What Do Moths Eat? How To Tell What Kinds Eat Your Clothes

A pantry, or food, moth on white carpet.

Moths are some of the most gentle creatures in existence, but they can be particularly annoying when they chomp on our belongings.

Even people who are not moth enthusiasts know that moths have a very peculiar diet, but the exact dietary preference of moths is largely ignored. 

What do moths eat? Not all moths eat the same thing. Some moth species prefer to drink liquids, like flower nectar or the liquid of rotting fruits. Other moths, like clothes moths or pantry moths, are the most offensive, as they eat natural fibers like cotton and grains.

You may have been surprised to find out that not all moths eat clothing. There’s a lot more to learn about what moths eat.

In this article, we will explore moths’ diets in great detail, and we’ll tell you how to discourage them from devouring your things. 

If you’d like more helpful moth info, practical prevention guides, and elimination strategies that actually work, click here to access our full lineup of moth articles.

What Moths Really Eat

Contrary to popular belief, not all moths eat clothing.

There are tons of species of moths, and their diets can vary. In this section, we will talk about what moths really eat. 

Most Adult Moths Drink Liquid 

The majority of adult moths do not eat natural fibers. Instead, they eat the following: 

  • The liquid from rotting fruit.
  • Nectar from flowers that they land on. 
  • The sap that oozes from trees. 

However, the moths that we will focus on are clothes moths and pantry moths.

These are the moths that give people the most trouble due to their eating habits. Find out exactly what these moths eat below. 

Clothes Moth Eating Habits

Clothes moths, or Tineola bisselliella, are named for their eating habits. These moths thrive on eating natural fibers.

Some of the most common natural fibers that clothes moths feed on include: 

  • Cotton.
  • Velvet.
  • Wool.
  • Silk.
  • Fur.
  • Leather.
  • Linen.
  • Feathers.

What is it that’s so appetizing about natural fibers? Well, all of the above are made of keratin, and this keratin is what the moths digest. 

Clothing is not the clothes moth’s cuisine of choice. In the wild, clothing moths look for animal carcasses or bits of nests to feed on.

However, for some reason or another, moths find their way into our homes (find out where they come from here) and eat our clothing. 

Not only do adult moths infest fabrics and materials, but they also lay eggs on them. When those eggs hatch, they begin eating the fabric. 

What Clothes Moths Do Not Eat

While it may seem that clothes moths eat everything, there are some types of clothing that moths do not eat. 

Moths do not eat synthetic fibers. They will purposely avoid those fibers in favor of natural fibers.

However, if your clothing has any natural fibers in it, they will chew through the synthetic fibers to get to the natural fibers. 

Pantry Moth Eating Habits 

Pantry moths, or Plodia interpunctella, also have peculiar eating habits that interfere with humans.

These moths are known for their very particular diet of pantry items. They will forage for and devour the following pantry items

  • Grains (like rice, wheat, barley).
  • Cereal.
  • Beans.
  • Dry fruit.
  • Candy.
  • Chocolate.

This is not an exhaustive list of pantry items that a pantry moth will eat. Pantry moths lay eggs on their food, just like clothes moths lay eggs on clothing.

Unfortunately, once an infestation has started, you will have to take drastic measures to eliminate these moths, as they can survive for a surprisingly long time even in less-than-ideal conditions.

Discover how long they can actually live here.

Moth Eating Habits

Some may not have heard about the carpet moth, but it does exist. The carpet moth is known to feed on carpets that have any amount of keratin in them.

So, if your carpet has any natural fibers in it, it could possibly attract carpet moths. You don’t have to worry about carpet moths at all if your carpet is totally synthetic. 

Once a carpet moth infestation starts, your carpet could end up totally damaged.

Carpet moths will eat through other materials to get to the keratin in your carpet. It’s important to begin treating an infestation as quickly as possible. 

Keeping Moths From Eating Things

Now that you know about the variety of things that moths like to eat, let’s explore some of the tactics that you can use to keep moths from eating your clothes, food, and carpet. 

Be sure to check with our complete guide “How To Get Rid of Moths” for additional prevention tips and a full list of effective products to tackle your moth problem.

