Do Moths Really Eat Clothes?

Gracen asks: Do moths really eat clothes?

clothes-mothThe common “clothes moth”, “clothing moth” or to give its street name, Tineola bisselliella, doesn’t actually eat clothes. In fact, clothing moths don’t even possess the ability to eat- they don’t have a mouth. Once they become a moth, rather than waste their time eating, they simply mate, the female lays her eggs, and then they die at some point. Meaning the most damage to your clothes you could realistically expect from an adult clothing moth is a stain if you go postal on one with a newspaper.

So how did these moths get associated with eating clothes?  It’s the moth babies you need to be wary of, which are able to get proteins they need from keratin- in other words, virtually any organic fibre derived from an animal.  And boy do those things have an appetite. The full list of things clothes moth larvae can eat is pretty insane- basically they can eat and survive on virtually any natural fibre. They’ve been known to eat wool, cashmere, silk, cotton, linen, fur, feathers, hair, lint, carpets, the bristles of brushes, pet fur and even dust. On top of this, the larvae will also, if no food is present, cut, not eat through non-natural fibres like polyester to reach your ever dwindling supply of wool underwear.

The fibres the larva eats eventually also ends up becoming a part of the cocoon it spins for itself so it can become a moth and stop having to eat sweaty boxer shorts and get down to the much more fun act of mating.

If their voracious appetite isn’t bad enough, the larvae are also notably hardy and difficult to kill through indirect means. For example, the larvae and eggs of a clothes moth can easily survive temperature extremes as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees F) and as low as -8 degrees C (17.6 degrees F) for short periods.  As such, it’s recommended that you expose them to such extremes for at least a half an hour to really make sure they’re all dead.

As explained above, larvae will straight up chew through whatever they need to in order to get to their food, which for the eagle eyed ones amongst you probably stood out as a little odd. If the adult moth sensed a wool sweater in a wardrobe, why would it lay its eggs on a spandrels Borat mankini? Well this is because the larvae and moths are actually drawn to the moisture in certain clothes because the larvae must get the moisture they need through their food. This is also the reason dry cleaning your clothes is an effective moth deterrent.

You might have guessed from this that clothing moths and their larvae are also attracted to dirty clothes, in particular ones dirtied by sweat, as sweat contains not only moisture but salt and other minerals the larvae needs to survive.

But, bottom line, the moths themselves aren’t doing the damage, it is their children, which is also typically true for humans…

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Bonus Facts:

  • Rough estimates suggest a single clothes moth can lay anywhere between 50 and a 1000 eggs! If that wasn’t terrifying enough, unlike virtually every other species of the moth family, clothes moths are naturally afraid of light and will shy away from it, hiding beneath tables, rugs, and skirting boards; let’s face it, they are probably under the desk you’re sitting at right now. 😉
  • Though conditions in a human household are invariably perfect or at least tolerable for a clothes moth and its kin, they are remarkably hardy when it comes to adjusting to changes in environment. For example, the larvae stage of a clothes moth’s life can extend from 1 month to 29 months if the conditions for it to pupate aren’t ideal. Just read that again, a clothes moth larvae can voluntarily extend its own life by 2900% if it doesn’t sense ideal conditions.
  • The old adage of using cedar trunks for storing clothes to keep moths at bay actually works somewhat in the right circumstances. Why? Because cedar oil kills the larvae. However, as cedar ages the concentration of oil in it fades, and with it, it’s ability to murder clothes moth babies.
  • There are several more sophisticated methods for dealing with moths on the market, our favourite being the pheromone trap that coats male moths with a powder that makes them appear female to other moths, effectively condemning them to a life of being unable to breed. This method, of course, is for the especially cruel individual who doesn’t want to kill a moth, but rather force it to commit suicide through soul-crushing inadequacy. Boy, did this article take a turn for the dark side quickly.
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  • MarkS

    No mention of mothballs?

  • LOVEPAREEK

    AL BLAME LAID WELL N SQUARE ON THE BABIES. POOR SODS.

  • Abby

    “Veracious?” Are you kidding me?

