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Monday, February 25, 2008

Evil Moth Bastards - Part 2

Evil Moth Bastards
Part 2 - The Uneasy Truce

(Sorry these Evil Moth Bastard posts are so long. I have a lot to say about them it seems.)

After much clean up.
After much sorting through and getting ridding of some seriously useless and outdated, umm, junk.
After finding not just one but several evil moth bastard lairs.
You can breath a little easier, but only just a little. Because they will come back.
You can’t possible get them all. Their nasty eggs are lurking, just beyond the suction power of your vacuum, or in that wool hat that came out of the car trunk (finally) in June.

Moth eggs, I was very sad to learn, can remain dormant for quite some time and will hatch several weeks to months later, when the insidious critter senses that its conditions for life can be met. Not unlike cockroaches. Blech, or as I like to say, Blattes. But you can keep on top of them. You can make it very hard for them to re-establish themselves in your home.

Here are some things that I have found helpful.


Moth traps.
These are kind of ugly looking paper boxes with a gluey coating inside and some sort of little disk or pad soaked with Scent of Female Moth. Moth traps don’t eliminate the evil bastards, but they help you get on top & keep on top of them without resorting to harsh chemicals. All they do is attract the males who once inside the trap get stuck and fail to knock up any females. No more eggs, no more larvae, no more evil moth bastards. The lures last for a few weeks to a few months. Some types of traps sell extra lures, because the adhesive remains sticky for longer than the lure works. There are two kinds of commercially available moth traps for indoors. The difference in them is the kind of pheromone lure inside, which is prepared for either “food” moths (Indian Meal Moth - Plodia interpunctella) or “clothes” moths (Tineola bisselliella & Tinea pellionella). Get both kinds. Seriously.

Get one food trap for your kitchen and if you have a rec room or other spot that has soft furnishings AND where members of your family habitually snack, get one for there, too. If you have dogs or cats and store their food in a location different from yours, get one for that spot too. Why? Peace of mind. They are non-toxic and will help you identify an evil moth bastard (clothes moth) from an icky food moth quickly. If you have food moth lures in an area where you still see moths flying around AND you aren’t finding any food moths in the trap then either your lure has pooped out or you have evil moth bastards flying around looking for a nice place to lay their eggs. (That wool tea cozy in the back of the drawer perhaps?).

For the clothes moths get several. I have two in the bedroom (one inside the closet and one out), one in the living room, one near my yarn collection, and another in a corner of the house that had a lot of moths flying around when I first moved in. They have all trapped moths. At one point I though the lures must have been duds because I wasn’t trapping any EMBs, but then suddenly - whammo - there must have been a hatching cycle because there were nearly a dozen. I did a yarn & fabric investigation, found a few dead moths (females?) but my collection was all okay. Thank you, moth traps.

You can get moth traps at Home Hardware, Grassroots (a Toronto natural products store), garden centres, pest control places, museum supply places etc. Check the web and see what is near you. Many places sell the food moth traps, sometimes you have to look a bit farther for the clothes moth traps. The prices vary widely. I am due to get some more soon and I may try a couple of different brands.

Dust, Dark and Damp are friends of evil moth bastards.
I am hardly the world’s most ardent housekeeper. My mother gives me vacuums because she vacuums everyday. I kid you not. I vacuum when I see puffs of cat hair, or feel the grit or whatever. You get the picture. But evil moth bastards and other varmints that will eat your lovely fibres and textiles can live and breed in Dust and Lint. So you just have to clean from time to time. Especially if you have pets. Pets hair is super larvae food. Pet sleeping areas, especially.

You have to let the sunshine in when you can. Make your home less hospitable to them.
Take out things like blankets and large sweaters and turn them inside out so they get a good airing when the weather is good. Open the piano lid. There might be felt in there.

Did I mention that you have to watch your vacuum cleaner? If you are sucking up dust and lint and pet hair and human hair and other sources of moth nourishment and it sits there, quietly, in the dark, what do you suppose happens?? Do you know that they don’t seem particularly perturbed by the vacuum running??? If you have just done a major de-mothing, don’t keep that vacuum bag around too long. Toss it outside and seal it in something before you do. I have seen the vile moth larvae writhing in the vacuum cleaner bag. Don’t despair. Know you are winning. It is actually not that easy to suck up moth eggs as the females glue them down when they lay them. Evil moth bastards.

