6 Bugs That Eat Clothes — And How to Protect Your Retail
Fabric bugs or clothing bugs are a group of fabric-eating bugs usually found outdoors. They come indoors because of a food source or via items made from animal fibers. These insects feed upon and damage fabric and paper. It’s possible to see them, but generally, you only see holes and other damage left behind.
Several insects feed on fabric. When one makes its way into your business, it can rapidly multiply and become an infestation. The best method to deal with an infestation is to prevent it. This guide will review what bugs eat clothes and how to prevent them.
Most Common Fabric Pests
The two most common fabric pests are clothes moths and carpet beetles. Clothes moths feed exclusively on animal fibers, but carpet beetles do not. When carpet beetles feed on fabrics, they choose the same ones as clothes moths. They do similar damage, so carpet beetles are often mistaken for clothes moths.
It’s essential to know how to identify carpet beetles and clothes moths. The damage they cause may be similar, but the treatment methods are different.
1. Clothes Moths
Clothes moths feed on all animal fibers, but they prefer wool, fur, silk, feathers, felt and leather. Typically, they won’t attack cotton or synthetic fabrics unless it’s blended with wool or soiled with food stains or body oils. These insects are half-inch beige or buff-colored moths with narrow wings fringed with small hairs.
Since they look similar, clothes moths are often mistaken for grain moths. Unlike grain moths, they avoid light and are usually in dark, secluded areas like closets, basements and attics. Adult clothing moths do not feed, but their larvae do.
The two types of clothes moths common in North America are casemaking and webbing. Casemaking and webbing clothes moths are a uniform buff color with a small tuft of reddish hairs on the top of their heads. The only difference in appearance is that casemaking clothes moths have black specks on their wings.
As larvae, clothes moths are creamy-white caterpillars up to half an inch long. Webbing clothes moths spin silken tubes or patches of webbing as they move on the material’s surface. They feed within folds of fabric and other concealed areas, removing fibers from the base and causing threadbare spots.
Casemaking clothes moths encase themselves in an open-ended tube they drag wherever they go. Inside the case are fibers from the materials it has fed on. Materials commonly infested by clothing moths include:
- Down Pillows
These pests rarely infest materials in regular use. They prefer items stored for long periods that you wouldn’t normally check. Therefore, it is a good idea to inspect any clothing items you keep in storage regularly.
2. Carpet Beetles
Carpet beetles often infest carpets but feed on wood, fur, felt, silk, feathers, skins and leather. Like clothes moths, they only eat synthetic materials blended with wool or soiled with food stains or body oils. Adult carpet beetles are round to oval and small — only 1/16 to 1/8 an inch in length.
Adult carpet beetles are attracted to sunlight, so you can see them on windowsills. They feed on pollen, not fabrics, but females lay about 50-100 eggs near or on food sources. These larvae hatch in about two weeks and begin to feed. It can take two to six months for them to transform into adults.
Other Bugs That Eat Clothes
While clothes moths and carpet beetles are the most common, other bugs feed on clothes. It may surprise you that cockroaches, crickets, silverfish and termites can feed on fabrics. Having one of these insects in your business often indicates more in hiding. An infestation of these pests can cause severe damage to clothes, among other things, and could spread various germs and diseases.
Cockroaches are one of the most problematic pests to get rid of. These pests are nocturnal, so they usually hide behind walls during the day. Therefore, seeing one during the day often indicates an infestation. They contaminate surfaces with their waste, spread diseases, cause allergy and asthma symptoms and eat fabric.
Adult cockroaches range in size from 3/8 inches to 1 5/8 inches and reproduce rapidly. Their bodies are flattened and close to the ground with an oval-shaped structure that covers their heads. They have long antennae and thin legs that often contain spines. Young cockroaches are smaller and don’t have wings.
Perspiration, body fluid stains, food and drink spills and laundry starch attract cockroaches. If they find clothing with these food sources, they eat away at it, causing holes or weakening the fibers so holes appear. They can also stain fabrics with their waste. Since they are great hitchhikers, cockroaches can enter a business in many ways.
Even though they are commonly found outside at night, crickets may enter buildings during late summer and fall. Since they do not bite or spread diseases, most consider them simply a nuisance. While crickets won’t cause severe property damage, they can damage clothing. They are attracted to body soil, food and beverage stains and laundry starch. When they eat these stains, they often eat holes through the fabric.
Crickets can damage wool, cotton, silk, synthetic fabrics, furs and carpets. They range from light brown to black with long antennae, wings and large back legs. Due to their small size, they can enter buildings through open doors or windows or foundation cracks. This can make it hard to locate the exact entry point.
5. Silverfish and Firebrats
Most active at night, silverfish and firebrats eat various things, including starchy clothes substances like cotton, silk and linen. When they find a food source, they will stick close to it. As they eat, they create holes in the fibers.
They are similar in appearance and have a lot in common. Both are fast, wingless insects with flat, carrot-shaped bodies with scales. Firebrat scales are gray-brown, while silverfish are silver, blue or gray. Most people only see silverfish and firebrats when their hiding places are disturbed.
Silverfish like damp, cool places like basements, garages, laundry rooms, attics and closets or storage areas with boxes or books. Firebrats prefer warm, moist areas, such as ovens, heating units, fireplaces and hot water pipes. The presence of either of these pests indicates too much moisture in the area.
