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Understanding Fabric Pest Habits for Easy Control

The term "Fabric Pests" is used to describe those insects which have the ability to feed on keratin, a proteinaceous constituent of wool and other animal hair. There are approximately 30 species of moth larva, 15 species of beetle larva and hundreds of species of biting lice associated with birds known or suspected to be able to digest keratin.

The economically important fabric pests are found in the two main groups: carpet beetles and clothes moths. In both groups, it is only the larva which causes the damage.

Although they prefer keratin - containing substances such as wool, hair and feathers, carpet beetles and clothes moths will also attack other fabrics such as cotton, silk, linen and synthetics if the fabrics are contaminated with substances of nutritional value such as urine, perspiration, beer, milk or fruit juice. Clean processed wool cannot support the normal life cycle of the clothes moth unless it is contaminated with certain nutritional supplements.

Apart from carpet beetles and clothes moths, there are many other insect species, unable to digest keratin, but still able to cause damage by chewing through keratin-containing fabric. These include termites, cockroaches, crickets, silverfish, psocids (book lice) and some dermestids.

Habits of Both Fabric Pests:

The larvae of both prefer to feed in dark, undisturbed areas such as closets, attics, and within boxes where woolens and furs are stored for long periods. Clothing and blankets in constant use are seldom damaged by these pests nor are carpets that get normal traffic or are routinely vacuumed. The edges of carpets next to walls or underneath furniture are often attacked.

These pests may also be found in upholstered furniture (both inside and out) and in air ducts where the larvae may be feeding on lint, shed pet hair and other debris. Infestations may also originate from bird or animal nests, or an animal carcass present in an attic, chimney or wall space. Adult carpet beetles may fly from one house to another or eggs or larvae may be transported into a home on articles containing wool or other animal fibers.

Damage to articles may consist of irregular surface feeding or holes eaten completely through the fabric.

How to Identify the Clothes Moth:

Clothes moths are small (about inch), buff-colored moths with narrow wings fringed with hairs. Adult clothes moths are seldom seen because they avoid light. Adult clothes moths do not feed so they cause no injury to fabrics. However, the adults produce eggs, which hatch into fabric-eating larvae. In the larval stage, clothes moths are creamy-white caterpillars up to inch long.

Webbing clothes moth larvae spin silken feeding tunnels or patches of webbing as they move about on the surface of fabrics. They often deposit tiny fecal pellets similar in color to the fabric.

Casemaking clothes moth larvae enclose themselves in a portable case that they drag with them wherever they go. Often they leave the material they developed on and can be seen crawling slowly over walls or ceilings. This moth may travel a considerable distance to spin a cocoon in a protected crack or along the juncture of a wall and ceiling.

How to Identify Carpet Beetles:

There are many different species of carpet beetles. The adults are small, oval-shaped beetles about 1/8 inch long. The most common, the black carpet beetle is shiny black; others are brightly colored in various patterns of white, brown, yellow and orange.

The larvae are about 1/8 inch to inch long and densely covered with hairs or bristles. Only the larval stage feeds on fabric and causes damage. They will also feed on seeds, pet food, or cereal products. In nature the adults feed on flowers outdoors. If they are seen indoors, around light fixtures and windows, there is a larval infestation present somewhere within the home.


Good cleaning is the best prevention. Vacuum carpets thoroughly and frequently. Pay close attention to dark, out-of-the-way places. If you have pets, clean more often since pet hair is a good source for these pests.

For more helpful information, check out our site here:

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Graeme Stephens has been running the largest owned carpet cleaning company
in new Zealand for 24 years. IICRC qualified "master restoration technician"

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