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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

This is Not About Sanitation (AKA: Er… oops)

I have one of those robot vacumes that is one of my favorite cleaning tools. It’s great because I can hit the button and walk away and it does its thing. I come back in a couple of hours and I have clean floors. It is also really low lying so it gets under dressers and beds and tables where a regular vacuum has a tough time with. Needless to say, it’s a bit of a love/hate thing when I go to empty it. It’s “oh, awesome, look at all the stuff it picked up” and at the same time it's “oh, gross, look at all the stuff it picked up”.

Vacuum contents
Cool and gross, all at the same time

All the lint and dust and hair (and who knows what else) that gets picked up by a vacuum or even the lint filter on the clothes drier is what comes off our clothes as we move around during the day. While clothes moths often go for the natural material in clothes, all it takes is a small amount of fibers to harbor a population of clothes moths.

Here’s a fun fact though: it’s not just fibers, clothes moths have been successfully reared on flour, cholesterol, and yeast! Other dried foods may also be susceptible. Of course, it is the larvae that are the damaging stage and doing all the feeding. Adults are the visible stage and do nothing but mate and lay the next generation of eggs. Development from egg to adult, under perfect conditions, can take as little as 45 days. Under poor conditions with suboptimal food resources, temperature, and humidity, development can take years. What this means is that not only does the inspection have to take in more than just cloth fibers, it also has to take on other food sources and continue for more than a year to make sure they haven’t found that little nook with just enough food source to keep them going.

I helped with a residential clothes moth issue where it seemed like no matter what they did, the moths were back in about a month. The numbers were getting lower, but that was no comfort to the homeowners that had removed, laundered, and packed all their cloth items more than once. Inspections had been done, monitoring was occurring, and numerous treatments had been applied. Looking at the monitoring data, the populations seemed to be moving up. They started all over, then were closer to the middle, and finally towards the top of this room. The next logical step was to look up. We finally found the larvae and the source. They were in the recessed lighting that was in the room. There was enough dust and clothes fibers that had accumulated around the light casings to support the last bit of the clothes moths population. Mystery solved.

I work with a number of museums and one museum was having an issue with clothes moths in one of their galleries. Museums are always tricky because there is very little that can be done with treatments because of the sensitive art that is housed there. And fiber eating moths can literally destroy precious artifacts if left unchecked. The strange thing about this gallery is that there was nothing these clothes moth larvae could be feeding on. With monitors, it was narrowed down to one certain area where they were being found. It was a closet under a stairway. The stairs were open underneath and years of people walking the stairs and shedding little bits of fibers had accumulated in this locked closet that no one ever went into. The layer of dust and fibers was a couple inches thick! More than enough for the clothes moths to develop in.

Clothes moths aren’t the most common pest I deal with, probably not even in my top ten. I said this wasn’t a post about sanitation and it’s not, it’s about monitoring. Both these situations used monitors which meant we were able to quickly narrow down problem areas and spend our time investigating those specific locations. Two more thoughts to leave you with:

  • Empty your vacuum – you are cleaning up all that mess, then containing it all in one handy location for the pests. You would not believe the infestations I have seen in vacuum containers.

  • Clean out your lint trap on your clothes dryer – you will start a fire if you don’t.

  • Oh, and…. sanitation, clean up the food source!!! (I couldn’t resist.)

If you are having issues with clothes moths, or any other pest, we can help improve your problem solving, contact us!

Lagniappe – Clothes moths are very common on mummies and skeletonized bodies. Here’s a fun paper from a murder that featured clothes moths.

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