    I’m unsubscribing from the email list. If the writers at TodayIFoundOut.com can’t even be professional enough to bother spellchecking their posts, then they aren’t worth my time.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Abby: Thanks for catching that. Fixed! As to your second comment, if a single typo causes you to not wish to read something, regardless of the overall quality of content and research level exhibited, you better just stop reading altogether. Nearly every single book or written work of any length ever written contains a typo or grammatical error somewhere in it. Nobody is immune to this. And you’re right that you definitely should stop reading TodayIFoundOut, because I can tell you, aside from typos, my personal philosophies on grammar tend to rub Grammar Nazis the wrong way. I’ve written lengthy discourses on this in the past, but I don’t feel like finding, copying, and pasting said text nor re-writing it for the bagillionth time (yes, “bagillionth”) in a comment thread at the moment. So I’ll just direct you to this video from Stephen Fry which mirrors most of my thoughts on the subject.
      .
      As to spellchecking, that doesn’t help here. “Veracious” is a word, just one letter different from the actual word we were going for here. So, thanks again for catching that. While we’re not immune to typos, we do like to fix them whenever possible and our readers are generally very helpful for catching these sorts of things, to which we are extremely grateful. 🙂

      • Anna

        I thought your write up was entertaining and informative.,…and your reply to Abby was even better!!

    • ste

      oh my god you anal bar steward. the communication is the important thing, as long as its understood thats great, perfect…. not how its spelt…. the world needs less of you… bet you hate foreners WITHOUT A G. and sod it, without the i also. bet you hated that….. look bad punktuashon 2 boot… piece n love… ha ha… i did mean it thow

  • Abby

    Daven, I’ve read many of your other articles and have made numerous comments on their grammatical inefficiencies; a single misspelling isn’t the source of my issue today. Publishing an article that doesn’t utilize proper grammar is the same as singing a song or playing an instrument without knowing the proper notes; the full effect of the final piece becomes entirely lost. It completely invalidates the amount of time and effort you spend researching if you can’t communicate your topics effectively to an audience. In the world of journalism, proper grammar establishes both you and your website as credible sources; it reflects poorly on your intelligence when you don’t show any sign of reading over your pieces before submitting them (for example, I believe you meant to put “recommended” instead of “recommend” in the fourth paragraph and “spandex” instead of “spandrels” in the fifth, among your number of mistakes in comma usage throughout the entire article).

    I’m a freshman in college with no professional experience whatsoever, and even I know how to punctuate correctly. I’ve been reading TodayIFoundOut for over eight months now, and I find I have to read many of your sentences multiple times to work out what you were trying to say. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy the content of this website very much and always find it interesting and entertaining. However, it’s become too tedious to have to pick through your grammar mistakes to figure out what you were originally attempting to convey.

