Bayer’s Wendell Arnett gives the lowdown on the most commonly encountered fabric pests. 

The three most common fabrics pests – carpet beetles, clothes moths and silver fish – are commonly associated with damage to fabric and paper. Yet they also play a vital role in our environment by performing a clean-up function, by attacking dead animals, feathers, furs, hides, and horns. However, their habit of consuming these items in our homes is not very welcome!

Professional pest managers should take the time to understand the habits of these insects in order to take the appropriate the control measures.

Carpet beetles

The two common species of carpet beetle species in Australia are the variegated carpet beetle and the black carpet beetle. The adult beetles are approximately 3-5mm long, elongated or oval in shape, feeds on pollen and nectar and can live for 20- 40 days. The larvae are 4-5mm long, reddish-brown in colour, with stiff bristles over the entire body.

The larvae are voracious feeders and will rapidly demolish fur, underfelts, and woollens as well as foodstuffs, such as dried meat and cereals. They have a high tolerance for low humidity, so their activity tends to be restricted to dark, undisturbed areas such as under furniture and skirting boards. Their feeding may lead to the accumulation of droppings, which appear similar to coarse sand. Pest managers should look for this sign as well as a build-up of cast skins or, if lucky, live larvae. The larvae feeding stage can last for up to nine months, after which they pupate. It is only during the larval stage that the damage occurs.

Clothes moths

Clothes moths are widely known for causing damage to woollens, fur, felt, and other material of animal origin. As they like warm, humid conditions, they tend to be found more in coastal areas. There are two key species: the webbing clothes moth (main picture, above) and the case-making clothes moth. They get their names from the behaviour of their larvae.

Adult moths are around 10mm long and often yellow or gold in colour. They are not attracted to light like other moths, but seek out dark, sheltered areas. The female clothes moth deposits her eggs on or in materials that will provide a suitable food source for the larvae, as they seek food immediately after hatching. As with carpet beetles, it is the larvae that cause the damage to homeowners’ property. Each larva later constructs a cocoon-like case inside which it pupates and develops into an adult clothes moth.

As with the carpet beetle, moth larvae produce sandy-looking frass and their activity is usually restricted to dark, undisturbed areas, such as in wardrobes and drawers. Webbing clothes moths feed under mats of webbing that they spin, and case-making clothes moths spin a case to which frass and pieces of fibre become stuck. Both strategies provide protection for the larvae as they feed and can make them difficult to detect. Adult moths are easier to spot and tend to fly away when disturbed.


The silverfish is a primitive wingless insect that needs high humidity to thrive. It is generally a nocturnal, agile insect that can be found in most homes and buildings. It has a silvery appearance with a body that tapers to the rear, with long, slender antennae.

Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina)

Females can lay eggs singly or in small batches, which usually hatch in 2-8 weeks. The juveniles undergo a series of moults, reaching sexual maturity in 3-24 months. Silverfish undergo a primitive metamorphosis, meaning that the young look like small-scale versions of the adults. They are one of the few insects that continue to moult as adults and may live for up to four years.

Silverfish feed on cellulose, carbohydrates, sugars and starches. They prefer starchy material – especially in stored goods – and they will also feed on food, books, wallpaper, linen and cotton. They can spoil food and cause significant damage to clothing, photos and books.

They are often found in dark, damp locations such as garages, sheds, roof voids and sub floors. Silverfish do not have the ability to climb smooth surfaces, which can result in them being trapped in bathtubs and hand basins. Note that they do not emerge from plugholes as some clients may think!

With silverfish, careful inspection is critical. As well as holes in holes in clothing, pest managers should check for chewed areas of cardboard boxes and damage to pages of books.

Treatment plan

Before carrying out any chemical treatment, pest managers must first make some housekeeping recommendations.

Before the arriving onsite, clients should be instructed to remove clothes from wardrobes and drawers. If clothes are already infested, they should be dry cleaned before being wrapped tightly in plastic and stored away. (It has been common practice to advise clients with infested items to place them in a black plastic bag and hang them in the sun for a day to kill any pests.) A pin stream nozzle designed for crack and crevice application can then be used to treat wardrobes, shelving, drawers and wall edges.

Carpets are a prime target for fabric pest infestation. These must be vacuumed in advance, then the chemical application needs to be applied using a at fan nozzle to the top of the carpet. The treatment application needs to penetrate to the base of the carpet fibres in order to prove effective.

Dusts can be applied to roof voids and sub floors for the control of silverfish where their presence does not pose a hazard to occupants. It is also a good idea to add an IGR such as Starycide to the tank mix as this will boost the longevity of any treatment.

Suspend Flexx Insecticide from Bayer is registered for use against fabric and stored product pests, including beetles, clothes moths, silverfish and spiders. Joseph Sara of Sara’s Pest Control, NSW, was very encouraged with the results achieved when using Suspend Flexx to control silverfish on a residential account.

Joseph Sara of Sara’s Pest Control

“We were so pleased with Suspend Flexx on a silver sh job we recently did in Burwood,” said Mr Sara. “The client adhered to our request and emptied their wardrobes prior to our arrival. Suspend Flexx was then applied as a crack and crevice treatment to the wardrobes, skirting boards and carpet edges. A Coopex dust application was done in the roof void area.

“We contacted our client two weeks after our application to find out how the silverfish situation was after our service visit. Our client was over the moon as she did not envisage seeing no silverfish at all and was so pleased that there was no odour.”

Success in treating fabric pest requires a bit of detective work to identify the culprit and locate all sites of infestation. It is then fairly straightforward to apply a comprehensive treatment. Of course, getting the customer to carrier out the pre-visit preparations is an important part of the process. There’s nothing like a challenge!

Wendell Arnett, Territory Sales Manager, Bayer

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