How to Get Rid of Moths

Common cloths moth

Moths can ravage the clothes in your closet, the food in your kitchen, and fruit trees in your yard, so we’ll show you how to get rid of moths inside and around your home.

Signs you have a moth problem include your favorite sweater has holes or threadbare spots, you’ve seen sawdust-like shavings on your pantry shelves, or your orchard apples are covered in brown crumbs.

These pests enter your home through infested items such as dry pantry goods or woolens. If a neighboring orchard has a moth infestation, then moths don’t have to travel far to make it to yours.

Types of Moths and How to Get Rid of Them

1. Clothes Moths

Latin names: Tinea pellionella (case-bearing clothes moth), Tineola bisselliella (webbing clothes moth)

Case-bearing clothes moth
Photo Credit: Patrick Clement / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

If your closet flutters and your clothes have holes, you have been visited by the most common type of moth in the U.S.: the clothes moth.

The clothes moth is actually two species, the case-bearing clothes moth and webbing clothes moth.

The webbing clothes moth is light in color and has a 1/2-inch wingspan. Their heads have fluffy, reddish hairs and antennae darker than the rest of the body. The larva spins silk tubes over its feeding surface to hide in as it feeds.

The case-bearing clothes moth is smaller than webbing clothes moths. Its wings are brownish and have spots. The larva creates a case of fabric to carry around as it hides and feeds.

Clothing moths are most attracted to dark places, making your closet the perfect hiding space.

Signs of clothes moths damage

Clothes moths often enter your home through infested materials. Although the adults do not attack your fabrics, they do lay eggs on your vulnerable materials.

The larvae of the case-bearing clothes moth do the real damage. They weave a case to stay in for shelter as they feed on natural fibers.

If you spot a clothes moth near your closet, you may discover an infestation in your fabrics and clothes. Your infested fabrics may contain webbings, feces, and signs of feeding, such as holes or threadbare spots.

Clothes moth larvae will attack animal origin materials, such as woolens, hair, cashmere, bristles, fur, and feathers. These pests will typically infest clothing, drapes, pillows, blankets, rugs, carpets, brushes, upholstery, and furs.

Infestations are most likely to occur when stored woolen fabrics or animal materials remain in dark places for long periods. Materials smelling of food, beverages, sweat, or urine attract clothes moths.

How to get rid of clothes moths

  1. Dry clean and wash clothes. Dry cleaning kills all stages of the moth.
  2. Store clean materials in airtight containers or storage bags to prevent another infestation.
  3. Use cedar oil to repel adult moths. Cedar chests can help to repel moths from laying their eggs in your protected materials.
  4. Inspect all susceptible items at least once a year for signs of moth damage. This inspection should include vacuuming and cleaning the storage space.
  5. Clean your home often to prevent lint, dust, and hair from building up under furniture, in cracks, and around heaters. Vacuum cracks and crevices in flooring, baseboards, shelves, drawers, closets, and behind furniture. Throw all vacuum bags into an outdoor trashcan to ensure no eggs remain in the home.
  6. Treat infested pillows, mattresses, or upholstered furnishings (hire a pest control professional to do this).
  7. Place pheromone traps to catch male webbing clothes moths. These moth traps do not catch casemaking clothes moths. Keep in mind this method will not provide complete moth control.
  8. Use mothballs containing naphthalene as a last resort and only in sealed containers, the University of Maryland Extension advises. Why? Mothballs are a pesticide and can be harmful to you and your family if not used according to label instructions. Mothballs also can be mistaken for candy and are a danger to children. Mothballs are fumigants that vaporize at lower temperatures and kill existing clothes moths.

The UMD Extension recommends against using mothballs containing paradichlorobenzene, or PDB. It is more toxic than naphthalene and is a possible human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).

2. Indianmeal Moths

Latin name: Plodia interpunctella

Indianmeal moth
Photo Credit: Ilia Ustyantsev / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Your first sign that you have Indianmeal moths may be disgusting: You open something from your pantry and find lumpy grain that they’ve snacked on or — gross! — wiggling larvae.

Adult Indianmeal moths are about 16 millimeters long. At the top of their bronze-colored wings appears a grayish band. Larvae develop on almost any dried food found in your pantries, such as grain, dried fruit, dried vegetables, birdseed, dog food, and powdered milk.

The larvae are whitish, have a brown head, and are 1/2-inch long. North American high-flyer, weevil moth, pantry moth, flour moth, or grain moth are all common Indianmeal moth names.

Signs of Indianmeal moth damage

You likely have an infestation if you continue to find Indianmeal moths for more than three weeks. Signs of damage include webbing and crawling larvae in the infested product.

