Let’s start with the awful truth ...
If you see clothes moths flying in your wardrobe, its all too late. In fact it was all too late about a month earlier when the damage was being done.
Think of a moth as a ‘flying thank you card’… thanks for eating my merino knit.
So forget whatever you have been told about moths, the first step is to know your enemy.
Here are some facts to get started…
The female adult moth only lives for 2 weeks and in that time can lay up to 100-400 eggs! When the female adult moth is searching for the "ideal" egg laying location, she's looking for a source of nutrition for the larvae to feed on when they hatch. The larvae must be able to feed and ‘drink’ in order to survive and grow. More about that later.
The typical lifecycle of a common ‘clothes moth’ is
Adult female moth lays eggs
Eggs hatch into Larvae within 2 weeks
Larvae [your enemy] will feed from 8 - 48 weeks on any available protein based fibres [merino/cashmere]
When fully developed [about 10mm long] the Larva forms a cocoon to transform
After 2 weeks an adult Moth leaves the cocoon.
Adult female moth lays eggs…..
From start to finish, the life cycle can be as short as 3 months with all the damage done at the Larvae stage. Your enemy is the small 5mm long ‘maggoty’ Larva that has hatched on your knit during the summer months when it is warm and humid. The last place you will be looking during the summer is at your merino knits at the back of your wardrobe. The common clothes moth is one of the species that actually likes dark areas and is not attracted lights and so the larva have it all to themselves.
Eating and ‘drinking’
Always remember that Merino, cashmere and silk are protein fibres which are like gourmet meals for a moth larva or silverfish. The protein in the fibre is the food source the larva need to grow and develop. Because larva cannot actually drink, they need a supply of nutrients to consume, but what could that be in the knits?
Now for the bit you didn’t expect.
If merino and cashmere knits are stored without first being thoroughly cleaned, then all your perspiration and little stains on the knit will contain all the tasty nutrients necessary for the larvae to ‘drink’. These nutrients include proteins, mineral salts, vitamin B complex and cholesterol that accumulate on your garments from your perspiration, body oils, eating and drinking from everyday wearing the knit. The bottom line is – you are the problem.
The presence of moths has nothing to do with your personal hygiene or the cleanliness of your house; it is just that a moth can sense nutrients in a garment that we simply cannot detect. An un-washed knit is a’ thing of desire’ for a moth. So keep this in mind at the end of every winter, if you have worn it, then clean it, then store it.
The Damage done
Have you ever wash a knit and later found it riddled with holes and wondered what the hell happened in the washing machine?
Larvae can feast anywhere- on the inside of a knit, on the surface of a knit, or even on the side seams in a garment. The best way to describe the feasting is like cattle ‘grazing’. The Larvae nibble across an area which makes the fabric thinner. Sometimes the knit is only being held together by a few threads.
Then when you wash the knit, these few threads snap and immediately you have holes, ... and heartbreak.
If you are worried, then the quickest way to find any damage is to hold the knit against the window and look for ‘lighter’ patches in the fabric. These patches are because the grazing by the larvae has made the knit look thinner as the fibres are eaten away. If you find a Larva grazing area, then keep looking because there will definitely be more.
The sad fact is that once the damage is done, there are few options for repair that do not end up looking like a battle scene. Even the most talented darning expert cannot hide large grazed areas of damage. A favoured technique is to apply an applique or patch to hide the damage if it looks appropriate.
What should I do?
Clean it - then store it. A very simple rule to follow to prevent disaster.
There are many people who will recommend cedar blocks, herbal sachets, moth balls, etc etc etc. but these may only give you a cupboard full of noxious fumes and a false sense of security.
The fact remains, you don’t want your merino and cashmere knits to appear like an all-you-can-eat buffet to the adult moth. Clean your knits according to the garment care instructions to rid all the left over nutrients from wearing, then store it in a bag you can seal like a zip lock type and you will have peace of mind.
Remember - No food, no larva, no damage – no tears.