How to Protect Your Yarn and Handknits from Moths

Moth damage on my black cashmere sweater - fixable, but annoying nonetheless!

For the last couple of months, I have been facing every knitter’s nightmare, my ultimate enemy: the moth.

It started with spotting one or two moths on my wall. I killed them and thought nothing else of it. Then, I found one in the laundry basket… Now, I find them in every room of the flat and I’m killing at least 5 adult moths every day.

We even found that they’ve been secretly munching away at our carpet, leaving unsightly bald patches in our hall.

Two of the many moth holes we have found in our carpet. Carpet moths are different to clothes moths - it appears we have both!

Needless to say, I’ve become a heartless moth killer. Whenever I walk into a room, I find myself glancing around at the walls like a lunatic trying to spot if any more have made their home here.

If I see one, I run to the bathroom to grab some toilet paper so I can squish them like the monster I have become. I’ve even considered carrying toilet paper around with me from room to room to make the process more efficient - yes, I’m that obsessed!

Thankfully, I have only found damage on one store-bought sweater and a couple of cones of yarn, so I have gotten away lightly so far. However, we are still finding moths everywhere, so there’s a long way to go until we are safe.


Imagine Wiping Out Your Entire Yarn Stash

We keep our flat clean and avoid leaving windows open at night when the lights are on, so I never expected moths to be a problem for us.

The truth is, anyone is at risk of a moth infestation and once they’re in, they’re very tricky to get rid of. Moths are particularly a problem to hand knitters. A serious moth infestation could eliminate your yarn stash and damage your beloved hand knits. It doesn't even bear thinking about!

In this blog post, I’m going to share more about what I've learnt on my "moth battle" so far, teaching you how to spot and treat an infestation and how to prevent it happening again in future.

Every Knitter's Nightmare: The Clothes Moth

That small dot in the middle of the red circle is a clothes moth. Small, but easy to spot when you are looking.

Clothes moths are light tan in colour and measure only 0.5cm long. They are easy to spot sitting on your walls and furniture and fluttering around your home. Unfortunately, the adult moths are the least of your problems.

Moths, themselves, are not the ones who chew through your yarn and handknits. All they do is fly around, trying to find a mate so that they can lay their eggs somewhere dark. It’s when those eggs hatch into larvae that it becomes a real problem.

This (kinda gross)  photo  shows you the two varieties of clothes moth you might find in your home. I have definitely seen both in mine.

This (kinda gross) photo shows you the two varieties of clothes moth you might find in your home. I have definitely seen both in mine.

In order to survive, these larvae will munch their way through anything made from animal fibres, including wool, alpaca and even silk and feathers. Plant-based fibres are usually safe, however, they can be at risk when they’re dirty or covered in hair.

Moths don’t like to lay their eggs somewhere where they will be disturbed. That’s why you will rarely find moth damage on frequently worn garments. Instead, they lay their eggs somewhere dark and quiet where they won’t be disturbed.

Because of the humidity, moths are most active in the summer. That’s why it’s important to act now if you see any hint of an infestation - because it's only going to get worse!



How to Tell if you Have a Moth Infestation

There are a few signs that indicate you have a moth problem.

  1. You are seeing moths around your house. If you are finding at least one per week, take action before it gets worse.

  2. You have spotted holes in your clothing and frayed areas in your yarn.

  3. You have seen moth eggs on your carpet or belongings. Moth eggs look like fine, white crumbs.

How to Deal with a Moth Infestation

All of my yarn is now kept in ziploc bags like this. They all contain a lavender sachet too to try and deter any moths from getting in.

As soon as you see signs of a moth infestation, it is crucial that you deal with it quickly and thoroughly.

Take out all of your yarn stash and check every single ball carefully for signs of moth damage. If you see any with strange fraying, eggs or larvae (ew!), quarantine it by putting it in a ziplock bag to be dealt with later.

Any yarn that shows no signs of moth damage can be stored in a separate ziplock bag with a lavender sachet or some cedar balls inside. Moths don’t like strong scents, so this will deter them from laying their eggs on your beautiful yarn.

Please note: cedar oil is said to be poisonous to cats, so if you have cats, stick to the lavender sachets.

Likewise, inspect all of your clothing for moth holes, eggs or larvae. Any that you suspect should be put in a plastic bag to be dealt with. All of your moth-free handknits should be stored similarly to your yarn: in a ziplock bag with a lavender sachet inside.

What to do with moth-damaged yarn?

This is the stage I am at right now. I’ve sorted through all of my hand knits and yarn and now, I’m ready for treating my moth-damaged yarn.

After some research, there are two commonly suggested methods that are effective at killing moth eggs and larvae in yarn: baking your yarn in the oven on a low heat or putting it in the freezer.

I’ve heard that the first method is very effective, however, I have decided not to do it. Our oven gets pretty hot and I'm worried that I’m going to set my yarn on fire, even on a low heat!

Instead, I plan on using the freezing method.

All you do is put some of the affected yarn in a ziplock bag and squeeze all of the air out of it. Then, put the bag in the freezer and leave it there for one week. Take the bag of yarn out of the freezer and leave it to thaw, then put it back in the freezer again. After another week, take out the yarn and once it is thawed, shake out any rogue eggs and larvae. You can then rewind your yarn and store it carefully in ziplock bags with a lavender sachet. Repeat this until you have frozen all of your moth-damaged yarn.

What to do with moth-damaged handknits?

You can either dry-clean the knits, which is pretty expensive, or you can give them a thorough handwash in some white vinegar. Once they are clean and dry, you can darn the holes and store the garments in plastic ziplock bags with a lavender sachet.

Deep Clean Affected Areas

Once you have treated all of your yarn and clothing, it’s time to deep-clean all of the affected areas in your home. Some of you will be lucky enough to only have moths in one room, however, I have them in every room of my flat! Sigh.

Go from room to room and clean every single nook and cranny. Leave no ornament unwiped, no piece of furniture unmoved. Every single item in every single room where you have had moths needs to be cleaned. The aim is to make the room uninhabitable to the little beasties.

Thankfully, once you’ve completed the deep-clean, you will not need to do it again. From this point onwards, it’s just a matter of keeping on top of your day-to-day cleaning. Beware: food crumbs and hair attract moths!

How to Avoid a Moth Infestation in Future

Even my knitting projects live in ziploc bags now... I wish they were prettier, but it's better safe than sorry!

I hate to break it to you but from now on, displaying your yarn decoratively is a no-no. Leaving your yarn out, unprotected, is like setting out a buffet for the moths! Whilst storing all of your yarn in ziplock bags is hardly the most aesthetically pleasing method of organising your yarn stash, it is by far the safest. 

You might want to consider reducing your yarn stash too. The more yarn you have, the more it is going to sit unused in your stash and therefore, attract moths. By reducing your stash to only what you plan on using in the near future, the less likely it is going to become moth-infested.

In terms, of clothing, don’t ever store winter clothes away without getting them cleaned first. Moths are attracted to dirty clothing because they provide the nutrients that larvae need to grow into adult moths. Don’t leave anything dirty for too long or they might get nibbled...

What’s your story?

Have you ever had a moth infestation in your home? What did you do to beat it? Or are you battling an infestation as we speak? Please share your experiences in the comments section below. I know I could do with all the help and encouragement I can get!