How to Prevent and Treat Moths and Silverfish Naturally

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If you’re a fan of woolly jumpers and other natural fibres, then when it comes to storing them for the spring/summer, you need to take a little extra care. That’s where this post on How to Prevent and Treat Moths and Silverfish Naturally comes into play.

Prevent and Treat Moths and Silverfish Naturally - stack of knitwear

Fibres such as wool, silk, cotton and linen are fantastic natural fibres because they’re not only beautiful but also breathable and eventually biodegradable. Unfortunately, however, it’s not just us who sing their praises. Some of natures more leggy friends also find these items very attractive. Moths and even silverfish are common insects who have a high regard for our wardrobe contents.

Last year during the start of lockdown, I taught myself how to knit and sew. Since then, I’ve acquired quite a collection of wool and natural fibres for dressmaking. Naturally, the thought of these fibre nibbling friends leaves me feeling pretty uneasy when it comes to storing them and finished products away!

With that in mind, I decided to take action! I took a deep dive into finding out ways to naturally prevent these critters from finding their way into my stash and wardrobe. If you’re also an avid yarn collector, or simply don’t want your fancy silk scarves and woolly jumpers to come adorned with holes come Autumn, read on!

How to Prevent and Treat Moths and Silverfish Naturally

If you’re tired of finding holes in your wool sweaters and other items and you’re not sure what’s causing them, have a read to see if this sounds familiar.

Prevent and Treat Moths and Silverfish Naturally - silverfish image

Silverfish

Silverfish are very small light grey and blue wingless nocturnal insects. Typically they’re found in dark moist places, such as in attics, basements, garages, bathrooms and kitchens. Although they’re harmless to humans, the same can’t be said for your property. They can easily destroy books, papers, carpets, unsealed pasta, oat and cereal packets and yes… your clothes. They love to nestle into your textiles as much as you do.
Since silverfish munch down on a diet of starch, sugar and protein, this makes linen, cotton, wool, viscose, rayon and silk all prime targets.

You’ll typically find damage signs such as holes, yellow stains and garments with a shaved appearance. Along with these, you’ll find droppings left on old paper and wallpaper and may find them burrowing in unsealed dried food packets.

Prevent and Treat Moths and Silverfish Naturally - moth image

Clothes Moths

Related to butterflies, moths are a group of flying insects that have a very big appetite for your textiles. Unlike a lot of moths who tend to go towards the light, clothes moths on the other hand prefer to hide away in dark, undisturbed areas. Typically, wardrobes, cupboards and boxes. They also tend to congregate around their food source.

Animal fibres are their preferred dietary choice, especially the expensive stuff, so anything you have made from wool, silk, cashmere, angora or fur are their go-to’s.
That being said, although they love their keratin, they’ll also happily have a go at other natural fibres like cotton and linen too. You’ll find anything from tiny holes to drastic holes in your garments.

I can’t believe I’m going to broadcast this on the internet, but for the sake of blog dedication, here it goes. I actually had moths eat my underpants! My beloved period pants have a crotch made from merino wool. After leaving them in my backpack (clean!!) for a month, when it came to needing them I discovered that the ENTIRE crotch had been eaten! And the fat and still hungry moth was actually still on them! Yikes.

And it doesn’t stop there. Although clothes moths mainly feast on natural fibres, they have also been known to eat through synthetics to get to a food source, for example, a stain. If you’ve got some kind of stain, whether from food, body oil or even your own perspiration, they’ll find it. That’s why it’s very important to clean your clothes before storing them. Once these stains oxidize over time in storage or in your wardrobe, they’ll attract insects.

Ok, so we’ve covered what these critters are and how they can damage our clothes. Now let’s get on to how to prevent them.

Prevent and Treat Moths and Silverfish Naturally - wash your garments

No. 1 – Wash Your Garments

When it comes to preventing both silverfish and clothing moth damage, cleaning your clothes prior to storage is imperative. It’s also advised to keep an eye on them even when not in storage, and simply in the wardrobe. If you don’t wear it for a while and it remains lingering in a dark corner, it can also become a culprit. Especially if there are any stains.

