This bog covers the common UK textile pests: the carpet beetle and clothes moth.
And in particular, how to prevent them and how to treat them.
Introducing Textile Pests
There are two common types of textile pest in the UK: the carpet beetle and the clothes moth. Despite their names, both will happily munch though any type of natural fibre in your home, be that clothes, carpets, rugs or curtains.
And they are not particularly fussy about the type of fibre. Wool, cotton, cashmere, silk and linen. Even fur, feathers and hair will all do just nicely.
If you’ve ever read Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ you’ll know that it is while in the larvae (or pupae) phase that these insects will devour anything they can get their teeth (or more precisely, mandibles) into.
Oh, and if you haven’t read this children’s classic then I do recommend you click this video link.
It’s the larvae phase that lasts the longest. In the case of the Carpet Beetle this can be many months, even up to 2 years.
The short period they spend as an adult is all about finding a mate and reproducing the next generation. And as each female can lay a large number of eggs (carpet beetle more than 100) your infestation can get very big if not treated.
Recognising Textile Pests
Eggs of both the carpet beetle and clothes moth are tiny (less than 1mm). So unfortunately you are unlikely to know you have a problem until the larvae have hatched and the destruction has begun.
This may be a bare patch of carpet found when moving a piece of furniture or in a forgotten garment at the back of the wardrobe. Or you may just see some adults flying around as they search for a mate and then decide to investigate.
The varied carpet beetle (the most common found in the UK) are small (2-3mm), round and have an orange/brown patchwork coat. Their larvae are around 5mm in length, a light brown colour with hair on their backs. Due of their appearance they are commonly referred to as ‘woolly bears’.
There are 2 other types of carpet beetle found in the UK: the two-spot carpet beetle, which is predominantly black with a white spot on each wing and the brown carpet beetle which, surprise, surprise, is predominantly brown (well actually, reddish-brown).
The common clothes moth is a plain golden colour and its larvae is mostly white and up to 13mm in length.
Preventing Textile Pests
Your best friend is the vacuum cleaner. Make sure that you regular move all furniture to get to all areas of the carpet and also pay particular attention to the edges next to the skirting board.
Carpet beetles will also happily lay eggs in bird’s nests or piles of hair or lint so clear any of these found around your home (or attic).
Clothes moth larvae just love damp (sweaty) clothing as they must get all the moisture they need through their food. Sweat also contains salts and other minerals which really help them thrive. Therefore, you should only store clean garments and regularly use (and wash) any clothing made with natural fibres. And if you really must store granny’s old fur coat then use an air tight bag.
Cedar oil and dried lavender are common natural preventative remedies but I’m really not sure if their effectiveness has ever been scientifically proven.
Treating Textile Pests
It is a similar treatment for all textile pests.
Firstly, you need to prepare the infested room by removing any items that contain natural fibres such as clothes, rugs and curtains. But be careful that you don’t spread the infestation to other rooms in the home – wrap the items in bin bags if you can.
All the removed items must be either washed, dry cleaned or frozen. As larvae can survive extreme temperatures for short periods, washing should be at the highest recommended temperature and freezing for a minimum duration of 24 hours.
Any items you cannot remove (or treat as above) you will need to spray with insecticide.
However, before spraying, thoroughly vacuum all areas on the room focusing on areas of damage and also moving all static furniture away from its normal position.
Spraying should cover the entire carpet and any other items of natural fibre that you haven’t removed. Start at the furthest point away from the door and work your way backwards. Once everything has been sprayed, keep out of the room for a minimum of 2 hours or until the carpet is completely dry.
For best results, make sure that you use a residual insecticide, like the one sold on this site, which will remain active for a long time after it has been applied. Nevertheless, a heavy infestation may still require more than one treatment.
For a detailed step by step treatment make sure you read our ‘how to’ guides, which also contain important safety considerations.