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Moth Prevention and Cleaning Wool Area Rugs

Updated on March 10, 2011

Clothes Moth Casings and Moth Eaten Area Wool Rug

Clothes moth casing, moth damage, and excrement(Sand like dirt)
Clothes moth casing, moth damage, and excrement(Sand like dirt)

The who,what and where of Clothes Moths

Here at Luv-A-Rug cleaners, in Victoria, BC, we see a lot of rugs that have become the victims of the clothes case-making moth. The clothes moth are a small, 1/4 to 1/2 inches long, golden coloured moth that eats wool.

Clothes moths need dark, dirty, undisturbed areas to survive. Their life cycle starts with the female moth laying 50 to 100 eggs. The eggs are very small and are attached to the base of the wool fibers. Within two weeks the eggs hatch and the small larva starts eating the dirty wool. Depending on environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity, and the amount of food supply, the larva can take a few weeks to cocoon and turn into an adult moth and start the life cycle all over again. Moth eggs do not lay dormant for weeks or months, if conditions are not perfect for the larva to survive they will die off. It is the larva that eats your wool rugs not the adult moth.

Moths need organic dirt that comes from shedding skin, pet dander, pet urine, food and drink spills, hair, and sweat, just to name a few sources. They do not drink water and therefore need the other types of organic dirt to survive.

Moths can enter your home from a variety of sources:

  • dirty air ducts
  • an open window or door
  • secondhand furniture and clothing
  • wool items bought in another country
  • abandoned birds, rodent and wasp nests in your attic and eaves

As easy as it sounds to get a moth infestation it is also very easy to make your home uninviting to moths. Moths cannot survive on clean wool. They need the organic nutrients from the above mentioned sources.

To make your home undesirable to moths:

  • clean your air ducts before you start using the furnace. Summertime is the best time to get this done.
  • get rid of bird, rodent and wasp nests from your attic, eaves and areas around your house.
  • get all wool clothing, blankets and furs cleaned before storing.
  • get all items cleaned that you buy in another country before using them.
  • get your rugs cleaned before storing, no matter if it is for a few months or a few years.
  • seal the cracks between the baseboards and the wall with silicone.
  • vacuum , vacuum, vacuum!

Vacuum often and vacuum the entire rug to make your rug undesirable to moths. When there is furniture on your rug it is easy to have a hard to get to spot. The places where you cannot reach with the vacuum is prime for moths to make their home. Moths are also sneaky and can crawl under the edges of your rugs 2-12 inches and eat your rugs from the back. Once a month flip the edges of your rugs over and look for evidence of moth activity.

Vacuum the corners of closets and dressers where wool clothes and blankets are kept. Giving the moths no food source greatly reduces the chances of having a moth eaten item. It may sound like a lot of cleaning to protect against moths, but doing a little prevention saves your wool clothing and rugs.

What early moth activity looks like on your rugs

What to look for when inspecting your rugs for moth activity. Note that the moth excrement looks like a very coarse sand and is usually the colour of the wool that has been eaten.
What to look for when inspecting your rugs for moth activity. Note that the moth excrement looks like a very coarse sand and is usually the colour of the wool that has been eaten.

When you have a Moth infestation

Isn't it disheartening when you discover that your wool area rugs have been damaged by moths, so what do you do now?

The first thing is to not panic, and to roll the rug up and get it out of your home as soon as possible so other wool rugs and items are not affected. Then vacuum where your rug was and check all other rugs and wool items to see if they were damaged. If you have more than one wool rug they all should be cleaned and treated for moth. You cannot be sure that one little pregnant moth didn't waddle over to look for a new food source for her eggs, or what rug the moths may have started on. It is better to be safe then sorry when dealing with these little pests. When you have a severe infestation of moths it is necessary to call your local Pest control and have your whole home treated.

If it is just your rugs then call your local WoolSafe area rug cleaners and get them to come pick it up. Luv-A-Rug offers pick up to most places in Victoria and all over Vancouver Island. Our moth treatment is non-toxic and safe for wool all rugs. We are always asked if our moth treat protects rugs from future moth damage and the answer is no. Nothing can protect wool rugs from future moth damage except for cleanliness. Keeping your rugs clean, cleaning up spills and getting pet accidents taken care of right away are the only protection you can provide for your rugs.

If you ever have a sweater,socks, or even knitting wool that has become a home for moths you can use the same trick that museums use, and that is freezing. It has to be done in a deep freezer because they get colder than your fridge's freezer. Put the item in a plastic bag and squeeze out as much air as you can, tie the bag shut making sure it is as it tight as possible, then put it into the freezer. After one week remove bag from freezer, do not open bag or remove item from the bag, let it warm up to room temperature again for a few days then pop it back into the freezer for another week. Doing the freezing twice ensures that all eggs have been killed. After the second freezing get item cleaned.

