Fabric pests such as carpet beetles and clothes moths seek out dark places to lay their eggs where an ample food source exists for their hatching larvae. It's the larvae -- not the adults -- that wreak havoc on your wardrobe, rugs or upholstery. They feed on any animal-based material, including wool, feathers, felt, fur, silk and lint. The larvae do not consume synthetics but will eat synthetic-wool blends.
Several species of carpet beetles exist and infest homes. The beetle larvae prefer residing in dark, secluded places such as closets. They also live under furniture or in dressers. The adults feed on pollen and nectar outdoors, but the larvae subsist on lint, fur, hair, wool or feathers. The larvae often go unnoticed, but upon close inspection a homeowner may notice brown skin castings in the closet, along baseboards, in storage boxes or on clothing in the closet. As the larvae of the beetles grow they molt and shed their skin until they turn into adults. The adults appear as round or oval dark beetles with white, yellow and black spots across their back. The larvae have a tear-shaped creamy body that has long black hairs.
Carpet Beetle Control
The key to ridding your home of carpet beetles is to clean every surface or item that may be harboring the insects, their larvae or eggs and to store potential food sources so they can't be infested. You'll need to clean out the closet and throw away any badly infested items. Dry clean clothes and blankets or launder them in hot water and detergent. Store all the cleaned items in airtight containers. Thoroughly vacuum all the carpets, drapes and upholstery in the house. Place mothballs or flakes in airtight containers with clothes to kill or deter the carpet beetles. Mothballs and flakes are toxic, so make sure to place them out of reach of children and pets.
The larvae of clothes moths feed on woolen fabrics, silk, felt and woolens soiled with perspiration. The insects often reside undetected in stored clothing in a closet until the damage is widespread. Clothes moths appear creamy white. The larvae avoid the light and seek out the shelter of dark areas. The adults do not feed, but they lay their eggs on clothing or other fabric to provide food for the hatching larvae. The larvae may create holes in clothing or simply feed along the cloth's surface. In a house with a heavy infestation of clothes moths, the larvae often reside under upholstery or in heating vents where they feed on lint that accumulates.
Clothes Moth Control
Cleaning and taking preventive measures is key to evicting the clothes moth. Dry clean and launder all fabrics in the closet. Store the freshly cleaned clothes in airtight containers. Vacuum the entire closet and vicinity, and promptly dispose of the vacuum canister contents. Place mothballs in the closet or around clothes. Professional dry cleaners often apply mothproofing sprays to clothing to help prevent clothes moths. For severe infestations, spot spray along baseboards, molding, crevices and in emptied closets with an insecticide containing chlorpyrifos, pyrethrum, permethrin or allethrin. Follow the directions on the label for application instructions. Keep mothballs and insecticides away from children and pets.
Mothballs contain naphthalene, which acts as a fumigant. The vapors from naphthalene can cause nausea, headache, breathing difficulties and vomiting. Use mothballs only in an airtight container or bag so the vapors do not seep out of the closet into the home. The odor of mothballs can effect individuals suffering from asthma, allergies or breathing sensitivities. When storing clothes with mothballs, lay a protective layer of paper between the clothing and the mothballs. Never place mothballs on anything plastic -- like buttons or garment bags -- because the naphthalene can melt it. Mothballs pose a serious health risk to small children or pets who may accidentally ingest the small, toxic balls. Seek medical help immediately if this occurs.
- University of California IPM Online; How to Manage Pests -- Carpet Beetles; M. Rust, et al.; April 2001
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County; Fabric Pests; Barb Ogg
- University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; Clothes Moths; Mike Potter; October 2001
- Iowa State University; Iowa Insect Information Notes -- Clothes Moths; July 2005
- Texas A&M University: Insects in the City --Food and Fabric Pests
- Kansas State University; Storage Tips Protect Out-of-Season Clothes; Nancy Peterson; May 2003
Based in Oregon, Kimberly Sharpe has been a writer since 2006. She writes for numerous online publications. Her writing has a strong focus on home improvement, gardening, parenting, pets and travel. She has traveled extensively to such places as India and Sri Lanka to widen and enhance her writing and knowledge base.