HomeLaundryDo Moths Eat Cotton Clothes?

Do Moths Eat Cotton Clothes?

Have you ever put on a freshly washed jumper, walked out the door, only to discover there is a hole in it that you could have sworn was not there when you ironed it? 

Clothes moths can ruin anyone’s day, especially when you can’t actually seem to find them. Most of us trust that the nice-smelling bags we place in our closets will do the trick, but when they fail, what can you expect? 

Do moths eat cotton clothes, and should you now be worried about all of your fabulous cotton jumpers and shirts? 

Do Moths Eat Cotton Clothes?

Moths usually won’t eat 100% cotton clothing, but they will eat cotton blends. Pure cotton does not contain any of the protein they need to grow, so they will usually prefer materials like wool, fur or silk.

Moths eat keratin, the animal protein found in the fibres used to make a lot of clothes. Since 100% cotton contains none of it, they won’t be interested in it at all. Any item that is made with animal fibre can fall prey to moth larvae though. 

Moth larvae may also chew through cotton clothing to get to a different item, or munch on the skin flakes or stains you’ve left on a 100% cotton item. 

While you likely don’t have to worry about your pure cotton items, you probably store them where you store the rest of your clothes. If you notice there are moths in any of them, you need to take action straight away. 

Why Do Moths Eat Clothes?

Adult moths don’t eat clothes. Moth larvae eat it because it’s their source of food, containing the protein keratin they need to grow. Moths will thus also eat the human and pet skin found in your furniture, and not just burrow unsightly holes in your garments. 

Two types of moths typically attack clothes: the case-bearing clothes moth (tinea pellionella) and the webbing clothes moth (tineola bisselliell). 

After mating, a female moth will lay her eggs in your clothes. It’s warm and humid in your cupboard, and there is plenty of food to go around once the eggs hatch, making it the ideal breeding ground for this insect. The eggs are so tiny you won’t be able to see them with a naked eye, and will only spot something is wrong when holes start to appear. 

By this time, the eggs will have turned into larvae that will either spin a web and intertwine themselves with the fibres of your clothing, or create a case for themselves. They will munch away until they are full, when they will leave and evolve into the next stage of their development, ultimately turning into a moth. 

Moths will eat more than just your clothes, so if you notice them in your wardrobe, chances are they have also lain their eggs elsewhere. To get rid of them completely, you will need to find all of their lairs and exterminate them. 

Do Moths Eat Other Fabrics?

Moths generally eat all kinds of natural, animal fibres, including those found in wool, silk, fur and cotton blends. They can also burrow through natural materials to get to the animal protein underneath. 

While the holes in your cotton clothes have most likely been caused by your washer or dryer, if you notice them in your other fabrics, moths could very well be the culprits. 

Do Moths Chew Holes in Clothes?

While adult moths don’t chew holes in clothes, their larvae do. This is how they get the nutrients they need to survive. 

The trouble is that you can’t see moth eggs with a naked eye, so you won’t be able to tell you are about to come home to a hole in your animal fibre items. When you do, the time has come to do a thorough check for clothes moths all around your home. 

Where to Check for Clothes Moths

Since clothes moths will eat all protein-based fibres, you will need to go through a lot more than just your closet. 

All items that include natural, animal fibres should be checked for moths, especially any items kept in warm, dark places. This is where moths like to lay their eggs, as they will be protected there and have enough time to hatch. To get rid of them, think like a moth, so to speak, and go through everything. This will include:

  • Rugs
  • Carpets
  • Cushions
  • Pillows
  • Back of the furniture 
  • Underneath the bed
  • Behind wardrobes
  • In any nooks and crannies around your clothing 
  • Curtains 
  • Picture canvases 
  • Pet beds 
  • Stuffed animal toys 

Make sure you are as thorough as possible. The darker and more difficult a space to get to, the more likely this is where the moths are actually located.

Inspect one room at a time, and go over every single piece of clothing you own. The armpits and crotch areas are where you will usually find holes and moth larvae. 

How to Stop Moths From Breeding in Your Home 

The best way to prevent moths is to keep all clothing items you don’t wear on a regular basis in airtight bags. Also try to keep your closets and wardrobes well ventilated and completely sealed, so that no moth can crawl into them.

Your aim is not to provide potential meals for moths. If you eliminate all access to your clothing, especially the seasonal items you are not currently wearing, you will be fine. 

It is practically impossible to notice a developing moth infestation in its earliest stages. Webbing moths will spin their web in the same colour as the item they are living in, while case-bearing moths will make cases that are very hard to notice. You will probably notice something is amiss only by the holes in your clothing. 

You will often find moths in the darkest spaces in your home, or spaces you rarely use. Wardrobes full of winter clothing or unused items can be a great breeding ground. Checking them during moth season in the spring can help you spot them in time, in adult form. 

How to Get Rid of Moths and Prevent Them From Coming Back

You can get rid of moths either by washing your clothing at the highest possible temperature, or by freezing them at temperatures below -7 °C. You can also use a moth spray or place mothballs in your closets.

Moths don’t like sunlight, so you can also brush out your clothes outside in the sunshine. This may not get rid of all of them though, so you are advised to wash all your moth-infested clothes on the longest and hottest cycle the material will take. Check your clothing label to find out what that is.

Alternatively, you can also place the clothing in an airtight freezer that has been set to -7 °C or below. Leave it there for several days to ensure all the moths are gone. 

You can use lavender or cedar oil to keep moths away, or place mothballs in your closet, if you believe there are some around the home. These work very well. 

Make sure to keep your home clean and well ventilated, and to periodically check all the darkest nooks and crannies for moths. Once they appear, they are notoriously difficult to get rid of, so prevention is better than the cure. 

Wrapping It Up 

While neither moths nor their larvae eat pure cotton clothing, they will chew away at cotton blends and all other fabrics that contain animal fibres. Make sure to keep a moth repellent in your closets if you live in an area where moths tend to proliferate, and check your home for them every once in a while. 


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