And this is why they can keep reappearing. Evolution has given them the “gift” of being very tough. So you could have eggs in your floorboards underneath the carpet, larvae munching on Fido fur-rich lint for months (or even years apparently) until they become moths and try to mate. They may skip all your lovely clothes and fibers for a while. Until you get cavalier and suddenly you have holes in your textiles and breaks in your yarn. Be vigilant.

And Dampness. Make sure your fibres are clean and thoroughly dry before you store them. If you do live in a damp environment, be extra vigilant for moths & larvae as they can multiply faster.

Storing your Things

I have a lot of yarn, not as much as some people but still it takes up a lot of space. I have nice textiles that I have gathered and interesting bits of this and that with silk and horse hair. I consider it all my collection. Some of it is collection to be further acted upon, like yarn and fabric, and some of it is collection to be enjoyed for its workmanship and/or inspirational value. I actually rather dislike that most of my yarn is not in view. So a few months ago, after inheriting a really gorgeous pine sideboard, I decided that it would be for yarn collection display.
My yarns can come out, and I can admire them and be inspired and awed and maybe even intimidated by them (ooooo silk). I thought that as one clutch of yarn got used, another could be released from the prison of zip lock bags and storage bins that we have all adopted to keep our goodies clean and safe. It’s getting there. I have a few other storage issues to contend with but it is getting there and I have to say, it is really helpful to really see what you have. I forget sometimes. And there is one of our, umm, problems. A surfeit of goodness. The yarn “stash”.

I know that non fibre people look on accumulations as a weakness, they don’t understand. But if you, like me, have ever forgotten about a yarn until you spy it again, well, do you really need to keep keeping it? Less to keep means less to care for. Fewer ugly plastic tubs. Fewer things to keep the moths away from. Sort of harsh I know and it is very very hard for me to practice what I preach but it has to be done. I hope to dig through my bins and bags every couple of months until I’m down to a more manageable level. I love my yarn, it inspires me, but I’m not a designer - I have to ask myself, “How much of this do I really need?”

So here comes the big question. What is the best way to store yarn.? I don’t know.
Re-sealable clear plastic bags work for me. And those big storage bins, preferably clear. I only used mothballs once. When I was going away for what ended up being five years. Mothballs sort of work, they can kill moths if used in enough concentration but they are also not good for people. My grandmothers and mother all used mothballs, the smell lingers forever. You have to air the items really well before using them. I think mothballs go under the drastic heading. And I have heard reports of naphthalene resistant larvae. I shudder to think.

Make sure the yarn is clean and dry - especially important if you dyed it.

Aromatics help keep evil moth bastards away. They don’t kill them at any stage.
Aromatics include oils of cedar, eucalyptus, lavender, sandalwood, rose, mint, cloves and the whole woods and herbs that produces these oils. Cedar oil is supposed to kill larvae on contact (yeah!!!!) but it must be strong and they need to get it on them, not just smell it. I use soap and incense. If someone gives me a nice gift bar of scented soap, I toss it in a yarn storage container or put it in with my sweaters, winter wear, blankets etc. When the item gets cycled around in season, I check the soap and put it in the bathroom if its scent is diminished and find something fresh to put in. I especially like sandalwood for this. I also grow aromatic geraniums which I dry and put in with nice fabrics and fibres.

Plastic is alright if you are using and moving your stuff around. Seasonal items at least get moved and checked once a year. If you really care about something, an heirloom shawl, quilt, sweater etc. that may spend a lot of time in storage, consider special boxes like they use in museums and archives. I love the Carr McLean catalog for this. If you have a few friends who are also trying to preserve some things maybe you can get together and put in an order. Notice they have special tissue for wrapping and acid free boxes. But that is really for serious stuff, with a serious price-tag. Talk to a textile conservator for the real skinny on heirloom pieces. Remember, if it's worth keeping , it's worth keeping well. I have never had anything adverse happen to my things in plastic. Just make sure no bag has printing on it that can rub off.

