Six Spring Tips for Wool Moth Prevention

Spring has sprung! It’s time to start putting away the winter clothes. Here are my tips for keeping your woolen items moth-free while in seasonal storage:

1. Wash your woolens!

Moths are more likely to attack dirty woolens than clean ones. And the washing process also helps remove critters who may be in your clothes waiting for a snack. Dry cleaning is not necessary–people had been wearing (and washing) wool for thousands of years before dry cleaning was invented. Some care is needed, however–use cold water, a mild soap, and as little agitation as possible. Washing wool with soapnuts is especially effective as they have insecticidal properties.

2. Dry them in sunlight

Wool moths and caterpillars prefer dark, undisturbed places. After you’ve washed your woolen items, air-dry them in a sunny spot. Spread large or heavy items like sweaters out on a clean surface to dry. Even if you haven’t washed your items recently, getting them out of storage and airing them out in the sun helps encourage moths and caterpillars to move along.

3. Harness the power of herbs and oils

Lavender, rosemary, and cedar all repel moths. They lose their effectiveness as the scents wear off, so use freshly dried herbs and replace them periodically. If you’re lucky enough to have inherited a cedar chest, I am envious! But the oils that deter moths need to be refreshed periodically by lightly sanding the inside of the chest to expose new wood surfaces. You can also purchase smaller bits of cedar to put in the drawer with your woolens. These also need to be replaced or refreshed as the scent wears out. Herbs can be placed in sachets and layered in with your wool clothing. And, remember those soapnuts I mentioned before? I read that you can place whole soapnuts in with wool clothing to deter moths. This year I’m planning to make some herbal sachets with lavender, rosemary, and soapnut powder. I figure I can put them in with my wool clothing for storage, and then use them to wash things when I start wearing them again in the fall.

4. Store wool and silk separately

Wool and silk fibers are both made up of chains of amino acids, so wool moth caterpillars will eat them both. But only wool contains the amino acid cystine, which gives off a sulphur smell that moths can detect. So moths are attracted to wool, but not to silk–they’ll just stop by if it happens to be in the neighborhood. Storing silk items away from woolen ones can prevent them from becoming collateral damage.

5. Store woolens in airtight containers

Plastic bags or bins are not airtight! Moths can chew through plastic, and they will if they can smell a snack on the other side. If you’re lucky enough to own a beautiful, well-crafted cedar chest with tight joins (see #3), use it. If not, try using a vacuum sealer. I’ve been vacuum sealing almost all of my wool for the past 3-4 years, and it has helped tremendously in reducing both moth damage and storage space. From raw fleeces to skeins of yarn to almost-finished sweaters, I vacuum seal it all. I find that a vacuum sealer intended for food works just fine. Sealing things in smaller, separate batches also helps isolate any existing infestations, preventing them from spreading to other items.

6. Love your woolens!

The best way to keep your woolens moth-free is to wear them on a regular basis. If you do have to put them away in storage, do so carefully and check on them periodically. If you notice any damage, caterpillars, or moths, take action immediately to prevent the damage from spreading (I’ll write up my tips for managing an active moth infestation in another blog post). Even taking all precautions, it’s likely that a few moths will still take a nibble. If you can, try to appreciate a little bit of moth damage as a reminder that your clothing is part of a complex, ongoing web of life.

Do you have successful strategies for dealing with wool moths? If so, please share them in the comments!

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