Moth eggs and larva cannot survive in cold or hot temperatures that is why putting a moth infested item through the freezing and warming cycle works, just like how nature kills off insects.

Live moth larva

Live moth larva eating a wool rug
Live moth larva eating a wool rug

Moth balls, cedar and other repellents

When you do an Internet search on how to make your wool items safe you are going to find many things, but do they actually work?

If you do not get your wool items cleaned before storing, or clean your rugs at least once every year or two there is nothing that will help make them moth proof. Dirty wool attracts unwanted visitors, period!

Here is a typical scenario, you wear your favorite wool sweater to dinner and dribble a bit of salad dressing or wine on it. You quickly dab it up with your napkin and there is no visible staining. After winter is over you fold it up and put it away. When you go to wear the sweater the following winter you are shocked to see part of the sweater has been eaten by moths exactly where you had a food spill. Just because you cannot see any evidence of the food spill doesn't mean that there is no residue to support moth larva. Clean everything even if you only wore it once or just for a few hours. You may not have thought that you perspired in your sweater but the moths know that you did.

The popular thing to store wool in is Cedar chests. Yes cedar has been proven as a moth Repellent, not moth proof, but cedar only works when the oil is fresh. If you have a cedar chest it should be sanded on the inside every year to activate the cedar oil. Cedar chests are not airtight and moths can get in the smallest crack if they need to.

When using moth balls, which come in a cedar scent, NEVER put them directly onto clothing or rugs. Wrap them in paper towels and place in the middle of your rug or in the middle of storage container. For moth balls to work effectively they need to be sealed in an air tight container. The gas they give off needs to build up, that is how they repel moths. Again moth balls REPEL moths not kill them. If there are moth eggs present before storing with moth balls you may still have moth activity, the eggs and larva can become resistant to the effects of the moth balls.

I recently read on a few blogs about moth repellents and there are many essential oils that can be used to repel moths. Camphor, lavender, mint, thyme, rosemary are all mentioned in some combination or other as a natural way to protect wool from moths. These are great natural alternative to moth balls, but again having everything cleaned before storing is the best protection.

Wrapping area rugs for Storage

Tyvek is the best thing to wrap area rugs for storage
Tyvek is the best thing to wrap area rugs for storage

Storing Area rugs

The easiest way to store area rugs is the most damaging to them and that is in plastic. You should NEVER store anything in plastic except food. Plastic bags and wrap hold in moisture and cause your rugs to yellow, smell musty, grow mold and mildew, and possibly rot, which are not desired when storing area rugs. After you have your rug cleaned it should be wrapped in a breathable, waterproof material, even if it only for a few months because you cannot predict what may happen. Same goes for clothing. NEVER store your clothes in plastic dry cleaning bags.

When you are storing your rugs in a storage facility they should be wrapped for protection as well. This summer alone, Luv-A-Rug received rugs from two separate clients that were stored in storage locker facilities that received water damage. You cannot guarantee that storage units are going to keep your rugs and items safe. One client very expensive rug was ruined by a leak that had developed. The other client had her rugs damaged when there was hole punctured in her unit which was never reported to her or the owner of the storage place. Check your storage unit a few times a year to ensure that everything is safe, dry and moth/pest free.

Nothing is guaranteed to protect your wool area rugs from everything, although that would be nice if you could. When you get your rugs cleaned by Luv-A-Rug we can wrap your rug for storage and even store it for you for a nominal cost. We use the 3M product Tyvek. It is what is used to wrap houses when they are being built to waterproof them before the siding is put on. We use Tyvek for area rugs because it is breathable and waterproof. For long term storage we do recommend the use of moth balls, we use the cedar scented ones, for added protection.

When storing your rugs they should NEVER lay directly on a concrete floor, on their ends or have things piled on top of them. The best way to store your area rugs is to suspend them from the ceiling, if possible, or on a shelf off the floor. When you hang your rugs it is much harder for moths and rodents to get at them. Pregnant moths cannot fly, they are too heavy, so having your rugs off the floor makes it near impossible for them to try to lay their eggs in your rug.

After you have stored your rugs check on them a few times a year to make sure everything is okay. Check for tears in the wrapping, water leaks near your rug, rodent and pest activity, ect. Never leave anything to chance. The same goes for any clothing, blankets or furs you have in storage. Check them in the summertime just to make sure that they are still moth and pest free.

When it is time to use your rugs again, air them out for a day or two before putting them in your home. If you do not have the room to air them out bring them to Luv-A-Rug and we will air them out for you for a nominal cost. If you do not live in Victoria, BC, Canada call your local area rug cleaners and they should be able to offer that service for you.

It isn't easy to replace your precious wool rugs, taking a few steps before storing can save you a lot of money and heartache later.


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