So, you have bugs eating your clothes in the closet. And you need to stop them from destroying your clothes.
In this complete guide, you’ll learn:
- How to find out what bug is eating your clothes
- Ways to repel bugs from your closet
- How to eliminate bugs and protect your clothes
- And more
By the end of this guide, you’ll have everything you need to know for starters.
Bookmark this page so you can refer back to it easily.
Sound good? Let’s get your clothes bug free.
What is eating my clothes in my closet?
There are many bugs that eat clothing and fabrics in closets, dressers, cabinets, and wardrobes.
The most common pests in the American household are moths and carpet beetles. If you notice small holes in your t-shirts, stains, tears, or other damage, chances are that it was from one of these bugs.
What is causing holes in my clothes?
Carpet beetles and moths both cause holes in your clothes and especially like to feed on cotton clothing or other fabrics.
They’re especially attracted to food or certain chemical attractants from your perfume, deodorant, musk, etc.
What kind of bugs eat clothes?
There are quite a few common “clothes bugs” or “closet bugs” that’ll eat your clothes.
Thankfully, there aren’t too many and they’re pretty easy to control. Here are a few of the most common pests that’ll munch on your clothes.
Moths are the whole reason behind mothballs.
These pests are often confused with eating clothes when in reality, they don’t. Only a part of their lifecycle actually eats fabrics.
Here’s the difference:
- The adult moths don’t eat clothes.
- The larvae do.
Most mouth adults wean off the fibers as they evolve, and only the larvae form will munch on fabrics.
Depending on how long the larval phase is for the moth, this can lead to extensive damage over time.
And if you have a lot of them, this just increases the amount of damage clothing exponentially.
This is exactly why you need to act quickly and identify the proper pest that’s racing up your clothes. If you’re trying to get rid of the wrong bug, that’s just wasted effort. There are a few things you should note about moths and their habits with fibers and clothing.
An adult moth will deposit eggs, which eventually hatch into larvae. The larvae are the “baby” nymph stage of moths, which will munch on fabrics like leather, wool, and silk clothing.
As they eventually morph into adult moths, they’ll wean off the clothing and eat it less over time.
The larvae eat clothes
However, during the larvae part of their lifecycle, they’ll eat your clothes stored in your closet, drawers, or dressers.
Cotton clothing happens to be one of the favorites of moths, so if you notice something eating only your cotton clothes, it may be from moth larvae damage.
Since moths are a common pest of clothing, many people assume their torn up clothing comes from a moth.
This isn’t always the case and you should always distinguish the different types of damage based on the material, humidity, and damage pattern within your closet.
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Yes, this may seem complicated, but what good is trying to eliminate bugs from your closet if you’re eliminating the wrong bug?
We’ll go over a few different types of moths and what they like to eat. Here are some common species and their preferred materials.
There are many different types of moths that eat clothes. Check to see which one sounds like the one you have.
Webbing clothes moth
This month is a tiny, golden moth that spans about ½” in length for their wingspan. They’re very bad at flying and tend to stay in the dark, such as dressers and wardrobes.
Adult webbing clothes moths don’t consume clothing, but the larvae are a threat to cashmere, wool, fur, and mohair clothing. Fabric that’s been damaged by these moths will have clear holes.
Adult moths deposit hundreds of white eggs that stick to the fabric. After the larvae are born, they consume fibers and will continue to feed for a month.
Case bearing clothes moth
The larvae of these moths are flat and have a hard shell. They’re about ½ inches in length and will chew out holes in your fabrics.
They eat flannel, woold, fur, and even human hair. These are definitely less common than other months, however, if you see a moth larvae with a hard shell, you probably have case bearing moths.
Clothing that has attracted such as perfume, debris, dirt, or food definitely attracts more larvae, so that’s something to be mindful of.
Moths can be difficult to control as their larvae divide rapidly. They also eat plants around the yard and destroy seedlings.
Carpet beetles are another common household bug that eats clothes. They do eat and destroy clothing and other soft fabrics.
You can find carpet beetles in your closet, on your walls, or even all over your floor. These are prevalent bugs that are found all over the US and are known to eat fabrics and clothing. These beetles rapidly multiple, so they can be difficult to manage.
Adults can deposit up to 100 eggs and the incubation time is only 14 days. The larvae that hatch eat clothing for up to 1 year after hatching. This gives them plenty of time to chew on the fabrics that you have stored or your clothes in your closet.
The female beetles lay eggs that are often hidden in clothing. They also lay them on your carpet, furniture, or floors around the home. After 14 days, the eggs hatch and will sprout nymphs that chew on fabrics.
As it evolves into an adult beetle, they aren’t as much of a threat anymore. Carpet beetle larvae eat fur, feathers, mohair, wool, and other soft natural fibers.