Most people think of termites when wood or structural damage occurs, but termites also feed on clothing and fabrics. They like clothing stained with body soil, food or beverages. When they eat, they cut into the fabric and cause holes.
Termites are tiny insects that look similar to winged ants. They have straight antennae, broad waists and milky wings that are the same shape and size. Their nests must be warm, dark and damp to provide the conditions they need to live and thrive.
There are about 45 termite species in the United States — drywood termites are the ones that might eat clothing. They can form multiple colonies in a single wood piece or structure and stay hidden in their food source. Requiring little to no moisture, drywood termites can infest everything from utility poles to furniture.
Why Should You Care About Fabric Pests
Fabric pests can cause severe damage to fiber products such as rugs, upholstery, bedding, taxidermy and clothing made from cotton, wool, fur, skins, silk, linen, feathers, felt, leather and synthetic materials. Once they begin feeding on a product, it is infested and contaminated, as are other items nearby. This can cause significant financial loss for your business.
Also known as cryptic insects, fabric pests often feed in dark places, making them hard to see. By the time you notice them, you could have an infestation on your hands because most fabric pests reproduce rapidly. An infestation is harder to control and will lead to other problems.
For instance, cockroaches can quickly become an infestation and spread diseases, posing health risks to customers and staff and potentially causing costly damage. Termites build colonies and may cause structural damage. An infestation with cockroaches, termites or any other pest can result in temporary or permanent business closure and loss of reputation.
The Causes of Fabric Pests
One way to prevent fabric pests is to understand what causes them. Insects that feed on fabric get their nutrition from a protein called keratin. Keratin is naturally in fibers, hair, fingernails and horns. Rugs and clothing made from animal fibers contain keratin, which is what attracts them.
Fabric pests are naturally found outdoors but can enter buildings through windows, doors, improperly stored or infested items and foundational cracks or holes. They mostly prefer wool, fur, silk, feathers, leather, felt and linen but will feed on any fabric heavily soiled with food, beverage or body stains.
These nocturnal pests tend to build nests next to their food source. This makes it harder to know when fabric pests have infested clothing. Therefore, it is vital to inspect deliveries and stored items regularly. By examining them, you have a chance to spot signs of fabric pests early and prevent damage and infestation.
How to Get Rid of Fabric Pests
An infestation of fabric bugs can be challenging to get rid of because different pests require different treatments. The first step to getting rid of fabric pests is calling a pest control technician. They will identify what type of pest you are dealing with.
Some signs you can use to identify the different fabric pests are:
- Clothes moths: If you notice silky tunnels or trenches on clothing, fur falling out, patches of damage, crust-like spots and tiny, sticky tubes, you might have a clothes moth infestation.
- Carpet beetles: Carpet beetles cause thin, bare areas on wool, hairs falling out of furs, shed larval skins and the presence of tiny beetles.
- Cockroaches: Cockroaches leave dark or golden smears along walls and surfaces, an unpleasant musty odor, droppings that look like coffee grounds or soil, dead cockroach skins, egg capsules and tiny chew marks.
- Crickets: Aside from seeing crickets, you might notice chirping at night and chew damage with large holes.
- Silverfish and firebrats: Silverfish and firebrats leave fecal matter, shed skin, yellow stains or dust and several holes on infested items.
- Termites: The infestation signs of termites include wing piles, wood damage and tiny holes.
After identifying the pest, a pest control technician can treat the infestation. Treatment depends on how serious the infestation is.
How to Treat Infected Clothing
Once you have identified infected clothing, it must be isolated and sealed tightly in a plastic bag. The item or items then need to be thoroughly cleaned, which can be done at a dry cleaner. Sometimes, the items can go through a wash cycle if the infestation is not severe. Sewing, patching or knitting can repair damaged clothing.
However, since the clothing is for sale, it is probably not salvageable. By isolating the infected items, you prevent infestation to your other clothing. A pest control technician will have an easier time treating the infestation when the infected items are properly disposed of.
How to Prevent Fabric Pests
The best way to prevent fabric pests is with routine pest control services. Fabric pests need an entry point, and regular pest control acts as a barrier and keeps them out. You will be made aware of any cracks, gaps, holes or other areas of concern during an inspection. The inspections will catch pest problems before they become an issue and solve any current pest problems.
Regular pesticide services also prevent other pests from entering your business. The most popular pests in New York include rodents and flies. These pests spread numerous diseases and contaminate any surface they touch. An infestation with these pests is as severe as an infestation with fabric pests, making it vital that you prevent infestations at your business.
Get Pest Control From Pestech for Your Retail Business
Pestech is an experienced pest control company servicing New York. We know how to identify and treat common and uncommon pests in our area. Our services come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee, meaning that if the pest problem is not successfully treated the first time, we will return free of charge to treat it again. By hiring our services, you can focus on your business while we focus on preventing pests that threaten to disrupt it.
We offer individualized plans for business owners, like an n integrated pest management (IPM) plan customized to fit your specific needs based on your retail location’s size, pest problem and budget. Whether you want more environmentally-friendly and green solutions or routine pest control, we will work with you to create a plan you are satisfied with. Contact us to schedule an inspection and return your peace of mind.