As mentioned above, insects are attracted to perspiration, perfume, and body oils, therefore if you don’t wash your clothes before storing them, you’re laying out quite the spread for them to feast on whilst you’re away enjoying your summer wear!

If you have a sunny day, try drying your clothes on the line in the sun. This will help to kill off any potential eggs/larvae before storing.

No. 2 – Store Your Items Well

Proper storage is key. After washing your items that will be stored for the season, make sure they are dry and that the area you’ll be putting them is dry. A humid attic or basement is another insect haven.

Cardboard, paper and plastic storage tends to be a no go. Natural fibres actually need air, especially to keep their shape. Instead, try to store your clothes using a garment bag.
Opt for ones that don’t have significant gaps, especially around the zipper or at the bottom of the bag. These will not do a great job at deterring any moths. You’ll likely notice that the top of a garment bag has a small opening where the hanger goes. This can easily be remedied by using some tape to cover the gap once your clothing is inside.

zipper bags against moths

Alternatively, you can try wrapping your clothes in fabric bags made from natural breathable fibres like cotton or linen. These can also be found where you close them with a zipper, but again, make sure there are no large gaps.

When considering the material of the garment bag, keep in mind that many garment bags and other storage options are made from plastic. While plastic is often cheaper, it is not breathable. Instead, have a look into some more popular alternatives like PEVA vinyl and non-woven fabrics. They’re breathable and durable while still providing protection from moths and bugs. Air can pass through them, keeping your clothes fresh and cool.

If this isn’t a feasible option, you can also try to wrap your clothes in a thick cotton fabric and store the items in a well-sealed big plastic box. Throw in some lavender sachets and make sure to open the box regularly to allow airflow. Every couple of weeks to a month should do. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.

On the subject of plastic. Vacuum bags might sound like a good idea, and for some items they are. Items with natural fibres like wool and fur clothing, however, shouldn’t be stored in vacuum bags for a long time. The fibres require air to stay in their natural shape. You could actually risk damaging the fibres over time. Especially if they’re left in these bags for too long. Opt for the garment bags instead.

basket of wool

If we’re talking yarn, then there are similar options. Instead of garment bags, use fabric bags with zips and tape up the top where the zipper ends. Again, pop them in a plastic box and open it regularly for airflow.
Another option that is debated online for effectiveness, some loving it, others opposed to it is to store your yarns in a separate ziplock bag with a lavender sachet or some cedar balls inside. For example, 5 balls of the same kind in one labelled bag, a jumpers quantity of the other in another bag and so on. Then store them in a big box and open it regularly.

No. 3 – Use Herbs and Essential Oils

Previously, the standard recommended products were mothballs laden with hardcore chemicals that offered a side of a not so pleasant lingering scent of mothball. These chemicals are actually pretty toxic to humans and in fact, many countries are banning the use of them.

In place, we have plants! Although herbs and essential oils won’t totally prevent moths and silverfish, they will certainly help to drive them away. Especially if you keep up on refreshing the lavender bags and sandpapering the cedar blocks.

Prevent and Treat Moths and Silverfish Naturally - lavender plant

To help prevent moths and silverfish from invading your wardrobe, try out the following essential oils: Cedarwood | rosemary | lavender | thyme | clove | cinnamon | peppermint | lemon | lemonbalm | cloves.

Try making lavender sachets/herbal sachets with dried herbs and storing them in your wardrobe. Pop them in between your woollies and hang them on coat hangers. You can use them throughout the year, and also in your storage bags. Refresh them by giving them a scrunch regularly, or adding some essential oils onto them after 6-9 months.

I also like to drop essential oil onto cotton pads (I made some reusable ones) and store them in between my yarn balls, fabric stash and clothes. I refresh them every week or so and make sure that they don’t come into actual contact with the items so as not to get oil on them.

