Jeffrey Hahn, Asst. UMN Extension Entomologist
The most common small moths found indoors, e.g. Indianmeal moths, are usually associated with stored foods. However, occasionally you may encounter small moths that attack fabric. The most common species is the webbing clothes moth. The adult webbing clothes moth has buff colored wings with no spots or markings on them. The wings are folded behind their back when at rest and the insect measures about 1/4 to 1/3 inches long. Particularly characteristic is the mop of reddish brown hairs on its head. Webbing cloth moth adults avoid light and generally seek out dark areas of rooms.
The larvae are whitish with dark colored heads and are no larger than ½ inch long. They feed on wool, fur, feathers hair, and other materials of animal origin. They are not interested in plant material, like cotton and generally do not attack synthetic material unless it is blended with wool or is stained, e.g. with sweat or food. Webbing clothes moth larvae graze on the surface of the material, creating irregular holes in the fabric. They also create silken tubes or mats on the fabric as they feed which helps to identify the damage.
Prevention is the best control to avoid webbing clothes moths. You can do this through regular vacuuming including carpets and rugs, along baseboards, under furniture and in closets as well as removing scraps and remnants of wool, fur, and similar materials. Regularly inspect susceptible clothes, like wool sweaters and suits, wool rugs, animal mounts, and other material for signs of infestation; the sooner an infestation is discovered, the sooner it can be controlled.
When putting susceptible clothes away for the summer be sure they are dry cleaned or laundered. It best to place them in airtight containers, such as a plastic sweater box. Wood chests can also work if the top fits tightly. For added protection, you can place mothballs or crystals (naphthalene) with the clothes in the storage containers. However, keep in mind the smell of naphthalene may be challenging to remove from clothing. Dry clean clothing again before wearing to help remove any odor. Remember that naphthalene is not a repellant but instead uses a concentration of vapors to kill insects. Placing moth balls or crystals loose in a closet or similar areas will not prevent webbing clothes moths. Cedar chips, although popular as an insect repellent, do not effectively deter webbing clothes moths.
If you find an infestation of webbing clothes moths, either remove and throw away the source of the infestation or have it laundered or dry cleaned. Be sure to vacuum or other wise clean up the immediate area to remove any potential additional sources of infestation. Severe webbing clothes moth infestations may require the service of a pest management service.