ cm long. I once found them in a bag of brightly colored wool felt. There was a rainbow of little cigar shaped tubes scattered amongst the furrows and holes they had made.

By now you all have the heebie-jeebies. Trust me, this is for your own good. You are probably the best housekeeper in the world. You do a spring and a fall cleaning. You vacuum daily. Blah blah blah. You can still get moths and you may already have them. Knowledge is your best defense.

Quoting from “Clothes Moth” at Penn State University of Agricultural Science:

Clothes moths mate and deposit their eggs usually within 1–2 days of emergence from the pupae. The females do not live long (3–16 days) after egg deposition although the males of clothes moths can survive for about one month. The eggs hatch in 4–10 days in the summer, but may take up to three or more weeks in the winter. Depending on temperature and humidity, total developmental time (from egg to adult) varies from one to three months and can extend up to three or more years in some situations.

Males and females shun light and are frequently overlooked by homeowners. When discovered, the adults are more likely to try to escape by running rapidly than by flying.

Have you ever opened your closet and caught a slight flutter of tiny golden wings? This is not Tinker Bell. SMASH IT! It’s a clothes moth. They are notoriously erratic and weak flyers. However, it isn’t the adults that are doing the damage. If you have seen an adult, you have munchers in your precious woolens.

A side note: Have you ever noticed how much force you can muster to squash the be-jeebers out of a fragile little insect that creeps us out? I channel my inner Bruce Lee on these guys. Hi-ya!!

Like I said, you are probably a regular Suzy Homemaker. Do you shop at thrift stores? Do you buy wooly things at fiber shows? Have you got a raw fleece in your craft room? Yes? Then you are at risk. I’m sure that the small producers of fine yarns and wool products do their best. But the eggs are tiny and easily overlooked. So let’s not point fingers and instead talk about treatment and prevention.

Once again from Penn State:

Proper diagnosis of the pest is the first step in gaining control. Woolens damaged by the clothes moth exhibit furrows in the surface, which is caused by the larvae’s habit of “grazing.” Occasionally, and during heavy infestations, the woolens will have holes. When larvae infest furs or hairbrushes, they clip off the individual hairs close to the surface. Larvae can infest cast pet hairs that are trapped under baseboards or in the air return vents of heating systems. They also have been found in vacant wasp nests and feed on insects that have died in wall voids or attics. Because of this, it is important to practice thorough cleaning of the home using a good vacuum cleaner. In many instances clothes moths can be prevented and/or controlled solely by vacuuming. Be sure to dispose of the vacuum bag when finished.

Sounds good, but a lot of work. Who has time for this when we could be knitting, crocheting or spinning? I follow a 4 step plan of prevention. Here’s what I do.

Step 1: Quarantine

tinea pellionella-9718820904_811c9ed199_bAlmost every fibery anything that comes into my house gets quarantined. I don’t worry too much about commercial yarns. There is little chance that moths would survive the production process. If, however you are buying this commercial yarn from one of those great little hole-in-the-wall shops in an old barn and it’s on clearance etc., why take the chance? Quarantined means I put everything I bring home into the freezer for about a week. In the summer I put my wool into a black plastic garbage bag and carry it around in the trunk of my car for several days. What would survive that?

Step 2: Repel

I use a blend of lavender and cedar pure essential oil on a cotton ball and toss it into my fiber storage bins. I love the smell. The little demons hate it. I refresh these cotton balls about once a quarter. This gives me a good excuse to dig through my stash and remember what I have! ;) By “blend” I mean I put a few drops of lavender oil and then a few drops of cedar oil on a cotton ball. No rocket science or fancy formula. The cedar closets of old worked great for repelling moths. Unfortunately, the cedar had to be sanded occasionally to release more fragrant oil. Who does that? Well maybe Martha. Try the cotton balls.

Step 3: Wash

tinea pellionellaThis is the perfect time of the year to wash all of your sweaters and wool garments before storing them until next fall. Dry cleaning works, but I don’t like the chemicals. I use Soak. Eucalan is also a good brand. I don’t have a marathon washing session. I usually do a few items a week as spring approaches. Once the items are thoroughly dry, store them in a bin with a tight fitting lid and a few of those scented cotton balls.

Step 4: Suction

You know that funny vacuum attachment that’s long and skinny. It’s a crevice tool. I call it the “Eliminator”. Up and out.

I take the treatment of raw fleece very seriously. This is the most likely source of an infestation. After freezing or trunk baking, I store it in one of those space saver bags that you vacuum the air out of. Even better… A washed fleece is less likely to harbor the little creeps. Scour your fleece asap after you get it. Then put it in the space bag.

If you do realize that you have a moth problem your best course of action is to do a very thorough cleaning of your house. I would call a professional cleaning service and tell them you want all the cracks and crevices vacuumed. Don’t forget the closets and furnace ducts. I would have carpets shampooed and furniture cleaned, especially if you have pets. Take probable infested upholstered pieces out into the light for a few days. Sounds like a big PITA? Yeah it is. Prevention is the key.

Some sources recommend the use of pheromone traps. I have tried this intentionally in a particular closet, knowing I had a problem. I still didn’t catch any adults. I suspect it is because they are weak flyers and can’t get to the trap easily. Mothballs are toxic and the smell never goes away. Some people prefer to use a bug bomb and do the whole house. Way too is toxic. Same with hiring an exterminator. Overkill (haha, that’s a pun.)

Our hand-made items are valuable. This is our art form. Think about how much time and money you have invested. It is worth protecting. Still have the heebie-jeebies? Follow my 4 step plan; quarantine, repel, wash and suction. Let our creations live on for posterity and heirlooms for our grandchildren. Let the four letter words be “warm”, “cozy”, “love”, “soft”, and of course, “wool” but never “MOTH”.

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