Wool moths!

27 July 2009

I cleaned out my work room on Saturday, a job that had been waiting for me since the wedding. With Tricia and I rummaging in the fabric stash for quilt fabric and thread, and the various other activities associated with the wedding, looking for ribbons and pins, it was quite evident it needed some order restored. I spend quite some time in my work room now that I'm writing the book every day. My laptop is in there, along with the sewing machine and my knitting supplies so at times it's the centre of a lot of activity. But it's quiet and away from the general pace of our home so it suits me well as a work room.

I reorganised the desk top, moving the sewing machine to a better position, folded fabric and ribbons, sorted and stored cotton reels, paired up knitting needles and found two bodkins, lost for a month or so, that were poked into balls of wool. When I pulled them out of the wool, I remembered putting them in there for safe keeping. Ahem. I was sure I would remember that. :- )

But there was one tragedy - I have two baskets and one box full of wool and cotton, and one of the baskets had been attacked by wool moths! I initially saw tiny white casings, that I since discovered are their skins or shells that they grow out of quickly. Along with the tiny white bits were droppings. Ugh. And, of course, wool that had been eaten through so that although the entire ball was not eaten, they'd eaten through the strands leaving me with lots of strands instead of one continuous one. I threw three balls into the compost. It was only the pure wool they went for, they left the cotton alone.

The contents of the wool basket, in the sun, after inspection and culling of damaged wool.

These are clothes/wool moths. They're sort of greyish with dark spots on the wings, although I imagine each continent would have their own wool moth. They aren't pantry moths that eat grain. I don't use moth balls or naphthalene. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies naphthalene as possibly carcinogenic to humans and animals, but I'll take the simple way, they're killed by freezing. I have emptied my basket of wool and cotton and it's been sitting in the sun on the back veranda. I'll bag it up and put it in the freezer for a week and then store it all in air tight containers. I have learned a valuable lesson.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the wool moth.
And more, with photos.
How to store wool.

I invite you all to share any information you have on these moths, particularly the keen knitters who have stashes of wool in their homes just like I do. How are you storing your pure wool? What do you do with the woollen clothes you're wearing, do you store them in any special way when they're not in use?


  1. I checked out that link on your sidebar on how to save eggs. I thought, hmm, I need to know how to save eggs because I get so many I need to learn how to make them last. Then when I checked the little book I realized it was just the opposite of what I wanted. I had to laugh and now I am using the recipes that actually use up the eggs!!

  2. Alas, moth *eggs* aren't killed by freezing. :(

  3. Lavender is supposed to be a natural moth repellant so a few lavender bags in with your wool stash would be a good idea. I think most serious knitters keep their pure wool or cashmere yarns safely inside zip-lock type bags. Hopefully you have caught all the moths in your house.

  4. My Grandmother always kept bags of crushed lavender flowers and stems in her cupboards and her craft boxes to repel all sorts of unwanted visitors. Even when you think the lavender is all dried you can cruch it around and have the beautiful smell return.

    She has given me some of the bags - they are quite large and lose, not the small pot poureii bags you usually see.

  5. So sorry about your wool yarn. The person who taught me to spin told me to store my cleaned wool fleeces in 100% cotton bags tied shut twice. As you say, wool moths don't eat cotton. So far, it's worked fine for the fleeces, so possibly it would work for storing wool yarn as well.

  6. I pack all of my yarn in plastic ziploc bags (the only plastic bags I buy, in my defence, and they are regularly reused!), as we have a significant moth problem but they also seem to go for my carpet, which I would have problems trying to freeze! I have cedar wood blocks in my wardrobe and drawers to try to discourage them from attacking my clothes, and plan to acquire some lavendar soon to make sachets to supplement the cedar blocks!

  7. I store most of my wool in Rubbermaid totes. I bought a few with cedar in them and wished now I would have boughten more as my stash has grown. I do have some just stuck in a bag here and there. Will have to put them away so they are safe from the bugs.

  8. Any cellulous material is fine for wool storage, paper leaf bags, cotton bags, and even plastic(though that's not cellulous) is good for wool storage. However plastic must be used on where not humid as mold will be an issue if moths aren't. Lavender and cedar and other aromatics like that are just deterrents - they mask the scent of wool and make it harder for the moths to find the wool, plus it smells nice. Freezing is good as is quarentine in a plastic bag (ziplock style) and a hot car treatment will work too if you're on the opposite side if winter. The best thing though is to move your stash around, and keep it in bright light 'cause there's nthing moths hate more than light and being interrupted.