And don’t assume that because something is sealed in plastic it truly protects it. I had a mouse pillage some yarn for a nest, and she made a nice big whole in the bag for anything else to get in. People say that nasty larvae can chew through plastic bags. I have not seen that but I think it is possible. And if the seal is just a little weak, I’m sure they could figure that out. Still, I think plastic helps keep the buggers out.

Quarantine
I do isolate new things, especially if they are coming from somewhere that doesn’t have good storage practices. I buy stuff from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and there are always moths flying around in there and so I don’t trust anything to be moth free. I seal items in zip locks and observe them carefully for a few weeks. A seemingly innocent, very clean looking, brand new, felted Christmas ornament from an women’s co-op in Uzbekistan proved to be the source of a nearly disastrous outbreak. The eggs must have been INSIDE the stuffed item, and the larvae were worming their way out - ugh. But because I had popped the item into a bag, I noticed the little bastards before they spread to anything else. And it was just one ornament out of several. It only takes one clutch of eggs to get them started.

Freezing
I’m not sure how well freezing really works. I have done it. I will do it again. I once spoke to a buyer for the Textile Museum and he said they freeze anything coming in to the museum as a precaution. I think he said they put them in the deep freeze for three weeks. That was about 8 years ago and I’m not sure if they still do that, I'll have to ask next time I'm over there. I left some Turkish socks in my freezer for months because I feared insidious moth eggs. Some people say it doesn’t work. And moths are tough. I’m sure it kills adults and larvae. It is certainly worth trying it for yarns. Obviously filling your freezer with sweaters is not going to go over well with people who think its for ice cubes and ice cream. So I have to wonder how practical it really is for most of us. If you live a climate where you get long really cold spells you could try leaving it in a shed or something but the temperature has to be really cold for a while. Most winters in Toronto aren't predictably cold like that.


Getting Drastic

Dry Ice
Never tried it. I wish that I had known about it because I think my Boyfriend would have enjoyed the process. I mean, dry ice, whoa. Research this well before you try it. You have to protect your hands, skin and make sure the cold bags don’t harm any surfaces they are placed on. You must use very heavy bags. You have to use the right amount of dry ice with the right amount of clothing/yarn. This worked for a friend of mine who didn’t want to dry clean. Since dry cleaning skeins of yarn is not usually done, this may be good option if you are trying to salvage a collection in peril. But use proper handling techniques!

Dry Cleaning
Often recommended for cleaning moth infested clothing. I consider it a last resort. By all reports it gets the eggs and kills ‘em dead. I would be very hesitant to subject fragile, rare or otherwise delicate things to most dry cleaners though. Ask around if you have something really precious that needs dry cleaning - there may be a place that specializes in the handling of super fine garments that costumiers and conservators could recommend. It will likely be more expensive than usual. I have never heard of anyone dry cleaning skeins.

Professional Pest Control
In my mind, a last resort. Your situation may require it. You may not have house pets who get into everything. There are a wide range of chemicals used to kill pests. Find out what the exterminator plans to use and research it. You will probably still have to do a major clean and inspection beforehand. So I figure, try and do it yourself without the chemicals and if you find that you are fighting a losing battle, then call in the big guns...but I think you can do it.

Not just moths.
Other things eat fibre. Mice and rodents. Odd Beetles. Carpet Beetles, If you are finding damage but no signs of moth you might have a different problem. Some of the measures you have to take are the same.

But there is hope.
I moved into a house with a serious moth problem, and less than a year later, there are far, far fewer of the evil things. My yarn is (knock wood) un-savaged, my rugs appear sound and my sweaters and knit items are whole. I can’t say the same for my Boyfriend’s things, he’s still finding holes. But maybe that’s because he hasn’t worn the things for three years? The above blah blah blah is all either from my experience or from that of my fibre and fabric loving friends. It is not really scientific. There is a lot of information out there on the internet about evil moth bastards and how to get rid of them. Do a little research. Get out the vacuum cleaner and banish them from your house.

