How to Get Rid of Moths—and Prevent an Infestation in Your Home

Learn how to remove these pests from your closet, pantry, and other areas, according to pest management and cleaning experts.

Whenever you see any type of pest in your house, your first thought is probably, "How do I get rid of it?" The second is (gulp), "What if there are more?" This is particularly true when you spot an invasive species, like moths, which typically congregate in one of two places: the pantry or your closet (or wherever you store clothes). Pantry moths eat the dried goods in your kitchen, while clothes moths dine on your clothes' wool fabrics. Thankfully, with the right techniques, you can learn how to get rid of both moths and keep them out of your home for good.

Types of Moths

There are two common types of moths that can infest your home: pantry and clothes moths, say the experts at Orkin.

Pantry Moths

If you see moths flying around in your house, they probably aren't clothes moths—you have a pantry moth problem. These small pests, which infest flour and grains, have bronze or gray wings and a yellow-gray upper body. Their most defining feature is the black band that circles around the wings' upper and lower segments.

Pantry moths lay their eggs in dry goods, according to the National Pesticide Information Center at Oregon State University; they also eat dry foods, including grains, nuts, flours, spices, and chocolate. These pests enter the home via newly-purchased clothes or bird, rodent, and other animal nests made inside attics, crawl spaces, or nearby trees, add the experts at Orkin.

Unfortunately, if you see one adult pantry moth, then you likely have an infestation, since adult female moths can lay hundreds of eggs on or around food. This issue stems from the larvae, which chew through plastic bags and cardboard and contaminate the food inside.

Clothes Moths

Clothes moths, which are much smaller than pantry moths and can either be solid white-gray or darker brown with spots, don't like light and are so secretive, you'll probably never see them. They hide in and infest items like clothing and upholstery made of animal materials. Adult moths won't actually eat your garments, but their larvae feed on the natural clothing fibers in materials like wool, which contain keratin, the Orkin experts say.

The insect lays eggs in secluded spots (like closets or storage boxes) with plenty of food, which includes wool, fur, down, shed pet dander, and other animal-based materials. Larvae emerge within a few weeks, and may cause damage for a couple of months. Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and rayon, are rarely attacked unless they are blended with wool, or if they are dirty. Larvae may also infest and leave irregular holes in carpet edges, upholstered furniture, and air ducts, where they feed on lint and pet hair. Clothing moths are often introduced into your home in the same way as pantry moths.

cashmere sweaters on wood table
Lucy Schaeffer

How to Get Rid of Moths

If you spot moths in your pantry or closet, follow these initial steps to treat an infestation of your pantry, clothing, or carpet and home goods.

  • Pantry: Start by removing all infested items in your pantry; after all spoiled goods have been tossed, begin cleaning your space (instructions below).
  • Clothing: Assess all clothing; throw away the most damaged garments and dry-clean or launder items you keep. Freezing also eradicates pests: Put items in sealed plastic bags, squeeze out air, and freeze for a few days. Take the bags out, let them return to room temperature, and then repeat. In the case of condensation, let clothes air out before storing again.
  • Carpet and Home Goods: Buy a moth spray and spot test to ensure it doesn't affect the carpet color. Following label instructions, apply anywhere you find traces of larvae or don't often clean (such as behind bookcases and along baseboards). Treat both sides of the carpet (if not fastened down) and the rug pad. Make sure that the entire house is cleaned thoroughly before replacing treated items.

Regardless of where the infestation is, set up a few pheromone-laced cardboard traps to catch the moths you might have missed.

woman tidies up her cupboard in the kitchen

Pantry Cleaning

Now that you've removed live pests, it's time to clean your home. Begin cleaning your pantry by emptying it out and assessing the rest of your food for moth contamination. Make sure to throw away any additional affected goods outside, as the kitchen trash could also be infested with moths, says Kathy Cohoon, the director of franchise operations of Two Maids.

Materials You'll Need

  • Vacuum
  • Cleaning brush
  • Dish soap
  • Moth trap

Follow Cohoon's steps to clean a pantry that's been infested with moths:

  1. Once the pantry is empty, vacuum from top to bottom—walls, shelves, and flooring. Pull up any peeling or damaged shelf liners or wall paper and replace after cleaning if needed.
  2. After the pantry is fully vacuumed, use a cleaning brush to scrub every surface in the pantry with a mixture of dish soap and hot water. Check for additional moths hiding in any cracks or crevices.
  3. Scrub again if needed and allow space to air dry. Return all non-damaged food to the pantry.
  4. After the pantry is scrubbed, dried, and repaired, you can place a moth trap inside to monitor for future moth activity. "If you are worried there are additional issues or damage, it may be best to call a local pest control service to inspect and treat the area," says Cohoon.