    No one likes a grammar Nazi (trust me, I understand), but this is simply unacceptable. Pick up a copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk & White and spend an evening or two with it; I promise it will improve your website’s quality dramatically.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Abby: As I said, I always appreciate people catching typos. The level of research required in these articles and the frequency we publish them at pretty much guarantees we aren’t going to catch them all, even reading through things several times, as always happens, both by the authors and myself.
      .
      For your reference, my process is as follows: I tend to read through the article once to get a good feel for the facts presented and flow. Next, I re-research the topic to see if there are any interesting details missed or factual errors in the article. I then make any modifications as necessary. I then read through the entire thing again to make sure any changes I may or may not have made work given the bigger picture of the article, as well as trying to catch typos. The final read through is to just triple check everything reads well and to also catch any typos I missed. Finally, as a last ditch effort to catch typos, I run it through Word’s grammar check, which is crappy and it usually doesn’t find anything, but every now and then it’ll actually catch something like a “the the” or “it’s” that should have been an “its” or the like I might have missed. Then, the last stage is to simply put in any relevant related links and schedule the article. That’s my editing process for every single article.
      .
      The problem lies in the fact that if you stare at something long enough, which is the case with heavily researched articles, it’s extremely difficult to catch these types of mistakes. Now, when I read through articles months later, the typos are readily spotted. But unfortunately with all that goes into running such a popular site as this, the schedule doesn’t allow for working ahead like that. In truth- something that often surprises people who aren’t in the industry- the amount of time writing and editing articles is miniscule compared to time spent on every other facet of running a website like this.
      .
      In a perfect world, I would have a separate editor for catching typos after I’ve gone through my own extensive editing process of the articles. If this was a news site, or the like, that would be completely affordable. But articles that take this level of research cost drastically more than most sites pay for their articles, both because the authors tend to be much more credentialed than normal here, and because the articles simply take a lot of time to produce.
      .
      So, at the moment at least, there isn’t money in the budget for such an editor, and while you will find typos here and there (more so in the articles from 2010-ish), on the whole most people don’t seem to mind too much. And, as I tell all my writers, accuracy is King on TodayIFoundOut. I’d rather an article filled with typos with everything perfectly accurate than one that is Oscar Wilde-like in its prose, but has even a single factual error.
      .
      Again, in a perfect world, we’d do both, but right now it’s not in the budget and if I have to pick one, I pick accuracy. That said, you might be interested to know that sometime within the next six months I do plan on hiring a full time editor to replace myself, as the site has grown to the point that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for me to keep up triple checking research and editing, along with managing everything else. I will, of course, stress to that editor that accuracy is the most important thing here, but someone who’s had more experience than me in catching typos will perhaps do a better job there nonetheless.
      .
      That hiring is contingent on some things I’m launching in the next couple months working out, though even conservatively, they should work out well enough to expand the budget for this. In the last month, these things coming out soon have taken up the vast majority of my time, and I haven’t had a day off in that span, generally working sunup to sundown most days, which is another reason I could really use someone to take over the editing part of my job. I could use a day off. 😉 Thankfully, “crunch time” is almost over though. You’ll see the announcements coming up for the new things starting in about 3 weeks, which I’m very excited about. 🙂
      .
      And thanks for catching the “recommend” as well. Between here and the email list (which goes out to about 18K people at the moment) several people emailed me about the “veracious” thing, but not a one spotted the “recommend”. 🙂
      .
      As for the “spandrels”, Karl will have to weigh in on this, but I think that’s what he meant. I was not familiar with that word myself so in the process of editing, at first I assumed it was just a British word for something- Karl being British- so assumed he knew what he was talking about. During the final read-through, though, I decided to look it up just to double check. It was not a British thing, but I believe was indeed what he was trying to say, a “spandrel” being “the almost triangular space between one side of the outer curve of an arch, a wall, and the ceiling or framework.” So I assumed Karl was using this as something of a clever descriptive word for the shape of Borat’s “mankini”. So I left it in. If I’m wrong and Karl meant “spandex”, then it’s just a happy coincidence that “spandrels” actually kind of works here. 🙂

      • steve

        daven… great site.i can’t believe you spent so much effort an time repying to the spellin nazi abbi (i wonder if she hates her parents for spelling her name wrong) funny. like i said, as long as we understand each other… I’m really really dix lex ic an believe me abby i wish i wasn’t. what a complete waste of time… ok yeah i got involved but I’ve had a life (40 now) of people climbing up my ass for that kind of shit. live n let live. i bet you (aby) understood what was meant… so wind that unusually long neck of yours back in…. i only wanted to find out about blooming moths. oh my days…. keep it up daven don’t rise to it…. i won’t if you don’t 🙂 wasting our time an energy, pfhhhh peace

  • Abby

    “…the cogency of your argument [is] inseparable from the lucidity of your prose.”

    http://mag.newsweek.com/2013/07/10/author-joseph-j-ellis-pays-tribute-to-edmund-s-morgan.html

    • Carlos Danger

      Dear Abby, it wouldn’t hurt to see a shrink.

