Moths of all types cause damage to fabrics, trees, yards, and stored food. But it’s their larvae, not the adult moths, that is the problem. As a result, it becomes a real challenge to keep these destructive pests under control.
In this guide to moth management, you’ll learn:
- How To Get Rid of Moths in Your Home
- How To Reduce Damage From Moths in Your Yard
- How To Identify Several Species
- How To Prevent Moths From Returning
Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!
Table Of Contents
How To Get Rid of Moths in Your Home
Here, we give you step-by-step instructions for eliminating moths from inside your home. Keep in mind that you have to know how to identify the species of moth you have.
But fear not. We will go over the identifying features of the various types in a later section.
Follow these steps to get rid of clothes moths in your home:
- Thoroughly clean underneath furniture, along baseboards, and in closets. Immediately dispose of vacuum bags when finished since they may contain moth eggs and larvae.
- Launder clothing, blankets, and linens in hot water. For woolen articles, dry cleaning is the best option.
- Apply pyrethrin dust to cracks and crevices inside closets.
- Employ moth traps containing pheromone attractants throughout the home, especially in living areas.
Indian Meal Moths
Take these steps to eliminate Indian meal moths from your pantry and storage areas:
- Inspect kitchen, pantry, and storage rooms for signs of infestation
- Throw out any contaminated food immediately. Be sure to use plastic bags you can easily tie or seal.
- Use a vacuum cleaner to remove spilled food, eggs, larvae, and adult moths from affected areas.
- Clean cabinets, pantries, and countertops with a solution of bleach and water.
- Store all food items in sealed containers.
- Place pheromone traps labeled for pantry pests in the kitchen and pantry according to label directions. These small, sticky glue boards remove any remaining adult meal moths.
DIY Home Remedies
Mothballs were once the only recourse a homeowner had against textile and pantry pests. But these naphthalene balls tend to make your house smell like a chemical factory.
Instead, try using the natural repellent properties of cedarwood. You could attempt to replace the wood around your home, but a more practical solution is to soak small sachets with cedar oil. Place them where you see moths to deter their larvae from causing further damage.
Essential oil sprays also show potential against all sorts of kitchen pests. For example, spray some around baseboards as a deterrent, or treat cracks and crevices within pantries to repel moths.
Some tout the benefits of repelling Indian meal moths with bay leaves. However, there is no scientific evidence this works. With that said, placing a few leaves on a storage shelf would not hurt, if anything, just to see what happens.
How To Get Rid of Moths in Your Yard
Yard moths and their larvae are some of the most challenging pests to eliminate. To achieve the best results, we provide the steps to follow here. Further, we break them down by pest type.
- Confirm you have an infestation by spraying a small area of your lawn with a soapy water solution. This mixture tends to force larvae to the surface. Another method of inspection is to dig a one-foot square to inspect the topsoil.
- If there are at least five larvae per square foot, you have an infestation.
- Treat your lawn with an insecticide lawn spray containing spinosad or bifenthrin.
- Use a weed control product to manage clover and dichondra. These weeds give cover to the larvae against predatory insects, so it is best to eliminate them.
- Inspect trees to ensure you have a gypsy moth infestation.
- Scrape egg masses into a bucket.
- Kill the eggs by filling the bucket with soapy water.
- Apply a microbial insecticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (BTK) according to label directions.
- Continue monitoring for several weeks.
Indian meal moths are common in kitchens and storage areas. Their larvae destroy stored food items by feeding and burrowing into them.
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How to Prevent Moths
Now that you have moths under control, it’s time to take measures to prevent them. In this section, we show you how to do that both outdoors and inside your home.
Outside the Home
For tree moths, it’s best to avoid using broad-spectrum pesticides near trees. Instead, it’s ideal to encourage natural predators such as wasps and birds that feed on them.
Try attracting birds with feeders. For example, the ones that prey on gypsy moth larvae includes:
- Black-billed cuckoos
- Blue jays
- Rufous-sided towhees
Continue microbial insecticide treatments at least once a year to stave off most leaf-killing pests. These products are typically safe to use at prescribed intervals. However, it’s critical to read the label directions fully for maximum safety.
Microbial insecticides are available for lawns as well. However, the best way to keep damage to a minimum is by keeping the grass fertilized and mowed.
Preventing Moths Inside the Home
- Thoroughly clean storage areas, including attics and basements
- Consider storing cashmere sweaters in sealed plastic containers
- Keeping clothing in cedarwood boxes may help prevent infestations
- Store food in airtight containers to prevent future infestations
How To Identify The Type of Moth
There are over 160,000 species of moths worldwide. Moth larvae are also called caterpillars. They construct cocoons where they eventually emerge as adults.