Cleaning Closet

To start, you'll need to remove all leftover clothes from your closet and wash them in hot water to kill any remaining moths. For more severe infestations, check with local dry cleaners or laundry services to see if they will treat bulk amount of clothing, whether you think they have been impacted or not.

Materials You'll Need

  • Vacuum
  • Household cleaning spray
  • Steam cleaner

Follow Cohoon's steps to clean a closet that's been infested with moths:

  1. Once the closet is empty, vacuum every surface, fabric, corner, and crevice. As you work, identify any damage or moth hiding spots and then treat as needed.
  2. After fully vacuuming, scrub all surfaces with hot water and an appropriate cleaning solution for the material. Allow to air dry.
  3. If you have carpeting in your closet, vacuum very well and steam clean. Repeat any steps as needed. If the closet infestation is severe, consider calling in a pest control tech to treat the closet and check for damage.

How to Prevent Moths

Follow these best practices to keep moths out of your home in the first place.

Keep Your Home Clean

Moth larvae shun bright light, so they rarely attack frequently worn clothing (that regularly sees the light of day) or heavily trafficked parts of the carpet. They thrive in clothing that is packed away and sections of carpet hidden under furniture, especially if there are food spills or other attractive scents. The best strategy? Be sure to keep everything clean.

Vacuum Frequently

Weekly vacuuming and general homekeeping go a long way toward keeping pests at bay. If you clean often, you may remove them without even knowing it. Vacuuming also removes moth eggs and larvae from carpets before they have the opportunity to hatch.

Launder Before You Store

Before you pack up winter clothing for storage, wash or dry-clean garments that have been worn. This rids them of moth eggs and also eliminates perspiration remnants and food spills, which attract and nourish pests. Moths don't eat items made of synthetic or cotton fabrics, but you should clean those, too, if you store them with wool.

Brush Coats Outside

If you have wool winter coats you don't wear often, you probably won't want to pay for dry cleaning just to guard against moth larvae. But if you store them as is, you risk an infestation. In this case, try an old-fashioned but effective regimen: Take the items outside on a sunny day and brush them vigorously, especially under collars and along seams.

This practice should remove eggs and larvae, which are so small, you probably won't be able to see them. In case you miss a few of the pests or their eggs, pack this clothing separately from laundered or dry-cleaned items.

Opt for Smart Storage

Moths can get through extremely tight spaces. When storing wool, resealable plastic bags or plastic boxes are best for keeping pests out. To protect the items from condensation, wrap them in lengths of clean cotton and store. Take care when using plastic containers for long-term storage—years rather than months—as they do not allow the items to breathe, and some plastics may degrade fabric over time. If storing valuable items, consult with a professional textile conservator for recommendations.

person holding bunch of lavender
Sergio Salvador

How to Use Moth Deterrents

Consider these moth deterrents to keep moths out of your home for good.

Red Cedar

The dark-colored heartwood of red cedar contains natural oils that help kill clothes moth larvae, but this alone won't protect clothing. It kills only young larvae, not older ones or eggs. The effect also fades with the scent. You can replenish the scent of boards, closets, and chests by sanding the wood lightly or dabbing on cedar oil, but there is no way to know if you've added enough. If you have a cedar chest, it's best to think of it as a reasonably airtight storage container, and only keep clean fabric inside it. Again, wrap items in clean cotton before storing them.

Mothball and Moth Crystals

Mothballs and moth crystals can thwart infestations but come with many drawbacks, so you're probably better off without them. Both products contain pesticides that can be harmful to people, unborn babies, and pets. Since mothballs and moth crystals work by releasing fumigant gas, they must be used in tight-fitting containers, rather than in closets or drawers, to be effective. If you do use these products, keep containers out of your living area—in a garage, perhaps. And air out clothing thoroughly outside before wearing it or hanging it in your closet again (dry cleaning won't eliminate the mothball odor).


Using lavender to repel clothes moths is another old homemaker's trick. Sachets filled with lavender (and/or laced with its oil), when suspended in your closet or tucked into your drawers, are said to protect wool. They will also leave a pleasant scent behind. Lavender will not, however, kill moth eggs or larvae, so be sure the space is free of them first.

Updated by
Martha Stewart Editors
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