By Christine McMahon Tumpson | Photographs by Cayla Zahoran

Are moths making a mess of your wardrobe? We investigate ways to fend off the persistent pests with help from three experts who are dedicated to keeping moths away from clothes.

This is a close-up of what was going to be my favorite new sweater to pair with jeans this season. It was purchased during the summer while vacationing in New York City and had been tucked away neatly in tissue paper in my dresser. It didn’t deserve this. Neither do your beautiful clothes. Here are some reasons for why it’s happening with some alacrity, and what, if anything, can be done.

“There’s been an increase in the number of bug-eaten clothes coming in,” says Jill Silverman of Leff-Marvin’s Cleaners. Silverman, an owner of the highly respected dry cleaners operation who is also known for her sense of humor, adds, “After all, moths don’t know when the season starts.”

True enough, so what does she tell customers whose eagerly awaited cold weather fashions end up in the trash?

KEEPING YOUR CLOTHES CLEAN IS A DETERRENT.
People put their clothing away thinking they’re clean after wearing them. They don’t realize that bugs eat the hair products, deodorant, perfumes, and tiny food particles that are left behind.

BUGS CANNOT SURVIVE THE DRY-CLEANING PROCESS.
The combination of a hot bath in soaps and chemicals, along with the agitation from the machines, is a lethal combination.

IT’S NOT JUST WOOL.
This kind of damage happens with gabardines, cottons, and polyesters too.

HOLES SOMETIMES APPEAR AFTER DRY-CLEANING.
This occurs when the abraised area disintegrates. That’s how the dry-cleaners distinguish between fabric that has been torn versus eaten.

• • •

The subject of moths makes University of Pittsburgh assistant biology professor Nathan Morehouse crack jokes as well. “At least they’re easier to get rid of than bed bugs,” Morehouse laughs. He explains that while global warming has affected the outdoor insect populations (making it easier for them to survive winters), clothing moths benefit from our own improved living conditions. “They live indoors, so they survive on all kinds of objects, including books and other materials, along with clothing.”

His research is first-hand, too. Having moved recently into a turn-of-century home, “We’ve inherited these moths. It’s a harder battle to fight since they retreat behind the walls, into the nooks and crannies of a home,” he says.

What to do when the holes appear? Reweaving is an option, but the art is a dying one, according to Silverman. “In the analysis of the repair/replace ratio, taking into account today’s clothing manufacturing, it just seems more efficient to get rid of the damaged clothing.”

Getting rid of it unfortunately means exactly that, since microscopic eggs left behind can lead to further damage. Keeping the little bugs from clothing in consignment stores is something the experts at Ambiance Boutique take seriously, as Rose Anne LeDonne, the assistant manager at the Regent Square location, explains.“We check everything to make sure it is moth-free, insect-free, clean everywhere. If we see holes, we give it back. Customers wait while we go through everything, so we can show them why we’re returning something. It’s better that way because they can see right away what the problem is.”

So, how to avoid the bug blues for next season? The resounding answer is cedar-everything, from chips to bags to closets. “It’s the only thing we know to work, so we sell the cedar bags,” says Silverman.

Morehouse agrees. “Because who wants to smell like moth balls?” he says wryly.

Ambiance Boutique, 1039 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square. 412.243.5523. 428 Allegheny River Blvd., Oakmont. 412.828.1946. ambianceboutique.org.
Leff-Marvin’s Cleaners, 4449 Ohio River Blvd., Emsworth. 412.761.4054.
University of Pittsburgh, 412.624.4141. biology.pitt.edu.

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This article is featured in the November 2012 issue of WHIRL Magazine.
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