How to Get Rid of Moths in the House


As far as roommates go, moths may rank as some of the worst creatures to cohabitate with. They chew gaping holes in your favorite sweaters, leave behind icky insect casings and excrement, and reproduce as wriggling larvae in your cereal, rugs or other household items.

Unfortunately, getting rid of moths fast isn’t as easy as you might hope. Once these creatures settle in, they make themselves right at home — and put up a good fight if you try to evict them from their new digs. What’s more, there are multiple types of household moths, so the first order of business — even before coming up with an effective eradication plan — is to identify what type of flying insect you’re dealing with.

There is a bit of good news, though: As long as you’re both precise and persistent, getting rid of moths naturally is entirely possible. (And no, you don’t need to enlist the help of stinky mothballs.)

To help you get the job done, we consulted with our Good Housekeeping Institute Home Care & Cleaning Lab experts, plus polled professional pest exterminators to find out what causes moths in the house (you know what they say… an ounce of prevention!) and how to get rid of moths for good.

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1. Identify whether you have clothes moths or pantry moths.

Homeowners usually come into contact with one of two types of moths: pantry moths and clothes moths. Just like their categories imply, these insects go after different food sources in different parts of the house.

For the pantry variety, also sometimes called flour moths, most go after grains and dry goods: cereals, crackers, rice and other stored foods, according to Orkin entomologist Chelle Hartzer. They typically hitch a ride home from the grocery store, having arrived there from contaminated warehouses or factories. When they invade, you might notice icky webbing or tiny caterpillars inside your snacks, a not-so-pleasant gift from the pupae and larvae.

Clothes moths naturally like closets and wardrobes, with the caterpillars relying on natural fibers like linen, wool, silk or fur for sustenance. These little buggers find lots of ways into your home or apartment — they can fly in through an open door or window, ride in on store-bought clothing (particularly used clothing) or even make their way through small cracks in your facade.

adult indian meal moth

An adult Indian meal moth, a pantry moth, is usually half an inch long with gray and bronze wings.

Getty Images

common clothes moth

The common clothes moth, also called the webbing clothes moth, looks whitish-gold in color.

Getty Images

“While clothes moths mainly munch on natural fibers, they have been known to eat through synthetics to get to a food source, like a stain,” adds Carolyn Forte, Executive Director of the Home Care & Cleaning Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. “That’s why it’s imperative to clean your clothes before storing them. Even stains you can’t see, like perspiration or clear drinks, can oxidize over time in storage and attract insects.”

Besides holes, these pests can also leave behind pupae skins, webbing and frass, insect excrement that looks like large grains of sand, according to pest management brand Woodstream.

According to Terminix, food-infesting moths are typically much larger than clothes moths — double the size, even. Another identifying characteristic: If you look at a food moth under a microscope, it doesn’t have any hair. Clothes moths, on the other hand, have tiny tufts of hair.

2. Start cleaning and throw out infested materials.

If you’re trying to get rid of pantry moths, the first step in stopping an infestation is getting out the trash bags. Throw out any potentially contaminated food and remove it from the house.

If you’re dealing with clothes moths, start by making a laundry pile. Wash what you can with hot water and detergent, then dry on medium to high heat to kill larvae, unless the care label recommends otherwise, Forte says. Dry cleaning can also debug garments.

In both the kitchen and the closet, vacuum everything: the carpet, walls, baseboards… you name it. Use the crevice tool to clean along edges and in corners. Then throw out the vacuum bag right away or empty the dust cup outside and wash it thoroughly, as it may contain eggs. Finally, scrub shelves and walls thoroughly with a soap-and-water mix. Pantry shelves can also be wiped with a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water.

If you can’t identify the source of the problem, call in a professional. A pest control operator can also help with widespread infestations or hard-to-clean items like moth-infested furniture or rugs.

3. Skip the mothballs and seal everything up.

Your grandma’s favorite method is on the outs now that many experts consider the chemicals in mothballs — naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene — a health risk. California already considers the pesticides known carcinogens, and the European Union has banned naphthalene. Children and small pets may also be tempted to eat mothballs because they can look like treats, the National Pesticide Information Center states.

Play it safe and deter clothes moths other ways, Forte advises. A multi-pronged approach of thorough cleaning and tightly sealing will protect your home from moths — without the lingering smell.

Seal seasonal clothing in airtight bags or boxes; the vacuum-sealed variety are a good bet. Store them in the main part of the house, not in a hot, humid attic or basement. “Items like expensive cashmere can even be placed in a zippered plastic bag with some cotton batting to absorb moisture and stored in your freezer, if you have room,” she says.

And contrary to popular belief, experts at Terminix say cedar chests are not the most effective storage solutions. While you can try the natural repellent, don’t rely on cedar as a quick fix or a lasting remedy. The wood’s oils may prevent infestations by harming small larvae, but it won’t clean up existing ones and the effect loses potency after a few years.

In the pantry, stash foods in glass or hard plastic airtight storage containers. This has the bonus effect of deterring moisture-loving mold and other pests like ants and cockroaches. It’s also a good idea to check food from the grocery store before placing it in your pantry too, as that’s how infestations usually start.

4. Vacuum and clean regularly.

Prevent future pest problems with regular housekeeping. Wiping down surfaces and getting rid of dust, fibers and crumbs will go a long way. Monitor for signs of moth activity not only in your clothes and food, but other places as well. For example, pantry moths often go for birdseed, Hartzer says, so keep that away from the house and garage.

According to Woodstream, clothing moths will also find homes in antiques like wool rugs, horsehair-stuffed furniture, preserved animals, piano felt and old dolls with real hair. Check these items before you snap them up at an estate sale, and inspect them regularly afterwards. Another favorite? Pet fur, so check your dog’s supplies too. Keeping a watchful eye could prevent you from another major moth headache later on.

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