Most infestations occur from purchasing infested food, although sometimes moths can enter the home from the outdoors.

The infestation then spreads from package to package within your pantry. These pests may also leave behind sawdust-like feces.

Getting rid of Indianmeal moths

  1. Inspect your foods. Infestation can occur in nut meals, dried fruits, flour, pasta, cereals, or spices. Check unopened foods to ensure the larvae did not gain entry.
  2. Discard infested food items.
  3. Store remaining food in tight containers or a refrigerator. Keep the food stored for two weeks, or until you no longer see evidence of adult moths.
  4. Vacuum empty shelves to remove crumbs and possible eggs and larvae. Throw all vacuum bags into an outdoor trashcan to ensure no eggs remain in the home.
  5. Wipe down your empty cupboards with warm soapy water.
  6. Do not use insecticides or repellents to treat the area, as you may contaminate your food.
  7. Keep all new food in glass jars, plastic containers, or metal canisters to prevent a new infestation. Glass jars with a rubber gasket and pressure seal work best. Close all containers tightly, as an Indianmeal moth can squeeze through tight spaces.
  8. Do not store foods in plastic bags or cardboard boxes. These pests will chew through with no problem.
  9. Keep your new foods in a cool, dry storage area. 
  10. Freeze products you don’t plan to use right away, such as nuts and flours.

3. Codling Moth

Latin name: Cydia pomonella

Codling moth
Photo Credit: Olaf Leillinger / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

The adult codling moth is 1/2-inch long. These moths have gray striped wings with patches of copper brown at the tips. Their appearance enables them to blend in with tree bark, making them difficult to detect.

The larva is 3/4-inch long with a pinkish body and brown head. The eggs are about 1-millimeter in diameter and are flat, white, and laid on fruits and leaves.

Signs of codling moth damage

Codling moths are one of the most destructive pests to find on your apple trees. They can destroy up to 90% of a season’s apple harvest.

Apple bins make a desirable environment for overwintering larvae. The larvae invade the fruit by digging tunnels direct to the core. The exterior holes contain visible frass, a brown, crumb-like waste matter.

Getting rid of codling moths

  1. Check your fruit trees routinely for moth damage. Six to eight weeks after bloom, inspect fruit trees for signs of codling months every one to two weeks. Remove and destroy infested fruit that has the frass-filled holes. By removing the infested fruit, you help prevent the larvae from crawling out and beginning their next generation. Thinning out the damaged fruit also encourages any remaining fruit to grow larger, and improves spray coverage.
  2. Practice moth prevention methods. Codling moths are a challenge to manage when the population has the opportunity to grow over time. They are much easier to control when you are proactive and suppress their numbers.
  3. Get your neighbors involved. If you have a neighboring orchard, your efforts to control the codling moths may be of no use if your neighbors ignore their own infestation. Their moths can spread to your trees.
  4. Bag your fruit as this is an effective, non-chemical control method. Enclose your fruit in bags four to six weeks after bloom when the fruit is about 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. The University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources Department recommends a standard lunch bag (No. 2 paper bag) that measures 7-1/4 inches by 4 inches. Thin the fruit to one per cluster. Cut a 2-inch slit in the bottom fold of each bag and slip the fruit through the slit to form a seal around the stem. Staple the open end of the bag shut. This technique should not affect the quality of the fruit, but it will prevent full-color development. Keep in mind that there is potential for codling moths to invade your fruit in the weeks before bagging.
  5. Hang moth traps in each susceptible fruit tree. This may reduce a codling moth population when combined with other control methods. These traps have a sticky cardboard bottom and use pheromones as bait.
  6. Use insecticides to get rid of your codling moths. The NC State Extension and the University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources depict clear descriptions on how to apply insecticides, when to use them, and which insecticides work best.

When to Call a Pest Control Professional

When you’ve tried everything and your moths aren’t going away, call a pest control professional to solve your moth problem. A pest control expert can help identify the issue, execute control methods, and provide preventive measures.

Why you need to get rid of moths: You don’t want to be dressed to the nines only to discover that your coat or suit has a number of moth holes in it, discover that isn’t sawdust atop your pantry shelves, or the apples from your tree have already been sampled by moths. Don’t wait. Tackle your moth problem yourself or get professional help.

Main Image Credit: Closeup of a webbing clothes moth / Dack9 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is an artist, writer, and nature lover. She enjoys teaching readers about the importance of eco-friendly lawn care, integrated pest management, biodiversity, and sustainable landscaping.