  9. I don't think we have wool moths here. Phew. How annoying, though! Your office looks lovely and neat and easy to use now, Rhonda. Good job! I think I'm inspired to restore a bit of order over here too!

  10. Mine is stored in plastic tubs with tight fitting lids. So far so good. I might add some lavender as well, the bonus would be beautifully scented wool.

    Some years ago my MIL had these rotten little critters attack her vintage piano. The felt pads in the piano are made from wool. I don't know what she did to get rid of them.

  11. I make little bags with a mix of lavender, rosemary, cloves and dried citrus peel, and store my wool with a couple of these tucked in....no problems so far.

    I change them regularly.

    I've also heard putting the affected wool or garment into te dryer for 10 minutes or so can kill eggs, I don't know if this is effective.


  12. I have only ever had one incident with wool moths and it was in the early 1970's when we lived in Cloncurry Qld. I had my much loved duffle coat from the sixties stored in a suit case. When I opened the suitcase one day the much loved coat was no more! Instead it was a small pile of awful dust. Only the wooden toggle buttons remained. My woolen nurses cape stored with it was much less damaged but damaged non the less. I can't explain where the moths came from. I blamed the heat of western Qld. at the time.
    We have lived all over Qld. and I haven't experienced them since but I guess they could always be lurking somewhere.


  13. Oh so sorry about those moths getting into your wool!! We had a terrible invasion of the flour moths last year, but have only seen a couple so far and so hopefully it is over. I found them in things I could not believe!! We keep a lot of things in the freezer or fridge so they did not have a lot to choose from. We got them from some seed we got to feed the squirrels and birds!! So now I store such thing in the garage just in case!!

  14. All my knitting wool is stored in ziplock bags, but for clothing and other large items I use Orphea strips, which you can get in Coles supermarkets. They are herbal, and smell lovely, and repel silverfish as well. I hate silverfish, they are as big a menace as moths where books and fabric are concerned.

  15. First, make sure any woolen clothing that you store has been properly cleaned. Moths are attracted to dirt and perspiration. Cedar works well for me. Blocks are sold on the laundry aisle here in the US and can be hung on hangers or laid in chests and storage bins. The blocks can be sanded to refresh the scent. Good Luck!

  16. thanks for posting this, rhonda, i had no idea about wool moths! i've actually never seen a wool moth in my life, and i've lived in new england and the midwest. does it matter where you live geographically? i store my knitting in a vintage suitcase, but just in case i'm definitely going to start putting lavender in it, even though i dislike the smell somewhat!

  17. I store wool yarn in plastic bags, inside storage bins. Knitted garments are washed with soap or detergent before storing in a separate bin, with many small sachets of cedar chips (hamster bedding, actually) and/or lavender. I don't use my usual wool wash with lanolin when washing for storage as moths are attracted to oils as well as sweat and dirt. I haven't had a moth problem yet, knock wood.

    Moths like the dark, so clear storage is supposed to be a boon.

  18. Dear Rhonda,

    I have used lavender sachets and dried lavender (which I grow) and place them in bunches in my wool basket the same goes for my wool sweaters and socks.

    They don't like the smell and it keeps them away!

    Thank you for sharing your day...

    lady m

  19. Hi Rhonda. What a bummer! I've had this happen to me twice over the years and it's really frustrating I know.
    I used to have a bad habit of storing my wool in the (gulp!) plastic bags in which they were brought home. The first infestation quickly stopped me doing that. Like jenniepowell I now use ziploc or other clean serviceable bags.
    The sun is a good first line of defence and then a temperature extreme will help -- the freezer yes and I like Tameson's suggestion of a hot car.
    I pull my stash shelf apart about quarterly. I just do a quick vacuum, re-sort and check but it seems to work.

  20. Woolens are stored in a cedar chest. When in use, I use lavendar sachets or lavendar wands. For some reason, moths do not like lavendar.

    Bugs - they have no brains.

  21. I've had a problem with bugs getting my yarn a couple of times, and both times it was when I had yarn kept in baskets on the floor. I'm not sure if it was moths or carpet beetles, but whatever it was did the same thing to my yarn as you described - I was left with small pieces of yarn. Anyway, since then I don't keep any yarn out "for decoration" - as much as I would like to, it seems to be too tempting to the bugs.

