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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Spring Cleaners Can Prevent Insects From Destroying Clothes

LAS CRUCES--Before packing away blankets, coats and wool sweaters, spring cleaners should take a few steps tp prevent insects from destroying clothes.

"People should pay special attention to storing items because these pests can be quite devastating," said Carol Sutherland, an entomologist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

Both the common clothes moths and the hide or fur beetle favor materials that are made of animal products, such as wool, she said. However, the hide or fur beetle also will attack hides, pelts and similar materials that are sometimes used as home decorations.

"The adult hide beetle itself is fairly harmless. It's actually the larvae that damage materials," Sutherland said. The larvae are carrot-shaped and a series of little black ringlets of hairs around their bodies.

Adult clothes moths also are not to blame for the damage to clothes, she said. Two types of clothes moths that damage materials are the webbing clothes moth and the case bearing moth. Both their larvae are ivory-colored with a light brown head.

In the webbing clothes moth, larvae spin a thin web of silk over the area where they are feeding. The case bearing moth larvae cover their bodies with thin silk tubes, often adding fibers cut from the food source. Depending on room temperatures, the life cycle of the moths can range from a month to a year.

"These are different methods to get rid of these pests, ranging from dry cleaning to washing the fabrics yourself, if appropriate, and then doing repairs," Sutherland said.

If the item is delicate, such as an Indian blanket or a wall hanging, freezing the pests to death is an option, she said. The blanket or hanging should be placed in a plastic bag, sealed and put into the freezer for at least a week.

"Once clothes are cleaned, store them in air-tight containers with moth balls or moth ice to protect the material from insects," Sutherland said.

Moth ice creates a penetrating vapor and should not come in contact with the actual fibers of the stored material, she said. She suggests putting the moth ice in a small kitchen jar with holes punched in the metal lid. When stored items are needed, allow at least a day to air them out.