      • Daven Hiskey

        Now, now- people are only allowed to insult me around here. 😉 Everybody’s got their own pet peeves and clearly one of Abby’s is typos. While I personally dislike typos as well in the articles here (though they don’t bother me when I read them in other people’s work), for me a bigger pet peeve is certain types of Grammar Nazis insisting on rigidly adhering to certain rules of punctuation despite the fact that, in truth, these rules change constantly as language evolves, and the consensus of what should be done right now is often contradictory across stylistic guides. Usually said Grammar Nazis have written language locked in their minds in whatever state it was in when they first learned those rules.
        .
        As for me, I’m partial to the apparent linguistic rules of the 18th-19th centuries particularly, perhaps because my favorite literature comes from that era. I love the way they wrote, both wording and the technical style of their grammar which was much more free-form in their sentence structure, allowing for more variegated thought in a single sentence, among other things.
        .
        Another pet peeve of mine is the shift away from using the Oxford comma. While I don’t insist my writers here use it, it takes a lot of will power not to put it in when they don’t. 😉 To use the classic example of why it’s a bad idea to get rid of the Oxford comma: “We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.”

  • benjamin

    I enjoyed the article and I am sure none of my comment will pass a grammar Nazi’s scrutiny. I don’t read an article for perfect grammar but for interesting content. I find those who demand perfection in one area greatly lack in another area. Abby, yes you have found an error. What of it? this error will not affect any of us 10 months or even 10 years from now but I may be affected by reading this article if I have moths in my cloths 10 months or 10 years from now. I am not bothering to polish and refine my post just for the point. Have a good day Abby and relax a little. 🙂

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  • Michelle

    Thank you for the content of the moths etc and how clothes end up in the ‘holy’ oops hole manner that numerous pieces of mine ended up in recently. I have learnt plenty from the article but just need to know now how to prevent this from happening again… ;~)

  • Darren

    Wow Abby, how can u say that,”to post something with spell check” is a”lack of intelligence”? If you are so intelligent, why do u need a spell check? And to remake his points everything ever published has typos. That is why they have multiple editions of the same book. such an intellectual like yourself should know this. Also the word you would have had him spell check wasnt misspelled, so please explain how this would work. So technically, no typo or punctual mistake was made. Further more i havr found ppl that go out of there way to correct ppls grammar, that are good with grammar, tend to be extremely dull in most other aspects of life, and are good at nearly nothing else.

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  • Interesting. I have had moth trouble, I believe, from our apartments dryer exhaust system. I think it was full before we moved here. Being on the second floor and the maintenance man just reaching up in to pull out what he could, didn’t accomplish a thing. Maybe the damage is being done while our clothes sit in the dryer. I tried all of the home remedies to no avail. These are small skinny sliver like moths, that when you touch them they melt and leave a black mark. It I’d disturbing. I thank you for the information. For your research too. They say if you have a bird and a book, believe the bird. The bird is right, and the book might be misspelled! I don’t have time to research, so thanks to those that do so!

  • Mark

    Abby, I think you’ve been undeserving aggressive towards the author; some of the very best books and articles contain many grammatical errors but normal people ignore them and move on. This is not meant as a personal attack, but what you propose [you’re going to do] is obsessive-compulsive behavior and perhaps getting some professional help might be the best way forward so you can start to ignore the minor things in life that really simply do not matter and deserve no recompense.

  • Sarah

    What about fruit moths? How can I find where they are nesting.? Been trying to find where they are coming from.

  • Cathy

    Hey, I had a thought. Let’s send a few of the clothes moth larva to Abby. Hopefully they will make their way to her underwear drawer. Cause if her panties weren’t in such a bunch, maybe she could relax.

  • City

    I too found your casual use of language bothersome.
    A question:
    Since you want to be a writer, why don’t you learn how to do it better?
    It’s not rocket science. Instead, you take pride in your ignorance of good writing.

    I don’t know if moths mating is fun and neither do you, but your assumption that it is fun is juvenile.

    Suggestion: Engage an editor.

  • Bob

    I found your article to be informative and entertaining. My wife suggests that Abby read the book Don’t sweat the small stuff. As a matter of fact she should not sweat at all or else she could be attacked by some killer moths. I certainly would not want that to happen. Please lighten up Abby.

    • steve

      abbi. you had to re read it to understand it because you were obviously not listening properly…. recommended not recommend , oh come on….! freshman at college. you mean uni i guess… you can tell your only a young en. I’m sure you will grow up a bit more yet… always hope. oh i do hope she gets to read this thread again. I’ve sadisticly (sorry can’t spell) really enjoyed this in the end. some great replys. shame they were all about abbi not the moths in question. fun though. love everyone and enjoy stuff xxx