How to get rid of moths: The expert’s guide

It’s that time of year when pesky moths start to flutter around our homes – and munch our woollens. So if you don’t want to find your precious cashmere jumper full of holes – or your favourite rug shredded – come the autumn, how can you keep these flying menaces at bay?

Apparently, female moths really hate some of the smells that we humans find super-appealing, and we can use their revulsion to our advantage to help stop them laying eggs in our piles of sweaters and cardis. According to Julia Dee of Total Wardrobe Care, traditionally cedar wood has been used to repel moths and insects in USA, whereas patchouli was used in India.

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‘The leaves were put into the Victorian silk shawls that used to find their way to Europe from the silk road. Plus if you walked down Carnaby Street in the 60s, there was an overwhelming smell of patchouli oil and incense sticks – again this was originally as a protection. The ancient Greeks wore a crown of laurel in their hair to ward off insects, Europeans use lavender and the Chinese use May Chang (lemon grass). We mixed all these essential oils together for our signature scent, but you can also make your own mix – use an essential oil diffuser for a very concentrated smell.’

You can also try putting cedar balls (but bear in mind that these smell to begin with but then dry out so need a drop of essential oil rubbed on them). Julia also suggests buying some strongly scented soaps and putting them on shelves and in drawers – just like our grannies used to do!

We asked her for her other top tips for tackling the clothes moth onslaught during the warm summer months…

Where do moths come from?

Moths like to live in trees near water, so some areas suffer more than others. English Heritage launched operation moth last year and have discovered that you are at more risk living in London and the South East. They are attracted by the light, so yes, they will fly in through open windows – we can’t stop them.

The season is May-October and the life cycle is 3 months when the female can lay up to 300 eggs. So, it doesn’t take long to have an infestation if they go unchecked. They eat keratin (the protein in hair and skin particles), pet fur, food waste and natural fabrics (carpets curtains and rugs). With a bit of moisture, the conditions are then perfect to lay their eggs (which look like a little grain of rice), and when they eat their way out of their cocoon, that’s what makes the holes – not the adult moth.

Where are moths hiding?

Definitely making a bee line for your wardrobes, drawers, walk in wardrobes, coat cupboards, attic. According to English Heritage’s report, houses built before the 1950s have more moth problems because they have more voids, and fireplaces and attics, than newer homes. Danger areas are under floor boards, in air bricks, behind cavity walls (so check all gaps), fireplaces, under furniture (in the canvas and webbing), on wall hangings and rugs, behind curtains and cushions.

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One customer who actually ran a cleaning company had years of moth problems and finally took her carpet and floor boards up – only to find an old leather glove left behind by workmen. So finding the source is key!

How to get rid of moths

Vacuum madly. There is an attachment called the BIG Daddy, which is lots of thin plastic tubes and it fits into nooks and crannies so air bricks, air vents, air conditioning units, cracks in floor boards can be reached. If you have a chimney, get it swept and hoover around inside it during the summer months.

Move furniture. Pay special attention to the edges of carpets and under furniture. The amount of times people have told me they moved a chest of drawers and found a bald patch of carpet underneath. Don’t leave a rolled-up carpet or rug unprotected. Years ago, our grannies would take the rugs outside, put them over the line and use a carpet beater to remove, dust and dirt.

Spring clean the wardrobe. Take everything out, clean inside the wardrobe and drawers thoroughly. Finish off with spraying the wood with a linen spray which has the essential oils. The Victorians did this twice a year hence the words ‘spring clean’. They would also line shelves and drawers with clean paper. Now we can use scented drawer liners.

Female moths don’t like strong smells. Use scented sachets, essential oils, bunches of lavender and herbs, bowls of potpourri in the wardrobe. Burn scented candles.

What to do if you find moth holes in your clothes

If there is evidence of moth holes, then you need to deal with the clothes. Disturb them, bring them out of the wardrobe and drawers and shake madly. Invest in a steam cleaner (try Fridja or Morplan) and give the clothes a good dose of steam – this will kill any moths.

Putting clothes into the freezer in bags for a few days will also kill the moths and larvae. But then you need to remove the food source – the dream topping of food splats and hair particles, baby dribble, pet hair etc. This is what really attracts the female moth… a lovely food source for her babies… so wash everything that can be washed and dry clean everything else. Then you can be confident that all the clothes are clean. Once the wardrobe is clean and sprayed you are in a moth free zone.

How to kill and keep moths away

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Unfortunately, brutal actions are needed if you have an infestation:

1. Use our treatment killer spray with natural pyrethrum. Close all the doors and windows and spray madly, round the corners of the room in all the nooks and crannies and fireplaces, airbrick, air-conditioning units, air vents, etc. Under all the furniture, over the carpets, between the cracks in the floorboards. Behind cushions and curtains. Leave for 4 hours, then air. Everything will be dead.

2. Clean thoroughly. Vacuum and wash down surfaces.

3. In each room, add a pheromone moth box (under a chest of drawers or bed… not in the wardrobe) which catches and kills the male moths. This acts as a monitor so you can see your potential problem.

4. Place a ‘moth decoy’ at the other side of the room to the moth trap. This attracts the male moth, covers him in a special powder and changes his sexual behaviour which stops the breeding cycle. This is used widely in museums and historical houses together with the moth box as this is a sustainable way of controlling moths without using synthetic chemicals.

5. Then the fun bit: add lots and lots of natural herbs to wardrobes shelves and drawers. Fill bowls with potpourri. There are lots of cedar balls, lavender bags and scented sachets to choose from. Total Wardrobe Care’s recipe is 8 essential oils and it is added to sachets, diffusers, drawer liners, potpourri cones and linen sprays.

Interview by Rosalind Lowe