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Taxonomy terms
  • Fabric pests is the general name given to the group of pests which attack any type of fabric, primarily clothes and carpets, but could also include curtains, wall-hangings and furniture.
  • The key pests are carpet beetles, silverfish, clothes moths and booklice (psocids).
  • They are primarily a problem in domestic situations, but can be an issue in museums.

Fabric pests can cause significant damage in domestic situations. Although they are slow feeders, such is the nature of their damage, even one small hole can ruin an item of clothing. For homeowners the damage can be expensive and upsetting.

As pests, they tend to be secretive hiding in areas of the home which aren’t often disturbed. This allows them to do they damage and increase in number without being noticed.

Not only does this mean significant damage can be inflicted before they are noticed, but it also makes them a lot hard to control.

Between them, the different types of fabric pests can attack wide range of fabrics including wool, fur, hair, silk, felt, leather, feathers cotton and linen. Some will also attack papers and dried foods. The material that is being attacked will give a clue as to the pest’s identity.

Both carpet beetles and clothes moths go through complete metamorphosis – hatching from an egg, they go through several larval stages before pupating into an adult.

It is only the larval stages of the carpet beetle and clothes moth that eat and damage the fabrics. The adult carpet beetles actually live outside feeding on the pollen in flowers.

Silverfish and booklice (psocids) have an incomplete metamorphosis. After hatching, they go through several moults before becoming and adult, but the immature stages look just like smaller versions of the adult. Both young and adults will eat and cause damage to fabrics.

The feeding habits of the different fabric pests can give a clue to the potential culprits when damaged is observed.

Carpet beetles have the broadest diet but primarily feed on animal material… so wool, fur, silk, leather and feathers are targeted. They will also eat dried foods (meat and plant based).

Clothes moths also target animal fabrics but tend not to each tougher materials (such as leather) and don’t generally eat dried foods.

Carpet beetles and clothes moths are among the few insects that produce enzymes that allow them to digest the keratin in animal hair.

Silverfish tend to be plant eaters, targeting materials with cellulose and starchy contents. Cotton, linen and paper are preferred foods.

Psocids are a marginal fabric pest as they really only eat paper (which is how they get their common name – booklice), but they could also be considered a stored product pest as they also target various dried cereals and grains.

Preventing a fabric pest infestation is all about good hygiene (vacuuming) and storing unused clothing in sealed (insect proof) bags.

For carpeted areas, it’s important to vacuum all rooms thoroughly… especially the areas under heavy furniture, which is just the places carpet beetles like to do their worst!

At the change of seasons, wash unused clothes and place them in sealed bags or containers.

The use of moth repellent products hung in wardrobes can help keep adult moths at bay and a professional pest treatment to carpeted areas and wardrobes will take care of any pests in the area.

As carpet beetle adults fly in from outside, well-fitted insect screens on windows are very effective. Of course if you find adult carpet beetles on the inside of the window trying to get out, you know you have a carpet beetle problem somewhere in your home!

The biggest challenge in dealing with a fabric pest infestation is locating the source of the infestation and making sure you have found all the infested sites.

So the first step in getting rid of a fabric pest problem is to carry out a comprehensive infestation. As they can have quite a varied diet, it is important to consider the source of the infestation may not be in the house, but may be in the roof void of sub-floor. (For example, carpet beetles feeding off an animal carcass). With their experience and knowledge, a professional pest manager will be very useful in identifying both the pest and source of infestation.

Once identified, the infested material needs to be removed and thrown out (if possible). If you want to keep the items it will be necessary to ensure that any pests and their eggs are removed or killed. The best way to do this is to place the items in a sealed plastic bag and place in the sun for several house to let the heat kill the pests. (This may not be suitable for delicate fabrics, which may need to be inspected individually). Clothes should then be washed in as a hot a wash as allowed for that fabric before storage.

After the infested material has been identified and removed if possible, the infested areas should be treated with a suitable insecticide. A professional pest treatment will ensure a comprehensive treatment and the use of appropriate products. The treatment will kill any pests that  remain and provide lasting protection (6 months or more) from re-infestation.

For some fabric pests, particularly clothes moths the use of pheromone traps can be useful as both an early warning monitoring system and control method to help prevent a problem from developing.