Yarns On Lockdown! How to Avoid Clothes Moth Larvae

Keeping wool moths out of your stash takes as much persistence as avoiding the flu, and moths are harder to get rid of.

Anne Merrow Dec 11, 2017 - 3 min read

Yarns On Lockdown! How to Avoid Clothes Moth Larvae Primary Image

I recently came back from a trip with a suitcase of souvenir yarns and woven shawls. Even though it’s getting cold, however, I haven’t even brought them inside. Instead, they’re plastic wrapped in quarantine. Before letting these new goodies touch my clothing and yarn stash, I store them separately, just in case I brought home clothes moth larvae or eggs.

Now, the high, dry Andes may not have too many clothes moths to worry about, especially because most of the yarns have been dyed in near-boiling dyepots. However, I learned a sad lesson once. A friend once brought me handspun yarn in natural wool colors, and when I looked at those yarns a while later, I saw a fluttering of wings and a sad number of holes in the balls of yarn.

More than once, I’ve caught a small flying insect out of the corner of my eye and wondered whether it was a clothes moth. Even though the flying Tineola bisselliella scare me, they can’t do any harm to my treasures. The adults are simply the telltale signs of a moth infestation; the clothes moth larvae are the ones who do the damage. And the eggs from which they hatch are very hard to kill.

There are ways to fight a moth infestation, but I’d rather keep the buggers at bay if I can. So I follow one of Judith MacKenzie’s smart pieces of advice in her book The Intentional Spinner: I keep my new purchases in quarantine.

Judith advises, “As an extra precaution, isolate any incoming fleeces, yarns, and other textiles for several weeks if possible. Store them in separate trash barrels or heavy-duty plastic bags. Keep them warm to see if any insects appear; moths hatch above 70° Fahrenheit (21° Celsius).”

Pretty soon, I’ll shake up the plastic bags and see if there are any signs of moths in my new pieces. If not, I can soon wear, knit, and weave my new purchases!

clothes moth larvae

Casemaking clothes moths in three life stages. Photo by Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series,

Edited to add: They got me. About a year after I wrote this post, I finally found the source of the little flutterers: a pile of treasured wool rugs from around the world, with nasty little larvae munching away. Having wool moths is like having a communicable disease: I can't give away fiber or yarn, and I can't take anything wooly home that I will need to give back. For now, I'm using pheromone traps, vacuuming regularly, and not buying any more wool treasures.