How to Moth-Proof Your Apartment Closet & Save Your Sweaters

Lilly Milman

By Lilly Milman

Dec 20, 2023

If you pulled out your favorite sweaters this winter and found they were covered in moth holes, then you may unfortunately have a moth infestation on your hands. There is one species of moth — called a clothes moth — that is known to snack on natural fibers like wool, silk, fur, cashmere, feathers, and more. (They are different from pantry moths, which you may find in your kitchen.)

Depending on the damage done, your sweaters may not be salvageable. If you take the right precautions, however, your moth infestation may be solvable without professional intervention. 

In this guide, we cover how to identify a moth problem, what to do if you discover a moth problem, and how to treat and protect your clothes from moths.

Identifying a Clothes Moth Problem in Your Apartment

As with any pest problem, you want to make sure you know what you’re dealing with before you start attempting any DIY solutions. With moths, the problem should not be too complicated to identify. 

What do clothes moths look like? 

If you have clothes moths in your closet, you’ll likely see the damage they’ve caused to your clothing long before you see any of the actual moths. However, if you do see a pest that you suspect is a clothes moth, you’ll want to look out for the following characteristics: a solid whitish-gray or dark brown body with spots and aversion to light. While many moths are known to be drawn to light, clothes moths are the opposite — which is why you’ll rarely see them.

What attracts clothes moths?

Clothes moths like to live in dark, quiet corners near food sources — which, for moth larvae, includes animal materials like wool, fur, pet dander and hair, and down feathers, among other things. This makes a closet or dresser the perfect hiding spot. Dust, food crumbs, and less-than-pristine clothing also all attract clothes moths.

While spring is typically considered moth season, they can invade and live in your home year-round.

What do moth bites on clothes look like?

If moths have gotten into your clothing, it’ll be hard to miss. Check any clothing made with natural fibers for little (or even large) holes. If any of your clothing is made with a natural fiber and has a series of holes in it, you can almost guarantee that that is moth damage. Adult moths actually don’t eat clothing — their larvae do — so you may also have the unfortunate experience of finding moth eggs on your wool sweaters or silk ties. 

Usually, clothing made with synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon will be safe, while 100% animal-fiber clothing like a cashmere sweater or other wool clothing will be torn up. 

What to Do If You Have Clothes Moths at Home

If you’ve discovered even one article of moth-bitten clothing, you need to take action to prevent an infestation. Follow the steps below to ensure you rid your closet of any moths.

How do I kill moths in my closet?

First things first, it’s time for a complete closet cleanout.

  1. Remove all the clothes from your closet, whether they’re hanging or in drawers. We address how to clean them in the next section.

  2. Vacuum everywhere. This includes the drawers, floor, walls, shelves, and any small corners or crevices where a moth may be lurking. Take the vacuum cleaner outside to empty and disinfect the vacuum bag once you’re done, or throw it out and replace it.

  3. Scrub all surfaces with hot water and a cleaning solution. The combination of vacuuming, hot water, and any common household cleaning spray or solution should be enough to kill off any moths in your closet.

  4. If the problem persists, call a specialist. While the above steps should work in most cases, if you have a stubborn moth problem, then you may want to call in a pest control specialist.

How can I prevent moths naturally?

If you’re opposed to leaving moth balls or moth traps all over your closet, you’re not alone; mothballs can contain pesticides that are toxic to humans and pets. Plus, they are most effective when stored with the clothes in a tight-fitting, closed container. For that reason, many opt for a few natural remedies for first:

  • Spray or diffuse cedar oil in your closet. The smell of cedar oil is a repellent for moths. Note: This will not kill moth or their larvae.
  • Put a small bag or sachet of lavender in your closet or drawers. Like cedar, the smell of lavender deters moths, whether in plant or essential oil form. (But it will not kill moths on its own.)
  • Clean your closet regularly. Moths feed on dirt and other debris that may build up on your clothes and in your closet, so regular vacuuming and cleaning will go a long way to prevent another infestation.
  • Store your clothes properly. Not giving moths access to the natural fibers that they tend to feed on is the best way to prevent them from coming back. (We go more into depth on how to store your clothes in the next section of the guide.)

How to Treat and Protect Your Clothes from Moths

Once you’ve cleaned out your closet, there are a few final steps to take before you put everything back in and shut the door on your moth problem. You’ll want to first properly clean then store your clothes to prevent any new moths from appearing.

How do I clean clothes to get rid of moths?

It’s a lot of work to clean all of your clothes after you’ve found moths, but it’s necessary to prevent an even bigger issue from forming. You’ll want to separate any clothes with natural fibers — especially those with moth bites — and treat them before returning them to your closet. There are a few ways to ensure you kill any moth or larvae.

  • Place affected clothing in sealable plastic bags and leave in the freezer for at least 72 hours. If you have a small freezer in your apartment, this may not be feasible, but it is one easy way to kill all moths on infested items before washing your clothes.
  • Put all affected clothing through a hot dryer cycle for at least one hour. Note: You’ll want to make sure that the clothes are dry before you place them in the dryer. Otherwise, they’ll shrink. This is a measure that you take before washing them to kill all moths.
  • Dry clean any affected clothing. If the care instructions on your clothing allow for dry cleaning, then this is the easiest way to make sure they are rid of moths. Taking them to the dry cleaner will ensure that all moths are killed and that the clothes are cleaned at the same time.
  • Use a clothing brush to remove moth eggs and larvae from clothing. Brushing clothes — especially coats, which tend to get washed less often — regularly is a good way to destroy moth eggs and prevent infestations.

How should I store my clothes to protect them from moths?

Once you’ve properly cleaned your clothes, you’ll want to invest in some smart storage solutions to spare yourself the hassle of ever having to deal with moths again. Buy some sealable plastic bags or airtight plastic containers for clothing made of natural fibers — and remember to wash any item of clothing that has been worn at all before storing it to ensure that it is moth-free. For clothing that belongs on a hanger, sealable garment bags should also be effective. A cedar chest can be another storage solution, but it may lose its efficacy over time.

A bonus is that, if you have a small closet, storing some of your clothing in sealable and stackable bins may actually help with organization and free up some space.

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