Carpet beetles are sometimes described as “tiny bugs” in your closet, as they’re very small by nature and move very slowly. If you ever see a very small black or tan bug on your clothing or closet walls, it’s probably a carpet beetle.
If you have carpet beetles, you can learn how to get rid of them naturally.
Common carpet beetles
Common carpet beetles that eat clothes are the variegated, black, and common carpet beetles. They all are destructive towards fibers and only differ slightly in their appearance and lifecycle.
Variegated carpet beetles
These are solid or splotchy black with specks of white, tan, and yellow. They’re only about ⅛” in length and are ovular. These are the most common carpet beetles you’ll find on clothing.
Not to be confused with “common carpet beetles” which is just a general species name for beetles that have black, white, and orange specks on their body with microscopic hairs.
A lot of people seeing small bugs eating clothes are alarmed and want to burn up their entire closet. You can break it down by first eliminating the rest of the pests, cleaning your clothing, and then setting up repellents.
Silverfish don’t eat the clothes for the fabrics, but actually are eating the nutrients and debris caught in your clothing. Fabric is “sticky” microscopically and picks up a lot of dirt, debris, and food.
This means that there are a lot of nutrients stuck to clothing and this is why silverfish tend to hang out on clothes. If you’ve ever left a shirt on the floor overnight, you may have found a silverfish on it the next morning.
Articles of clothing that you store in dark areas (dressers, closets, basements, wardrobes, etc.) are all excellent food sources for these bugs. They like dark areas and will forage for the pieces of debris caught on the clothing.
These pests feed off of clothing scraps, so it may appear that they’re eating your clothes. But in reality, they just eat the pieces of debris caught in your fabrics.
If you have silverfish, check out this tutorial on how to get rid of them.
These are very similar to silverfish are people often get them confused. Firebrats are about ½” in length at the adult size and have a silver and tan body.
Unlike silverfish, firebrats prefer to actually eat the fibers found on clothing such as rayon, linen, and cotton.
They’re also attracted to starchy clothing debris and their damage is recognized as jagged and patternless. Firebrats also prefer humid and dark areas just like silverfish.
Termites are also capable of eating holes through clothing.
Although termites feed on wood, they can chew through fibers and cause damage. You probably won’t find them in your closet, unless you haven’t been using it in a long time.
However, termites have been known to inhabit dark closets and dressers that have been unmaintained and will tear into clothing and drill holes.
You should be especially on the hunt for flying termites, as these will fly around your home to establish a new colony of termites. Watch out for any that happen to land in your closet, because this will be the start of a problem you don’t want to deal with.
Always inspect your home for termites by hiring a qualified professional.
How do I protect my clothes from bugs?
There are a few things you can do to safeguard your clothing from further damage from bugs. Here are a few of them.
Keep your closet maintained
This is an often ignored method that actually works to keep the bugs off your clothes. Keeping a closet that’s clean and bug-free can be done with frequent vacuumings.
Use a hand-vac or the hose attachment on your standup vacuum and just keep it clean. This means vacuuming all parts of your closet, no matter if you have a regular or walk-in one.
Be sure to get prime areas of bug activity, such as:
- On the closet door
- Closet parenting
- Upper shelf (keep it dust-free)
- Hanger rack
- Storage cardboard
- Other crates or bins
One small vacuuming session can do a lot more than you think. Repeat this process every other week to keep your closet tidy to help reduce bugs, which may eventually eat your clothes.
Watch your outdoor clothing
For those that dry their clothing outdoors (dry hang), you’ll always want to check your laundry before bringing it into your home.
When you air dry it outdoors, you attract plenty of flying bugs, moths, flies, beetles, and other pests.
They’ll see that the fabric is suitable for depositing eggs and do so. They may also be drawn to the scent of your laundry detergent, so you’re just asking for trouble.
This is why you need to check your laundry before you bring anything into the home. If a single pest hitchhikes into your closet, that’s all that’s needed for an entire colony of bugs to start eating your clothes. It just takes a single adult moth to lay up to 100 eggs.
So you should always be wary when you hang your laundry outdoors. There’s always a bug somewhere that’s looking for a place to nest!
Keep your stored clothing secure
Always make sure your clothes are secure in whatever you store them in- crates, boxes, bins, etc.
You want to prevent any bugs from being able to find their way into the storage unit, or else you’re just asking for a pest problem on your clothing!
Don’t let the bugs crawl around on your clothes by securing your fabrics. This means using cardboard instead of crates.
Or plastic storage totes rather than open-top boxes. For fabrics, you don’t plan to use for quite some time, make sure that there’s no way for bugs to get into them. All they need is small cracks or crevices to get in and start laying eggs.
You can also add some natural repellents to each storage unit, such as essential oil cotton balls, bay leaves, or other natural odorous substances that repel bugs.
