One of the biggest challenges in the rug world is the wool moth. Most rug owners have had some sort of interaction with moth, either with their own rugs or a family member’s. It’s an ongoing battle in the rug industry to come up with the most effective ways of fighting the moth. As most experienced warriors say, in order to defeat your enemy you should first study it.
Appearance and Life Cycle: Wool moths (more commonly known as clothe or rug moths) are very small, ivory colored worms which turn into small golden flies later in their life cycle. The moth goes through a four stage life cycle: egg, larvae, pupa, and adult.
Egg: The egg can hatch within a month or longer. This depends on whether the environment is favorable for egg to develop. Moth lay their eggs in undisturbed areas. They make sure the eggs are inserted deep inside the fiber so that it cannot be easily removed. They are very tiny white eggs that usually are clustered together. Note that the very tiny black egg looking particles are the waste moth leave behind, and not the actual eggs.
Larvae: In the larvae stage, the worm is about half an inch long, cream colored, with a nine-segment body structure. The three segments following the head have tiny arms attached to it. The next four consist of tiny legs. Moth have a transparent body structure therefore inside their body will reflect the color of the fiber they have consumed. At this point in the life cycle, the function of the moth is to eat and obtain enough nutrients to make its cocoon casing and begin the transition into a fly. These little worms can feed for as little as three weeks or up to several months. When they are ready, they spin a full web casing and close it off. They actually begin making their cocoon early in the larvae stage and drag it along with them as they feed until they are ready to seal it off.
Pupa: This transition stage lasts from eight to twenty-five days depending on the temperature. In warmer environments this process is completed at a faster pace.
Adult Moth: The adult moth is a very tiny golden colored fly. You can still see the rings under the wings; however, the upper rings have now sprouted six legs which have smaller attachments for gripping. The fly also has two long antennas. The adult moth is a fly which migrates from location to location as it lays eggs. In its first day as an adult it can lay anywhere from 40 to 200 eggs. Adult moths can live about two to four weeks. In this period they do not feed on anything and simply focus on laying thousands of eggs. The adult female moth dies after it is done laying eggs.
Habits: While moths are known for their wool eating habits, they can also eat other fibers such as silk, fur, feathers, felt, and leather. Simply put, they eat hair that has protein, usually not plant based of synthetic fibers. They might go undetected for months or even years as they work very slow. Moths flourish in dark and undisturbed areas as they shy away from direct light. They tend to live in garages, basements, under couches, or even under furniture legs. The
presence of moth is much more likely in humid and moist areas.
Moth usually don’t feed off of clean wool alone. They gain nutrients from fibers filled with soil, food stains, cooking oil, salt, body oil, and sweat. All these items add nutrients to fibers which then become the feeding ground for moths. While they can only digest animal fibers, other fibers such as cotton and rayon can be damaged by moth as they cut through them to get to the mixed wool blend or the food particles and oil absorbed by the fibers.
Detection: Detecting moth us not impossible. You just have to pay close attention and train your eyes. If you notice areas in your rug where wool is missing or coming off by scrubbing, that could be a sign for moth having fed on the rug. You can also see their webbing or tiny eggs stuck together usually on the back of the rugs, although they sometimes lay them on the face of the rug usually deeper inside the pile. If you also see tiny golden flies around your closet, basement, and living room, you should definitely check your rugs for moth. This is different from seeing pantry moth around your kitchen.
Prevention: While there is no way to prevent moths from entering your home, you can easily prevent damages by creating an unwelcome environment for them. Regular vacuuming of once a week to two weeks of the general area of the rug and about once a month under couches, beds, and other inaccessible areas is highly recommended. Professional cleaning of your rugs about once every year to two years and other wool products removes their food source and doesn’t give them the opportunity to complete their life cycle. Even unused rugs should be professionally cleaned with specific attention paid to signs of moth infestation. After cleaning, they should be wrapped with acid free or breathable paper which allows for air circulation to prevent moisture build up. Lastly, before the package is sealed off, putting several moth balls will help kill any remaining live moths, as the vapor is lethal to them.
Rubber rug pads with the net spacing structure can also help by providing an elevation and bit of air circulation underneath the rug and create a possible disturbance for moth compared to a rug without a pad that can have the eggs stick to the rugs back and the floor and have moisture buildup under the rug. Another good preventative measure, especially for rugs and fabrics in continuous use, is coating the fabric with moth repellents such as Magnesium hexafluorosilicate. These repellents are not pesticides, but rather are designed to change the PH taste of the fabric so that it no longer tastes like an appealing food source to the moth
Written by Kash (Khashaiar) Sobhe
Certified Master Rug Cleaner
Certified Fiber Care Specialist
Third generation in the rug industry
Los Angeles, CA