It is the caterpillar that creates the most destruction. Some species eat plants, while others devour clothing and fabrics. Either type creates billions of dollars in damage each year to agricultural and consumer products in the U.S.
Differences Between Moths and Butterflies
The most apparent difference between moths and butterflies is their antennae. Moths typically have straight, hairy antennae, whereas butterflies have smooth, club-shaped antennae.
Another unique feature of the moth is its coupling mechanisms used to match up the forewings with the hindwings. Butterflies have no such apparatus.
Moth caterpillars spin a soft cocoon of silk, while butterfly caterpillars construct a chrysalis made from proteins. But, like most distinguishing features between the two, there are some rare exceptions.
For example, gypsy moths construct cocoons that resemble those of butterflies. However, they typically cover them in a web of silk, similar to those of spiders.
Another obvious difference between moths and butterflies is their wing coloration. Butterflies show vibrant, colorful wing patterns, while the moth’s wings are typically pale gray, brown, white, or black.
Last is the structural differences between the body types. Moths usually have stubby, furry bodies. In contrast, butterflies are slender and have a smooth abdomen.
Clothes moths avoid light and tend to hide in dark places. There are two distinct species in North America:
- Webbing clothes moths are a light brownish-yellow color with a tiny tuft of red hair on top of their head.
- Casemaking clothes moths are silvery-gray to light brown. They have a hairy fringe around both sets of wings.
The larvae of clothes moths are typically 1/2 inch long and cream-colored. Developing into an adult can take between one month to two years, depending on environmental conditions.
Indian Meal Moths
Indian meal moths are eight to 10 millimeters long and have a wingspan twice the length of their body. They are typically reddish-brown but can also be grayish-bronze in color.
Eggs are oval-shaped and white. In addition, they are almost too small to see with the naked eye.
Larvae are also hard to detect. They have brown heads, white bodies, and several legs that help them travel to food sources.
- Winter moths are about one centimeter long, are grayish-brown, and have dark brown bands on their wings. Larvae grow up to 3/4 inches about six months after hatching.
- Codling moths are between eight and 10 millimeters long, with brown spots enclosed in gold rings on the forewings. In some instances, the fruit the larvae feed on determines the wing color as adults.
- Gypsy moths are one of the more unusual North American species. The females are larger than the males. The other difference is in their coloring. The male displays a light tan to a dark brown pattern, whereas the female appears mostly cream colored with intermittent dark brown spots on the wings.
Sod webworms are the larval stage of the crambid grass moth. They are typically either green or beige and have dark, circular spots. Also, their length ranges from nine to 13 millimeters.
The adult moth is light gray to tan. It is approximately 12 millimeters in length, has a relatively long wingspan, and a slender body.
Signs & Causes of a Moth Infestation
Signs of a moth infestation largely depend on the species. Here, we show you what to look for with each type.
Indian meal moths lay eggs in dry goods and stored food products. They typically have a varied diet which includes:
- Dry pet food
Indian meal moths are common in kitchens and storage areas. Their larvae destroy stored food items by feeding and burrowing into them. Signs of contamination include fecal material as well as scattered silken webs.
Clothes moths have the unusual ability to digest keratin, a protein found in natural fibers. However, it is not the adults that cause the damage; it is the larvae.
They eat natural materials contained in fabrics, such as:
- Wool sweaters
- Clothing items
- Stuffed animals
Look for holes and tears in these items as signs of infestation. However, clothes moths will typically not damage synthetic fabrics unless they are blended with natural ones.
Some species, such as the gypsy moth, create widespread damage to mature trees. The destruction can show up as discolored leaves or defoliation.
Other moth species form silken structures along tree branches. The caterpillars construct them either alone or within small colonies. Typically, the first signs of damage are yellowing of leaves followed by defoliation.
Crambid grass moth larvae are called sod webworms. They feed on lawn roots and cause widespread damage, similar to that of grubs.
Look for yellowing grass followed by thinning patches. The damage then progresses to brown patches throughout the yard.
The easiest way to tell if you have an infestation is to spray a small section of the lawn with soapy water. This method tends to bring the larva to the surface. Conversely, you can cut a small patch of grass to uncover them as well.
A Final Word About Moths
Moths are probably the most varied pest you will run across. There are so many species that it can be confusing how to manage them all. For that reason, it is a good idea to consult with a professional in your area.
Pest control companies deal with moth problems all day long. Their technicians train for these challenges continually.
Also, hiring a qualified exterminator does not necessarily have to be a huge hassle. Just be sure that the company you choose is licensed, bonded, and insured in your state.