We’ll cover this in detail later. Securing your clothing definitely helps prevent and get rid of bugs that eat clothing.
Check your clothes regularly
This may seem unnecessary, but it’s one way to prevent bugs from chewing up your clothes.
Most people don’t find out that their clothes have been destroyed until they notice holes, tears, and mangled fabric from bugs. Or they actually see a bug eating the clothes.
This is why you need to check your closet periodically for bugs, especially for the clothes that you don’t wear as often. You should file through them quickly and scan for any damage or bugs.
This only takes a few seconds and allows you to catch the bugs before they take over your entire wardrobe. Once you notice damage, start with a treatment plan to get rid of them.
Use a natural repellent
There are many natural repellents you can use that’ll repel and keep moths, carpet beetles, and other clothes-eating pests out of your closet.
Some of the most common and effective ones are eucalyptus, tansy, cedar, pennyroyal, peppermint, and lavender.
Some people and pets may be sensitive to specific essential oils, so be sure to follow the label and do your research.
Most of these come in a liquid form (known as an essential oil), which you can usually soak a cotton ball into it and then wrap the ball with a paper towel.
Then you toss that towel into your closet as a repellent.
This is one of the most effective ways to get rid of bugs that eat clothes and will help keep bugs out of your closet.
Use cedar chests
Cedar happens to be a very effective pest repellent, as many bugs absolutely hate the smell of cedar and avoid it.
You can buy cedar chests to put your clothes in and this should naturally keep the bugs out without having to use chemicals.
Cedar wears over time and needs to be replaced. If you can’t keep the pests out of your closet, use cedar storage to stop them from getting to your clothes at the least.
Use a commercial repellent
You can use storage repellents that will kill any bug enclosed in a storage unit. These are typically things like mothballs and moth repellents.
They release deadly vapors that get trapped inside the storage box and kill any bugs. The thing to keep in mind is that these chemicals are dangerous to humans and pets, so you should always avoid when possible.
Use exactly as directed on the label. You should also avoid contact or breathing the vapors at all times. And the stored boxes should be placed away from your room.
Be sure to use layers of paper towels to wrap around the repellent and never place it directly on the clothes, as this can damage or stain clothing. You can also use a sock or nylon stocking, but just make sure the fumes can escape the fabric to spread.
Don’t use these chemical controls with plastic products, as they can permanently damage them.
How to get rid of bugs eating your clothes
If you find a pest infestation on your clothes, the first thing you think you need to do is a whole closet cleanse.
This means taking ALL your clothes and putting them through the laundry. At least once.
Don’t try to cherry-pick only clothes that seem damaged, because chances are the bug already left that article of clothing and has migrated to another.
You need to wash every single piece of clothing in your infested closet to kill all the bugs.
Don’t do a partial wash of your wardrobe, dresser, or cabinets, because if you miss a single bug, you’ll just have to start all over again. So save yourself the headache by washing EVERYTHING so you ensure that you kill all the pests.
While your clothes are in the washer, do a thorough cleaning of your entire closet. This means vacuuming the entire thing, cleaning up the shelves, wiping down the walls, and vacuuming the floor.
You want to clean up any eggs, bugs, or deposits left by the pests. Be sure to be 100% throughout- that’s the key!
Does washing clothes kill eggs and bugs?
The scorching hot detergent kills the majority of bugs, including carpet beetles, silverfish, and even chiggers.
You need to make sure you turn your wash cycle to the highest heat setting and use the right amount of detergent as directed. Repeat with two cycles if needed.
Freezing your clothes
You can freeze small fabrics, stuffed animals, toys, and other fabrics by placing the item in plastic bags and then sealing them completely.
Then place the bag into the freezer for 3 days at 0-degrees Fahrenheit.
After this time, the pests that are living in the fabrics will be killed and should be safe.
Of course, this works best for smaller items and accessories that fit well into your freezer. Think of things like hats, belts, scarves, socks, and thin shirts.
When you remove the bag from the freezer, let it come to room temperature before opening the seal. Check for bugs. To ensure a complete kill, you can freeze it again for another 3 days.
Be sure to seal the bag completely. Use a zipper bag to get an airtight seal. This is one of the best ways to get rid of bugs on your clothes as it nearly guarantees a 100% kill.
Here are some helpful resources for additional reading:
- Why Do Moths Eat Clothes? – Live Science
- Clothes Moths – Entomology
- Myths About Moths that Eat Clothes – USU
Did you get rid of the bugs eating your clothes?
By now, you should have what you need to get on your way to protect your clothes.
With these measures outlined here, you should be able to identify the bugs eating your clothes, how to eliminate them, and how to repel and safeguard your closet from bugs.
If you have any questions, ask me in the comments.
Or if you found this helpful, tell a friend who may find it useful.
Thanks for reading.
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.