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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Evil Moth Bastards - Part 1 Recognition & Eradication.

Know your Enemy & Attack!

“Look,” said my Boyfriend, “Moths got this sweater, too. Can you fix it?”
It’s an awfully fine Italian knit.
“Do you have the little bit of yarn that came with the tag?”
*Blank look* “Umm...”
“Okay, I guess not. I don’t think I can do as well as I did last time. The repair will show. And it’s right in the middle of the front...”
“Maybe I should take it to a tailor??”
“Yeah, you might want to try that. I’m willing to give it a go, but it won’t be invisible”
“Do you think a tailor is going to do a better job than you?”
“Probably - they might have more thread to match with and more experience with fine knits.”
“But you saved my favourite sweater. If you do this one, you’ll at least care about it, nobody cares about their job anymore. Someone in a tailor shop is not going to care about my sweater. Maybe you should do it.”
“Well, yeah, sure, but I can’t promise that it will be perfect.”

This scene has been enacted a few times around our house. While our moth problem is currently under control, I still find holes appearing where they shouldn’t, usually in items that were exposed to the critters in the pre-eradication era. In my dear Boyfriend’s eyes, I have performed some nearly miraculous sweater repair. Really, not that miraculous - If the knit is straightforward, when you can find a bit of the original yarn and depending on the position and extent of the damage, you can do some pretty tidy repair jobs. Complicated stitches and patterns can ‘hide’ the patch, if there is a lot going on, the eye isn’t drawn right away to the damaged area so exact stitch-matching isn’t key.

But this blog entry wasn’t going to be about fixing holes, but about the nasty winged creatures that cause so many of them and are a threat to all your woolen garments, blankets, furnishings and yarn collection. (And let’s honour our hoard with the title “collection” - more on that in another ramble.)

The culprit is the larvae of several species of moths; Tineola bisselliella & Tinea pellionella being the most likely suspects. The larvae are able to convert the proteins found in natural animal fibres like wool, cashmere, silk & alpaca into food. They also enjoy feathers and fur, have been found to munch on wool/synthetic blends and some say even cotton! I don’t know about that, but I have seen the work they can do on a 50/50 blend and it is not pretty. They also like items that are soiled, stained & sweaty. I always thought that was because it was more food for them, and maybe it is, but it appears they also need the moisture that goes along with the stains. Some species of moths will go for human food in addition to clothing. They are not all exclusive fibre diners. They can do quite well in the lint, dust and pet hair that builds up in corners, cracks & crevices around the house. The evil clothing moths and their nasty little larvae generally keep in the dark. They are not attracted to lightbulbs like some of their other cousins. In fact, it is good to keep in mind that light is the moths’ enemy and therefore your friend.

Before I moved in with my Boyfriend last April, it was clear he had a “moth problem”.
This is not something to be treated by mothaholics anonymous, but requires patience, hard work & vigilance. And also the ability to ruthless dispense with items infested beyond reclamation. The nasties flew boldly around the the house, the erratic flutter more irritating than a mosquito in the tent at night. I had to question my sanity. I am going to move in with moths!? I must be out of my mind.... but the moths must go!!!
“I know I have a problem,” he’d say, “The only solution is to spray.”
“No! Don’t spray. We can get rid of them without spraying!”
“It sounds like a lot of work.”
“It is but we have to do it anyway. No point keeping stuff it you don’t keep it well, I always say.”

What follows here are the steps we took to make the house less moth-friendly without resorting to fumigation - which is what my Boyfriend wanted to do. Frankly, I don’t see that as anything but a short term solution. According to the pest control people, the fumigation wouldn’t be effective without a serious clean up which included getting rid of cardboard boxes. Well, ANY successful clean up or pest eradication programs requires that. There are so many chemicals bouncing around in our environment, why add more if you don’t really need to. Getting on top of the moth problem, getting ridding of the evil bastards AND keeping them out, often requires changes in habit and maybe even lifestyle. If you have lovely woolens and fabrics from your family & your travels and a treasured yarn collection - not to mention all the items you and your friends have lovingly created with it - a few changes are worth it.

Get Outta my House, Moth! (with apologies to the Shuffle Demons)

I may be a Magpie, but my Boyfriend is a Pack Rat. He has socks from when he was in high school which was about 30 years ago. They don’t fit, he doesn’t wear them. He has a hard time letting it go. Add to this, his propensity for acquire more stuff ( a habit we both have but his stuff is generally larger) and which he has no place to put. So it pools around in heaps and caches all over the place. Even though he had a cleaning lady come every other week to give the place a good dusting and once over with the vacuum cleaner, there is a limit to what a cleaning lady can do. Shifting piles of scrap metal, orphaned electronics and power tools heaped in the middle of the living room are not usually in the job description of most housekeepers. And the piles stay there, for weeks, for months, dare I even say it, for years? Can you see the picture here? Lots of clutter, hard to clean, piles of lint and dust growing in the clutter. Add to this the floorboards, which are gorgeous wood, but alas were installed too wet and some rather dramatic gaps have emerged. These are especially well suited to trapping more dust, lint (and pet hair) and resist the suction of the vacuum unless you are being really, um, fastidious ( I was going to use the ‘a’-word) about this and get out the special attachment and follow each and every groove in the floorboard to clean them.

Okay, so we have DUST. Dust is Bad. Dust-mites, fleas and evil moth bastards all like dust. Dust must go.

For various reasons, he keeps the blinds shut during the day - mostly because he’s a busy professional & gets up early, leaves the house soon thereafter and gets home late. Light doesn’t penetrate much of the area.

Okay, now we have DARK places. Too many dark places. Nasty moths like the dark, so we must let the sunshine in whenever we can.

