How to prevent moth damage: Tineola bisselliella AKA the Webbing Clothes Moth

We recently attended a lecture on caring for and cleaning Oriental rugs with an emphasis on protecting rugs from moth damage. One of the biggest fears shared by all rug collectors is the webbing clothes moth or simply the clothing moth.

Webbing Clothes Moth

Webbing Clothes Moth; The wool eater. Original Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tineola_bisselliella#mediaviewer/File:Tineola.bisselliella.7218.jpg

These little pests feed on many natural fibers, especially the wool found in your prized collection of antique Oriental rugs. Unfortunately there is no sure way to keep them out, but here are several methods to fight those bothersome insects:

Wool Oriental rugs

A collection of wool Oriental rugs

1. Before storing your rugs, please get them cleaned! Whether you go to a professional or choose to DIY, make sure you thoroughly clean your rugs before putting them into storage. After years of being on the floor exposed to the elements you really have no idea what kind of dirt, grime or moth eggs may be lying in the foundation of rugs at home. This is why it’s important to clean them every two years or so. If a rug is rolled up and put in storage without being cleaned there is a good chance it can come out with a whole lot of moth damage.

When storing them it is a good idea to wrap them in a paper and muslin cloth. This creates an extra barrier to deter the insect. Wrapping in plastic is not advised as plastic will trap moisture and could cause mold.

2. It is important to distinguish whether your rug has live moth or if you are looking at the webbing moths leave behind. Adult moths do not feed because they get all of the nutrition and moisture they need in the larval stage. This does’t mean if you see a flying moth you’re out of the woods. Flying moths can lay eggs in your carpets, and when those eggs hatch you can bet the larvae will be feeding on the wool.

Moth Balls

Mothballs, Original Image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/64/Mothballs.jpg/800px-Mothballs.jpg

3. Mothballs are no guarantee and can be hazardous to your health as well as your children’s and pet’s health. They also make your rugs smell like chemicals! Try using a bug repellent on your rug if you absolutely have to use a chemical.

Something like “Hot Shot” or “Raid” for flying insects will kill the live moths in your rug which can then be vacuumed up. If you have a very large collection kept in a separate room or work space you can try a moth bomb, or Fogger. This is a can placed in the center of the room that releases a very fine mist throughout. The fog will kill all flying insects, but it is also very harmful to humans and pets, so it is really only best for desperate situations. You should always follow the instructions explicitly stated on the package of whatever you are using.

4. If you don’t want to use chemicals, your best bet is to agitate the carpet. Moths like to live undisturbed, especially in dark areas under couches or ottomans. By inspecting areas under the couch once a month and shifting furniture to vacuum the entire carpet, you can put your mind at ease.

5. What to look for? The most obvious sign of an infestation is moths flying around your home or work space. If there aren’t any flying, it does not mean you are in the clear. You should check your carpets every month or so for webbing or larvae. Trust me, it is not a pretty sight and you will definitely recognize it. The webbing can be on the underside of the rug or the top. It will look like a cocoon and is a creamy white color. The larvae use this as a covering to feed under. It sticks to the rug and needs to be vacuumed up. There may be larvae in or around areas with webbing.

Bokhara rug

A large area of moth damage on a Pakistan Bokhara rug

If the damage is done and you are left with moth damage, or moth nicks on your Oriental rugs as seen in the picture below, all hope is not lost. You can still take your rug to a local dealer who offers a repair service and they can reweave or repair the damage depending on the extent of it. This is not a cheap service so it is important to be proactive with moths.

Indian Oriental rug with moth nick

A very small moth nick at the top of the rug near the fringe. The foundation threads (usually white like the fringe) are visible after a moth has eaten the wool.

There are many theories on repelling moths, some work and some do not, there is really no guarantee. One is using cedar, such as a cedar lined chest or closet for storing clothes. Another is using lavender. Freezing artifacts is a practice utilized by some museums and historical sites, as well as anoxia treatment which deprives the item of oxygen therefore killing the insects.

Sound off below: What is your experience with moths? What do you do to prevent them on your clothes and in your rugs?