Cedar sticks and blocks are also great. You just need to give them a refresh every now and again by using some sandpaper. You can easily hang them in your wardrobe or stuff them into your draws to shoo them off.

Be careful putting your sachets and cedar blocks in direct contact with delicate fabrics, as it’s possible their natural oils could be transferred and leave marks.

I also like to put natural bars of soap that I’m not using yet in between t-shirts and such. Dr Bronner’s have plenty of soaps with lovely scents that also happen to be unappealing to bugs.

wooden hangers

No. 4 – Keep your Wardrobe and Drawers Clean

It’s always a good idea to reorganize and clean your clothing areas regularly. Every couple of months, take the time to empty your draws, monitor the scene and make sure there’s nothing nibbling your clothes.

Empty out your wardrobe and drawers and expose them and your clothes to sunlight (clothes moths hate it!), then vacuum and wash the areas.

Doing this relatively regularly is a great habit to keeping your space free of bugs. Furthermore, it also means that if you were ever to get an infestation, you’ll notice sooner and might be able to catch it early and limit the damage.

Prevent and Treat Moths and Silverfish Naturally - woman on the floor clutching her clothes

Help! I’ve already got an infestation!

First of all. My condolences. It happens, but that doesn’t make it any better!
Let’s get you rid of them…

First up..

Wash any item that can be washed on hot immediately and any surrounding items. They may have eggs/larvae so it’s best to cover your bases and treat everything as if it’s affected. A hot iron can also help.

Freezing is another option and is great for more delicate items or items that can’t be washed hot. If you’ve got moths in your yarn collection, freezing is a great option. Silverfish can’t withstand freezing temperatures, nor can moth eggs.
If you spot insect activity, isolate the affected garments immediately then freeze them for a week or two in plastic storage bags or containers in the freezer.
After this time has passed, wash the clothes on a normal wash that’s appropriate for them. If you can, put the items outside to expose them to sunlight.

If you have special items that need to go to the dry cleaner or tailor, make sure to pop them in the freezer first. You don’t want to spread the infestation to them too!

mending clothes damaged by moths

Then..

Assess any damage post washing and do your best to salvage what you can. Look to see if any items of clothing can be mended. Perhaps it just needs a simple darn. If things have gone beyond that, don’t just chuck it. Maybe you’re a sewer or know someone who is, maybe you can cut up the fabric for another outfit or even a patchwork blanket.
If the top of the dress is ruined, maybe you can turn it into a skirt, or get it tailored. There are always ways to turn a negative into something positive. Plus this way you’ll reduce waste and make something new!

With regards to yarn, there are endless scrap projects if your stash has been attacked. Blankets, stripes and scrappy projects are easy to use them up.

Prevent and Treat Moths and Silverfish Naturally - cleaning products

Clean

Naturally, whilst your items are being washed or frozen, you need to use this time to get hoovering, wiping and blitzing that space to remove any eggs, larvae or moths. Look out for webbing and/or cocoons in your cupboard corners as well as any musty smells on your clothes.

A good ole vinegar/water solution with essential oils works a treat. Open it up and get the light in there. Read more about natural cleaning here:

Inspect everywhere, including the corners and backs of the shelves.
You’ll want to stay on top of this in case you missed any and they start to hatch again and start the cycle over again *sigh*.
I would also recommend hoovering the room regularly to remove any eggs or debris that might be on/in the carpet or surrounding areas.

Once the infestation seems to be handled, follow the previously mentioned moth and silverfish prevention methods to avoid repeating this whole unpleasant ordeal. Good luck!

Emily Nöth

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*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention.

Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication.

* note that essential oils are extremely concentrated and potent. Most essential oils should be diluted before use, and unless they state they are food-grade, they are not for internal use.
If you’re pregnant, diabetic or have a medical condition please consult a medical professional before using essential oils.
Also, take care when using essential oils around pets.