    Now I keep my relatively small stash in ziploc bags inside a rubbermaid container. I go through it frequently. I also make sure I handwash all my wool sweaters at the end of each winter, and over the summer a couple of times I'll pull each one out and give it a good shake. I've not yet had a bug get to any of my clothing (thank goodness!).

  22. I use aromatic cedar balls currently. I just toss them to roll about all nilly willy in my closet and fiber boxes. I have two large bags I'm nervous to open though. I hope nothing got in!

  23. We're having problems with food moths, at least that's what I think they are. I hear hop vine, its flowers, helps to keep them off. I want to try it once the hop vine blooms - there's quite a lot of it here in the Czech Republic! :D Not only the one grown for beer, there are single ones growing alongside paths or so. But I don't know if there are any in Australia...

  24. I don't think the bags need to be plastic, I think cotton works as well. I bought a cashmere sweater years ago that came in a muslin "envelope" with just a button fastening. I usually store the sweater in the muslin bag between wearings and during the summer and haven't had any problems with wool moths, whereas a few woolen sweaters that I just had in a drawer have bitten the dust in the meantime.

  25. I have heard that lavender or cedar helps repell them. If you have Lav EO you can make some sachets to tuck in with your wool.

  26. I have quite a stash of pure wool in my cupboards and I have had moths in my wool :( so sad indeed. I am so sorry you lost some of your precious stash Rhonda. My mom did give me a solution though that seems to be working, she suggested that I put all my left over soap bits in my wool cupboard, she has done this for many years and it works. I am off to clean out my stash of wool right now... :)

  27. Hi Rhonda,

    How nice your work room is looking, a relaxing space.

    Our woolens, clothing, blankets and yarns are stored in my Grandmother's cedar chest at the foot of our bed. I also keep lavender and white sage in muslin bags in our dresser.I have never seen a moth or the damage from one so it must be working. :)

    Glad you could save most of the yarns.


  28. since i live in a hot climate, i don't wear wool, but your post brought to mind my mother pulling our woolen clothing out of storage each winter and inhaling the smell of moth balls. a very vivid sensory memory!

  29. The "casings, skins or shells" that you saw are the remains of the maggots!
    Blow flies lay maggots on meat etc that then hatch out into flies.
    Wool moths are exactly the same - they lay maggots which then hatch out into moths.
    Be thankful yours had already hatched and you weren't confronted by wriggling maggots!
    Mel x

  30. I had moths destroy a few of my nicer wool dresses and jumpers :(
    I placed cedar blocks and a few cedar hangers in my closet and wool stash and have not had problems since.

  31. Did you have to toss the wool? I don't suppose you could have used the small strands for felting?

  32. As a wool grower, I have bags of fleeces waiting to have something wonderful done to them. I've found that "sachets" of open baggies with cotton soaked patchouli oil is fantastic in terms of keeping those buggers out. Shades of the '60s!

  33. I'm so sorry to hear about your moths!

    You'll want to freeze your remaining yarn for three days, leave it out of the freezer for three days, then repeat that cycle three times to make sure you get all the moths. Freezing kills any larvae that have hatched but not the eggs. So the time the yarn is left out of the freezer any eggs will hatch, then be killed by the next freeze. By the end of the three rounds any eggs in the yarn will have hatched.

    I've also heard microwaving works! I've never tried it but you could look it up to see for how long.


  34. I found a link that describes the various moths in my area (Western United States): http://www.ext.colostate.edu/PUBS/INSECT/05599.html

    It mentions freezing and heating as good options. I follow the practice used by our local art museum of freezing for several days, warming for several days, then freezing for several days more. I store a bit of wool out to admire, and all the rest in sealed bins -- usually in individual plastic bags (individual by types of yarn or fleece). I always store it clean, as moths will die off on clean wool. And I go through my stash every few months (at least a couple times a year) to examine for bugs and take care of any impending problems.

    I also have hung sticky "fly strips" where my wool is stored. They will not eliminate moths, but I can check them periodically to see if moths are living in my closet. And of course, the whole family grabs to squish moths when we see them lurching around the house!

    I'm sorry you lost some of your yarn, and hope you'll have better luck from here on out.

  35. Oh, your poor wool! That would be so disappointing...good idea to freeze it though! I always try to keep all my material, pantry food, and etc. in air tight containers because those little bugs are persistant! I hope not much of your wool was spoiled!

  36. Don't you have Cederwood (I do not know the right kind of wood in English)in Australia? That will keep the moth's away and is friendly for the environment!

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