How to Get Rid of Moths in Your House

Some moth species can cause damage inside the home and in the lawn and garden.

Moths get a bad rap. Most species are harmless. Some species are quite pretty. However, discover their wiggling caterpillars in your box of cereal, chewed holes in your favorite sweater, or chewed leaves on your plants, and it becomes clear that a few moth species can be quite frustrating.

What do moths look like?

Moths are closely related to butterflies, both belonging to the order Lepidoptera. Moths can vary dramatically in both appearance and size depending on the species. Some moths, like the giant silk moths or hawk moths, are real beauties that can rival any butterfly, while others are drab in appearance. Some species of moths are massive in size with wing-spans up to 6 inches, and others are smaller with a wingspan between one and two inches.

A moth on a gray background

Certain species of moths, like the luna moth, have brilliant iridescent wings while most, especially those that can be considered pests, have wings that are brown or grey. Most moths that infest our homes are small, with a wing-span less than 1-inch wide and are usually grey, brown, or reddish brown in color.

What moths cause trouble inside our homes?

When you have a moth infestation in your home, two types of moths are the likely suspects: pantry moths and clothes moths.

Pantry Moths

These moths include several different species like the Indian meal moth and brown house moth. You'll find them mostly in your kitchen pantry where you store grains and dry goods, like cereals, crackers and rice. They are also known to eat nuts, spices, and even chocolate. You might find webbing or tiny caterpillars wiggling around inside your food when you open it.

Clothes Moths

There are two species of clothes moths common in North America: the webbing clothes moth and the casemaking clothes moth. They are naturally drawn to dark spaces like attics, closets, and wardrobes where the caterpillars feed on natural fibers like silk, linen, wool, or fur. They can be found hiding in the corners or in folds of fabrics. Clothing moths can ruin sweaters, coats, comforters, pillows, and will even chew on carpets. Signs of clothes moths are holes in the fabric, webbing, and excrement, called frass, that looks like large grains of sand. You may also find their silk cases, which are cylindrical, open-ended, long, and have pieces of infested material incorporated into the case. If it is still occupied, it will contain a wriggling larva.

How to get rid of moths inside your house

Follow these steps to get rid of pantry moths:

  1. Get out the trash bags and throw out any contaminated food.
  2. Thoroughly clean the inside of your cupboards and pantries by vacuuming and washing them with soap and water.
  3. Seal and dispose of the vacuum bag (or vacuum canister contents) as soon as you are finished.

Follow these steps to get rid of clothes moths:

  1. Remove all of your clothes and linens from the closet and take them outside.
  2. Shake and brush the fabrics outside in a sunny spot to remove the caterpillars.
  3. You can also clean machine washable materials in hot water with detergent, then dry on low heat to kill the caterpillars.
  4. For non-machine washable fabrics, dry cleaning is also an option.

How to prevent moths from coming back

To prevent future moth problems, keep an eye out for signs of moth activity in your pantry and closets and follow these steps:

  • Regularly wipe down surfaces to get rid of dust and crumbs. 
  • Help keep moths outside by keeping doors closed and repairing holes in window screens.
  • You can also apply Ortho® Home Defense Max® Indoor Insect Barrier with Extended Reach Comfort Wand®around windows, door casings, and baseboards to help keep moths and other pests out of the house.
  • When storing clothes, keep them in vacuum-sealed bags.
  • Installing a cedar-lining in your closet or attaching cedar rings around hangers can also help prevent moths from moving in, but it won't clear up an existing problem and may lose effectiveness after a few years.
  • To prevent pantry moths, store food in air-tight containers made of glass or hard plastic. This will also help deter other pests like ants and roaches.

Moths can also be problematic in the lawn and garden

While most moth species are harmless, some species have caterpillars that can be very destructive to lawns and gardens. Gypsy moth caterpillars are responsible for causing major defoliation to trees and forests in the northeastern U.S. Codling moths, tomato hornworms, cabbage loopers, and diamondback moths are all known to damage fruit and vegetable crops. While in the lawn, sod webworm and fall armyworm can be problematic.

To control moths and their caterpillars in vegetable gardens use Ortho® Insect, Mite & Disease 3-in-1. For problems in the landscape use Ortho® Home Defense® Insect Killer for Lawn & Landscape. And to control caterpillar problems in the lawn, use Ortho® BugClear® Lawn Insect Killer. With all control products, always follow label directions