Save customers’ vintage clothes from moths


April 18, 2023

Photo: Dr. Mohammed El Damir, BCE

For more information on these moths, check out the recent blog post by Dr. Mohammed El Damir, BCE. Photo: Dr. Mohammed El Damir, BCE

As the trend for second-hand and vintage clothing continues to boom, Rentokil Pest Control warns of the risk that clothes moths — both webbing (Tineola bisselliella) and casemaking (Tinea pellionella), among other possible stored product pests — can present to precious wardrobe items.

The used clothing market is forecasted to rise 67.5 percent by 2026 as emerging platforms cater for a growing number of eco-conscious fashion lovers. While shopping second-hand can be better for both the planet and purses, it’s not just consumers that love vintage clothes, according to a NottinghamshireLive release.

Although it’s best practice to wash any second-hand clothing item before storing them in wardrobes or drawers, this advice is not always practical or adhered to — meaning that eggs can be left undisturbed. The natural fibers typically found in vintage clothing can be a magnet for clothes moths. The larvae they produce feed off the protein keratin found in materials, such as silk, wool and leather.

It is at this stage that holes in fabrics occur and with clothes moths preferring dark, undisturbed areas, it can often be difficult to notice them until it is too late. Female adult moths can lay between 40 and 50 eggs over a period of two to three weeks before dying, and given springtime being the time of year that these pests begin to emerge and breed, these eggs can hatch within as little as 10 days. The eggs, which are laid singly or in small groups, are tiny and very difficult to spot in the folds of clothing.

It’s not just vintage clothing that is at risk. Let your customers know that any materials that contain natural fibers such as cotton or linen will also provide a source of keratin. As the weather changes, many customers might be switching over to warm-weather wardrobes, so it is worth reminding them to check  over their cotton summer shirts and linen shorts for example, to check for activity.

Google searches for “clothes moths” have peaked to its highest level in the past year, receiving 2,000 searches every month. In addition, searches for the terms “clothes moths” and “how to get rid of clothes moth” increased by almost 25 percent in February when compared to last year – indicating that homeowners are falling behind on this all-too-common pest problem.

Paul Blackhurst, head of technical academy at Rentokil Pest Control, said, “If left untreated, common clothes moths can cause a lot of unsightly damage to clothes, carpets and other materials in your home or business. Inspecting your vintage garments is crucial, and it’s not only irregular holes that indicate an infestation. We recommend also keeping an eye out for the larvae — which look like tiny, cream-coloured caterpillars — as well as moth webbing. These unwanted pests also produce something called frass, which is essentially moth excretion that tends to appear as small, beige balls. If you see any of these signs, it is important to act quickly and swiftly before the problem gets out of hand.”

Here are some tips from Rentokil for helping customers to keep their homes and clothes moths-free:

  1. Check vintage items. Before bringing vintage clothes or antique linens and soft furnishings into the home, they should be dry cleaned or treated before being placed alongside existing fabrics to prevent a potential spread.
  2. Keep clothes clean. Female moths like to lay eggs on fabrics stained with sweat or other bodily fluids as it helps to provide resulting larvae with access to more nutrients. Always clean clothes before putting them back in your cupboards or wardrobe.
  3. Clean suitcases. Bags, storage boxes and containers can also hide eggs or larvae.
  4. Vacuum regularly. Ensure hidden areas under large furniture or sofas are regularly vacuumed.
  5. Keep stored textiles in sealed bags. Vacuum storage bags or sealed plastic bags can help to prevent moths’ access to lay eggs.
  6. Be vigilant. Keep a constant look out for holes in garments and keep rooms dry and well-ventilated.

If there are signs of a moth infestation, have customers wash the clothes that they can at over 131 degrees Fahrenheit to kill off larvae. For clothes that cannot be washed in the machine, customers can freeze them for up to two weeks or take them to the dry cleaners to be cleaned at a high temperature. 


About the Author

Ellen Wagner is a former digital editor for PMP magazine.

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