Natural moth protection

Photo: Kitaykin/Jon Schulte
The hot summer months are prime time for moths to start munching your clothes, rugs and other household fabrics. How can you protect your home from the ravages of moths without resorting to toxic moth balls? Know thy enemy The plain Jane of the butterfly world, there a hundreds of varieties on moths. Cloth-moths come in three varieties: webbing clothes moth, casemaking clothes moth, tapestry or carpet moth. The first two are the most common and easily identified by their buff colored body and silvery brown wings with no spot. They're not good flyers so chances are you won't see them circling around in the air. They also avoid sunlight, preferring dark undisturbed areas like closets, basements and attics. If you see do see tiny moths flying about in the kitchen and other open areas, breath easy. These are grain moths probably from an infested cereal, flour or stored grain. Getting rid of these moths involves throwing out the infested food. Watch the offspring It's not the adult moths that eat you out of house and home but rather their hungry offspring. Female moths lay an average of 40 to 50 per day and when the larvae hatch they start munching. The secret is to catch the larvae before they hatch. Take any infected clothes and put them in a freezer for 48 hours. Hang them out in the sun -- the bright sunshine will kill the larvae immediately. Washing and hanging out in the sunlight is equally as effective. Stay clean The smell of sweat is particularly attractive to moths. So the first rule in protecting your household is to make sure any winter clothes in storage are clean. The vacuum cleaner is another important tool against moths. Moths love to hang out in warm, dark places, nestling into nooks and crannies. Vacuuming any wooden furniture, along baseboards, heating vents and woollen carpets can go a long way to preventing an outbreak. Washing wool Be sure to wash your woollens gently, avoid twisting or wringing. Gently swirl the wool in water no hotter than 37C (100F) using a soap with a low pH. You can add 14 mm (one tablespoon) of vinegar to lower the acidic content of the detergent. Swirl and gently press the wool, rinse and then press the water out. Never wring. Place the sweater flat, blocking it into shape and let it dry. Consider investing in some of the wool washes with scents. Eucalan makes lanolin infused no rinse wool wash with lavender. The company offers samples by mail if you send them a self addressed stamped envelope. New York based The Laundress sells a wool & cashmere shampoo with combining cedar extracts. Once dry, air out your woollens for a few hours before packing them away. Proper storage the key Airtight containers can go a long way to stopping moths. Plastic storage bins or ziplock bags are probably the most convenient but since we are all trying to cut down on plastics in our home why not try the old fashioned cedar chest? Prices range from $150 for a simple bare-bone storage unit. It's the is probably the nicest way to store woollens. Make sure it's airtight since the oil in the wood can kill small larvae but will not affect larger larvae. Air tight will ensure the moths don't into the wool to start out with. Stay away from mothballs The standard practice is to throw in a mothball or two with the winter clothing. But these mini toxic bombs should be avoided altogether since they are made from napthaline or paradichlorobenzine. Both chemicals are neuro-toxic carcinogens and considered extremely dangerous, especially to children and pets who are often attracted by their sickly sweet smell. In fact, mothballs are a leading cause of poisoning. Paradicholorbenzine can also melt plastic so if you are using ziplock bags to store your clothes you could end up with gooey plastic all over them. Be safe and use the natural alternatives. As well as being better for your clothes and the environment, they smell way better. Make your own Make your own natural moth balls by putting a few drops of oil on a cotton ball and placing it into a small cloth bag alongside your clothing. Lavender, rosemary, clove, cedar wood, mint, thyme and sage are all good repellents. Mix and match the oils to suit your taste. You can also cedar chips placed in a cloth bag or make your own herbal sachets. (See our how-to article: Add some scent to your life with homemade sachets.) Sensible chemistry Your local hardware store may sell pheromone moth traps. These enviro-friendly, non-toxic traps use the sex chemicals produced by moths to lure the males onto a sticky trap. These traps are a good way to detect if you have moths or not. Anne Colvey is a regular contributor to Green Living Online. She longs for a completely cashmere wardrobe.