Are these closet or pantry moths, and how do I get rid of them?

Q: I see little moths flying around my house. How can I tell if it is a closet moth or a storage moth? And how do I deal with them?

A: These two types of pests can be difficult to tell apart, as the moths are all about ½ inch long. Pantry pests have wings with sections of different colors, while closet moths are a single color (beige or tan) and their wings end in furry-looking hairs.

There’s an easier way to tell which category of moth you’re dealing with: if you see moths flying around as you pace, they’re probably food pests. Clothes moths shy away from light and fly mainly at night. Also, pantry moths are more likely to fly around simply because their life cycle is relatively short – around 25 days from egg to adult. Depending on the temperature, clothes moths can take anywhere from a month to two years to reach the flight stage.

The most common food moths are the Indian flour moths. The adults have wings that are tan and tan with lines separating the colors. The caterpillars, which are whitish, grow to about ½ inch long and form silky webs on food. They are not picky eaters; They can infest flour, grains, powdered milk, dried dog food, dried fruit (think raisins), and bird seed. The caterpillars of another species, angoumois grain moths, develop and feed on whole grains of cereals or maize, or in seeds.

However, it is not necessary to identify the type of food moth as the solution is the same in all cases – and they are not pesticides. You need to find any food that is infested and either throw it out or at least place it in containers that prevent bugs from getting in or out. And wipe out the cupboards and vacuum cracks to remove any cocoons.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money for this cleaning. Instead of buying matching containers, you could reuse jars and to-go containers with tight-fitting lids. And while food doesn’t look appealing with tiny white caterpillars and tangles of webbing, it’s safe to eat because food moths don’t transmit disease. However, most people just throw the food away. It must go in a trash can outside your home or in a food waste recycling bin if your municipality offers it.

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Keeping all your stored food in pest-proof containers does not guarantee that you will never have a food moth problem. Food you buy from a grocery store may be infested when you bring it home. But the bins will lock in a new batch of caterpillars, preventing them from laying eggs in other foods.

If the moths continue to emerge after your dried food is in pest-proof containers, you may see adults that have emerged from cocoons spun by caterpillars that left the contaminated food behind before you cleaned it. Indian flour moth caterpillars often crawl up ceilings or walls before forming a cocoon, and it can take several weeks for the last of these cocoons to release the moths that have formed inside.

But if the problem persists for several weeks, you may have missed a spot where the caterpillars are still feeding. Ornamental corn, dried flowers and plants, chocolate, and even potpourri can all be suitable habitats. This also applies to unopened boxes of baking mixes or other packaged food. Check the boxes for signs of webbed feet or tiny holes that caterpillars may have chewed. If you are unsure and don’t want to throw away the boxes, place them in a freezer. At least four days in zero degrees Fahrenheit will kill both eggs and caterpillars.

Pantry pests are a nuisance, but controlling closet moths can be even more painful. Also known as carpet moths and fabric moths, these pests may have taken hold of your home and caused costly damage before you even knew they were there. The caterpillars eat animal fibers, i.e. wool, mohair, cashmere, leather, fur and feathers. These include clothes, rugs, stuffed animal heads, family heirlooms, and even the occasional abandoned bird’s nest in an attic. Items that are stored for long periods of time and carpets that are rarely vacuumed because they are under heavy furniture are most likely to have holes or bare patches.

There are two types of clothes moths: clothes moths and clothes moths. A case-bearing caterpillar forms an open-ended fibrous tube about ½ inch long in which to shelter itself when feeding. Tubes are often seen on carpets or clothing. A web caterpillar creates a strip of web across the surface and hides underneath while it feeds.

Pesticides are generally not very useful in dealing with a closet moth problem as there is no way to spray just the caterpillars; You would also get the pesticide on your clothes, carpet and other valuable items. Instead, you should remove any infested or susceptible item and either discard or treat it.

The old-fashioned treatment was to hang objects outside and hit them with a stick to make the eggs and caterpillars fall off. Today, dry cleaning, washing in hot water (at least 120 degrees), heating in a dryer, freezing for about three days, or careful vacuuming can kill or remove both eggs and caterpillars. Be sure to wash or dry-clean worn clothing, as clothes moths are attracted to fibers with body oils or spilled food.

Before putting things back in the closets, vacuum the room thoroughly, especially along carpet edges, baseboards, and cracks. Consider storing items you rarely use in plastic containers with tight-fitting lids or in compression bags.

Because it’s so difficult to spot a closet moth infestation before significant damage has been done, you might want to invest in pheromone traps, which can act as an early warning system. The traps use a female’s scent to attract males. Only males are likely to land on the trap’s sticky pad, but fewer males mean fewer mates for the females. Some traps work on a specific type of moth. For example, Raid’s moth trap ($48.92 for 12 at Home Depot) is listed for attracting moths with webbing.

Having a problem in your home? Send questions to [email protected]. Put “How To” in the subject line, let us know where you live and try to include a photo.

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