Both my Boyfriend and I like to keep the humidity at a place we find comfortable. Unfortunately, this can make the moths happy. Yup DAMP is bad. If you live in a really dry house, you actually have something going for you in terms of moth control. That’s not to say you won’t get moths or that they can’t survive, but they need to work harder to get the moisture they need and will develop more slowly. Added to DARK and DUSTY, though, DAMP makes your home very attractive to moth colonies. (and I moved into this place!! I must like this guy :-)

Next, the stuff. Here is the tricky part. It is also the part that you have to do no matter what. You have to go through your stuff. All of it. Especially if it contains any parts edible to rapacious moth larvae. This can be more than clothes and yarn. Oh yes. Cat toys languishing behind a piece of furniture, an unused accordion or clarinet at the back of a cupboard, the inside of an old instrument case, a jewelry box, stuffed animals, shoulder bags, felt shoe inserts - all these things and many more can contain enough fibre for a colony of evil moths to get established. Daunting, isn’t it? But you have to take things one by one. Closet by closet. Item by item.

This was the thing my Boyfriend, being the pack rat that he is, had the hardest time with. It was hard. Really hard. We picked a nice sunny spring day and started with the clothes cupboards at the top of the house. We have a very convenient sun-deck which became a staging area. I pulled everything out of the main clothes cupboard. Everything. And put it on the deck. Then I vacuumed the heck out of the cupboard. Each item of clothing was inspected. Some progress was made in terms of passing things on. Any item with evidence of moth attack, holes or more especially, the various casings, was left out on the porch so that sun & wind could do their part.

Does sun help? Yes. If your the dyes on your fibres can take a little direct sun, it is a good thing. Sun also dries things out. Sun won't cure a bad infestation, but exposing your fibres to a gentle sunbath is good, if and only if the fibre & dye can handle it. A good airing out of direct sun is also not a bad thing.

Here’s a disgusting little side story. I was helping an old boyfriend clean out his place and when I tried to vacuum under the bed, I met with great resistance. I looked and there were dust creatures under there the size of gophers. And a big heap of stuff. I pulled out the stuff which was some pictures wrapped up for storage in a small wool rug crawling, I kid you not, crawling with moth larvae. Suppressing the gag reflex I put the whole pile straight outside on the path way. I separated the pictures from the rug. It was a nice sunny day. Ha-ha! I thought, the powerful sun will fry the horrible moth larvae. Kill, kill, kill. (This is not like me. I leave spiders where they are and mostly ask things to leave but moths, fleas and cockroaches are given harsher treatment). I went back into the house and became a vacuum freak worthy of my mother. Every corner. Opened up the clothes cupboard and found the musty sweaters & old suits from high school with moth damage etc. etc. Sorted the damaged from the good and organized into bags. Then went out to see if the rug was still in the sun. Wouldn’t want a tree to cast a shadow and reduce the potency of the sun’s death rays, would we? Nature is truly beautiful and wonderful and thinks of everything. There was an anthill near the rug. The ants were carrying away the larvae. It was a bit gruesome really, but they were terribly efficient about it. They were getting the larvae that were on top AND underneath. They came back for the eggs. By sundown, the rug was rid of moths. It had also been moth ridden and had big holes in it. When then boyfriend came home, I showed it to him. He sighed but we decided that the rug could live outside for his dog to flop on and that the pictures could be protected with something less interesting to moths. Moral of the side story: Nature is your friend. Ants are good.

Back to my house. Next we tackled the cardboard boxes, many of which had not been opened since he’d moved into the place 3 years earlier.
“But they’re fine! They are all taped shut!”
“That is not going to stop a moth”
More moth eaten things discovered. I won’t go into it but, as I mentioned, it’s not just clothing but many other items with protein rich materials that evil moth bastard larvae feast upon. And then we found IT. The mother lode, the tinaeoid piece de resistance, a beautiful Afghani saddle bag, you guessed it, crawling with larvae, laced with their webby casings and gritty with their excrement. Out, out, out.
“You can’t keep that.”
“But it’s so nice!”
“Was so nice. It’s been destroyed, they’ve weakened the whole structure. It is infested. It must stay outside.”
“Maybe it’s valuable”
“Not anymore. It has to stay outside until every trace of moth is gone.”
“Won’t more moths eat it.”
“No - clothes moths don’t like it outside in the sun.”
“What about at night?”
“Too cold for them yet. The saddle bag stays out.”

A few days later, the saddle bag was inside.
I took it and threw it over the side of the deck so it landed firmly in the back garden. If there were any ants waking up from their winter hibernation, I encouraged them to come out and and peruse the larvae bar.
“That has to stay outside - look, there are probably eggs all over it.”
“But it was going to get rained on and ruined.”
“I don’t think so. It is already ruined. Look at the holes.”
“I still think it’s too nice to throw away.”
“Well if you think so, take it and have it dry cleaned but it stays outside until then.”

A few days later I found it in the basement. Apparently a friend of my Boyfriend’s was over helping him do some work in the yard & thought it shouldn’t be left outside. It appears he was not briefed on the moth situation. I took the poor saddlebag out and left it under the stairs.
“If you think that saddlebag is nice enough to keep, then either have it dry cleaned or take to a carpet place and get their opinion on it. It was nice, but I don’t think it is especially old or valuable. It’s a liability now and it’s falling apart.”
“Yes,” he said with resignation.
It has gone. I don’t know where, but I don’t think he could hide it on me in the house, even with all those piles of gear and file boxes.

Hmm. Time flies.
There is more. Like how to keep on top of evil moth bastards and some dramatic ways to eliminate them.
But this post is loooooooong enough.

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