Stop Moths From Eating Clothing

If you’ve noticed holes in your clothing, don’t despair. There are effective tactics that you can use to stop moths from eating your clothes. 

Make Sure That You Have Clothes Moths

Clothes moths are not the only bugs that eat clothing. Even if you find a moth on your clothing, if it is longer than a centimeter, it is not likely a clothes moth.

Also, clothes moths will likely be a faint gray or yellow color. It’s important to know what bug you’re dealing with so you can tailor your treatment plan accordingly.

Clean Up Your Space

Once you are reasonably sure that you’re dealing with clothes moths, then break out the vacuum cleaner and get busy cleaning.

Vacuum your entire floor to suck up any moth larvae that may have been laid there. 

Get Rid of Infested Clothing

Throw away all clothing that is damaged beyond repair – if it is infested, you want it out of your house.

Even if you have to throw away some of your favorite pieces, remember that this needs to be done in order to get rid of the infestation. 

Kill Larvae by Washing Your Clothes

You should wash clothing on the hottest setting that you can without ruining them.

If you fear that you’ll ruin some of your clothes by washing them at high temperatures, you can have them professionally dry cleaned instead.

Larvae are invisible to the naked eye, so there is no way to know which pieces are infested. 

Protect Your Clothes From Moths

If feasible, put your clothing items in moth-proof garment bags (this 10-pack is washable and ideal for long-term storage) so that moths cannot get into them.

Perber Hanging Garment Bag Lightweight Clear Full Zipper Suit Bags (Set of 10) PEVA Moth-Proof Breathable Dust Cover for Closet Clothes Storage -24'' x 40''/10 Pack

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Vacuum-sealed bags will also work fine.

Make sure that there are no holes in any of your bags. The moths will come back to feed if there is any way to get into the clothing. 

It’s vital to maintain your clothing storage area.

If you clean your closet only once or begin storing your clothes out in the open too soon after you first started to remedy the infestation, you may begin to see moths again.

You can also keep your light on in your closet and shake your clothing around. Moths won’t stay where there is either light or movement. 

Wondering why mothballs aren’t mentioned here? They just aren’t considered safe to use. Instead, try these alternatives.

Stop Moths From Eating Pantry Food

If the moths have taken over your kitchen and pantry, you can take some steps to rid yourself of those pesky bugs.

The following section will tell you what to do step by step: 

  • Begin by getting rid of all of your dry food. This is necessary because moths lay eggs in the food that they eat. If you have a moth infestation, there is a good chance that they have gotten into most of your dry foods. Throw it all in the garbage. 
  • Clean up your pantry. Moths, in general, are very good at hiding and can fit into the smallest spaces. Vacuum and then wipe down your shelves, every corner, the floor, and any goods that you choose to leave in the pantry. Use soap and water for all surfaces. 
  • Put out some sticky traps. Not just any sticky trap will do. Use only traps made for pantry moths (like this six-pack of pheromone traps). Change out the traps as they become full. 

Dr. Killigan's Premium Pantry Moth Traps with Pheromones Prime | Safe, Non-Toxic with No Insecticides | Sticky Glue Trap for Food and Cupboard Moths in Your Kitchen | Organic (Black, 6)

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Stop Moths From Eating Carpet

To stop moths from feeding on your carpet, the solution is simple. Purchase a moth spray for carpets and follow the instructions on the can.

Most sprays are designed to be sprayed on the outer edges of carpets. Over time, the spray will kill any moths that try to eat your carpet. 

Call a Professional

If you still notice moths after trying the above methods, then it’s time to call in a professional.

A simple Internet search for moth extermination services in your area will help you find a pest control company that can help. 

Final Thoughts

Now you know what moths like to eat, why they eat your things, and how to get rid of them.

We hope that this article serves as a helpful guide to help you with your moth problems! 

Sources:

https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef609

http://npic.orst.edu/pest/pantrymoth.html

https://www.pestcontrolsupermarket.com/carpet-moths-31-w.asp

https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/how-to-get-rid-of-clothes-moths/

https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/pantry-moths-262336

https://www.hmnabavian.com/product/insecticides/sla-moth-spray/ 

https://www.idealhome.co.uk/diy-and-decorating/how-to-get-rid-of-moths 

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