The presence of silverfish, clothes moths or carpet beetles present pest managers with the opportunity for a straightforward clear-out job during the cooler, quieter seasons.

The cooling temperatures of autumn bring a slowdown in insect-related business. However, for homeowners the change in season brings about a change in their wardrobes and with it a potential upselling opportunity for pest managers – a fabric pest treatment.

Fabric pests encompass a number of different arthropods, all of which are capable of damaging fabrics – clothes, carpets, curtains and more. The key culprits tend to be silverfish, clothes moths and carpet beetles.

The type of fabric damaged and its location, as well as the nature of the damage, can provide good starting clues to identifying the culprit.

Silverfish typically feed on carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and protein, which means they will feed on a wide range of materials. From a clothing point of view, they show a preference for cotton, linen, silk, paper and rayon. They will sometime feed on synthetic materials, but they do not digest the fabric itself, they are often feeding on stains or spills on the garment. Damage will be noticed as small holes or stains on the clothing.

Silverfish prefer dark, humid environments

The larvae of clothes moths will feed on any natural fabric, typically of animal origin, in clothes, curtains or floor coverings such as wool, silk, fur and feathers. There two key types of clothes moth: the webbing clothes moth and case-making clothes moth. As their names suggest, the webbing clothes moth leaves webbing material around feeding areas and the case-making clothes moth crawls around in a case made of frass and fabric particles, making it difficult to spot. Damage will appear as irregular surface feeding or as holes eaten directly through the fabric.

Webbing clothes moth, Tineola bisselliella
Webbing clothes moth, Tineola bisselliella

Although carpet beetle larvae feed on a wide range of materials, they typically feed on materials of animal origin such as wool, leather and silk. Damage will be as surface feeding on carpets (typically in dark undisturbed areas) or as irregular holes in clothing. There will be no obvious frass or webbing present. As with the clothes moth, the larvae do all the damage. However, the adult beetles live outside feeding on flowers, so adult beetles on the window sill (trying to get out) could indicate an infestation.

All of these pests typically cause their damage in dark, undisturbed areas and this provides the basis for preventative actions and treatments.

The damage cause by fabric pests can be significant and so a treatment at the changing of the seasons should be a relatively easy sell. However, you do need some co-operation from the homeowner to make sure the treatment is a success.

Variegated carpet beetle larvae and adult
Variegated carpet beetle larvae (left) and adult (right)

As with any potential treatment, an inspection should be carried out. Look in all the dark cracks and crevices – areas that will often remain undisturbed for months. These include:

  • Under heavy furniture that cannot be moved e.g. beds, cupboards, wardrobes
  • Around the edges of carpeted rooms
  • In all built-in wardrobes, clothing drawers and shelving.

Although silverfish need higher humidity to thrive, under ideal conditions they can be found throughout the house, so also look on the ground in wardrobes, in the roof void under insulations and in the subfloor, especially in stored goods.

Before carrying out a treatment, clothes need to be removed from wardrobes and drawers. The best tip to give homeowners is to place all these clothes in sealed black plastic bags in the sun (except delicate items), as the high temperatures in the bag will kill any pests (including eggs) in one to two hours. The clothes can then be washed before storage. Homeowners should get into this habit each time they store clothes.

Vacuuming carpeted areas and inspecting the collection may also allow you to confirm the presence of pests. Indeed, you should recommend to your clients regular vacuuming and (if possible) the moving of heavy furniture on a regular basis, which will help prevent outbreaks.

A suitable treatment would involve spraying an indoor, broad spectrum product, such as Sumiguard, around the edges of rooms and under heavy furniture that cannot be moved. Although you need to get into the pile of any carpet, a light spray will avoid any issues of water stains. With clothes removed from the wardrobes and drawers, the edges of drawers and shelving should also be sprayed. The addition of an IGR (Sumigard) to your tank mix can boost the longevity of any treatment.

The use of a suitably labelled professional aerosol, such as Sumiblast, may also be an option in drawers and wardrobes, as well as for spot treatments and application to close by cracks and crevices.

More information on Fabric Pests.

Charles McClintock, Professional Products Business Manager, Sumitomo Chemical Australia