Ever get a kick out of those cartoons you watched as a kid where a character would open up a closet door or storage trunk and a hundred moths would fly out? We laughed then, but it’s not that funny in real life. If you’ve ever pulled your favorite sweater out of storage, only to find it ridden with holes, and felt like crying, this advice is for you.
It might already be too late for those woollens and cashmeres you boxed up for storage last spring. But these de-mothing tips will help you avoid getting your most expensive suit chewed up over the winter and will be in you mind next spring when you de-winterize your closet once again.
What the Heck is the Deal with Moths Anyway?
There are hundreds of different kinds of moths, but clothes moths are the only kind that eat holes in your clothes. Some people have the misconception that they will eat any kind of fabric. In reality, they only like fabric that is made from animal fur, such as wool and cashmere. So don’t blame clothes moths for the holes your favorite cotton or synthetic fabric shirt.
Another misconception is that adult moths eat fabric. It is actually only clothes moth larvae that eat your woollens and cashmere. What happens is that the moth looks for a dark, cool, secretive place with lots of access to animal material to lay its eggs. That’s why closets are popular, but they will also lay eggs in places where there might be lots of animal hair (like inside your doghouse) or in enclosed spaces in your barn. There, the larvae can eat to their heart’s content and probably not bother anyone. But chances are good that you don’t want to sacrifice your expensive wool suits to raise baby moths.
However, a lot of people have a strong aversion to mothballs, and we don’t blame you. Our advice is not to put mothballs in your closet. There are a few good reasons for this. First, mothball fumes are unpleasant at best and noxious at worst. Plus, they smell awful, and the scent is very difficult to get rid of, even after washing. Mothballs contain toxic chemicals, the main one being naphthalene, which is what gives mothballs their distinctive smell. They kill moths by giving off toxic fumes. Not only that, but they’re dangerous for children, especially little ones who might mistake them for candy or playthings.
Besides, mothballs are not doing any good in your closet anyway. In order for the vapors to effectively kill moth larvae, they have to be in a controlled and tightly enclosed space where they can’t evaporate. As confining as your closet is, it’s not enclosed enough to contain the fumes of mothballs.
Get Rid of Moths and Moth Larvae This Way Instead
Since you’re not wearing your wool and cashmere over the summer anyway, the best thing to do is store them in an airtight container, like a Rubbermaid tote bin. Instead of tossing mothballs inside, add some cedar. Cedar fumes have a similar effect on moths as mothballs, but without the toxic chemicals. Not only that, but the scent is much more pleasant, and it is easier to wash out after summer is over if smelling like cedar isn’t your thing. Plus, they aren’t noxious to humans AND they’re 100 percent natural.
That being said, cedar balls can be pricey, especially if you need quite a few. However, you may be able to get cedar waste if you happen to live near a cedar mill, such as board ends or shavings. If not, you can probably get cedar shavings at your local pet store in the form of animal bedding. It is often marketed as bedding and habitat liner for small rodents like hamsters and guinea pigs as well as for rabbits. Ounce for ounce, it is much cheaper than cedar wood planks or cedar balls and a big bag will go a long way.
For now, if your clothes from last winter smell like mothballs, it might take two or three washings to get rid of the scent completely. Adding an oxygen-booster like Borax to your regular laundry detergent may help. For those wardrobe items that are not machine-safe, a trip to the dry cleaners is probably your best bet. Make sure you mention the mothball smell. Dry cleaners have great tricks for getting out unwanted scents.
Need more closet storage space for those bins of off-season wardrobe items? Tailored Living offers free closet upgrade consultations, and you can even see your plans in virtual reality 3D before any demolition or construction begins.