This has been a very long public service announcement. Thank you. Have a nice, moth-free day.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was inspirational to me. I recently discovered the casemaking moths in my house and I am totally creeped out by them. We only ahve hardwood floors and not much natural material so lord only knows where the EMB's are actually living. It was recommended to me to but the traps under the couch and bed incase they were munching on the horsehair underneath. So far I haven't caught any. Every time I see a case whether it be full (squishing them lets off the most disgusting smell) or empty, I get really disheartened. Its been a LONG procedure to try and rid myself of them and the pest control company I spoke to told me the only way to really do it is to move and buy all new things. Real helpful. I just keep wonderig what I did to deserve these abominations.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this education on the EMB! Dear Husband to Be just pulled out the suit he meant to wear to our wedding in 3 days... and the pants were moth damaged. I am loathe to use insecticides, but do have the time available for a thorough cleaning. Looks like it will be blue jeans, t-shirts and cowboy hats for our courthouse wedding... and clean closets for our wedding night!

Anonymous said...

Ugh, we have been struggling to eliminate these EMBs for about three years to no avail. They were brought into the house from a rug that my husband had in storage for a few years. I thought we had contained them to the laundry room, but they escaped and started eating all our wool clothes. I had everything dry cleaned and bagged up (twice) and they were STILL in the house, with traps in every room, and closets. This winter, I finally thought I had beat them, but NO, they were just waiting for the right weather and temp to infest again. This time, mostly contained to the laundry room. I could not figure out what the heck they were eating on, as there was no wool in the room and our cleaning lady comes every two weeks. Then last night it occurred to me - the vacuum cleaner! I took the damn thing outside and opened up the compartment to the bag and there were loads of female moths running through the bag and the inside of the cleaner. DISGUSTING! I had my husband discard the bag in the trash outside, but even after the vacuum has sat outside over night, there are still EMB crawling around inside. Is there a way to clean the entire machine or do I just destroy it? I do not want to bring it back into the house... Too bad, because it is a nice machine.

knittin'b said...

Hi Anonymous with the vacuum cleaner. Sounds like a dilemma. But you have discovered the source! I presume it is a nice and expensive vacuum.....

First keep it outside the house for now. If at all possible leave it in the sun at every opportunity with as much of the inside and chambers open as possible. Maybe some ants will find it and do some of the work for you.

Icky prospect though it is, really have a good look at the inside of the machine. Are there filters etc. that a moth might find a meal on. Remember that dust can contain enough protein for a moth....
Remove filters and replace them.


Eventually thing you need to address is the eggs. Who knows where in the machine the eggs may be lurking. If the EMBs have had a chance to breed in there for a while, there may be eggs outside of the vacuum bag area.

You could try cedar oil, swabbing it around the inside of the vacuum where you can reach BUT cedar oil could be a problem with plastic and rubber parts, causing them to deteriorate. There could be eggs in the motor or nozzle if it is that style of vacuum and you sure don't want to put anything in the motor that doesn't belong. If the vacuum has a beater have a good look at that,too. Remove hair from it. Clean your vacuum as best you can in other words.

After a good sunning or two, keep it inside a large clear plastic bag, well sealed, and observe it. Quarantine. You can keep it in the house that way. If you have found effective traps with hormone lures, put one in the plastic bag with the vacuum. It could take a while (months!) but you may be able to tire them out. With the lure you will quickly notice if a new hatching cycle has started. And keeping the vacuum in the bag when not in use will contain the outbreak.

I would also consider the dry ice idea. Definitely do some more research on that before you attempt it! AND again you may need to consider whether or not the plastic and rubber parts of the machine could handle extreme cold. So, research, see if you think that might work for you. At that point it may be cheaper or at least less hassle to replace the machine...

And just for the heck of it, I would try soaking a cotton ball with real cedar oil and keeping it in the vacuum bag. As long as you like the smell! Cedar oil will deter EMBs a bit with the aroma, but will kill larvae if they come into direct contact with it. Respect the cedar oil. It is a natural product but could cause irritation to eyes and skin etc.


It sounds to me like you have done a great job beating back an invasion. You can probably rescue your machine. It may take a long quarantine, but I think it would be worth a try.

I find VERY few moths in spite of the awful infestation a few years back - and most I think are being brought in. Knock wood, this year none so far! I have a campaign going with my brother (what is it about men and moths?) to help him tackle his. He has seen some improvement but certain closets and storage areas really need a better cleaning.
Vigilance! Don't Despair!

If you remember please post back and let me know how it all went.


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