Shed Light on The Mysteries of Moths (and Moth damage)
by Everett Childers , an industry consultant and the author of the Master Drycleaners Notebook.
Every year at about this time, drycleaners start getting complaints from customers about little holes in their garments that weren’t there when they brought them in for cleaning.
This phenomenon has been going on as long as there have been retail drycleaners. First, the customer brings in woolen or silk garments from last year’s wearing and when they pick them up before the big party, they notice the little holes. They didn’t see them before taking the garments to the cleaners; therefore, the cleaner must have snagged the clothes and tried to cover it up by not mentioning anything.
But it isn’t the drycleaner’s fault; it is the fault of fabric’s oldest enemy, the moth. Moths damage protein fibers that have been left undisturbed for a long time. The most damage can be seen on items which have been stored with food and body odors like sweaters and other wool garmentsas well as old wool military uniforms or suits that have been stored for quite a while. Damage seen on currently worn garments comes from wearing them and putting them away for the season without having them cleaned.
Many of the little holes will appear in the armpit, front or lap areas of a garment. The damage is usually confined to wools, silks, hair fibers or furs—all protein fibers. Moths can also cause heavy damage to piano felts and wool carpeting, generally in areas that rarely get vacuumed or cleaned.
Two kinds of moths are largely responsible for damage to the textiles: the webbing clothes moth and the casemaking clothes moth. Both are pale yellow or straw-colored, and can be mistaken for the Indian meal moth, which lays eggs in flour and cornmeal.
Clothes moths are difficult to find because they avoid light, doing their worst at night, in dark closets and in storage chests. They really don’t like brightly-lit dry-cleaning plants. It’s the larvae that do the damage, though, and female moths can lay up to 300 eggs at a time. Eggs hatch in 6 to 20 days, depending on the temperature.
Many drycleaners used to offer free mothproofing in the spring to entice customers to bring in garments they wouldn’t wear for another eight or nine months. After spotting, garments were cleaned in solvent with an added mothproofing agent. This stayed in the garments, preventing moths from doing any damage. Companies selling mothproofing chemicals would often guarantee to pay for any damage done by moths to treated garments.
It’s difficult to offer this service today, due to governmental restrictions on mothproofing chemicals. Repellent is sometimes applied during textile manufacture, and there is a product on the market that repels moths, but must be reapplied periodically.
Cedar closets and cedar blocks smell wonderful, but cedar oil vapor only kills young larvae, not the mature moths, and cedar-lined closets only have a useful life of about three years. Freezing is an effective way to kill both moths and larvae. And liquid dry-cleaning solvents kill moths and larvae during the immersion process, but won’t keep them away long-term. Clothes moths find their way into the smallest as well as the largest homes.
What about mothballs? A mothball is not a repellent, but an exterminator. As mothballs evaporate, they produce fumes that slowly kill insects. In order for them to be effective, the storage space needs to be airtight so that the chemical can reach high enough concentration to act as a fumigant.
Now you know more about moths than you ever thought you would, and knowing these facts can save you money.